So, naturally, as I wrote that last piece of drivel, I had a loaf in the oven which, as I expected, pretty much proved that my sourdough troubles were over. But I got my whine out, which was good. Ah.
My problem, at least mostly, or my major problem, was not knowing when to consider my dough properly risen: the amount of time can vary hugely when you screw around with all the variables all the time like I do. Having gotten a handle on this, all of my loaves since have been wonderful. And the ones that weren’t, well, had obvious explanations.
In fact I rewrote and nearly here presented that bit of pith I was on about; I would have, except that my theories have gotten ahead of my practice again, and I can’t bear to go on about old practice.
Meanwhile I’ve bought the new Sandor Katz fermentation book, which is a joy. Though hasn’t got a lot to say about bread. But the theory, and the license—a joy, and to be widely recommended.
Anyway, more eventually. Even though I hate food writing. Loathe it. Can barely glance at magazine racks anymore without some amount of inner puke. So, yeah.
I’ve been considering what kind of bread post to post for a long time. For the last year bread has been one of my most serious projects, the only intellectually demanding food project I have been constantly engaged in over that time. Yet readers would not know it. The problem is this: when I start chewing on a food project, from the first day I look for principles, I look to understand the thing that recipes are variations on, and then once I think I have a thing figured out more or less, or at least to a useful level, I often try to put it into pithy little bullet points and publish them here. I have done this with bread—the pith. I have circulated this pith among friends, I have engaged in lengthy hands-off tutorials, and yet, by and large, I’ve been shown up a fraud. The best show of this is what comes from my own kitchen. While I have baked some of the best bread I’ve ever eaten—and not for lack of having eaten widely and well of bread—it’s been a while now since any loaf of mine has come close to that. I get cocky, I think I understand something, and without even being consciously aware of having changed anything, I find that for three weeks I can’t even get my bread to rise properly—takes me three weeks to even figure out what I changed. This has happened, like, five times. So my principles are garbage. Often this is true: I am less enamored of this systematization than I have been, more inclined to take careful notes and view all these things, phenomena, objects, in isolation. Facets, if you will. Recipes, even. A thing is a thing, after all, more than it is an idea.
So, this week I am not going to push bread making on you. For a change. Having really good bread around for the price of flour and fuel has changed the way I eat, has given meaning to the fairly ridiculous term staff of life, even. A really good loaf, you can eat half of it with butter and call it a pretty good dinner—you can eat half a loaf before dinner without even really noticing if you’re not careful. In fact, that may be a passible definition of a good loaf. Most bread sits heavy in my stomach, is suitable for a piece or two as filler. Really good bread is food, is a thing you can live on.
Maybe in another year or two of close study I’ll be nailing it more than once every couple months.