Tuesday, 21 April 2020

A science experiment - spoiler alert: better results than hydrochloroquine

As those of you who know me can attest, I am not a science nerd by any stretch of the imagination. I am married to a boffin and it is his role to be the one who investigates/trials/experiments.

My role is to be the action woman and just get things done.

However, in the climate of Alert Level 4 and being isolated in our bubble, as well as being pissed off at failing in the sourdough starter stakes, I got a bit caught up in chasing success.

Pip from nb Oleanna had suggested adding a red cabbage leaf to the starter. I did, and after a couple of days, success was mine!! I feel a bit like Billy Connolly - I should be proclaiming this loudly and with lots of swearing from a stage. But you will have to do as my audience. Of course, I have emailed photos to Bernice the Mean, and she has been suitably and kindly encouraging, providing me with much needed positive reinforcement. So I am in the process of changing her name by deed-poll to Bernice the Okay Really...
Very few bubbles
So back to the experiment:

A few nights ago (I am losing track of time), but quite late for me, I sent Bernice an email requesting urgent advice - the red cabbage leafed starter had expanded exponentially in its jar in the airing cupboard, so I needed to know if I could take it out of the cupboard and leave it overnight. Yes, she replied immediately (further changes to deed-poll application: Bernice the Prompt and Okay Really). So out it came and sat on one of the hall bookcases overnight.
A red cabbage leaf and lots of bubbles!! Yay!! Back on went its paper towel cover and it sat on the bookcase overnight.
Late the following morning, I decided to split the starter instead of discarding half of it before feeding. So I divided it roughly into 3 and fed each portion the same amount of flour and water, but two of them had room temperature water from our filter jug and one had tepid water from the tap. One of the two had a new cabbage leaf stuck in it. The others were autumnally deciduous.

The experiment is comprised of three starters all of which are labelled - good grief, I sound like David ... The bowl has the cabbage leaf in it.
Fast forward (but not really - nothing in this bloody bread-making process is fast...) about 28 hours, having checked a few hours before that all portions were active and rising, I pulled them out to do the float test. Yay!!! The first one was floaty-ish - the biggest part of the spoonful stayed on the top, but the strandy bits sank. But I counted that as success.

So on to the second portion - sank without protest to the bottom.

And then on to the third vegetated portion - AAARRRGGGHHH - I had left it too long, a skin had formed over the submerged part of the red cabbage leaf, and underneath it, the leaf colour had leached into the starter. Down the sink with that one, leaving two to be fed and watered again and back in to the airing cupboard for the night.

In the early afternoon of the following day (the next one after the one I wrote about - 4 paragraphs back) I checked again, and the one that had floated the previous day was even more floaty, so I decided I should be able to start making bread sometime in the next millenium. So I fed it, put it back in the airing cupboard thinking I would wait till the following day to make the leaven (poolish is what Chris Verburg calls it). But my patience was running out, so that evening, and quite late for me, I decided that the starter had foamed and bubbled enough in the few hours since I'd fed it for the umpteenth time, and so it was on to making the leaven.

I should not really do stuff late in the evening that I have never done before and that I am nervous about. I tend to hit the wall tiredness-wise and I get tetchy (OK, tetchier ...) and only able to focus on one thing. Being given instructions from the sidelines by someone who never uses the scales but apparently knows exactly how they work is not conducive to my completing the task with any degree of equanimity. Enough said. So a portion of the floaty starter into a bowl; flour weighed, water weighed and added and stirred to mix. Shower cap cover fixed on top and the whole thing put into the airing cupboard. The remaining starters fed again (I am hedging my bets and continuing the experiment in case the floaty one decides not to work); starters placed beside the hopefully-about-to- burgeon leaven.

An apology given to the scales expert and off to bed I go with a calming cup of chamomile.

Yesterday morning, I cautiously peered in to the airing cupboard to find that the leaven had really and truly done its thing in a big way, so on to the bread making I get - excited, but nervous. And I tell you it is difficult to do any kind of kitchen stuff with your fingers crossed! And the kitchen was a bit Piccadilly Circus-like yesterday as I had tomato and chilli relish (cooked the previous day) to reheat, blitz, then reheat and bottle; a huge amount of vegetables to chop and juice; and mushroom stroganoff to prepare (task assigned to David).

I decided that it was probably better if I printed out the sourdough instructions so that when David comes to use the laptop with the stroganoff recipe I am not also wanting it ...

So the next first of countless steps in the actual bread-making task is to mix in the carefully weighed flour and the carefully weighed (yes, weighed!) water that is at a specific temperature. So actually the first job is to find a thermometer. OK, found, but not that useful as below about 30 deg it just says Lo (without a w). Request follows to David to find the one he uses to register room temperatures. Yay, he finds it, once he knows what it is I am asking for - somehow my functioning use of language diminishes when I am in a hurry and his understanding reduces when I am in a hurry ... So the water is weighed and has its temperature taken.

The water is added to the leaven and stirred to mix, then the flour is added and squidged in with my hands, swapped in to a bigger bowl because I realise that if any expansion is to take place the smaller bowl will be overflowing, and the dough is turned and stretched a few times; shower cap put back on and into the airing cupboard.

There follows a process that is more demanding than a wakeful baby - wait for an hour to add the salt, turn, stretch and fold: turn, stretch and fold.  Then every half hour for 4 hours: turn, stretch and fold several times, replace the shower cap, place back in the airing cupboard. Then leave it for at least 30 minutes to relax - WTF??

Before we played cards with Ann and Salvi, the dough was ready to be shaped, so out it came on to a floured bench and I hoped that I was doing it right, having been taught a couple of years ago by Sarah and in October last year by Chris. You have to put your hands on the far side of the dough and then pull it gently towards you, repeatedly. It looked and felt pretty good, so back in a floured bowl I put it and left it to rise in the airing cupboard. Instructions said 2 - 3 hours or overnight.

After cards and yummy dinner, I checked the dough and it had risen hugely, so I decided to cook it even though it was getting late for me (see note above re me and hitting the wall...) I turned on the oven, put in the cast iron pot to heat for 30 minutes, and waited.

Then I realised that Chris uses baking paper in the pot, and I hadn't put baking paper in the shaping bowl - could I tip it on to baking paper before I put it into the pot? Quick email to Bernice (I must get her phone number!) and a quick reply yes I could. So I did, but bugger and deep depression: the dough sort of squoodged and lost its shape. But in a fit of "well, F*uck it if it doesn't work" I lifted it up and put it in the pot, sprayed it with a bit of water, put the lid on and grumpily closed the door.

Bernice's instructions say not to open the door for 15 minutes, so I followed that instruction then when the time went off I gingerly looked in. Yay!!! It had risen in the intense heat. Lid off, loaf taken out of the pot, a roasting tray with water in placed on the rack below the bread and the timer set for another 25 minutes.

And here is the result:
I didn't succeed in cutting clean slashes across the top once it was in the pot unfortunately, but who cares?

Once it had cooled on the rack, I cut a couple of slices for late night taste testing - verdict: very yummy indeed. This morning we had it toasted with baked beans - delicious.

I think sourdough bread making is a bit like giving birth in that you forget the pain (or it recedes in your mind) once your eyes light on the loaf or baby, whichever ...

I'll give it another go. And I am giving one of the starters to Bevan today - it'll be left in their letterbox along with a jar of chilli tomato relish when I get up and go for a walk.


Bernice said...

Well done you, and yes, it’s a bit like childbirth because every time is very different and the result is a surprise! So glad you persevered.

Xx from an OK, she’s really quite nice, Bernice 😘

Pip and Mick said...

Congratulations!!! Glad the cabbage got things going for you, I kick started mine yesterday, fingers crossed. Wish I could do the float test, but it doesn't work with gluten free flour, so you just have to believe in it. But then I don't have to do all the half hour stretching stuff as there is nothing to stretch. Out of interest how did the starter do with just tap water?
Enjoy your bread

Marilyn, nb Waka Huia said...

Hi Bernice the very nice really person,
Thank you for all your support and encouragement - and prompt replies! I have appreciated it all, sweetheart!

I will give it another go - this time I had to use wholemeal with the white rather than rye as I had to biff out my rye flour because of it being colonised by the dreaded drugstore beetle ... I will see if I can buy some more rye and try that.

Hi Pip, the sample that arrived at the floaty stage first was the filtered water one, but to be honest Waikanae water is fine to drink, so I am not sure if that was the difference or maybe it was that I stirred one clockwise and the other anti-clockwise. Who knows? I made sure that the tap water was tepid whereas the filtered was room temp. Maybe that was the difference.

I have three samples in the airing cupboard still - two from the successful one and one from the other. And I gave away one of the successful offspring today to Bevan and Mads - she asked if she could purchase patience in jars at the supermarket ... I told her I had done the hard yards and patience wasn't required now, just tenacity to stick with the stretching and turning and coming back half an hour later ...

Thank you both for your help - in spite of the frustrations it has been fun - not least because I was composing blogposts in my head as I progressed, backslid, fumed, and celebrated!

Cheers and virtual hugs, Mxx