Sunday 10 November 2013

Day 33: A Sourdough Loaf And Good Navigation

I like it when a plan comes together.

The famous line from the original A-team television series. Today, for me, it is pertinent at last.

My navigation studies are paying off. Methods proposed in the text book and applied as suggested has now started to pay off. The differences between my fixes and the associated GPS fixes are now into single figures. A statistical trend, at last. I shall certainly work hard at keeping it in a converging phase.

It does take some decent concentration and judgement on boat speed and effective direction. Course made good over a twenty-four hour period. The ships chart plotter will give it to you, but that sort of defeats the object of the exercise, does it not? So far, I am getting used to judging the boat speed from the condition of the wake and so on. The effect of the current is very difficult to guess, but the statistical method of applying a correction to the next DR position using the previous fix' data helps a lot.

You get lies, damn lies and then statistics, goes the tongue-in-cheek adage. Well, in my case statistical methods have helped me. And I have come across the same statistical methods in active and adaptable control system theory. Talk of cross pollination and integration of knowledge areas.

Today was also baking day. The loaf of choice was a sourdough loaf. This is actually quite challenging, as we have over 32ºC/86ºF weather with a relative humidity of a tad over 70%. This makes for interesting side effects when mixing the dough. Add to this the building of the starter and the proofing and you easily end up with a runny dough.

Today I had exactly such a runny mess after the first phase of building the starter. Then I realised that I used brown bread flour instead of white bread flour. This all happened in the dead of night on my watch. Quite handy when you have to work watches and you are in a baking mood. Both require you to be awake at odd hours.

The yeast did not like the coarser flour with the added fiber  but nevertheless ate away merrily at the available starch. This morning, after coming off watch, I realized my mistake and fed the starter again, this time with the proper flour. I got an immediate response and the starter doubled in volume in three hours. Not bad for a wild yeast.

I proceeded to feed the starter one more time, basically making up the final mix. This included some wild onions seeds ( Nigella sativa) and salt. I also added a the vegetable fat after allowing five odd minutes for the dough to develop gluten. This dough was quite wet, but just dry enough to knead, rather than fold.

It is quite difficult to judge the water content when working like this, so I judge by the handling qualities of the dough. I add water or flour until I have a consistency that I like and know.

After kneading the dough until it became satiny and quite elastic, the dough was patted with a thin layer of cooking oil, covered and put aside to rise. My "proofing bin" on board is the bottom of the cupboard in the galley. At least the temperature there is stable and perhaps less than 30ºC. The dough rose to double the volume in just over 90 minutes.

This was shaped and left to rest in the cold oven for half an hour for final proofing. This dough sagged a bit in the heat, but did increase in volume. Perhaps I shall have to look into making a drier dough next time around. This loaf was dabbed with egg white and a sprinkling of grated cheese before baking. Baking at 190ºC/350ºF for 45 minutes produced a crispy loaf nicely baked through. There were some uneven fermentation holes, which is what I strive for when baking with sourdough. The crust was nice and crisp with some elasticity and chewiness, while the crumb was quite spongy. There was just a hint of sourness, which is heartening, as I battled to get a less sour product from my efforts. This one came out the way I intended.


Making the starter

½ cup sourdough mush

1 ½ cup white bread flour

1 cup water

Mix thoroughly and allow to ferment at least six hours. You need to see many bubbles as the mix ferments.

Building the starter

Use all of the above and add another 1 ½ cup of flour and ½ cup of water. The mixture should just not be runny. Allow this to ferment until at least double the volume. In the conditions aboard here just off the Amazon river delta, this took just three hours.

Final mix

Use all of the product you made, then add the following:

2 cups white bread flour

1 ½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon wild onion seeds

1 dessert spoon vegetable fat

yolk of one egg

1-2 cups water on standby

Mix this lot thoroughly, adding water to make the dough just mixable, then allow to rest for five minutes. Now mix in the vegetable fat and start kneading. Add water or flour in small quantities as required to adjust the consistency. I know that the tyro bakers out there will balk at this, but we are in a rather primitive environment baking equipment-wise.

Knead the dough until it gets satiny and elastic, pat with some cooking oil, cover and set to final rise. This lot doubled in volume in 90 minutes.

Turn out the dough on a kneading board and allow to rest for five minutes. Now shape the dough into the final shape, trying not to degas the dough. At this stage I dabbed some egg white on top and sprinkled some grated cheese on top of that.

The final proofing for this loaf was half an hour plus the time it took for the oven to heat up. Baking at 190ºC/350ºF for 45 minutes produced the loaf as described.

Allow the loaf to cool for at least half an hour. This one was on the flat side, so it cooled perhaps a bit faster than a thick loaf would.

And use real butter.



This blog post also linked to Yeastspotting!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2013-10-27

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