I've been a fan of making sourdough using wild yeast since about August of last year. This is the post I made about my discovery of wild yeast and all the trials and tribulations I had making bread until self-made sourdough came into my life.
One of the most difficult things about living in the Pacific Northwest is that we have good weather 3 months out of the year -- if we're lucky. In the summer, it often doesn't get much hotter than 85°F, and in my house, often not even that. This means that the ideal temperature for yeast activity isn't just "room temperature" for me. I have to use a proofing box. But even with a proofing box, when the air is cold yeast simply doesn't perform as well. And there's also the fact that I don't want to be in my kitchen dealing with dough, when it's that cold.
That's why my sourdough starters have been languishing in the fridge for many months now. This week it started to get warmer (though ironically it snowed today), and technically it's spring, so I pulled them out and started the process to get them out of hibernation. On the first day I made the tough decision to throw out one of the starters -- Italy (Ischia Island). Maintaining 3 starters is a pain, and it was always my least favorite starter. I had held on to it for so long because in the beginning it was my best performer, and because my starters are like pets and deciding to let one of them go is a hard decision. It was easier when I could make it after not seeing them for awhile. After the first day or two, Italy (Camaldoli) was bubbling and lively, while France was still languishing. It sometimes takes 4-6 days to bring a starter back to full activity after it's been in hibernation as long as mine has, but I took the opportunity to cull my 3 starters down to 1. I got rid of France also. I've read that after awhile, all starters start to take on your region's bacteria/yeast anyway, so having 3 starters of essentially the same thing is kind of a waste. I don't have the laboratory equipment to actually tell if my Italian yeast has actually turned into Seattle yeast, but at this point it doesn't matter.
Since my remaining starter was so active already, I resolved to feed it and put it back in the fridge, and use the discard to make 3 things: 1) English muffins; 2) the tried-and-true sourdough loaf from The Bread Bible; and 3) this roasted garlic bread from Wild Yeast. I was browsing Yeast Spotting when that recipe jumped out at me. It seemed like a great plan, except preparing 3 different things, all with different rising times and slightly different recipes? A little more complicated than I really bargained for.
The English muffins were a disaster. I don't know what I'm doing wrong. I've tried making them 3-4 times now, and each time, they come out super dense, without any nooks and crannies, and basically just not like English muffins at all. I ran out of bread flour (you can tell I wasn't really prepared to bake so soon) and time so the sourdough loaf didn't get made until today (in fact, I'm on step 2 of the rising stage).
However, I did get a chance to make the roasted garlic bread, and it came out spectacularly. Well, for me. I know the bread is an adaptation of a recipe from a book, but I wish the name indicated that there's parmesan cheese stuffed inside along with the roasted garlic. It's an important part of the bread, imo!
These are probably two of the best loaves of bread I've made yet. Susan's step-by-step recipe/photos helped a great deal. I followed the recipe she posted almost exactly. The two changes I made were: 1) Rather than using 3 whole heads of garlic, which seemed like too much garlic even for me, I used 2 1/2, as I happened to have a half of a head lying around; and 2) During the final proofing phase after the loaves had been shaped, I proofed them for 3 hours instead of 4, then them in the fridge, because I knew I wasn't going to be able to bake them right away. Many recipes call for dough to be retarded in the fridge like this, so I figured it would be okay. They were in the fridge for about 4-5 hours. I took them out and let them sit at room temperature while I preheated the oven and prepared the steam, which took about 40 minutes. I slashed the dough while they were still cold with my new lame, which probably made them easier to slash. (I am THRILLED with the lame, by the way. Slashing has always been difficult for me, and while my use of the lame still requires more practice, it already worked 100 times better than the box cutter/knives I used before.) As usual I used Peter Reinhart's method of steaming with hot water and a cast iron pan.
Here are the proofed loaves right out of the fridge:
Right after baking, and before brushing off the excess flour:
Cooling on a wire rack:
Here's a shot of the crumb. You couldn't tell in any of the other pictures, but the loaves were stuffed with a mixture of garlic paste and parmesan cheese. Mmmm. You can see how that turns out once you slice into the bread. I ate almost half a loaf today, just plain. The other I'm freezing for later!