Saturday, May 16, 2009

Failed Kalamata Olive Loaf

I've made a number of things over the past week or so, some of which are worth repeating and others ... not so much. But I've always said that I wanted to chronicle my failures as well as my successes, so I will.

This first one is a very disappointing failure, because I so wanted it to turn out well. It was a kalamata olive bread. I'm going to my cousin's this weekend to cook a meal, and I wanted to offer the loaf at the same time, because her husband has expressed interest in the past for olive bread. I found a recipe online that I thought looked promising, and set to work. Initially things were going really well.

I took some starter from the fridge and fed it -- the recipe called for 100% hydration starter, so I fed 1 ounce of starter 5 ounces of water and 5 ounces of flour and set the yeast to working in my proofing box. I checked on it after about 6 hours, but it was looking pretty lethargic, so I left it in the box for 2-3 more hours. At that point, the yeast was bubbly and active. See evidence:

I mixed the starter with the dough ingredients and placed it into a large greased bowl. At this point the dough was tacky but not insanely sticky. Witness:

And a close up:

This was the brand of kalamata olives that I used. It's from Trader Joe's, and I chose it with Trix's advice because it was stored in a solution that did not include vinegar.

This is when things began to go wrong. It was about 9pm, and I figured it would take 6-8 hours for it to double. However, that meant 3-5am, which I didn't relish. It seems insane to me to get up at insane hours just for bread. At midnight I checked on the dough, hoping against hope that it would have worked at a magically speedy pace and would have doubled in 3 hours. No such luck. It looked like it had barely risen at all. I decided that since the starter had struggled to get going in the first place, wild yeast take longer in general to work, and the dough currently seemed rather lethargic, I'd be safe if I got up at 6am to punch it down and get it ready for its final proofing step. After all, 6am wasn't that far off from the higher end of my estimation.

When my alarm went off at 6am, I thought about staying in bed for another hour (as I always do), but an early morning meeting compelled me to get up. I then considered taking a shower to wake myself up before tackling the bread, but decided that I should probably at least check on the dough.

Oh, the horror I felt when I saw that the yeast had gone into overdrive, filling the bowl and then some. That's right, it overflowed right onto the floor (first time that's ever happened to me). Here's a photo to show you how diligently the yeast had been working:

Keep in mind that at this point I had removed the plastic covering, onto which was stuck lots of the dough, and had thrown away all the stuff that had oozed onto the ground. Obviously, the dough was WAY overproofed. Still, I thought that maybe it wasn't such a horrible thing, maybe bread could still be salvaged from this.

That's when I made my second mistake. I blame the fact that it was 6am in the morning and my brain was barely awake. I dragged out the large cutting board that I use to work dough, and plopped the dough onto it. That's right, without flouring it first. Now, in my minor defense, the recipe didn't specify flouring the surface where I'd be kneading the dough -- but knowing that the dough was way overproofed, I should've anticipated that it would be gooey and wet. Which it was. It was gluey and just completely unmanageable. I plopped half of it back into the bowl, and attempted to "shape" the other half, but it just wasn't happening. It was basically liquid, not solid, and I probably used an extra cup of flour, possibly more, to get it into some semblance of a ball and placed into my makeshift basket.

I learned my lesson from the first half, so I heavily floured the surface before pouring -- yes, that's what I was doing -- the second half out. Due to the preemptive flouring I was able to "form" -- as much as a glob of glue can be formed -- the second "loaf" -- if a blobby thing can be considered a loaf -- at a fraction of the time it had taken me to form the first one. However, that also meant that a lot less flour was going into it. That was a concern because the next step required a slow retardation of the dough in the fridge, for 12-18 hours. Since the dough had been overproofed, there was probably no more flour for the yeast to eat, which meant that the loaves probably wouldn't do much in the fridge except get cold.

I'm just not comfortable enough with baking bread yet to salvage a situation like this. Should I have added a bunch more flour, even though the recipe at this point specified no additional flour? Should I have just scrapped the whole thing?

I decided to press forward as I was supposed to had the dough proofed the correct amount. I placed the shaped loaves into the fridge. About 12 hours later, I removed them so that they could warm to room temperature (about 2 1/2 hours). I slashed them while they were cold, because it's easier that way. I baked them as specified, though I did use the hot water/cast iron pan steaming method. Still, they never got very brown.

The results? Well, see for yourself. This was the one that had a bunch of flour added to it:

This was the one that was shaped quickly with very little additional dough:

Obviously, I'd been right in my assumption -- the yeast had no more to eat, and thus the bread did not rise very much during the final proof. Additionally, neither loaf rose very much while in the oven, especially the second, which looks more like a flatbread. :/ Flavor wise, the bread is VERY sour. That's rather appealing in its own way; I just wish I could achieve that level of sourness without creating mutant bread.

I'm still eating both, they're quite edible, just not pretty. Toasted, the texture is normalized (to toast), which improves it. And it has a very strong kalamata olive flavor, which is nice.

This experience was particularly disappointing because I recently made a regular sourdough loaf that also had extremely sticky/wet dough -- though that time I didn't overproof it -- and I was hoping that this would make up for that experience. Oh well. One thing is for sure ... I'm not going to give up on this recipe until I've made it the way it should be made, and then we'll see if it's a keeper. I'm not really convinced that the method is that great, but right now I don't have much room to talk. :P

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