Being that this was my first attempt using a starter, I knew there might be some difficulties so my expectations were low to begin with.
Part of the problem was that I had no idea if the starter I was er, starting with, was any good at all. It smelled right, and I think it had the right consistency and color, but how do you really know if you’ve never seen a “positive” example? It’s not like any picture they might show you in a cookbook is going to help, and scratch-n-sniff just isn’t to that level yet (whew!). So I went in knowing that I could be doomed from the get-go.
The next problem was in the planning that the cookbook provided, or rather didn’t. This was Williams-Sonoma, so I figured that I could count on things being pretty clear. Bzzzzt! Thank you for playing… What they should have done instead of simply stating that the recipe takes 3 days, is give you a table of some kind showing you the schedule of things. If you very carefully read through the directions on the recipe, and count hours in your head, you will suddenly find that you are doing the last phase of the baking, the actual oven time, somewhere around at least midnight of the third day. Not very convenient for your average Joe or Jane. The problem is, you probably won’t notice this temporal snafu until you are well into the rising cycles and committed. I got lucky and my dough seemed to rise a bit faster than the book suggested.
The very first indication that I might be in trouble came when I was constructing the dough. You start with 3 cups of the flour and then add “enough of the remaining 2-3 cups (10-15 oz/315-470 g) flour to make a soft dough. That’s a pretty huge amount of “extra” flour for such an ambiguous description. I mean, what’s a “soft dough” look like? This is dough after all, which is pretty much “soft” no matter how much flour you knead into it. Okay, so I guessed. Hindsight tells me I guessed too low since my dough was too sticky and lax later on. They make things even more difficult to gauge by suggesting in the last sentence of that same paragraph that you might need a scraper to keep the dough from sticking to the surface during kneading.
The dough rose nicely, both times, and as instructed, I floured a towel as a base during the second rise. The real nasty surprise came when I flipped the bowl over and tried to remove that towel. Yup, it stuck.
Since there was little I could do to remedy the situation at this late in the game, I worked it until I had managed to get it to release all but the very “top” of the bread. My dough was obviously too lax as it spread out until it was covering almost the whole span of my baking sheet before it even went into the oven. Oh well, I had waited too long to abort, so into the heat it went. What came out was…
…a flying saucer.
But aside from how it looked, the real test was on the inside. I don’t know about you, but I can never wait until the bread
completely cools before I cut it, especially when I’m dying to know if three days of waiting has produced a San Francisco treat, or a doorstop.
Looks aren’t everything, and despite being a little vertically challenged, it was perfect and delicious within. Slather on the butter!