"I almost cursed Reinhart."
The last time I refreshed my motherstarter, I tried to reduce the amount of what I was adding, to ultimately reduce the amount I was throwing away (see the sourdough bread-off, in the Notes to Myself section): I knew that I was just refreshing it, and wouldn't be baking with it for about a week, and it would be refreshed again before then anyway. But the results were disappointing: after 14 hours, the motherstarter that had been refreshed with these lesser amounts had not risen. I was afraid that I had killed my sourdough. Even though it had not risen, I stuck it in the refrigerator.
Yesterday, when I refreshed it again, I took it out of the fridge and allowed it to warm to room temperature before doing anything with it. I noticed that the wheat had a layer of liquid over top of the doughy parts, as if it had separated from the water content (I don't think it was all hooch, although some of it might have been; it was clearer than hooch, and somewhat foamier than hooch). I stirred it back into the mix before measuring any. The result was a very wet mix.
The rye starter had none of this, but it did have some bubbles on it that suggested to me that both motherstarters were still viable. The rye was quite wet too, making me think that I had not properly figured out the ratios for the lower volume refreshing. I would have to rethink those figures.
So this time I refreshed them both with the old amounts that Reinhart suggested, even though I wasn't going to bake with them. They rose overnight, both of them, to a good double volume, in about 7 hours. I was pleased: my wild yeast had definitely survived and were thriving. I decided that I was going to do some baking with them after all. It was time to try Reinhart's Meteil Rye.
I love rye breads. I was looking forward to this one.
Reinhart's Meteil Rye
Originally today's experiment was going to be a comparison between the Meteil Recipe using the Whole Wheat Motherstarter and one made using the Rye Motherstarter (although, as Reinhart discusses in one of his commentaries, this would put the ratio of Rye:Wheat at exactly 50:50, so the question then would be, is it still a Meteil?
But that is not the comparison that I ended up with. As I was measuring and weighing two different soakers, I noticed that my wheat motherstarter had lifted the lid of the container and had expanded a lot more, since I had punched it down and enclosed it, prior to refrigerating it. It was super active, and I had a choice: either throw some of it away, since it no longer was contained in its bucket, or use it.
So I ended up using the Whole Wheat Motherstarter (WWMS) for both of these Rye Meteil loaves that I was going to be making. I set two bits of the WWMS aside for later when the soaker would be done. One of the bits I measured by weight, the other I measured by volume. I weighed the volume measured WWMS too, for comparison. By weight, Reinhart suggests 71 g; but my volume measurement of 1/3 c weighed 89 g.
So I decided to compare all the volume-weight ingredients as given in the recipe.
For the first soaker, I used Reinhart's suggested volume measurements, and then weighed them; for the second, I weighed all ingredients and recorded what volume I got. Here is a table of what I found:
Volume Soaker 1 Weighed Soaker 2
WW Flour: 360 g 1 1/2 c + 2 tsp
Salt: 2 g almost 1 tsp
Yogurt: 166 g very close to 3/4 c
End weight: 400 g 430 g
This just goes to show you that weighing the dough is going to be more accurate. The end weight is supposed to be 401 g. If you measure by volume, your dough could be off by a lot. But as it turns out, the recipe is fairly forgiving.
The name "Soaker" is a misnomer, I find. This pre-soaked flour mixture is very dry. Maybe that is just the nature of the beast when one uses yogurt to hydrate it, I don't know. But it takes a lot longer than the 1 minute that Reinhart suggests to incorporate this large amount of flour into this small amount of yogurt by hand, because the mixture is so dry. It could be that my whole wheat flour is quite different from Reinhart's, and requires more hydration. I don't know.
This soaker is essentially what other bakers discuss as an autolyse -- which wikipedia tells me is a period of rest following the hydration of flour. I suppose that it is closely related to autolysis, a word which I do know how to use, from my days in Anatomy Class in nursing school. I suppose there are enzymes in the mixture which do start breaking down the cells of the wheat even further. However, there is no added yeast in it, so I would guess there is not much fermentation going on yet.
But I don't know if the word autolyse in baking is supposed to be a noun or a verb, so I don't really know if I'm using the term correctly. To me, it sounds like a verb, and it seems to describes a process (as in, you autolyse something - but that doesn't make sense, since it is not something that I am doing to the pre-ferment, but it is something that the pre-ferment is doing to itself, automatically); but bakers seem to talk about it as an object, e.g. "That lump of wet flour over there is the autolyse" -- but that doesn't make sense either, since the word seems to describe a process, not a thing: for example, when is it an autolyse, when the flour first touches the hydration, or when it is thoroughly mixed, or when it has sat 6 hours, or when it is finished at 12-24 hours? I am afraid that I have been unable to resolve the use of this word. I think that it is a nebulous term, ambiguously defined, like the word 'consciousness' or 'love'. Perhaps this problem can be found in any word that describes something with a self-referential aspect.
I guess it is easier to just refer to them as 'soakers' as Reinhart does. Even though, to me, a 'soaker' is when you step into a deep snowbank with your red rubber boots on, and the bottom of the snowbank is melted and it is so deep that the water runs over the top of your red rubber boots and 'soaks' your socks. Despite the huge size of our country, and the variation for regional dialect, every kid who grew up in Canada knows what I mean when I say that is a soaker. And I say that this pre-fermentation step is not nearly as moist as that.
I labeled both of these soakers and set them aside for 12 hours.
I made the starter in the early afternoon, trying to coordinate when the starter would be ready to coincide with the 12 hour window of the soaker. For the longest time, I was pretty nervous: I didn't see much action in the starter, which is supposed to rise using only the motherstarter as leaven. Would my motherstarter be up to the task?
At the sixth hour, I noticed that the dough was expanding rapidly, and my hopes were kindled. I didn't get to the final dough stage until the soaker had sat 13 hours, and the starter 9 hours though. Perhaps at that stage, it had exhausted itself, who knows?
The Final Dough
This is a lot of work, getting two complete and separate recipe ingredients together. This took a lot longer than I anticipated. When I finally had everything mixed and measured, I began the kneading cycle. Once again, I was unprepared for the way rye dough (even with this amount of whole wheat) acts. It feels like putty. Why am I always surprised by this? The dough is strange to work with. And all you can smell when you are kneading it -- first with wet hands, then with floured hands -- is the onions.
I could compare the doughs by weight and volume again here (and I did), but really, besides me, who cares? Reinhart had his recipe testers check these things over before he published. His recipes are as exact as anyone would like them to be. He includes weights in ounces and grams, and volume measurements for every recipe. You don't have to go far to see how superior this method is, as no matter what kind of baker you are -- meticulous or slap-happy --everybody is getting what they want.
The one that I meticulously weighed, I had to add a lot of flour and water during the kneading stage, just to get it to combine. So much for the careful weighing of ingredients. The next one I didn't have to make any adjustments for.
I put the dough together and kneaded it with the 5 minute rest that Reinhart advises. I set it aside to rise, which should have taken 45-60 minutes. But there was no appreciable rise until 1 hour and 45 minutes. By then I was falling asleep. Nevertheless I formed the loaves (one a boule, the other a batard) and set them aside to proof.
Neither loaf had anything like a gluten sheath when I tried to form them. It was just putty, with a hint of gluiness. It was like the 50% whole wheat had added nothing to the rye in terms of structure. Reinhart does say that this loaf is going to be gluten challenged. I should say so.
I had high hopes for these loaves. Even up to the point where I tried to slide the boule into the oven, I was hopeful. Then, the wetness of the dough stuck to the well-dusted metal peel (my wooden peel had the batard on it, in a cloche). The batard skidded clumsily onto the stone, now sadly misshapen. And of course, after being so badly mistreated and overhanded on the oven transfer, there was no oven spring. Another flat loaf.
Here is the crumb shot. I didn't get into this loaf for a couple of days, but it remains moist, and the rye flavour comes through the onions and caraway now. If it weren't for the fact that this loaf is flat and misshapen, this might have been a nice bread. My wife doesn't mind the onions, but she complained about the caraway. She hates caraway in bread. It is just too overpowering for her.
The batard in the cloche was so wet, it oozed both sideways and lengthways.
It could not be contained by the cloth. It dripped. I floured the surface when I went to move it into the oven. The only way I could get it in there was by taking the entire cloche with it, and shaking it over the stone. It had already oozed beyond the size of the stone, lengthwise, so now it sagged from one stone onto another. It was going to drip between the stones onto the water pan beneath, and there was nothing I could do about it. I wouldn't be able to turn this loaf in the oven at 20 minutes.
(There was a lot of drippings from the ends of the loaf, and I just formed some balls with it and stuck them in the oven too. They were actually the nicest little rye onion buns, by the way. It is bread, moister than a timbit, but not nearly so doughy. If I never learn how to form a nice boule, I can still live on these tiny crumbs, I think.)
But after all this work, to have the transfer into the oven defeat me thus - again - I was bitterly unhappy. I almost cursed Reinhart, even though I knew it was my fault. I felt such utter failure, I thought about giving up the quest to work through his cookbook. Seriously.
That is how much my hopes were dashed.
So… How's it taste?
It tastes like onions. And sweet. Oh, somewhere in the overtones of taste, there is a hint of rye, the sourness of sourdough and yogurt, and perhaps even some umami. I mean, it is a complex taste. The whole wheat flavour is lost, except maybe as a hint of some bitterness within the sourness of the whole wheat sourdough. Also lost is much of the caraway, unless you happen to get a slice that had some caraway near the crust, and then you get a bit of a scent of it in the back of your nose. Mostly though, the loaf tastes like onions. The onions are really that overpowering. I like onions well enough, but there was too much of it in this bread.
The next time I make this, I will leave that optional ingredient out; and maybe also the caraway, since my wife doesn't care for it. And probably I will change the oils and sugars -- the dough is simply far too wet with all of that moist sugar and fat (honey and molasses and oil and yogurt). The bread is once again too sweet for my taste anyway. I will likely add some ascorbic acid as Reinhart suggests in one of his asides.
The batard that fell apart in the oven, I cracked open even further this morning, to eat some for breakfast. The crumb is very moist - nothing at all like the picture in Reinhart's book, which looks almost pumpernickely. So moist is my version of his bread, it sags flaccidly when you pick up a piece, even after toasting. Perhaps if I waited a day or two, the bread might improve by staling a bit.
Beyond the Recipe
Just as I was searching the fridge for some cheese to put on this onion rye bread, I noticed that my Rye motherstarter had pushed the lid of the container up about an inch, just as the whole wheat motherstarter did when it was still on the counter the other day. I would have to either throw some of it away to get the lid back on to it, or bake with it.
Throw it away? You must be joking.
I immediately made both a soaker and a starter, and prepared to make the Meteil again. But this time...this time, I would neither measure by volume nor wholly by weight. I would measure by the feel of the dough. I would let the dough guide me. Or the Rheological Force.
I began by weighing the starter and flours, happy if I got just close to the amount the recipe called for. Then I started adding way more yogurt to the soaker. Like, double. And then I hydrated the starter ad lib.
The recipe card that I had made up from the book, in preparation for yesterday's bake (but which I didn't use, I still used the book -- now I was using the card), said I should use 6 g of water in the starter. I started from there, but ended up adding about 3/4 of a cup. And you know what? Turns out that is what the recipe actually calls for: not 6 g but 6 oz (about 170 g). Suddenly I felt vindicated, empowered: I sort of knew what I was doing. I could step away from the recipe if I thought it wasn't working out right. I could trust my inward sense now.
Let it rise while I'm sleeping today. I'll put it in the fridge when I wake up, until I can get back to it and bake. I can sleep like a man at peace.
Notes to Myself
- Make it again, and this time, use no onions, no caraway, no added fat or sugar, less hydration. Feel the Rheological Force, Luke.
- Use ascorbic acid with this recipe
- Don't let it rise too long. If it is doubled, put it into the fridge. You didn't do this with this loaf because Reinhart says that you need 2 hours to bring it back to room temperature, and that is when I was going to bake it, in 2 hours, so what was the point? But the point was, at that moment you should have put the dough in the fridge and not baked it at all that day. You should have waited until the next day.
- There are two places during the baking process that you are artisanly challenged: 1) during the forming of the loaves, and 2) during the transfer of the proofed loaf onto the hot stone. Are you ever going to get good at this?
- I am beginning to suspect my whole wheat flour is crap. Every time I use it I have a disaster loaf. A poor tool-less craftsman blames his materials, I guess.