16 August 2009

The Bread: Sourdough Boule

I have always liked baking. Since the Easy-Bake Oven days (if slowly heating food with a lightbulb in a plastic box counts as baking) I have become accustomed to throwing various concoctions in the oven to find them emerge as scones, cupcakes, pizzas, and the like. In high school, baking cookies was a good way to eliminate boredom while satisfying a sugar craving, and friends always seem to like goodies from the oven. But there is just something about the smell of a fresh loaf of bread that is the most comforting of anything oven-related, and knowing that my own hands can create such magic is equally wonderful and psychologically rewarding. Of course, I am no bread master--I'm more of a stove-top cook, somewhat haunted by the dense and deflated loaves of my early forays into breadmaking--but with practice, I have gotten better at the bread routine and had some fine results. I began to feel confident enough in my skills, in fact, that I recently developed an urge to explore the use of sourdough starters, which I always believed to be quite a hassle. Still, I wanted to bake some sourdough bread and decided to go ahead with making the starter that is necessary to do so, "feeding" it (part of the aforementioned hassle) and letting it transform into a pleasantly sour-smelling slop. And after a few basic oblong loaves, pretzels, and English muffins, I seemed to have gotten the hang of utilizing starter for my breadmaking needs. Despite numerous sourdough successes, there was still a particular loaf that I had not yet been able to satisfactorily create: the boule.

Essentially a giant, spherical bun, the simple boule shaping had given me some trouble during a few pain attempts, usually deflating and flattening out after a quick slash to the top before becoming oven-bound. Refusing to be defeated by what should be a basic dough-shaping technique, I figured the stiffness of the slow-rising dough produced by my "veganized" version of the basic sourdough recipe I consulted might retain the roundness better than the pain recipe I normally used. I also followed a hint that suggested the use of a quick slash from a very sharp razor to score the top of the loaf; beside rising too quickly, dull knives were also guilty of deflating otherwise promising future bread bowls.

The result: success! Although my sourdough is still not as airy as many of the traditionally yeast-risen loaves I've baked, the boule turned out round (well, slightly oblong, but still) and puffy. It's crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. Because my starter is about two months old now, the resulting bread takes on a pleasant sour flavor as well. I am glad to say that with this lovely ball of carbohydrate heaven, I am no longer discouraged by former dough-shaping mishaps and am eager to have more adventures in baking. I see homemade veggie chili in a bread bowl in my future.