Thursday, September 28, 2017

Of Smelly Bread and Baker's Dread

  It is now officially Fall, and there is just something so completely magical about this time of the year, it seems that the smell of cinnamon wafts out from every kitchen, the sun shines more cheerfully than ever, the leaves twirl about, dancing on their way down to the ground, and young girls like me are inspired to bake as never before.

  Recently I got a lovely, and quite massive nutrition book from my dear Mum, punnily enough, I devoured it. I have learned so much from it and still am learning. It was finally a nutrition book that wasn't promoting some sort of a fad, it gave both sides of the nutrition coin, and left me to form my own opinions. Blabbering aside, I eagerly read the recipes in that book and jumped at every chance I got to make them. The one recipe that intrigued me above all others was a recipe for sourdough bread, which I would first have to make my own starter. Not a big deal I thought, it sounded fun.

  On day one of my starter making experiment, I simply mixed a cup of flour with a cup of cold water. It was easy peasy and rather fun. As my wooden spoon swirled around in the bowl I was already seeing gorgeous tall and proud loaves of the most delicious sourdough that ever was, and that would be made without an ounce of effort.

  It's such a sad thing I've learned that daydreams most often are beautiful, little, fluttery fancies that love to dance around people's minds when the people in question ought to be facing the facts, like me, when I should have expected that I, having never baked sourdough before, let alone made my own starter, that I would have a relatively high chance of a complete disaster.

  I believe it was two days later, perhaps only one, when my whole family noticed something odd about that starter, the smell was just a little more than off-putting, if you want an example of how awful the smell was, I shall give you one, ponder this, if you enjoyed the sensation of consciousness, then you wouldn't walk within two yards of that bowl of starter.

  It came to the point that each evening, as I approached that bowl of starter I quivered from the tip of my nose to the tops of my toes with dread. Yanking the cloth off the bowl was similar to walking into a creaking house deep in the woods, in the middle of the night, where you are certain that something horrible awaits you.

  It was like a horror movie (I am not truly qualified to tell you that since I have never watched a horror movie) as in, the situation only became more gruesome with each passing minute. When I removed that cloth, a scent, not so different from walrus vomit, punched me in the face. As I stood there, reeling about, trying to gather my senses, I noticed that the "hooch" ( a liquid, similar to alcohol that surfaces during the fermentation period, also drunk by miners that were desperate for alcohol back in the day) was a lurk-y sort of grayish black color and turned my stomach just to look at.

  That night I felt hopeless, I knew that my lovely loaves of bread were doomed. It was with a broken heart that I researched sourdough starters like crazy, it seems that in the first few days a sweaty sock like smell is not to be scared about, "however, if it smells like vomit, you're just better off throwing everything in the bin and starting over," at least that's what the experts said. The only bright side possible, was that my starter did not simply smell like vomit, it smelled like stewed vinegar and sardine blubber.

  I read a little more about starters and gave up after reading about some doctor who was so boastful of his masterful starter redeeming skills. I smacked down my tablet (a current tech device that is often overlooked in the pursuit of smartphones, not a pad of paper) and marched down to my bowl of starter, I was about to heal my starter, to pull it out of its pit of hopelessness.

  The first thing I did was drain off that horrible "hooch." I would have pinched my nose shut, but then I would have dropped the bowl, which in retrospect would have saved me a lot of work, then from that day on, I split my daily starter feedings into two feedings half the size of what my daily feeding usually was and took care to drain the hooch each time.

  Two days ago, I pulled the cloth off of my bowl, just like usual, and then went shrieking in the opposite direction. I know, you're probably thinking that the "hooch" returned and tried to grab me. But nope, my starter was a gorgeous tan color, it was frothy and bubbling and the soft and sweet smell of nutty and yeasty wine wafted from the bowl, just like they said a healthy starter would. I rushed to each of my family members and squealed with pride over my dear little starter. It was healed, it was healthy and beautiful and filled my heart with delight.

  Tomorrow is the last day that it has to ferment before I can bake it. So yes, there is a possibility that I shall end up with dough bricks smelling of wine, but I shall not fret about it for now, because for this moment I shall once again succumb to daydreams of gorgeous, tall, and proud loaves of the best sourdough bread ever.