The Frankenstein bread project: creating starter dough

9 Sep

A few weeks ago I was inspired by a recipe for sourdough bread in Modernist Cuisine at Home.  It began with a starter mixture called a poolish which is a simple mixture of flour, water and a little sugar.  Then it’s left to sit uncovered in a warm place.  After several hours, the mixture will start to ferment and bubble.  At this stage a portion of the starter can be used to make bread, but – and here’s where it gets weird – you have to replace what you’ve removed by ‘feeding’ the mixture with more flour and water.  Basically your creating a dough monster that lives in your cupboard.

Starters are used in addition to, or in place of yeast.  (Fact: most artesianal bakeries don’t need to add yeast because there’s enough of it the air!)   The results are supposed to yield an airy, light, and flavourful end product.

I was familiar with this concept, but thought it was a bit weird; what if I forgot to feed it?  Creepiness aside, it was a $0.20 experiment.  So I began my starter and waited to see if it was really worth the effort.


Biga mixture of flour and water

I followed the poolish recipe in Modernist Cuisine at Home.  (FYI for what I think are obvious reasons, I prefer to call my starter a ‘biga’). I diligently feed and divided the bubbly concoction every other day.  Along the way I used the biga on a variety of projects.  The flavour being developed was delicious, however I wasn’t thrilled with the crumb. C asked me why homemade bread is always so dense.  And I mumbling something about having preservatives.  Truth was, I didn’t really know and I wasn’t very happy about it.

Then I discovered Ruhlman’s app: Bread Baking Basics. It has loads of great information for just $1.99.   (See my full review here).

Scale & Biga

Weight versus volume

The app lets you select the type of flour, form, quantity and mode of baking.  It provides solid insight into bread making techniques that I had previously glossed over.  A major one being the importance of weighing the ingredients.  I have always been a fan of recipes that use weight rather than volume to measure ingredients.  And here is where I found my answer to C’s question.  The reason home made bread is so dense is probably due to the fact it’s got too much flour.  The weight/volume ratio can be off up to 50% in either direction depending on the type of flour.


Challah bread was a BIG(a) success

Armed now with this information, I kneaded up a loaf of challah using the starter, app and the scale.  The result was amazing!  Let the home made bread baking revolution begin.


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