I had a dilemma: three new starters, but none of them very active. How was I to test which I wanted to keep? Also, I wanted to try to make a bread with a very soft crust, possibly suitable for sandwiches.
The second part of that shouldn't have been difficult, since I've made various farmhouse loaves and other soft breads, although not often with sourdough. The first part was the real trick. My new starters, made with rainwater and local flour, were not behaving the way I wanted. Usually, the best idea is to boost them with feedings, to create a vigorous and happy sponge with a sense of purpose and a mission. The downside to that was that I don't want pots and pots of starter in the fridge, giving me a sense of guilt that I'm not baking for the multitudes. Also, it's a waste of good flour if the starter just doesn't cooperate.
I decided to use half-recipes, and test two starters against a loaf made with fresh yeast. For the softer bread, I decided to try the Pan de Mie from Dough by Richard Bertinet, one of my favourite books.
I made two classic mistakes here:
1 - If you want to experiment with a new technique, don't use a recipe you've never tried. Too many variables.
2 - If you are experimenting with a new recipe, don't use one that needs equipment you haven't got.
It's not that Pan de Mie is hard. After all, it's just bread made with a bit of milk. The real variable is that you use a covered loaf pan. Normally, this sort of loaf is baked in a pan known as a Pullman. It has a sliding cover that restricts the rise and the oven spring of the dough. The crust isn't exposed, so it's lighter. The bread should have a tighter crumb, without being too heavy.
I don't have a Pullman pan. I've never used one, either.
You might see where I'm going with this. All my blogs are not about successes. Sometimes? Bread fails.
Anyway . . .
First, I fed my wholemeal starter with 400g each of flour and water, and set it aside. I did the same with my rye starter.
Then, I went ahead to make the yeast version of the bread.
Pan de Mie, 1/2 recipe
10g fresh yeast
250g white bread flour
25g milk (half fat)
As usual with Richard Bertinet's recipes, I rubbed the yeast into the flour, then added the milk and water, forming it into a rough dough. Then I added the salt, turned the dough out and kneaded it until it was springy. I was trying for the 'windowpane', where a bit of dough stretched out is translucent and thin. I have to admit that this is very hard to achieve by hand, but I got there in the end.
Form the dough into a ball by taking the edges and turning them in towards the centre. Pull the edges up to create a sort of purse effect, and pinch the dough together to seal it. Put the ball, seam side down, into a lightly floured bowl, cover it with a tea towel or cling film, and let it rise until doubled.
That took about an hour. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and form it into a loaf. Put the loaf into a loaf pan.
Now, and this is very important, oil the underside of the lid, if you are using a Pullman pan. Otherwise, oil a baking tray, put it on top of the loaf tin, oiled side down, and weight it.
Preheat the oven to 250C.
I forgot the oil part. After about an hour and a half, the dough had risk to the top of the pan. When I took the weight and the baking tray off to look, the dough stuck to it and collapsed.
Foolishly, I put the tray back on and stuck the whole thing in the oven.
Turn the heat down to 220C and bake for 20 - 25 minutes, covered.
This was the result.
In my next post, I'll show you the sourdough version.
Fortunately, things picked up after this.