The Sourdough Project, Day of Reckoning

If I were starting anywhere near to what “traditional” standards, I’d be blogging about something entirely different. If I were searching for enlightenment by following the methods of my ancestors and kinsmen, I’d be going in an entirely new direction.

If I were going the “traditional” route, I’d be chronicling my quest in finding the right kind of “00” flour (hard to find, and more than likely extremely expensive), finding the right kind of crushed San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella, fresh herbs, and on and on. If I were going that way, I’d be on a seemingly never ending journey to find and create my perfect D.O.C. (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) pie; Fussing like an Italian mother over her child’s First Communion, tirelessly nitpicking finer details while getting lost in the bigger picture. If I were going that way, I’d be blogging about something entirely different, and more than likely, going mad in the process.

But I’ve traveled the traditional route. The end result was hardly a payoff of the journey, and besides, I wasn’t much for following tradition. Especially when I’m so far removed from it. I’ve been more keen on starting my own traditions. Granted, I am partial to deviating every once and awhile, but somehow, I always find my way back home. I always find my way back to what works, and what is good.

Yesterday was the inaugural run of my fist sourdough pizza crust. Between my last entry and last night, not much happened. The starter was completed, then divided to use in a batch. The batch was then divided into equal parts, frozen overnight, then sat in a refrigerator for 24 hours. While this was going on, I made a back up batch of my usual dough for the rest of the family, just in case something went horribly wrong.

Their doughs were wonderful as always. Mine (the sourdough)Moment of Truth, Part 1, I didn’t know what to expect. The dough did not rise during the initial construction, not noticeably anyway. After thawing, it retained its shape rather nicely. Immediately, my mind went to my first dough making experience. It was that fear that gripped me for a moment. I removed the dough from the freezer bag, I noticed it’s distinct bouquet immediately. Smell was one thing, its true test was to be on the floured working surface.

I was in trouble when I shaped my first dough years ago. I knew I was in trouble. Not only because I was shaping from sense memory, which was questionable at best, but the dough itself was way too knackered to do anything with; it fell apart almost immediately after being constructed. Since that time, I’ve modified my approach to the shaping process. I had to accommodate for how much space I had in the kitchen, how the dough was actually prepared, what kind of ingredients were used and what kind of hardware I was using, including the oven. I’ve moved three times since then. Every time is a brand new learning experience.

My family’s doughs weigh in at 12 ounces; again, a measurement that came out of trial and error. The size is just right for covering a 14 inch pan. It’s stretches just enough to make it thin with a nice lip around the edge. Anything less will result in a crust full of holes because it’s stretched way too thin. This sourdough was divided into 10 ounce portions, and it was strong enough to stand up to the abuse I gave it in the shaping process. Moment of Truth, Part 2It stayed thin and elastic without tearing, which is always a good sign. The oldest daughter’s pizza is pepperoni and bacon. My girlfriend’s is fresh tomato, bacon, garlic and fresh basil. Mine is the kitchen sink: My vision of Heaven, Before...extra cheese, roni, bacon, green pepper, onion and a pinch of fresh garlic. I wanted to weigh this sucker down to see how it would behave in the oven.

Eight minutes later (3 of which were spent on a stone at the bottom of the oven), it came gliding out unbroken on the peel with a nice, toasted char on the bottom....My vision of Heaven, After. Wonderfulness. It put up a fight as it was being cut into equal slices, which I thought was peculiar, but then I remembered that I wasn’t working with my typical dough.

Please don’t be like that other dough,” was what I kept repeating to myself as I was taking my first bight. I had to expect the worst, and my first attempt at a pizza that would satisfy the requirements of il Denominazione di Origine Controllata, had become the benchmark of what not to do in the future. The dough was crisp, then gave way to that slight chew I have been searching for. It was sweet, nutty, it had a taste that was all it’s own. The overall experience was not perfect, it was sublime. Which is close enough for me. I can find perfection on my own. I think next time, I’ll let it spend a full 8 minutes on the stone, rather than shaping on a pan.

My quest for the perfect dough is on going. It might take me a while to find my white whale; My eureka moment. But at least I won’t go hungry on this journey.

Daddy tested, Baby approved.
(Editor’s Note: It may look like we’re shoving this down her throat, but in actuality, she’s got a firm grip on that slice, and she’s got a right mind to eat the entire thing. She only has two teeth. It does my heart good when she uses a crust for a biter biscuit.)

The Sourdough Project, Day 4

Day 4:

The directions state:

“If the dough has more than doubled in size, you can go on to Stage Two.”

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EXCELSIOR!!!

Finally! I get to make my Mother. I will probably have to make a special cupboard just for flour. As I’m looking further in the directions, they’re calling for 3 to 4 cups at a time, and this is like every 3 days….hmmm…that doesn’t sound right.
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Such predicaments, I must forge ahead into alien territory. I cut the culture into 6 equal pieces and separate to the best of my ability in a large metal bowl. The directions make it sound like your dividing a nice piece of Sharp Cheddar to be served with crackers, but in actuality, it is more like bathroom spackle. As I move this goop around, I can’t help but catch a whiff here and there. All concerns about it losing its initial acidity and unique aroma have vanished. It’s just as fruity, sharp and complex as Day 1.
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I add 3 1/2 cups of bread flour and 2 cups of water, stir together until everything gets moist. I cover the whole thing in plastic wrap and wait for 3 hours. Which is just long enough to continue another blog I have going.
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Yep. That’s right. Another blog. It’s about 11:30 on a Tuesday night. I have to wait for another hour to put my Mother in the fridge, and I have another blog that I have to finish in the next two days. Forgive my brevity, but there’s really nothing more to this than this. I’ve tried to embellish as much as I could, but as I’d like to point out every so often……got nothin’.

More later.

The Sourdough Project, Day 3

Okay, note to self: Read the damn directions. Of course the seed culture didn’t rise, it wasn’t supposed to!

….okay, no problem.

So, after needlessly starting again, I have…um….started.

Again.

[flips open book to the sourdough page] Aw, geez! Would ya look at that:

“Day Two: There will probably be little or no growth of the dough.”

HaHAAAA! How’s THAT for investigative journalism. On day two, the instructions say to “crumble” the remaining dough into a bowl after getting rid of half of it.DSC00235The act of “crumbling” to me suggests breaking up something that’s…I dunno…crumbly. Like a cookie, or a cracker….or a Papa John’s pizza. Why not start out with smaller measurements? Not sure. But, I’m supposed to “crumble” this dough into a bowl. You tell me:DSC00236
Does this look like something you “crumble”?”Ewwww….I touched it….” I crumble this into a bowl, add bread flour and a little water and knead until the dough has the same consistency as Day 1.

Having learned my lesson, I look a little bit further into the process, and it states that if the dough hasn’t doubled in size by the third day, repeat step two, and so on until the dough does indeed grow. At this rate, I don’t understand that if there’s nothing left of the original seed culture, how will it continue to grow? If I keep cutting away at it, it will eventually just turn to glue.

In any case, it looks like I’ll be repeating this process over the next few days. Since I have other things to blog about, I’ll be reporting back when there is real progress.

The Sourdough Project, Day 2

Day 2:

Total failure.
How it looked after I made the seed culture:

…aaaaand here’s how it looked the next day:

Same picture? Well…yes. But the idea’s the same. After adding the juice to the flour, I was to seal it in an airtight container and within 24 hours, this mess was supposed to double in size. The crude arrow on tape method was supposed to mark how far it has risen.
Well, I ran out of lids for this particular container, and had to resort to plastic wrap and wishful thinking. The next morning, 12+ hours later, no movement whatsoever. It was still a tub full of kindergarten paste goop.

Total failure.

Although nowhere near catastrophic, I can’t help but be reminded about my first foray in the dough making world. I’ve worked in many restaurants in my life, including a few pizzerias. Those places had their own method on how dough should be made, but they all resulted in the same thing. As a result, I came away with taking a little from column A, and a little from column B. But I didn’t apply this knowledge in my inaugural run. Instead, I relied on instruction from a cook book. Mistake. I should have gone my own way as soon as I noticed a step or two was missing from the directions I was following. THAT was a disaster: The dough was stiff, tasteless, flimsy and I think caught fire in the oven…not unlike the Hindenburg…oh the humanity!

Second attempt, I said screw it. I’m going my own way. Cookbooks be damned, I have enough experience to do this. The result was slightly better. This one didn’t catch fire, at least. At this rate, it took me an entire summer to get to where I needed to be, and even then, I wasn’t anywhere close to where I am now, which is “pretty good”. I think this latest endeavor will more than likely head down the same route.

Tonight, we shall see how this goes. The new culture I made is now in a real airtight container and has been sitting out on the counter top since last night. I’m fairly confident that it’ll be better this time around.

More later.

The Sourdough Project, Day 1

Crust makes the pie. Master the dough, master the Universe.

I have been making my own pizza dough from scratch, every weekend for the past 3 years. I think it’s safe to say that I might be getting the hang of it. I have finally gotten to the point where the dough is lovely and fragrant, the homemade sauce is piquant and aromatic, and my cheese of choice (cut from a block rather than getting a bag of shredded mozzarella), are producing edible joy on a weekly basis.

But it’s not enough. It’s never enough.

Everyone has their own idea of what the perfect dough should be; New York thin, Chicago thick, West Coast crunchy….Papa John’s (not saying anything bad about Papa’s. If eating dog turd on a cracker is your idea of a perfect…by all means…mangiare). My vision of perfection is thin. Not paper thin, but thin, with just a slight chew. Something that holds up to the scrutiny of the heartiest of toppings, yet not so obnoxious as to insist on usage of fork and knife. I’ve tasted this in a couple of places, and they’ve immediately became my favorite. Which is why it maddens me that I can’t replicate it, or rather up until now, haven’t replicated it.Gathering ingredients and toolsPeter Reinhart’s American Pie is quickly becoming an important read in my library, right up there with Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It’s equal parts questing travelogue and cook book. Within its pages, I recognized my own hunger for wanting something new; something I haven’t tasted before. Maybe it buys into my obsessive nature, but I think I might have found my latest life’s calling. I have never made it, but I’m sure I’ve had it, I believe a sourdough crust will be the next logical step in approaching bliss. Master the dough, master the Universe. For as long as it takes, I will chronicle my quest for my white whale. For the one or two of you who caught my previous blogs, I don’t think I need to explain my need to indulge in labor intensive activities. Sourdough takes patience, nurturing, a keen eye, and lots and lots of time. Sounds like something that’s right up my alley.

Day 1:

Presently, I’m used to making my dough the American way, as opposed to the traditional, Italian, DOC approved, kinda tasteless dough. I’ve made it the traditional way, I found it in direct violation to my delicate American taste buds. I stick with what works and stopped giving a damn on what the DOC thinks.
Still, the dough that I make, while sufficient, isn’t quite doing it for me. Which is why I’m switching to sourdough. Now, this is something new to me. Sourdough is made from a wild yeast. Wild Yeast is not found in stores. Wild yeast has to be farmed fresh. Wild yeast originates from a mother starter. A mother starter comes from what they call a seed culture. A seed culture is produced by making bacteria, and they way to get this certain type of bacteria is by introducing pineapple juice to whole wheat flour. I’m process oriented, but there’s a simplicity to this that intrigues me. Bread has been made like this for centuries. It’s important to remember one’s roots.

Today, I make the seed culture. Initially, it takes less time than my usual dough prep. But my usual prep time is for one night, and one night only. Sourdough prep time takes days. It’s like a plant: Tend to it, walk away, let it do its thing.
Adding the wet to dryIncorporate ingredients, knead into a tennis ball sized ball, cover in an air tight container, leave on a counter top for twenty-four hours, and bam! Instant seed culture. Time to go on to step two.

Dough!

More later.