Tuesday, November 30, 2004

jeffrey hamelman, zen master

ok, ok, i'm sure by now, dear readers, you are waaay tired of this j. hamelman hagiography. this is because you haven't read the epilogue to his book, bread, which is possibly one of the most beautiful, plain-spoken, and sincere-without-being-earnest statements of what is good in life i've ever read.

sit the man next to the dalai lama. but seriously, to prove that hamelman is only human, i do have one minor beef with his book.

it's in his instructions for creating and maintaining a sourdough culture. he says that when you feed and refresh the sourdough as it ferments, you should discard "a portion." um, how big is a portion?

i understand that people differ over this "portion." when you discard some of the sourdough culture, you do so to improve the bread.

sourdough cultures capture both wild yeasties and good bacterial beasties from the environment -- your kitchen. one kind of good beastie creates acetic acid (think vinegar) and another lactic acid (think yogurt).

too much acid makes for really bad, inedible bread, just nasty tasting. and it smells bad too!

so when you toss the extra culture, you are reducing the acid load to make sure you don't have too much. what most people prefer in their sourdough breads is a nice balance of acetic and lactic cultures. a light gentle tang.

we've all suffered thru overly-sour bread, so i won't go there. . .but people have different tastes for what that acid balance should be.

i myself prefer a more yogurt-y type feeling in bread, and with a whispered suggestion, not a full shout. so the question: how much to throw away?

other books i've read suggest you toss about half -- and if i were to make hamelman's culture (very tempting, very tempting; but i have to move onto the challah next!), this is the amount i'd start with. if that turned out too assertive for my taste, i'd move to discarding 2/3s. . .

one thing i do like about hamelman's sourdough culture instructions is that he makes something a few other books overlook quite clear. and that is that the lactic acid takes longer to develop than the acetic acid.

so some books will say you can bake with your culture in 6 or 7 days. yeah, you can, but in my experience, you'll get a more vineger-type sour taste.

the nice gentle yogurt taste takes 2 or 3 days longer to develop, as those beasties are slower to emerge in the culture. . .so my advice is to wait! develop your new culture 9 days or so before baking. . .

posted by fortune | 6:43 AM | top | link to this | email this: | links to this post | | 0 comments

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