From where I’m writing now, I’m enjoying a slice of bread and a quiet morning. The bread was baked Monday evening, just after sunset. I got up Monday morning to light the fire. The night before I had fed the starter, this time with a new flour I recently purchased. I’ve been trying to source a good organic white flour that both meets the needs of the bread to my satisfaction and is a reasonable enough price that I can afford it. This may be the right flour.
Before starting the fire Monday morning, I mixed up my flour and my water for my bread, leaving it to rest in what is known as an autolyse. After the fire got going strong enough, I felt I could step away and finish the mix on my dough. I added the leaven (sourdough starter that has been fed for bread) and the salt, and mixed until it was all incorporated. Then I fed the fire again, and left to go help harvest vegetables for the CSA.
The afternoon was spent shaping the loaves, tending the fire, and waiting. Baking with natural leavening is a waiting game. You have to wait until the right moment and then go with it. Too soon or too late and the bread will turn out either flat, or will open too much, or will be too tight. Any number of different conclusions other than what you’re going for.
After the fire was scraped out and the oven had cooled to an appropriate bread temperature, I put the first load in, closed the door and waited. The next twenty or so minutes are exciting, although I can’t truly see what’s going on behind the door. I was happy with how the loaves looked going in, the scoring had turned out well, and I was confident in what the oven was going to do. I just had to let it be. I watched the last of the sunset sink into the horizon and went inside to grab a bite of dinner.
Once I opened the doors I was pleased with what I saw. The cuts had opened up beautifully, the crust was almost fully browned. It was an improvement on the week before, for sure. And that’s what’s been fun about this bread oven experiment, is the improvement week to week. But it’s not just focusing on getting the perfect loaf – the loaves in between are worth eating as well. And that’s what I was remembering this morning, is that even though I haven’t made my ideal loaf yet, I still enjoy what I’m creating. And what I’m creating is life-giving, and joining in with a tradition going back for many years.