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Sourdough Fail, it Happens

I am trying to get better about posting my blog every week, it does get difficult at times as I am still in DC for the next 9 weeks or so before returning for good to the homestead.   Some of you have noticed there is more posts lately about things like baking, particularly sour dough bread baking rather than farming/planting/livestock stuff.  That is because that is something I can work on in DC while I wait, and it is skills that will transfer.  I have been working on sourdough bread lately as it is a cultured food, similar to cheese’s and yogurts (which I want to also work on) so it allows me get some of the basics down to dealing with live cultures and further reduces the need for commercial yeasts.

The plan for this weekend was to make a loaf of sourdough sandwich bread as well as a sour dough king cake.  I even bragged about doing it on Facebook before the fact.  Admittedly after last week’s success on the artesian sour dough bread I was probably a little too cocky with my sour dough skills, make that a whole lot to cocky!  Can you say double fail?  My sandwich loaf was a brick, literally, you could have very legitimately used it as a weapon and both the King Cake and the Sandwich loaf put a capital S on Sourdough.  Granted some people really like that sour taste but it was a little much for my taste buds.  The sourness actually worked pretty well with the king cake with sugar and cinnamon (Sweet and sour!)  but with the cream cheese it left something to be desired in my opinion.  But it is not all bad news, I learned a lot, the least of which was the reminder, that sometimes, we fail.  As fails go however, this one at least not epic.  It was edible for the most part.

So where did I go wrong?  Yes, I will put myself on blast here so hopefully someone learns from my mistakes.  First, I let my starter mature to long after feeding it.   Generally, the longer you let your sourdough starter set and the closer it gets to “peaking” (expanding as much as it can before shrinking) the more sour your bread will become. Some who like it really sour will actually let it go beyond its peak, as I said I am not a huge fan of it being this sour.  In this case I just let it set longer because I was waiting for it to froth up a little more and lost tract of time.

That was one issue but probably not the biggest one, the biggest one was I let it over bulk ferment (over rise).  This definitely happened on the bread loaf, when I looked up what went wrong after the fact, my dough had every characteristic of being over fermented (sticky, will not hold shape, looked more like goo than dough and was starting to get liquid forming at the top).  

You can see the liquid forming around the edge, a clear sign of over fermenting your dough

Basically, the yeast ate all the food it could from the starch.  It is that digestion process that releases carbon dioxide which causes the bread to rise.  Without that, I had a very dense bread loaf. Once I punched the dough down, releasing the built-up gas, the yeast could not produce any more due to lack of food. While the King Cake did not have the same visible signs due to it being a different kind of dough (no water, used eggs and sour cream as the liquids) the result was much the same, a very dense cake.  I did kind of guess I had over fermented it when the dough did not “Proof” (re-rise) very much after being punched down but at that point it is too late to stop you just must hope for the best!  The bread and King cake did have a little rise in the oven but still resulted in a very dense sour tasting product.

The prime factor that probably contributed to my over fermenting was placing the dough on top on my stove while I was curing cast iron pans in the stove.  Heat causes the fermentation process to speed up and cooling (like in the fridge) causes it to slow down.  I did not think about how much heat would leach out of the top of the stove and the result was that the dough fermented much faster then was typical for sour dough. I did not check on it early in the fermentation cycle, so I did not catch it when it expanded. The giving extra time waiting for the dough to proof after over fermenting probably contributed to the sour taste as it gave the lactic acid time to build up (what gives it the sour taste).  The other contributing factor to the failure was that I was trying to do too much at one time, trying to bake two new items at the same time so I did not pay as much attention to either one, failed to respect the task. As I said earlier, I got too cocky from an early success.  Lesson learned.

I now realize more then ever what people mean when they say sourdough baking is very much an art rather then a science.  Unlike commercial yeast, do you not know exactly how much yeast is n your bread when making sour dough, there is just so many factors involved between temperature, how long it matures, how much hydration is in the mix, not to mention the exact make up of the flour you are using.  This weekend taught me to respect the sour dough!

It also reminded me of another lesson, sometimes we fail.  There is no shame in that, it happens sometimes, especially when we try new things.  Unfortunately, I am sure I will fail multiple times over the next couple years as I learn the ropes of homesteading and farming.  Rest assured, just like I will most likely not over ferment my sour dough again those lessons will most likely stick as well.  Nothing like experience as a teacher


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