I love experimenting. It’s probably my favourite thing of all, the act of changing a single variable and seeing just what that does to the outcome of a test. It is the way my brain is wired. Some of the easiest experiments to make – and everybody does this – is in the realm of cookery. You’ve done it whenever you’ve looked at a recipe and mentally substituted the herbs & spices, or have run out of onions so used shallots, or used a riesling instead of a merlot because that’s all that was in the fridge in a sauce or casserole.
Sometimes it’s not like that at all, though. Sometimes experimentation is not born out of necessity. Sometimes it’s because you want to mix a tiny bit of every bottle that’s in the bathroom together to see what’ll happen. I’m not saying that I still do that – I did that before I hit secondary school age, I don’t need to do it again – but sometimes just trying stuff out for kicks and giggles is the only excuse you need.
Which brings me onto experimental bread.
I love making bread. I really like eating it. Chorleywood process bread has its place but for preference I like a good slow-fermented sourdough boule, which is surprisingly expensive for flour and water. Last year I made some dried sourdough starter (from Richard Bertinet’s Crust, IIRC) and as I’d had to bin my previous starter because it had died – sourdough starter is like a middle-class goldfish – I thought I’d try using some. It reactivated fine (hoorah!) and after feeding it I had some to use. I also had some left over dough from a loaf I’d made the previous week with some easyblend yeast in the fridge. So! Instead of all sourdough – which can be a bit acidic – I thought I’d mix the leftover with the sourdough starter and bung that into my flour/water/salt without adding any extra yeast. Leave it overnight to ferment a bit, and bob’s your uncle.
It was freezing that night, so it didn’t rise very much but it smelled lovely, like apples and not too sour. I shaped it and put it into a proving basket then went out for a run, and came back to find it had barely risen at all (still pretty cold). So I left it for a bit longer, next to the oven, and did some other things. Eventually I got bored of waiting and decided to follow Dan Lepard’s advice (you don’t need to leave it to double in size, just half as much again, and it should spring back in the oven) and bunged it in the oven. Forgot to slash the top.
When it came out it looked and smelled fantastic. Bulged a bit because of the not slashing thing, but I’m ok with that. Left to cool for as long as I could and sliced it to see what the inside was like.
Well, it’s soft and tastes brilliant. It has a lovely crumb and although it’s not got huge bubbles and the chewyness of proper sourdough is reduced it does have a great mouth feel. Also you can slice it pretty thinly without it collapsing. I made the Best Sandwiches Ever (pesto, tomato, mozarella, salt, spinach, pesto in that order) and this bread suited them perfectly.
It also makes pretty decent toast.
So there we have it! Experimental bread rising techniques make tasty bread (shocker). To be fair, though, you do have to try very hard to make totally inedible bread.