Sunday, February 24, 2013

Trying to Master Sourdough While Contemplating Catastrophic Global Warming

I.  One of my new year's resolutions is to become a decent bread baker.  In many ways I'm close to being a gourmet cook, but bread making is something I've neglected.

I buy bread at the store.  I'm getting increasingly frustrated, though, at the lack of excellent bakery bread available in stores in southcentral Alaska.  When we travel to Seattle, Portland, Oregon or California, the excellent Italian and French style breads readily available from local bakeries overwhelms me so much, I stuff loaves to bring north into empty coolers that brought seafood down from Alaska.

The kind of bread I crave the most that one cannot get here, is the rustic sourdough loaf, with a crunchy crust, big bubble holes in the bread itself, and a tangy, sourdough taste.  So, I've started trying to make that.

In the past, I've tried various sourdough starter recipes - some using yeast, some using yoghurt, some just relying on time itself to create a usable, somewhat stable lactobacillus.

In light of the new year's resolution, I searched the web for the most interesting sourdough starter recipe.  One that seemed quite strange, but fascinating, involved whole wheat flour and pineapple juice.  I decided to try it.  The site that had both that method and good word and video backup is called Breadtopia.

Supposedly, the pineapple juice starter initiator method was created by Debra Wink, back in early 2008.

Breadtopia's sourdough starter recipe takes a couple days or more longer to get going than many others, but it goes like this:
Step 1. Mix 3 ½ tbs. whole wheat flour with ¼ cup unsweetened pineapple juice. Cover and set aside for 48 hours at room temperature. Stir vigorously 2-3x/day. (“Unsweetened” in this case simply means no extra sugar added). 
Step 2. Add to the above 2 tbs. whole wheat flour and 2 tbs. pineapple juice. Cover and set aside for a day or two. Stir vigorously 2-3x/day. You should see some activity of fermentation within 48 hours. If you don’t, you may want to toss this and start over (or go buy some!) 
Step 3. Add to the above 5 ¼ tbs. whole wheat flour and 3 tbs. purified water. Cover and set aside for 24 hours. 
Step 4. Add ½ cup whole wheat flour and 1/4 to 1/3 cup purified water. You should have a very healthy sourdough starter by now.
Back in early February, I did just that.  I even juiced my own pineapple for freshness.  The starter evolved just as it was supposed to.  I tried it.

The first time was a failure - the bread did not rise much at all over a twelve-hour period.  It didn't taste tangy.  I figured the house wasn't warm enough.

The second time, the bread rose some, but was still brick-like.  It tasted a bit tangy.

The third time, I tried mixing in rye flour.  The bread rose a bit more, and tasted tangier.  I didn't call it a success, though, just "progress."  I turned most of the loaf into croutons for a King crab Caesar salad.

The fourth time, shown at the top of the article, was considered a success, by everyone who tasted it, and the loaf disappeared quickly.  I followed this recipe like a fundamentalist Christian might follow the Book of Numbers.

Here's what the replenished starter looks like today.  Yesterday, shortly after adding flour and water, it brewed over.

How have you done at sourdough bread making, or at artisan bread baking?

II.  Friday, I ended a diary on the possible criminal investigation of Shell Oil's Arctic drilling ship, Noble Discoverer, with a "side note," describing my frustration that more and more, I feel less certain humans are capable of avoiding a climate catastrophe that might even turn into an extinction event, or something akin to the effects of the Toba eruption, about 70,000 years ago. 

In Antarctica, a relatively small ice sheet, Pine Glacier, and an undersea rock, throttle back the galloping movement of Thwaites Glacier.  Were the throttling to stop, Penn State Prof. Richard Alley observed at a conference earlier in February, "if Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica were to cease being pinched or grounded its surge would raise sea level by three meters.

"Nature has done much faster things before, so fast that their passing leaves no signs of its actual happening, just a discontinuity of before and after."

A three-meter sea rise (from one glacial system alone!) would mean the dislocation of  a significant percentage of world population, and the flooding of over two-thirds of the operating nuclear reactors.

So many of the scariest aspects of climate change are things we didn't even know about forty years ago, thirty years ago, twenty, ten - or even five.  This indicates that as computing power grows, there will be even more we discover that is unknown.

Hopefully, some of these discoveries will be mitigators.  Unfortunately, though, the bottom line, a Prof. E. O. Wilson observed, is "ecological footprint is already too large for the planet to sustain, and it is getting larger."

One commenter to my Friday diary's climate change conclusion, draftmama, wrote:
We have been quietly preparing for when it all falls apart. I am sorry that my daughter is hoping to get pregnant because I fear in less than 40 years the world will be a cross between Blade Runner and Mad Max. 
We purchased 10 acres, grow and raise all our own food, and since we are 60 +- hopefully will be able to survive. The planet? Not so much. 
I think the story of dropping poisoned mice to kill the brown tree snakes in Guam which have destroyed the bird population (they think there are maybe 500 birds left) is a perfect metaphor for what we have done to the earth.
Not everyone is fortunate enough to own or have 10 acres well more than three meters above sea level, upwind from any nuclear plants.  There need to be thousands of green discoveries for urban people, all of them more significant than this algae-powered, CO2-eating lamp:

Meanwhile, I'll learn more out cultivating sourdough, as I approach the beginning of my 40th year in Alaska.


Anonymous said...

Sometimes in the midst of winter we make plans to leave Alaska permanently. Then we travel outside, to some region or city that is absolutely overrun with humanity. We come back to AK to our quiet wooded corner of the world and reconsider any decision to leave.

We may have some eccentric characters up here, and some gun toting maniacs, but really, Alaska is never going to be overrun by humanity; it's just a little too outside of the physical comfort zone for many. There are very few climatically optimum places to live comfortably with "personal space" as they are all overpopulated, and only getting worse.

Staying put up here for now. No reason not to.

Good luck with your bread! I wish I had advice but I kind of suck at baking :-)

HarpboyAK said...

Did you try raising the loaves overnight in a cool spot, as I suggested?

The acidophilus in sourdough grows faster than the yeast at warm temperatures, and the acid created cuts the long gluten molecule chains that give the dough its elasticity and traps the gas bubbles. Raising the dough overnight in a refrigerator overcomes this because at low temps the yeast grows faster than the acidophilus.