Midwestern “sourdough” bread

Above is some of the first passable bread I’ve produced with the brick oven, a few basic white flour “sourdough” batards (I know, that word sounds fancy, it’s simply French for “bastard”, meaning a loaf that’s neither round like a boule [ball] nor skinny like a baguette). I put sourdough in quotes because the bread isn’t actually sour, it’s just leavened with a natural starter instead of commercial yeast. Personally I’m just happy it wasn’t on fire like much of the rest of the bread I’ve pulled out of my oven.

This bread, as you can see, has a rather tight crumb. That’s par for the course with breads that are leavened entirely by natural means. Oftentimes naturally leavened doughs are “spiked” with a little packaged yeast to give them the gas they need to form larger holes, assuming other factors (like a fairly wet composition).

If I were to nit-pick, I’d say that the crust was also quite thin and soft. This is due in part to the fact that I took the bread out of the oven a little soon, since as I said, I was afraid of burning it. The primary reason is lack of moisture. It’s a hot, steamy baking environment that creates thick, crunchy crusts. Modern commercial ovens create steam by virtue of special steam or water injectors. Even many European brick ovens have spouts which allow bakers to dribble water in as the bread bakes. Real purists insist that artificial steam isn’t needed, since if the oven is packed full enough with bread, vapor rising from the heating loaves will provide the requisite moisture.

Me, I’m not concerned with the finer details at the moment, since I’m still preoccupied with fire tending and heat. My big discovery of late is that a shorter burn with less-dense hardwood fuel is the way to go for bread baking (not the über-dense, hot-burning osage orange I’ve been using…though that’s the stuff I definitely need for pizza making). And that’s nice, since it allows me to continue to cannibalize fallen tree limbs in the neighborhood instead of buying all my wood specially from roadside sellers…since the stuff gets expensive.

After I get all the particulars of operating the oven down pat, I can concentrate on bread technique.

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