Reparations after Bread Wars

Mock Monsieursummary: effects of weather changes on bread made with wild yeast; bread wars; counter-intuitive behaviour; rescuing failures and turning them into major successes; Mock Monsieurs; Avocado Toast; Winning;

“If you have a lemon make a lemonade” – Dale Carnegie, after Elbert Hubbard“Ultimately there is no such thing as failure. There are lessons learned in different ways.” – Twyla Tharp

We were so thrilled to finally have fabulous wild yeast bread from OUR kitchen this summmer. We were so proud of ourselves. It was as if we had invented it. We even contemplated not bothering to replace the jar of “expired” (but oddly still viable) commercial yeast that was languishing in the fridge.

We don’ need no stinkin’ active dry yeast! -me, OUR kitchen, sometime in early October

So it has been quite disheartening over the last month or so to be making flat loaf after flat loaf.

You can imagine the tears of frustration when I pulled the bread out of the oven on that lovely sunny morning in November. The bread that was supposed to be showcasing stew for dinner that night….

Tartine Bread

Since the weather turned to fall with overnight frost in the garden, the kitchen temperatures have dropped dramatically. Making wild yeast bread has become challenging again.

During the summer, leaving the starter on the counter was perfect. But now, the counter is way too cold. And, as it turns out, the oven with only the light on is way too warm.

Not to mention that as we bake more and more wild yeast bread, we imagine ourselves to be experts. Both of us vociferously argue about how many times the dough should be turned, how it should be turned, when it should be shaped, when it should be baked, etc. etc.

[It] might be the case that your starter is rising, but you’re not there to see it. If you feed at night, it might be rising up while you’re asleep, and by morning it has fallen again, so it looks the same.
– Donna Currie, Sourdough Starter Frequently Asked Questions | Serious Eats
    Professional bakers focus on dough temperature, and have a special formula to determine what temperature water to use in the dough […] [P]aying attention to the temperature of your ingredients and the environment your bread will rise in can help you achieve more consistent and predictable results.
    Keep in mind that sourdough ferments (rises) well at 76°F, so this is a good dough temperature to aim for, although a few degrees in either direction is also fine.
    But keep in mind that we’re aiming for 76°F, so “warmer” doesn’t mean 110°F, but more like room temperature water or a tiny bit warmer.
– Barbara Alpern, Flourish: flour + nourish, Artisan Sourdough Bread Tips, part 2: fermentation, folding, and shaping

At first I blamed myself. Then I blamed T. Then I blamed the Jane Mason starter. Then I blamed the flour. Then I….

And it wasn’t particularly comforting to hear that my friends were having similar difficulties.

One of the times, we thought we’d conquered our foe when we pulled out a nicely rounded loaf. But as T lifted it to put it onto the rack to cool, I heard the soul-crushing words, “it’s heavy again”.


Once it had cooled, we cut into it and there it was: the telltale big empty space just under the top crust. Yup. The perfect room for a Lazy Baker.

And finally, after rescuing loaf of heavy flat bread after loaf of heavy flat bread by making all sorts of wonderful things using “failed bread”: faux lasagne, croutons for soup and salad, ersatz Reubens, and, best of all, mock Monsieurs (toasted buttered bread, ham, cheese sauce that has been put under the broiler to lightly toast the top of the cheese), we figured out what was going wrong.

Mock Monsieur

We were letting the bread overproof. It was rising and falling in the fridge overnight.

Ha! Who would guess that an overnight refrigerator proofing would be detrimental?!

For the last couple of times making Tartine Bread, we have mixed the dough when the starter floats, proofed it in the oven with only the light turned on (ie: a little bit too warm, but not way too cold as it would be if it were on the counter) and instead of putting the shaped loaf into the fridge overnight, we’re baking it a couple of hours after shaping.

We’ve also discovered that we must skip the “bench rest” step in shaping and simply shape the bread and put it immediately into the brotform.

Did we take photos of the last beautiful loaf that is wonderfully lofty and has stunning ears on the scoring. Of course not.

We did, however, take photos of the first success of the winter and fabulous avocado toast made with it.

Tartine Bread
avocado toast

Ha! We’re not only winning after a losing battle, but now that we’ve understood that it takes less time to proof bread in the winter, we think we’re winning the war….


Avocado Toast


This entry was posted in baking, bread - yeasted & unyeasted, food & drink, sourdough and wild yeast, Tartine Bread, whine on by . Mock Monsieur

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