It’s a good idea to follow recipes precisely, but messing things up a bit can still have good results.
I messed up. My timing was off. When I bake, I typically try to follow the recommended timing on recipes as closely as I can, with minor changes based on weather and our upper-Midwestern climate. But this week, I started my levain at the wrong time of day and realized I wouldn’t be able to use it to make my dough while it was at its peak unless I began making my bread at 3:00 AM. (Nope, not gonna do it.)
I had three options: 1.) Discard the levain and start again 2.) Use my levain early while the yeast was still developing;or 3.) Get up a little early and use the levain, even though it was past its prime.
With a current flour shortage, I didn’t want to waste my supplies, so option 1 was out. With option 2, I was concerned that less active yeast would result in a flat loaf. I made this mistake on the first sourdough loaf I ever made and it came out looking more like a flying saucer than a boule. So I chose option 3.
I started making my einkorn dough early in the morning, probably three or four hours past the time I should have used the levain. You can see that the levain had fallen from its peak, but was far from its low point.
I followed my recipe as I typically would, forming the dough, adding salt and water after 20 minutes, and conducting stretch-and-folds every 30 minutes for the first 4 hours.
The dough came together nicely, but also rose faster than normal. By the time the four hours was up, the dough had risen by a third and had huge gas bubbles on the surface. I wasn’t sure what the final loaf would look like.
After shaping, I put the loaf in a bowl, covered it, and let it proof at room temperature for three hours. In that short time, the loaf rose past the rim of the bowl. It was time to bake.
When I tipped the dough out of the bowl, the loaf spread a little, but still held its shape. I scored and baked it covered at 390 degrees for 20 minutes, then reduced the temp to 350 degrees, uncovered, and baked for another 20 minutes.
The resulting loaf was huge, but with not much of an oven spring. You can see in the image that the line where I scored the loaf spread a little, but didn’t really pop, which indicates that the bread didn’t rise much in the oven. The crumb is a little more close textured than normal, but there are large gas bubbles on one side of the loaf. I’m guessing those are signs that the loaf is overproved.
Most important, though, is that I don’t care and neither does my family. I got the timing wrong, the loaf spread, and the crumb is imperfect. The bread is still delicious and will be gone in couple days.
When you’re baking bread, don’t fret over perfection. Bake, eat, enjoy, and share with others.