Bread is a funny thing: a loaf can be gorgeous on the outside, with beautiful, burnished crust–and beautiful on the inside, with an open, holey crumb. Yet it can still taste incredibly bad! Leave it to the humble combination of flour, water, and yeast to teach another lesson in kitchen humility.
I set out to make a batch of Jim Lahey’s stecce–oblong, stick-like crusty loaves. The recipe, from Lahey’s My Bread, is a no-knead, overnight-fermented dough, typical of his recipes. I’ve made it successfully many times…though this weekend’s attempt can’t be added to that list.
After mixing, the dough rests at room temperature for 12 to 18 hours, then it is lightly shaped for a second rest, divided into loaves, and baked. I proceeded as usual, and the breads looked great…but then I took a bite.
Sadly, the taste was downright awful, with overtones of skunky beer, old pickles, sweaty towels, and pool water. No clean, sweet, yeasty tang, but an awful, mouth-fouling funk. It was beyond sour: it was disgusting.
So what happened to turn my otherwise lovely loaves into toxic tasting toast? With the first bite, I knew the dough had fermented far too long, and at too warm a temperature. The ambient temperature in my kitchen these days is around 78 degrees, though it probably rises to at least 80 at times and dips to 74, depending on the central air conditioning’s cycles. Eighteen hours at 78 degrees was at least 8 hours too long for this dough.
Ah, well: live and learn. After tossing out the yucky loaves, I refreshed my sourdough starter and decided to bake a batch of pain au levain to help rub out the memory of bad bread.
See more delicious, non-funky breads at Yeastspotting.