Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Sourdough Project, Day of Reckoning

If I were starting anywhere near to what "traditional" standards, I'd be blogging about something entirely different. If I were searching for enlightenment by following the methods of my ancestors and kinsmen, I'd be going in an entirely new direction.

If I were going the "traditional" route, I'd be chronicling my quest in finding the right kind of "00" flour (hard to find, and more than likely extremely expensive), finding the right kind of crushed San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella, fresh herbs, and on and on. If I were going that way, I'd be on a seemingly never ending journey to find and create my perfect D.O.C. (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) pie; Fussing like an Italian mother over her child's First Communion, tirelessly nitpicking finer details while getting lost in the bigger picture. If I were going that way, I'd be blogging about something entirely different, and more than likely, going mad in the process.

But I've traveled the traditional route. The end result was hardly a payoff of the journey, and besides, I wasn't much for following tradition. Especially when I'm so far removed from it. I've been more keen on starting my own traditions. Granted, I am partial to deviating every once and awhile, but somehow, I always find my way back home. I always find my way back to what works, and what is good.

Yesterday was the inaugural run of my fist sourdough pizza crust. Between my last entry and last night, not much happened. The starter was completed, then divided to use in a batch. The batch was then divided into equal parts, frozen overnight, then sat in a refrigerator for 24 hours. While this was going on, I made a back up batch of my usual dough for the rest of the family, just in case something went horribly wrong.

Their doughs were wonderful as always. Mine (the sourdough)Moment of Truth, Part 1, I didn't know what to expect. The dough did not rise during the initial construction, not noticeably anyway. After thawing, it retained its shape rather nicely. Immediately, my mind went to my first dough making experience. It was that fear that gripped me for a moment. I removed the dough from the freezer bag, I noticed it's distinct bouquet immediately. Smell was one thing, its true test was to be on the floured working surface.

I was in trouble when I shaped my first dough years ago. I knew I was in trouble. Not only because I was shaping from sense memory, which was questionable at best, but the dough itself was way too knackered to do anything with; it fell apart almost immediately after being constructed. Since that time, I've modified my approach to the shaping process. I had to accommodate for how much space I had in the kitchen, how the dough was actually prepared, what kind of ingredients were used and what kind of hardware I was using, including the oven. I've moved three times since then. Every time is a brand new learning experience.

My family's doughs weigh in at 12 ounces; again, a measurement that came out of trial and error. The size is just right for covering a 14 inch pan. It's stretches just enough to make it thin with a nice lip around the edge. Anything less will result in a crust full of holes because it's stretched way too thin. This sourdough was divided into 10 ounce portions, and it was strong enough to stand up to the abuse I gave it in the shaping process. Moment of Truth, Part 2It stayed thin and elastic without tearing, which is always a good sign. The oldest daughter's pizza is pepperoni and bacon. My girlfriend's is fresh tomato, bacon, garlic and fresh basil. Mine is the kitchen sink: My vision of Heaven, Before...extra cheese, roni, bacon, green pepper, onion and a pinch of fresh garlic. I wanted to weigh this sucker down to see how it would behave in the oven.

Eight minutes later (3 of which were spent on a stone at the bottom of the oven), it came gliding out unbroken on the peel with a nice, toasted char on the bottom....My vision of Heaven, After. Wonderfulness. It put up a fight as it was being cut into equal slices, which I thought was peculiar, but then I remembered that I wasn't working with my typical dough.

"Please don't be like that other dough," was what I kept repeating to myself as I was taking my first bight. I had to expect the worst, and my first attempt at a pizza that would satisfy the requirements of il Denominazione di Origine Controllata, had become the benchmark of what not to do in the future. The dough was crisp, then gave way to that slight chew I have been searching for. It was sweet, nutty, it had a taste that was all it's own. The overall experience was not perfect, it was sublime. Which is close enough for me. I can find perfection on my own. I think next time, I'll let it spend a full 8 minutes on the stone, rather than shaping on a pan.

My quest for the perfect dough is on going. It might take me a while to find my white whale; My eureka moment. But at least I won't go hungry on this journey.

Daddy tested, Baby approved.
(Editor's Note: It may look like we're shoving this down her throat, but in actuality, she's got a firm grip on that slice, and she's got a right mind to eat the entire thing. She only has two teeth. It does my heart good when she uses a crust for a biter biscuit.)