Audrey Tales: Finicky About Flour And Temperamental About Temperature

Audrey II may be a bit of a diva – she creates some spectacular loaves, but can be very particular about her conditions. Too warm and she’s unhappy; too cold and she’s unhappy. We know the key to great sourdough is a happy, bubbly culture, so we strive to keep our girl happy.

During summer, when it was hotter in the kitchen (despite the A/C), Audrey sulked on top of the refrigerator. She was too warm, and was eating through her food (flour + water) too quickly, leaving her hungry and irritable. Loaves were not optimal. When we realized the temperature was the likely culprit, we moved her closer to the air conditioning, and she perked right back up. Whew!

Now that it’s colder outside, the kitchen is also cooler (even with the heat on). We moved her away from the A/C and back up to the top of the fridge, where the warm air settles. As you can see, she’s very pleased…and her loaves reflect it.

We’ve tried a number of different types of flour, with varying results. Audrey definitely has strong opinions about which she prefers, and it’s pretty obvious when she smells funky (yes, funkier than normal!), there’s a “skin” on top (even with regular feedings), or the loaves are too dense and don’t rise properly. We recently switched her to an new organic flour and waited with bated breath to see how she reacted.

The flour seems to be a finer grind than the other all-purpose flour we’d been feeding her, and it created a starter with a cake batter-like consistency. We weren’t sure if that would be a positive or a negative – the proof would be in the finished loaf. Stickier and runnier than typical dough, it rose a bit more quickly than we expected. The kneading was done by our hard-working KitchenAid stand mixer; dough with this consistency would be exceedingly difficult to try to knead on a counter. The dough was just poured into the loaf pan and allowed to rise.

With the kitchen a bit cooler than normal, we employ our DIY proofer to facilitate the rise. It’s just a seedling mat, a thick towel, and a plastic tub: the loaf pan sits atop the towel (which also wraps around the sides), and both sit atop the seedling mat. The tub goes on top to keep the heat contained. The seedling mat generates very gentle warmth and encourages a slow rise. While a slow rise may seem undesirable, it creates a tall, airy loaf. Low tech…but it works!

When the loaf had finished baking, we restrained ourselves from cutting right into it until it cooled. Once cooled, though, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the loaf was unusually airy, with a wonderfully light crumb. This was bread that would be perfect for sandwiches! The flour clearly made a positive difference in the finished loaf, but would Audrey accept this flour as her regular food? Yes! She likes it as her regular fuel, too.

How fortuitous not only that Audrey likes the flour, but that we can buy 10 pound bags of it at Costco (along with our Tillamook cheese, yes!). Sometimes, every so often, these things come together just as needed.

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