Instinct

I am an intuitive breadbaker. I know there's the science of it all, and I'm interested in it. I'm trying to learn it, even though sometimes it feels like it goes in one ear and out the other. Deep down, though, I go by the feel and the look of the dough.

When I doubt my instinct and try to play by the "rules", things go wrong for me. Then I get mad at myself and lose confidence in my ability to trust those instincts.

Today I got back on the horse, or more aptly, put my hands back in the flour and began again, chagrined, knowing my instinct had been right.

A few days ago, I began Tartine. Beginning in this context, means making a culture.

...Fill a small, clear bowl halfway with lukewarm water. Add a handful of the 50/50 flour blend to the water and mix with your hands to achieve the consistency of a thick batter with no lumps. ...Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and place in a cool, shaded spot for 2 to 3 days.
After 2 to 3 days, check the culture to see if any bubbles have formed around the sides and on the surface. If the culture seems inactive, let it sit for another day or two. By this time, a dark crust may have formed over the top of the mixture, which is typical. Pull the crust back and note the aroma and bubbles caused by fermentation. In this initial stage, when the culture smells strong like stinky cheese and tastes sharply acidic, it is very ripe. Now it is time to do the first feeding.

Well, all was going smoothly. On the morning of day 2, the culture was practically bubbling over the bowl and there was a brown crust. I peeled the crust back and the aroma was sweet and pleasant, like a lovely, young swiss cheese.

I had a very active culture that was not stinky. What did my instincts tell me about the readiness of the situation?

My gut told me it was time! And what did my little brain say to that? It said, but it's not stinky, it's supposed to be stinky!

My gut instinct wavered. It took a little walk around the kitchen, came back and sniffed. Not any stinkier than before. It quivered and gave in.

It said, what could be the harm in waiting another day? It tossed around the possibility that missed opportunity could mean spoilage.

Today is day 3. The culture did not smell right. The sweetness was gone. The activity was gone. Underneath the crust it was watery.

Instinct hung it's head in shame and had a long journal writing about the episode. Afterwards, it raised it's head in hope and said, let's clean out the bowl and try again. Listen to yourself this time.

I am thinking back to the Fall when I tried sourdough. I had a similar experience with my culture. It was active and sweet smelling. I thought it was the pineapple juice I used masking the acidic smell. With that culture, too, I went through several attempts because I was trying to go by the book.

I am feeling now, like the situations are too coincidental. I think it may have something to do with the environment of our kitchen. It's sunny and warm. Both attempts were also at changeable times of the year. The day I made my Tartine culture it was 68 degrees. Day 2 it was 85 degrees.

If breadbaking was all science and rules, I'd never be drawn to it. If it was all intuition, I'd be nervous. But you've got alchemy; the science to base the process on and then you pull way deep into yourself and ask, "how does it feel?"

Your answer is what you go with, what should guide you. Always.