Tag Archives: heat

Bread malfunction!

In my last post about bread-making, I mentioned that the previous two loaves I’d made had started out seeming fine but after a few days they went bad. The crumb, which had previously been firm and at that sweet-spot between dry and moist, started to collapse, becoming dense and damp in the centre. It wasn’t a problem I’d had before so I started wondering what was causing it: under-proving,  over-baking, some dodgy flour?

Or the heat.

Surely it was something to do with the heat? Although I baked with decent results last summer, when July and August similiarly peaked at around 40C  (100-plus in ye olde Fahrenheit), this year my bread seems to be suffering.

Even the nice durum wheat-strong bread flour loaf I baked last Thursday. Although it was great on Thursday and Friday, by Saturday morning, when we headed out of town for a night, it was suffering from the same problems. We got back last night, and the crust that was left was in a very sorry state.

So this is how it looked after it had cooled on the day of bake:


And this is how it looked after three and a half days.

bread gone wrong

Sure it was a few days old, and getting stale (particularly around the edges, near the crust), but the core has gone all damp and dank, fizzy and yeasty. Not pleasant.

This yeastiness got me thinking: has it started fermenting again? The yeasts used in the dough were killed by the oven of course – the bread was baked at around 230C, and yeasts die at around 60C.  So are there wild yeasts in my bread bin for example? I mooted this question with my friend Michele. He’s not a baker, though he is a master brewer (at Mastri Birrai Umbri, whose wares we were enjoying Saturday night), so he knows his yeasts.

2013-07-27 20.29.52

He asked if I had fruit near where I stored the bread. Yes, I said, there’s a fruit bowl near the bread bin. It’s a great time of the year for seasonal fruit here in Roma – the region is cranking out apricots, plums, peaches, Coscia pears, figs, etc etc etc. Even someone like me who doesn’t much like fruit is enjoying this bounty.

But maybe it’s messing up my bread. Fruit, even when rinsed, has abundant wild yeast cultures on its skin.  Just think of advice you might have read about starting a natural leaven/sourdough: use some grapes, or raisins, or a some rhubarb (not strictly fruit, but close enough). These wild yeasts will be thriving at the moment, as the weather is humid and hot, as Rome heads for high summer. Even now, without the oven cranking at 240C, the kitchen is 30C. A pretty nice temperature for yeasts, moulds and bacteria.

So maybe the wild yeasts are finding my bread and starting to feed on it.  Which might indicate that I’ve not proved long enough, not leaving the yeast I’ve used in the bake long enough to cosume all the natural sugars in the flour. I’m not sure.

Fellow bakers – any thoughts?


Filed under Breads, Discussion, Flour & grain

Just too northern European

Before anyone accuses me of moaning about the weather, I’d like to specify that I see this more as a pre-emptive freakout.

It topped 20C in Rome today. Just a few weeks ago it was the depths of winter. Although the snow here was aberrant, the generally cool temperatures weren’t. Our flat might not be designed for cold weather – it’s draughty, the heating doesn’t have a timer or a thermostat, and significant radiators don’t work – but by and large I found the winter here delightful. It suited me. I could dress in a preferred fashion (with layers, jacket). I didn’t get a stinky sweat on when I used my default form of transport – brisk walking.

The Roman summer, on the other hand is both something that I’m not used to and something that doesn’t suit me. I don’t like wearing just a shirt. And as much as I like to wear shorts, such attire is somewhat frowned upon here for a grown man. Getting your first pair of long trousers in Italy is (or was) like getting your first car in 1950s America, it’s a rite of passage, visibly liminal, a public declaration of your status. (There’s a scene in the film Malèna [2000], set in the 1940s, where the 13-year-old protagonist, desperate to appear more grown up, has a tailor re-cut his father’s suite trousers to fit him. His dad isn’t happy.)

I’m British. I’m used to British weather. And although, like many other Brits, I despair of the limbo of week after week of overcast, grey weather, I don’t have a problem with the temperatures in Britain. Mostly. I mean, admittedly, I was peeved when my June wedding day didn’t muster more than 8C but hey, it was northwest Devon, so that wasn’t so unexpected. What was unexpected was leaving a Sussex August at 18C and arriving in a Roma of 40C. A temperature that didn’t drop much through much all of September 2011.

Now, British friends will say “Wow, wonderful, I love temperatures like that and sunshine.” But really, what they mean is, they love temperatures like that and sunshine when they’re on holiday, and can spend most of the day on the beach, swimming in the sea, and potentially retreating to an air-conditioned hotel. That is a very different kettle of fish to living in a big (-ish) city, densely populated with people and cars, so many belching cars. And dogs, so many hysterical dogs. And dog owners, so many irresponsible dog owners who don’t pick up their beasts’ cacca [no spellcheck, I don’t mean cacao].

Last August was a very literal shock to the system to me. I didn’t acclimatise, the baking dumpsters and cacca griddling on the pavements were – objectively – disgusting, and I didn’t enjoy spending so much time self-consciously sudato e puzzolente (sweaty and stinky!). Basically, it being so warm now, so soon in the year, ho paura – I’m scared. Scared of if I’ll ever feel acclimatised here. Scared of another several months of trying to sleep when it doesn’t drop below 28C at night in our room, even after living in a bunker all day with all the shutters and windows closed to block out the sunshine and heat (something that’s counter-intuitive for a Brit used to craving rays and vitamin D, but necessary). And I’m really not looking forward to the return of the mosquitos (though it is lovely to see the lizards emerging again).

I am just too northern European. The prospect of another hot summer in Rome freaks me out.


Filed under Main thread, Rome