The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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Well, I finally got to use my new Lodge Combi Cooker... and compared it head to head with my cloches (and tested my steaming too!). I made three breads - Tartine  (my way - with more levain since mine is so mild), my normal sourdough boule, and my take on Eric Kayser's Pain aux Cereales. The three breads are shown in the photograph below in the clockwise order listed from the upper left.

These were actually made from two doughs. The Tartine dough was about 75% hydration and a bit too wet. This loaf was baked in the Combi Cooker on parchment. It is definitely glossier than the other breads suggesting that the Combi Cooker holds humidity better than the cloches or than I get steaming. Unfortunately it is a hair overproofed as I as a bit later getting home from my workout than planned. Still, a nice looking loaf that will taste good. This was the second Tartine loaf baked in the Combi Cooker today. The first was put on semolina and it glued itself to the cooker. It didn't burn but was fairly dark and what a mess. The crumb of the stuck loaf was pretty good though as shown in the photo below. Both loaves baked in the Combi Cooker were started in a cold cooker. Both had bottoms I consider too dark. The sticking was an interesting problem. Parchment worked well but... is a pain IMO. I baked two loaves in the cloche in the same oven and both came out a hair darker but not as glossy. And the bottoms were nicely browned instead of a bit charred. In round one I give the advantage to the cloche but it will take more experiments to make sure it isn't some other variation.

The crumb is coarser than it appears in this photo but was almost certainly affected by sticking to the banneton! My last batch of Tartine was at 72 % hydration and was much more manageable!

The boule to the right is my standard house boule. It is clearly a tad underproofed but has the look I like. It was at 72% hydration and was totally cooperative! It was baked in a cloche heated in a 500 degree oven and set to 450 once the bread was in the cloche. It and the Combi Cooker got 18 minutes closed and 28 minutes uncovered at 450.

The batard in the foreground is the same dough as my boule (but with about three tablespoons of seeds per loaf soaked in water added to the dough at the second folding. The dough is formed to a batard and was baked 12 minutes with steam at 440 F and 20 minutes at 390 with convection. All the loaves showed an internal temperature of 209 F when removed from the oven.

Here is a photo of the Combo Cooker (left) and Cloche (right) boules.

They are pretty similar but the Cloche loaf had slightly greater oven spring and rip.

Now to give them away!




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Trying to lose weight as a bread baker is really the pits. It is really cramping my baking frequency! But with the holidays coming I wanted to make some "decorative" bread so I decided to give the Epi another try. While previous efforts were not necessarily failures, I figured it would be a good chance to explore my skills (whatever they might or might not be!)

All of this was complicated by not starting yesterday so this morning I weighed out 190 grams of flour and 10 of rye, 4 grams of salt, 130 grams of water, and a half teaspoon of yeast. While weighing I decided to add some sourdough starter just to add a bit more flavor - about 10 grams. Mixed for about three minutes in the KA, let it sit for about 20 minutes, gave it two more minutes in the KA, and finished by hand. The dough passed he window test. Gave it twenty minutes to get going and popped it in the fridge to ferment while I worked out and ran errands. 

Formed two shortish, thin baguettes and let them rise about 2 1/2 hours. Cut the epi and baked in a 450 degree oven to an internal temperature of 207.

The two epis

I think I will make some more to take to a party next weekend! Seems like a nice, decorative alternative to conventional loaves!


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In my initial efforts at the Tartine Country loaf I mostly followed Robertson's process except that I used a cloche instead of the cast iron cooker. In my first attempt I found the 77 percent hydration dough a bit and troublesome. Ditto my second effort at 75 percent. For this third effort I decided to blend the Tartine method with my own and to drop the hydration to 70 percent. I am sharing my observations in hope that some of you on the site will find them useful.

My first comment has to involve the hand mixing. After years of avoiding hand mixing as messy, the Tartine book pushed my over the edge and I know prefer hand mixing. There is magic in feeling the dough change character as you add the final water and salt. And, while the initial mix remains messy it is amazing how well the dough behaves after the first few turns and how well developed the dough becomes using the multiple stretch and fold processes endorsed by Robertson.

My SD starter is not very sour so I feel no need to use the high expansion ratio used at Tartine. I began with 100 grams of 100% starter and added 100 grams of WW and 100 grams of KA AP and 200 grams of water and let it sit on the counter overnight. Next morning I added 150 grams of WW, 1070 of KA AP, and 780 of water. From there I did S&F every half hour for two hours. I formed the boules at 2 1/2 hours and gave them a half hour rest. Then final forming and into bannetons. At 70% the dough at forming was very well behaved and only minimally sticky. I began baking them in cloches three hours after placing them in the bannetons in two batches so two loaves are more underproofed.

Due to sticking issues with alder in previous Tartine batches I had decided to try both alder and plastic bannetons. With the drier dough, neither presented any sticking problems. They did, however yield somewhat different looking results as shown in the photographs. I heated the cloches to 500 degrees F and measured the temperture of the cloches at 485 to 495 with my infrared thermometer. Baking time was 20 minutes with the lid on and 25 minutes uncovered at 450 degrees. The lids were held in a second oven at 500 during the uncovered baking and the bases were recharged at 500 before baking the second set of loaves.

The four loaves. The two on the left were done in alder bannetons, the ones on the right in plastic. The loaves on the left received about one hour less proofing than the ones on the right. The underproofing is visible in the oven spring.


The plastic bannetons require (and hold) less flour so the loaves are darker. 


The alder bannetons hold more flour and yield a more dramatic effect. The impact of underproofing on oven spring is clearly evident.

Three of the loaves were used at a party. I hope to get a crumb shot of the fourth to share in a later email. The crumb was significantly less open than the 77 and 75 percent hydration loaves. However, the crumb was certainly not "dense". All in all a very pleasing result.

Here is the belated crumb shot!




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