The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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Boule bread - August 11, 2017

Well this was an interesting lesson!  I made the loaves to share with family, and I will say there is not a slice left of them tonight.  That aside - if I was a surgeon my patients would have bled out.  This slashing stuff is no joke!  I watched the example videos provided multiple times, and it looked simple enough, but in reality my nervous, slow, heavy hand dragged the dough all over the place.  The result was NOT pretty (Warning, sad picture below)!

Forming the loaves was not too bad.  I used the same ratio of ingredients in my dough as my previous bread and shaped them, enjoying the feeling of working the soft dough with my hands on the cool granite counters.  They came together beautifully, puffing up in their baskets and begging to be baked.  I used rice flour as direct - this miracle substance left even the puffy slightly sticky dough gliding across any surface it touched.  I butchered the top with my unpracticed slashing, and popped them in the pre-heated oven (I had unglazed quarry tiles in 500F heat for an hour).  The first came out, and I was happy - the temperature was perfect, it was rustic and still round, golden and lovely. 

The second followed suit, and when I cut in to them today I was happy with the pretty even crumb, and the taste delivered in the nutty tones with soft springy texture in the two slices I snagged from the basket.  

So all in all I think I get a C+ in this one.  A for effort and taste, and a D minus for slashing and appearance.  Who knew baking and butchering could be divided with such a fine line!

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Two lovely mini loaves - August 4, 2017

I will admit I went in to this lesson confidently - I had just finished scrubbing my house from top to bottom (with my nineteen pound 6 month old daughter attached to me in her carrier), after two weeks straight of multiple sets of houseguests - and I was ready to conquer anything!  This led to a bit of a blind panic towards the end of the lesson, that left me deflated (although thankfully my bread was not), but I digress - let me first explain my task.   

Lesson six was set to take my previously successful mini loaves and add fat and sugar to them to help stabilize and enhance my bread.  Having now made four batches of these I have the basics down, I know how long to proof (and when disaster will strike), how long to knead and bake, and even the best temperature for the water, so this should be fairly foolproof right?  I did the bakers math to add 3% solid fat (crisco) and 1% sugar - and got to work.  

When I took the dough out of the mixer, it was smoother and more shiny than previous doughs had been - beautiful to handle - I was feeling quite professional finishing up the kneading of this plump, glistening beauty.  I plunked it down into the plastic bin to let it double, set the timer and went to make dinner... almost skipping at how easy this was, and how my house would soon smell delicious.

One hour later - divide, rest, shape, put in loaf pans, cover, set timer, walk away.  Yup - I got this!

35 out of my 50 minute timer later - little peek - OH NO!  Wait, what happened?!  THESE ARE HUGE!  Okay, don't panic, oven needs to be on NOW - it's taking FOREVER to heat up - oh no, don't fall, please don't fall, WHAT HAPPENED?!  Ok, oven light is off, put them in FAST - wait, it was just cycling, it says 350F not 400F, this is a disaster.. they are already in... walk away, it is what it is.

Well, that was the family-friendly version of my verbal rant... however they came out looking lovely after reaching a good internal temperature, and when I cut in to them they were good!  Springy, light, a hint of nutty flavor, all-in-all a near-perfect sandwich bread (if a bit small).  I passed, but barely, and it made me want to try again with less audaciousness and more knowledge.

  

I learned that fat and sugar make the dough rise significantly more, and faster, and even rise further upon baking.  They also add a hint of richness to the bread and improve the texture.  All in all it is a fantastic addition - but now that I have some experience I will be much more sensitive to the timing in the future!  Just a reminder that I am still a novice, and there is much to learn!

I did decide to go ahead and try to make a full-size loaf of this bread a few days later.  I wanted something big enough to make those sandwiches and toast with - it turned out well, and I am happy with it.  A bit dark on top, but that did lend to a deep nutty flavor that I thoroughly enjoyed - and it is wonderful toasted with a smear of bourbon molasses butter that I made this past weekend!  

 

Right now I am feeding a sourdough starter (with much instruction from The Bread Whisperer) and am very intimidated by the upcoming lesson with a totally different free-form boule, so wish me luck as I stumble (humbled) onward!

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LydiaPage

A sad over-proofed loaf - July 18, 2017

 

 

This may have been the task that stressed me the most.  With my dreams of perfection being squashed as I was told to push a loaf proof past the point of happiness, and on to total and utter disaster.... ON PURPOSE!  

I did it.

It actually took two attempts to get a passing grade, I was trigger happy on the first batch and baked when it looked a bit wobbly - the bread whisperer said it wasn't far enough - and I tried again, letting it go a whole extra 45 minutes in the loaf pan and saw the floppy, droopy, gloopy dough that awaited the oven.

 

It had risen beautifully, and then fallen in disgust when I did not put it in to the warm oven to toast it to perfection.   Cutting in to it I got a chalky, crumbly mess that even I wouldn't eat.  It was dry beyond the point of salvation, and I hung my head in shame as I disposed of something that I hope to not repeat.  

Now I know... do not forget a proofing dough, it will leave you very disappointed, and hungry!  Let's hope lesson six is more palatable.

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LydiaPage

Country Bread - yeast activated at 72F, 100F, and 130F (left to right) - July 8, 2017

This lesson took me through an emotional rollercoaster: I was excited, apprehensive, disappointed, frustrated, overjoyed, exhausted and famished.  I came through it all (monopolizing The Bread Whisperer over text for several hours), and the main thing I learned?  Next time, a big glass of wine while working will probably relax both me and the dough.

The task was to make three mini loaves of bread.  Sounds simple enough...  but wait, thinking that way is what got me here - and my mentor is ensuring I understand every step involved in creating bakery worthy bread... so where do we start?  Well first I had to use bakers math to scale the recipe down to make 450g of dough per loaf - I am glad to say this was much more successful and went way quicker this time since I actually understand it now.  Step 1 - check!

Step 2 - make the first dough.  It is 8 p.m. My six-month-old is babbling away at her Daddy after a long day of house renovations.  If I don't start now another day will pass me by, and honestly I want to eat bread, I want to smell bread, I want to spend time in my kitchen making something that makes people smile and salivate... I pull out my KitchenAid mixer and my scale.  It is go time!

The frustration didn't take long to set in. 

The ingredients measured carefully and the room temperature water reading 72F.  I ran the mixer with the 'C' hook performing the window-pane test after 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 minutes.  It shouldn't take so long - the mixer is crying, the small batch barely being picked up by machine as it jostled about.  I turned it off, grabbed it out and used my initial aggravation at it not being "easy" to knead it in to submission myself.  Nine minutes later it was beautifully soft, and the window-pane test not too shabby (if I do say so myself)!

I put it in a bowl, set a timer, and took a measurement before I set it aside to proof under a cloth.  It was 1.5" high and ready to go. 

After a break (read as: putting Addie to bed, twice.  Poor teething babe!)  I repeated the process for the second dough with 100F water and the third with 130F water.  I did switch to a paddle which worked much, much better than the hook.  Less than 7 minutes in the mixer for each dough and minimal hand-kneading needed.  Two more timers, and proofing was underway for all three.

The timing of my break worked out pretty well since the first dough took so much longer to proof - two hours and it was doubled, puffy and pillowy.  I pressed a finger in the top and it didn't bounce back - time to get it in the loaf pan... but how?  I remember talking about using a tiny amount of Crisco to grease the pan, and giving it a few good kneads to get the gas out before letting it rise again, but do I just kind of cram it in the pan?  Well - I tried that, and send TBW a panicked photo and question, he replied with a King Arthur Flour video lesson on shaping (why didn't I think of that?!), it was a game changer.  I watched it a few times and had a much more pleasant looking loaf.  Back under the towel - the next one was ready - repeat with the third.  Fast forward (by the miracle of the internet) 45 mins later and they are ready to go - and looking hopeful!

I set the oven to convection bake at 450F and put them in - when they started getting brown I jabbed the thermometer in and got a reading of 180F, turned the oven off and 5 mins later they read 208F (all being guided by TBW and trying to fight the urge to cut one open and see if it worked or failed).  I took them out, almost hyperventilating, and then it hit me - the sweet, happy smell of freshly baked bread.  Even if it was not perfect, it smelled like heaven and it WOULD be good because it is fresh, homemade bread!  I took a quick measurement, some pictures, and (since it was 12:15 a.m.) I left them on a rack to cool and went to bed (or perhaps was told to leave them alone and go to bed... thankyouverymuchteacher).

 

The next morning (after resisting the urge to leave Addie and the dogs with my husband and run downstairs like a kid at Christmas) I sliced and taste tested with Tim.  You have to love bread for breakfast! 

The first one (72F) had me literally squeal with joy (freaking out the dogs, who went crazy and then startled the baby - good start to the day), it looked like REAL bread!  It tasted fantastic, the texture was nice and springy - soft, fluffy clouds of white bread with a crisp crust and a delightfully subtle tangy nutty flavor - two thumbs up from us both!

The second (100F) looked fantastic too, it was a little denser and had more flavor than the first - we agreed it was better, but both would happily be eaten down to the last crumb.

The third (130F) was even more dense, and the flavor for us was overwhelming.  It just had a bit too much of an after taste, and was a bit too heavy.  Toasted with butter and other deliciousness it will still not be wasted!

So what have I taken from this lesson? 

  • The paddle is better than the 'C' hook (at least for this small of a batch and this type of dough).  
  • Yeast is definitely much more active with increased temperature - producing more flavor and faster results.  
  • The proofing time does make a difference with the density and size you end up with (I could have been a little more patient with the second and third batch so the end product may have been a bit more uniform (the loaves as you can see are visibly different sizes after baking).  It also is painfully long if you don't use warm water!
  • Shaping a loaf is an art form, I need lots of practice for when I make them without a loaf pan.
  • I need to start before 8pm as my household does not sleep in!
 Lesson five, I am ready for you!
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LydiaPage

Foccacia di Recco - 62% hydration King Arthur Bread Flour, Pillsbury Bread Flour, King Arthur All Purpose Flour, Gold Medal All Purpose Flour, Bobs Red Mill Whole Wheat Pastry Flour (left to right) - July 1, 2017

I really thought The Bread Whisperer was messing with me when he told me to make the same thing again using 5 different types of flour (that I already had in the pantry)... surely I passed the kneading lesson?  Waiting for the "just kidding" turned out to be futile - he was serious, and it wasn't even a punishment for calling him a 50s housewife (oops)!  So with limited time between house guests and a very energetic nearly-six-month-old, it all came down to one evening.  Did I have 50 minutes of active hand-kneading in me?  Would I crack under the pressure?  It was the moment of truth - and I dove in.

Apart from my arms and chest burning worse than they ever have after a Jillian Michaels DVD marathon, and moments where I considered throwing the dough on the floor repeatedly instead of having to roll it out paper thin with weak, exhausted limbs - five glorious balls emerged, and four of them were as soft and smooth as a babies bum.  (HA! Sorrynotsorry.)  I was told I didn't have to bake these since it was about the dough - but after all that work this girl was stuffing them with gooey cheese and sampling every single one (even if it was heading towards midnight).

King Arthur Bread Flour

Easy to knead, easy to roll, easy to eat.  It was a little sticky at first, but after 3-4 minutes of kneading became very pleasant to work with, it was soft and springy and shiny - what I imagine a dough should be.  It was crisp and flaky and just the right amount of texture when eaten.

Pillsbury Bread Flour

  It felt almost exactly the same as the KA Bread (due to my inexperience I'm sure), the only difference I saw was that when rolling it out the dough appeared and acted slightly denser/tighter.  I couldn't get it as thin, and this was notable when tasting too as it was a thicker crust.  


King Arthur All Purpose Flour

I'm sure I will get in trouble for saying this was my favorite (blasphemy!), it was the easiest to form, knead and roll.  It never got as sticky as the bread flours, but was not as dense as the GM All Purpose or the whole wheat flour.  It was light and flaky when baked, and almost came to bed with me for a 2 a.m. snack.


Gold Medal All Purpose Flour

Eh.  Not exciting, but not bad.  Pre-lessons I would have thought this was how it should turn out, and I would've been happy with the outcome yet not thrilled enough to repeat it.  It wasn't as light as the others, the dough took a bit more work to roll out, and took a little extra kneading to incorporate all the flour.  The cheese was still great though... but really, when is cheese not?  

Bobs Red Mill Whole Wheat Pastry Flour

This was AWFUL.  I mean seriously, I nearly chucked the rest of the container of flour out in a fit of rage.  It was exhausting to knead, so stiff and dry, so unyielding - I nearly gave up.  My rolling pin became a bat in an attempt to flatten this beast, and at first taste the whole thing went in the bin - GROSS, dry, brittle, nothing redeeming.  A miserable end to the experiment, only made better by going back to eat more of the first three!

Sidenote:  The more cheese the better.  The more kosher salt sprinkled on top the better (pink himalayan and regular table salt did not do it justice at all).  Subbing chunks of homemade nutella instead of cheese - sinfully divine.

So now to see how I did, whether there is a lesson four, and whether it is something my arms will be able to tackle any time soon - wish me luck!

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LydiaPage

Foccacia di Recco - 58%, 62% and 65% hydration (front to back) - June 26, 2017

I actually thought about calling this knead, knead, knead, cry - but since it was an experiment in hydration I tried to make the title more appropriate (but my arms are still killing me!).  My assignment was to make the Foccacia di Recco in the three hydration levels while keeping the flour, oil, salt (and cheese stuffing) the same.  The assignment was also to aggressively hand-knead each dough for 10 minutes... I should not have made all three doughs back-to-back, especially as a novice, but hey I earned my eats!

 

The three doughs looked and felt very, very different - and the end results were also completely distinct in texture. 

 

58% hydration

Obviously the driest dough - it took the most muscle to knead, and roll.  It never felt as smooth as the others, and weighed 2 grams less than the next dough.  Even rolling it in to a ball to cut in half you could see the creases and it just was the ugly duckling of the lot.

 

When done it was slightly more pale than the others, had a more crumbly texture, and just tasted dry.  The dogs sniffed it and walked away - no, just kidding, they would have run away with it in a second given a chance!  The non-student me would have eaten the whole thing and said "yum" but never made it again.  The student me said "I can do better" and went on to...

 

62% hydration

This was pretty fabulous (read as: there is not a crumb left), it was a lovely dough to knead if there is such a thing!  It was smooth, soft, and pliable.  It didn't stick to my hands, didn't take too long to incorporate all the flour in to, and was a shiny round ball of dough that cried to be baked.

 

It had a perfect tiny crunch to the top, while not falling apart in your hands, the filling was just right, and it made me want to knead a triple batch and eat myself into a Foccacia coma.  Buttery flaky crust, around gooey flavorful cheese - I'm in!

 

65% hydration

 

It was easy to knead for the last few minutes, but initially was sticking to my fingers, the counter, the bowl, everything around it (I actually had to make this one twice, the first time it got ahold of my shirt, picked off the dog hairs from it and disaster ensued, so I started over).  It was shiny and pretty and I had high hopes for this being the best of them.

In my opinion it still looked the best, golden and bubbly, like a perfectly toasted marshmallow - but although good, it didn't beat the second one!  I was surprised!  It had a slightly denser tone to it which made the cheese almost hard to distinguish from the center dough, and gave it more of one texture than a crust with a filling (don't get me wrong, we still ate this one!), so it just got edged out.  Good, but not good enough. 

Hopefully that will not be my feedback from TBW as I march onward to Lesson Three!

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Where it all started - Lesson One

 

My attempt at Artisan Rosemary Bread June 18, 2017

 

Pre-mentor I bumbled through a typical Pinterest recipe, being promised the world and ending up with an unsightly but edible loaf.  A 30 minute hands-on-time promised, a three hour hands-on-time ended up being more accurate.  Why was it so difficult?  It proofed beautifully, but as soon as I went to form the loaves I realized I had a pile of sticky bubbling goo that did not resemble dough in the slightest.  After two hours of rising I was determined to bake it, so I added cup after cup of flour, until I almost had a round "loaf."  I placed poured it in to my trusty pre-heated cast iron pot and hoped for the best.  Well it worked.. sort of.  We munched on it happily, but for a whole day of work it certainly was no baguette from Pain d'Epis, and while I did not expect it to be award-winning, I would have settled for worthy of the mouth-watering that the smells emerging from the oven elicited. 

I started researching some books to get a better idea of the fundamentals, and Tim (my dear husband) sent the ones I showed him off to "the bread whisperer" to get an opinion.  Before I knew it I had my first homework assignment - figure out what went wrong by converting my recipe to grams and reading up on bakers math.  With my hate-hate relationship with math I knew this was going to be fabulous fun, so I dove in.  A couple of frustrating attempts later this is what I came up with:

  • 3 cups lukewarm water = 791g
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (1-1/2 packets) = 13g
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons kosher salt = 18g
  • 6-1/2 cups all-purpose white flour = 845g
  • 2 tablespoons sugar = 25g
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary = 25g

so based on what I read - the water probably should have been at about .70 of the flour?  If that's the case - the water should've been about 591g - which explains why I had a soggy mess on my hands and had to add a ton of flour when attempting to knead and shape?!  According to this I was at about 94% hydration?!

If my original recipe was in bakers math

  •     Flour: 100% 845g
  •     Water: 94% 791g
  •     Salt: 21% 17g
  •     Instant yeast: 15% 13g
  •     Total: 230%

A more useable recipe would be something like this?

  •     Flour: 100% 845g
  •     Water: 70% 591g
  •     Salt: 2% 2g
  •     Instant yeast: 2% 2g
  •     Total: 174% 

And I was close!  TBW (the bread whisperer) suggested 66% would probably make a better result, but ultimately yes - 94% hydration is why I had a sticky situation on my hands.  

Well lesson one - a flooded flour - I got a nod, I passed, so now for lesson two!

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LydiaPage

…as the room fills with the acrid smell of smoke billowing from my oven.

Okay this may actually be a little dramatic, and perhaps not the entire truth... but the few attempts I've had to date at making bread have not produced anything I'm super excited to repeat.  

So here begins my journey: a bread guru, whisperer of dough, and wizard of the baking realm - has offered to take me under his wing and guide me through everything from how to prepare my oven, to finding the ideal hydration ratio to make a perfect loaf.  Everything will be documented here, the good, the bad, and (hopefully) the edible - wish me luck!

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