The Fresh Loaf

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OldWoodenSpoon's blog

OldWoodenSpoon's picture

I have been able to make time for baking recently, but not so much for other things like keeping up with my bread blog.  During the silence I've been pushing myself to higher and higher hydration levels on my straight sourdough bread formula, testing my own limits in handling high (to me anyway) hydration doughs, and learning about how it affects the finished loaf.  I think I've learned a lot, but the most important lesson has been:  I still have a lot to learn!

I have baked this dough recently at 72%, 74%, 76% and finally at 78% hydration.  This post is about the latest, at 78% hydration.  The others (72%, 74% and 76%) we have eaten happily, but I've not had time to post about them, and did not take pictures either.  My bad, mea culpa. 

As I have progressed up the hydration levels with this bread I have kept virtually everything else as consistent as I can.
. My flour mix has stayed at 5% Organic Rye, 15% KAF Bread flour and 80% KAF All Purpose flour.
. I have used my home-grown 100% hydration starter expanded in two successive expansions to provide a 25% preferment when making up the final dough. 
. I have used 85F water by thermometer for all water additions to both the preferment and the final dough, but have not controlled for final dough temperature, taking what comes. 
. I have used a variation on dmsnyder's San Joaquin Sourdough process of stretch and folds in the bowl followed by same on a lightly floured board.  I do 40 "strokes" in the bowl at 30 minute intervals, repeated four times, followed by two repetitions on the board at 45 minute intervals.
. After the dough is developed it is retarded in the refrigerator for 14 to 20 hours depending on life.
. Dough was divided evenly and shaped into 2 oval boules with only a short bench rest between pre-shaping and  final shaping.
. Proofing was done at room temperature (roughly averaging 66F-67F) in heavily floured oval willow baskets till my poke test is satisfied (I continue to over-proof.  Slow learner I guess.)
. Baking has been in a La Cloche in a tile-lined oven, preheated for 30 minutes at 500F using 10 minutes under cover and then 20-25 minutes (at 465F) uncovered, with finished internal temperatures always in the 209F-210F range.

This bake has followed the above, and the results have tracked consistently with my previous efforts.  First, this dough is wet!  It is very soft and sticky starting out but develops easily throughout the stretch and fold regimen, and then is surprisingly easy to handle after the retard.  It is too soft to really hold a shape very well, but not so soft or sticky as to be impossible to put into a shape initially.  Does that make any sense? 

Here are a loaf and a crumb shot.

As you can see, the very wet dough captured a great deal of surface flour.  Even so, it stuck in the willow basket a bit and took a firm rap on the board to jar it loose.  That resulted in some spreading of the loaf that was not overtaken by the oven spring.

The crumb gelled nicely, and is very, very tender. Perhpas even too tender for our taste.  This bread is almost "fluffy".

My focus has been on crust and crumb, perhaps at the expense of flavor, and perhaps not.  This bread tastes good, but is very mildly sour, and not really tangy at all.  I will work harder on that eventually.  The two biggest impacts I have noticed in this bread as I have progressed up this hydration incline have been on the crust and crumb.  First, the higher I have pushed the hydration the thinner and lighter the crust has become.  At lower hydrations with this same bake the crust has been more satisfyingly leathery and chewy.  At the highest level it has become thin and soft. 

I actually have baked this 78% hydration dough twice in the last week.  The first time I steamed (left covered) for 20 minutes, and then uncovered it at reduced temperature for another 15 minutes.  The crust was so unsatisfying that I tried it again as pictured here, going back to steam (covered) for 10 minutes and then 25 minutes uncovered at reduced temperature.  There was no discernible difference between the crusts on these two bakes.  The crust on both were thin and of lack-luster character.  The oven spring of both bakes were consistently high, and my starter remains rewardingly energetic.

The second observation I have gleaned from my experiments so far is that as I have pushed up the hydration level (without modifying the flour mix), the gelling of the starches in the crumb has improved (a goal of mine) and the texture has become more and more tender.  This latest 78% hydration iteration is so tender in the extreme that it lacks the firm tooth I desire in my sourdough bread.  This is the reason for my questioning title to this post:  How high is too high, or is there such a thing?

I have also been unable to get this dough to caramelize the way I want it to.  It does color up nicely, but I cannot get it as dark as I tend to prefer.  I am suspecting that my tendency to over-proof is leaving too little sugar behind to provide good color.  In addition to pushing myself to bake sooner to avoid the over-proofed syndrome I'm stuck in,  I plan to also lower myh finishing temperature even more in order to bake longer before getting the internal temperature up so high.  I have hope for some help on the character of my crust from this as well.

I am now debating with myself over the next direction.  It appears to me that I have two clear choices among the many options:  Either back down the hydration level or increase the bread flour in the mix.  I am leaning toward the option of increasing the use of bread flour in hopes of keeping the gel I've attained but increasing the tooth of the loaf by virtue of the stronger flour.

If you have insights on these thoughts I'd love to hear them.  Links or suggestions for reading on these topics will also be appreciated.  Thanks for stopping by.


OldWoodenSpoon's picture

Inspired by Shiao-Ping's Miche, Pointe-à-Callière from mid-January, and by the excellent efforts of other bakers here, I decided to try my own hand at this loaf.  My wife requested some loaves for her sister's birthday coming up soon, and it seemed a good opportunity to try this.  I have never had Hamelman's book in hand, and have not baked this loaf before, so I followed Shiao-Ping's excellent instructions for this bake. My only departures were to blend my own flours from home-milled hard red ww and hard white ww plus KA AP flours,  to extend the bulk fermentation to about 14 hours due to limitations of life, and to bake the dough as two smaller loaves, which resulted in much shortened baking times, so we could keep one at home to try for ourselves.  I was reassured to find my impressions of the dough development to be almost exactly in parallel with Shiao-Ping's observations from her blog post referenced above.

At the same time, in need of more gift loaves, I continued to push my exploration of higher hydrations in my own straight sourdough formula, with this bake done at 70% hydration.  The resulting loaves had amazing oven spring, and the flavor is just excellent.  The crumb is tender and creamy, and has a very distinct but subtle flavor.  This dough was also bulk fermented in the refrigerator for about 14 hours alongside the Pointe-à-Callière.  This resulted in very good flavor, but not a strong sour.  The higher hydration had me worried during the development of the dough, but after the bulk fermentation the dough had come together almost startlingly firmly.  Formation and proofing resulted in loaves with very good integrity despite being the highest hydration dough I have made thus far in this exploration.

Here are the loaves together.

and a better look at the Pointe-à-Callière

Here is the straight sourdough

I must admit I am quite pleased with the results of both of these breads.  The miches had wonderful spring in the oven compared to my previous attempts at a whole wheat loaf, and the sourdough was also a very good performer on that score.  I wish I had pictures of the miche loaves before baking because they looked almost dead to me.  I was not only pleased but quite surprised at the spring and life in them in the oven.  They taught me a great deal about judging dough for future reference.

The crumbs of both are also quite nice.  I succeeded in getting much better gelatinization in the crumb of both loaves in this bake than I have accomplished previously.  Now, if I can just zero in on the factors that led to it!  I am focusing on the high hydration levels as the primary contributors at the moment, together with the La Cloche baker.  I baked all of these loaves one-by-one en cloche.  I also extended the time under cover to 20 minutes, and left the oven at the full 500F temperature for the full 20 minutes.  I lowered the temperature to 460F just before opening the oven to uncover each loaf.

Here are crumb shots of each, beginning with the Pointe-à-Callière.

and the sourdough looks like this

While I am feeling pretty proud of these loaves, and especially of the Pointe-à-Callière, I am not sure if this is the way the loaf is "supposed to" come out.  For one thing, I wish I had floured the loaf a bit prior to baking.  As it is, it finished with that "wet sandstone" finish I find very typical of my past high hydration whole wheat efforts.  I have seen the same thing in pan loaves I have baked, and I don't find it very attractive.  Shiao Ping's presentation is much more winsome!  Also, the flavor is pretty mild, and I was expecting a much sharper sour flavor after the long cold bulk fermentation, similar to other Hamelman loaves I've tried.  Could this just be the nature of my starter?  I don't object, but it was not quite what I thought was expected here.

Thank you for reading this far!  Happy Baking

OldWoodenSpoon's picture

Sometimes you just have to admit it:  you messed up.  My turn!  Again...

This time it was this sad loaf of Pugliese, sitting along side the boule of sourdough that is my redemption for the day's baking.  Here they are together.

Sourdough and Pugliese Together


Resuscitation:  I had another go at Rose Levy Berenbaum's "Brinna's Pugliese" Friday night, but this time I tried it with a 20% substitution of semolina flour.  I started the biga on Thursday night and let it ferment in a back room cupboard (about 60F) till Friday afternoon.  Then I put all my things in place (Ha!) and prepared the dough.  Everything was going along just fine until, about 90 minutes into the bulk fermentation I noticed...  nothing.  The dough had not grown at all.  I had it in a warm spot, so I left it for a while, until I realized the truth:  Except for the biga, I had not put in the yeast.  I had gotten distracted with rechecking the flours after the semolina substitution, and never even got the yeast out of the refer.  So much for "everything in place"!  Oh, no, now what?

I opened up the container and sprinkled the yeast (IDY) over the top, and folded it in.  I got out my board and did several folds to incorporate it as well as I could, but this dough was wet, slack, super-sticky and gloppy.  I had to continually wet my fingers to handle it at all without becoming part of it myself.  I managed to get the yeast worked into it, and got the dough back into the bowl where it immediately took off.  I could not believe it, but it nearly doubled in an hour.  I formed it into a boule as well as I could and turned it upside down into a very well floured banneton.  It filled the banneton and topped out in just another hour.

I could not resist compounding my errors.  The recipe says to bake on a sheet with steam added, but I had already baked the sourdough that follows below, and my La Cloche baker was in the oven already hot.  I was determined to make this baby jump after having made such a mess of it.  So I turned it out onto my superpeel ( a mistake), slashed it (another mistake since it was so fragile) and then "dropped" it off the superpeel into the preheated La Cloche (final insulting mistake for this poor loaf).  It collapsed.  It fell, flatter than one of my plain flour pancakes.  As soon as I saw it I realized my error(s), and knew they were all my own.  I put the cover on and baked it.

The good news about baking for a hobby is that, most of the time, you can eat your errors.  That will be the case with this pugliese.  As you can see in the crumb shot here:

Pugliese resuscitation crumb shot

this loaf only turned out poor, not really bad.  It forgave me more than I deserved here I think.  The La Cloche pumped some spring into it so that it has a little bit of loft and a nice tender crust.  The crumb is pretty dense for pugliese, but as you can see, there is a nice gelling of the starches, and it came out okay considering all the insults.  The flavor is quite excellent, and the semolina addition has really had a positive impact on the taste.  I will certainly be revisiting this loaf again with even more semolina in the dough.  In the end this loaf resuscitated me after my near apoplexy at the glaring chain of mistakes.

I'll learn from my mistakes and go on.  After all, in a couple of days nearly all the evidence will be gone anyway!


Redemption:  The sourdough loaf was actully baked first.  This is another of "my" sourdough loaves, but this time I was determined to proof more fully than last time.  This formula is one that I've been using to break in and get used to my new willow proofing baskets, and I'm quite happy with the results so far, considering the low 64% hydration.  Here is the loaf:

Straight Sourdough Loaf

As you can see, I'm still not doing a proper job of preparing the banneton before I put the loaf in for proofing.  I'm hoping that as I use them more, things will level off.  Right now there are sticky spots where lots of flour stays, and there are dry spots where very little to no flour at all will stay.  I'm currently layering on AP flour first, then white rice flour lightly on top of that.  The flour that remains on this loaf is dry in places, and pretty oily in others.  The oil is from the initial spraying of Baker's Joy flour/oil spray I used to "season" the banneton initially in accordance with the instructions.  Since then I've just been applying the flours, proofing the dough, then letting the bannetons dry out on the counter.  When dry, I brush them thoroughly and put them away till next time.

The crumb of this loaf is better than my last effort thanks to better proofing, and the loaf did not explode so much in the oven when baked.  It was baked in La Cloche for 15 minutes covered, with the temperature at 500F for the first 10, then down to 460F for the rest of the bake.  The cover came off at 15 mintues, effectively ending the steaming time at that point.  I let this loaf bake a little extra long because I was trying to darken the crust.  I got most of what I wanted, but ended up with an internal temperature of 209F when I finally gave in and declared it done.  It is not the least bit dry though, and the crumb is very tender.  Here is the shot:

Straight Sourdough Crumb Shot

There were really two loaves, and the crumb shot is of the "other" one.  The cut loaf is already gone, and the uncut loaf was gifted to a neighbor.  I'll just have to try again I guess.  Darn. :)


OldWoodenSpoon's picture

This was a busy baking weekend for me.  Thursday night I started the levain for a batch of "my" sourdough bread, which I baked on Friday night.  It turned out quite acceptably in the end, but I was most excited about the maiden use of my new 1 pound oval willow proofing baskets that I picked up on a Christmas week field trip to SFBI/TMB Baking.  I made this dough with a pretty low (64%) hydration because it was my first use of these baskets.  I did not want the dough to stick to them and mess them up before I could get them seasoned and broken in.  Given that, I had little trouble with the dough in handling, but I continue to struggle with proper proofing.  I have adequate conditions, but my "tester" is not yet properly calibrated.  All in all, though, they turned out pretty well.  They were good enough that the loaf we kept for ourselves dissappeared with tonight's lasagna dinner!

Here are the loaves after baking and cooling.

Straight 64% Hydration Sourdough


Here is a shot of the crumb of one of the loaves.

Straight Sourdough Crumb

The crumb came out about as expected at that hydration.  It was tender, and not too chewy, and the flavor was only mildly sour thanks to the pretty short bulk fermentation I allowed.  It's gone though, so I'd best not be too critical!

That was Friday.  On Saturday I was looking through Rose Levy Beranbaum's book "The Bread Bible" over my morning coffee, wondering what I should bake.  When I came across the recipe for "Levy's" Real Jewish Rye I recalled how often my wife has reminded me that she loves good rye bread.  I recently purchased some good rye flour in hopes of trying some pumpernickel bread one of these days and thought:  "Why not?".  So I read the recipe a couple of times through and then gave it a try.  I must say it turned out to be less difficult than I expected.  I had the most difficulty judging the proofing (big surprise eh?) and would have over-proofed it.  I was saved by my own poor planning.

I planned to bake these loaves one at a time in my La Cloche baker.  Because of that I decided to go ahead and start baking early, so we could get on with dinner.  I had the oven and La Cloche preheated, and although I did not think it was quite proofed enough yet, I baked the first loaf.  It turned out to be a good thing I think.  The loaves below were baked sequentially, one after the other.  The La Cloche only had a few minutes between bakes to recover temperature, so it was probably a little cooler when the second loaf went in, compared to the first.  The difference in size between the loaves is more owing to differences in my handling during shaping though I believe.  In any event, the loaves baked up very nicely, and here they are.

RLB - Real Jewish Rye Loaves

And the crumb looks like this.

RLB - Real Jewish Rye Crumb 1


A final crumb shot, with a thank you to Rose Levy Beranbaum for her wonderful book.

RLB - Real Jewish Rye Crumb

I'm pretty sure that big hole in the dough is from my shaping of the loaf.  I was trying hard not to knock all the gas out of it while shaping it, and I think I did not get it well sealed together.  I consider it a petty good first effort though, and look forward to having another go at it.  I know I can get rid of it easily enough.  My wife raves about this RLB recipe almost as much as the Cracked Whole Wheat I bake from the same book.  The more I bake from Rose Levy Beranbaum's book "The Bread Bible", the more excited I get.


OldWoodenSpoon's picture

To the relief of many I imagine, I've decided to start maintaining my blog here at TFL rather than post a new thread in a forum every time I bake somethig I want to post about, be it for success or failure. I will not go back and add old pictures here that are already posted elsewhere, so this will not be a complete history of my baking.  That's okay, because some of the earliest should be history, and should be left that way.

Since this is the beginning of my blog, albeit not the beginning of my presence here on The Fresh Loaf, I thought I would start with a very brief introduction.  By upbringing I'm a farm boy from way back, having grown up on the small truck farm of my father and his brother.  The concept of "made fresh at home" is not new to me, as my mother baked, canned, cooked and preserved enthusiastically throughout my earliest years, out of both love and necessity.  Some of my best childhood memories are of wandering out into the peach and cherry orchards around our house to enjoy fresh fruit picked straight from the tree, and of home-baked pies, cakes and cookies from mom's kitchen, made with those same fresh ingredients.

By my teenage years I was baking (mostly cookies) on my own, and after marrying, when the children came along, we bought a Magic Mill and a Bosch mixer and began to bake our own bread for our kids.  We still have and use those same appliances today.  Back "in the day" we split that duty unequally, and my wife did much of the day-to-day bread baking for several years.  Whomever did the baking though always used the machine.  We would mill the flower, add the salt, water, yeast, honey and oil, and beat the daisies out of it.  Then we shaped, proofed and baked it.  It was good, but we really did not know what we were missing. 

Although my wife did a lot of the day-to-day baking during those years, I always did a lot of holiday baking.  Annually around Thanksgiving I started baking gift breads and treats for friends and family, and I still do that to this day.  I have neighbors today who's daughters have almost literally kept annual watch out the front window for my arrival with the Christmas gift loaves!  They are now grown and graduated from college, as are our own children today, but they are home for the holidays.  This year their mom thanked me for getting her daughters to argue on Christmas day!  Seems someone ate the last of the gift bread, and someone else was unhappy about it.  Actually, mom said she ate it herself, but did not tell the girls.  Instead she just sat in the background like the cat that got the canary and got away with it.  She was having too much fun listening to them, since it was all in good natured fun anyway.

Things went on this way for years, with occasional baking for therapy or just to be in the kitchen for a while, which is something I have always loved.  Then, one otherwise usual day, something special happened.  I was selling off some gardening equipment, and a buyer came to the house to pick it up.  We got to talking, and I came to learn that he and his brother were building a wood-fired oven in their shared back yard up in the nearby hills.  We talked for some time about ovens and baking, and then he left.  The baking bug stayed here though, and I was caught up in the idea that I could also have my own wood fired oven for bread, pizza and whatever.  The hunt was on and off I went like a hound after a coon.  I made almost as much noise, I think, as I researched, read and talked about baking, WFO's and bread.

Eventually I discovered Alan Scot and Dan Wing, and bought "The Bread Builders".  From there I found and bought a La Cloche clay baker and started my own wild yeast sourdough starter.  The trials of getting a starter to develop properly led me here to The Fresh Loaf. Here I found the help I needed, offered freely and in good spirit.  Here I found others, both experienced and less so.  Here I found a community, rich in cultures, varied yet similar in interests, and I have remained, to learn and share what I learn.  To participate in a community that has welcomed me, and allowed me to welcome others.  I still harbor plans for a wood-fired oven "one of these days", but for now I have settled for my La Cloche, and an oven full of unglazed quarry tiles, and a frequent cruise through the WFO forum threads to keep up with those that have already attained that dream of mine.  That will hold me for a while, as I truly learn what it is to become a "baker".  It's a great journey, and I hope you check in here from time to time to see how I'm doing.

May your yeast always thrive, and your dough always rise.



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