The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

pmccool's blog

pmccool's picture

Between wanting a break from my GF experiments and my starter requiring a refresh, it was time to bake something different, something with sourdough.  For reasons not entirely clear to me, I keep going back to Leader's Local Breads in spite of its known defects.  It probably has something to do with the fact that the breads, when they work, are just so good.

A case in point would be the Polish Cottage Rye.  It's the very last formula in the book and it has no errors.  Moreover, it is a very pretty and tasty bread.  At 1215g, unbaked, it is also a hefty loaf but not in any way a brick.  I'm getting ahead of myself...

Since I had Friday off, one of my morning tasks was to pull the starter out of the refrigerator and give it a good feeding.  Thinking that rye flour might be a good pick-me-up for the starter, I used the whole rye flour that I had on hand.  At that point, there was no plan for a specific bread, just getting the starter back in fighting trim was the primary goal.  Even though the kitchen temperature is in the 75-78F range these days, the starter was a bit sluggish from it's 2-3 week stay in the refrigerator.  It was midafternoon before the starter showed real evidence of activity and late in the evening before it was ready to launch a levain.  By then, it had more than doubled (with rye flour, remember) and was eager for more food.

Since there was only finely milled whole rye flour on hand instead of the white rye that Leader calls for, that was what went into the levain build.  After a thorough mixing of the starter, water, and rye flour, the levain was covered and left to its own devices through the night.

It was about 7:45 Saturday morning when I walked into the kitchen and found a levain that was ready for bread.  All that was left was to combine the levain, water, bread flour, and salt into the final dough and give it a good knead.  About 15-18 minutes of kneading, according to Leader.  So I set to with vigor, using the slap and fold method because of the dough's relative softness.  There were a couple of intervals where I used the traditional push-turn-fold method of kneading but I found myself adding more flour than I wished to because of the dough's stickiness, so then it was back to the slap and fold method.

Per Leader's directions, the dough was set to ferment until it had expanded about 1.5 times its original volume.  I suspect mine was somewhat closer to doubled but without any adverse effects.  The dough was then shaped into a single round and placed in a floured banneton for the final fermentation.  While the loaf was fermenting, the oven was set up with a baking stone and a steam pan.

When the loaf was nearly doubled, the oven was switched on.  After it had preheated to 450F, boiling water was poured into the steam pan.  The loaf was immediately tipped out onto parchment paper, slashed, and slid onto the baking stone.  The loaf looked well proofed before going into the oven.  Once there, though, it experienced even more expansion; perhaps less than doubling but certainly a 1.5 expansion from the pre-bake size.

The fragrance while baking was wonderful.  Lots of roasty/toasty notes with sourdough highlights.

We had to leave as soon as the bread came out of the oven, so I simply plopped it on a cooling rack with a towel over it.  When we returned home, we found that it had been singing during our time away:

Quite a bit, actually.

That second picture also gives a sense of the amount of oven spring.  You can see how there was some tearing at the intersection of two slashes on the right-hand side. It's also evident when looking at the top of the loaf:

The deep chestnut tone of the crust is just as appealing to the tongue as it is to the eye; lots and lots of malty and nutty flavors.

Given the length of the kneading, it's no surprise that the crumb is very regular and rather finely textured:

Some of the crumb texture may also be attributable to the use of whole rye, rather than white rye, flour.  Since I made no adjustments in the formula's hydration, the perceived hydration may be lower than it would otherwise be.  

This is a very satisfying medium rye, at least in this incarnation with whole rye flour.  With white rye flour, it would no doubt be an equally satisfying light rye bread.  The flavor is a delightful combination of rye and wheat, with the additional richness of the sourdough flavors.  Neither seeds nor bread spice are needed in this bread; it is complete as is.  

If you have, or can obtain, a copy of Local Breads, I heartily commend this bread to you.


pmccool's picture

This past week, I've been enjoying my lunchtime sandwiches made with my first-ever gluten free bread.  It's been a learning experience, in a good way.  The flavor is pleasant, albeit not the least bit wheaty.  I think I'd like it better without the buckwheat flour but that's purely a personal taste issue.  The crumb is moist and slightly spongy, with just the faintest hint of grittiness.  The texture is fairly close-grained, with plenty of small bubbles of fairly uniform size.

Perhaps I should back up a bit.  My sudden interest in gluten free bread has nothing to do with a personal health issue.  Rather, I've been asked to teach a class on gluten free baking at CCKC and have, somewhat grudgingly, agreed to do so.  Grudging, because so much of the present gluten free craze is driven by faddish self-diagnoses and probably has no medical basis.  Only somewhat, because I'm perfectly willing to help people who truly suffer from celiac disease and want to develop baking skills and prepare safe foods.

So, here I am, trying to figure out what works and what doesn't and, more importantly, why.  This first bake is a case in point.  From my reading here on TFL (thank you for your shared experiences and wisdom!) and from other sources, it seems that guar and xanthan gums aren't well-tolerated by some celiac sufferers.  Chia and flax seeds offer some binding power for gluten free breads and certainly bring additional nutritional punch.  However their ability to form stable gels isn't always enough to support the demands of a sandwich style loaf.  Eggs can be used in some baked goods but there are many who have egg allergies, too.  The new binder on the gluten free block is psyllium husks.  It provides enough gas-capturing capability with a heat-stable gel to produce some reasonably good breads.

You may have already encountered psyllium, without even knowing it, in the form of a laxative.  Don't panic!  Even though I've eaten this bread made with psyllium all week long, it hasn't caused any, um, problems.  Psyllium's ability to absorb as much as 20 times its weight in water, forming a firm gel, is what makes it so effective in both laxatives and breads.  Having learned that, and a number of other facts, I searched for recipes that featured psyllium husk as the binder, rather than gums.  Turns out there aren't nearly as many out there on the web, yet.  The one I eventually selected to experiment with is from The World of Gluten-Free Bread blog.  One factor in my decision to use this recipe was that it seemed to be in the sweet spot for hydration levels and flavor in Juergen's experiments with different flours and ratios (see his Google doc here).

The recipe calls for a mix of sorghum, millet and buckwheat flours.  While shopping, I found the sorghum and buckwheat flours but not the millet flour.  Having seen a number of recipes that included brown rice flour, I took a chance on substituting that for the millet flour.  The other substitution that I made was potato flour in place of the potato starch that the recipe calls for. Luckily, things turned out quite well in spite of those two substitutions. 

The dough requires a different process than a typical wheat bread.  The first step is to mix the water and psyllium husk until a gel forms, perhaps 2-3 minutes.  Then the other ingredients are added and mixed for several minutes.  Since my KitchenAide mixer's condition is not especially robust, I chose to mix everything by hand.  Some of the recipes I found call for several minutes of kneading, so I followed that advice.  The dough texture was, not surprisingly, quite different than a wheat dough.  It was somewhat firm and rather elastic.  Nevertheless, it was kneadable.  One piece of advice that I saw somewhere along the line was to treat gluten free dough more like a rye dough than a wheat dough.  That seems to be good advice.  The dough wasn't nearly as sludgy or slimy as rye dough can be, but there were some similarities.  

Unlike many gluten free breads that are batter-based, this bread is given two rises, the first after mixing/kneading and the second after shaping.  At the end of each rise, the dough felt puffy and aerated.  Unlike wheat doughs, there's no such thing as getting a tight sheath on the outside of the loaf during shaping.  I definitely need more practice and understanding to achieve a smooth outer surface.  

Unlike the recipe's direction to bag the dough after covering it with cling film, I simply used the cling film with no noticeable drying of the dough.  From prior experience, my opinion is that the oiled cling film leaves a haze on the baked crust.  It's a relatively small price to pay for protecting the dough from drying but I'd like to find a method that results in a more eye-pleasing result.

The dough was enough to fill a 4x8 bread tin.  I would have liked to push for more volume but small bubbles were beginning to appear on the top surface.  In rye doughs, that means the fermentation has passed the point of the dough's ability to hold the gas.  With that in mind, I bundled the pan into the oven just as soon as the oven reached temperature.

Not surprisingly, there was no oven spring.  Fortunately, there was no collapse, either.  The only area of some concern for me during baking was that the bread took forever to reach 200F.  At the end of the prescribed baking time, the internal temperature had only reached 145F.  It took another 30 minutes of baking to reach 200F.  My oven is fairly accurate in its temperature settings, so that wasn't the problem.  Gluten free breads tend to be very high in hydration (this one is nearly 100%), so that's a factor.  Although I expected that the recipe's bake time would be fairly reliable, it wasn't my experience.

The bread was allowed to cool to room temperature before slicing.  The crust was initially quite crunchy when first sliced but softened to a pleasant texture after a night in a plastic bag.  The crumb is very moist but still firm, with the distinctive purple/gray shading of the buckwheat flour as seen here:

Kinda looks like a rye bread, doesn't it?  It has a similar heft, too.


I wanted to see how flexible the bread was, so I trimmed the crust from a slice that was about 1/4 inch thick.  Surprisingly, it had quite a bit of flexibility.  When I finally pushed it to the point of cracking, it was virtually doubled over.  Even then, it held together:

For anyone accustomed to wheat breads, it won't win any beauty contests:

Nevertheless, it tastes good, it hasn't dried out or turned crumbly, and it makes a decent sandwich.  I haven't tried toasting it, so don't know how that might work.  If I couldn't have gluten-containing breads, this would be a pretty good thing.  

If anyone has any tips or suggestions, I'm open.  I really want to understand how this stuff works.  Right now, I have one attempt and one success but no clues as to why it turned out the way it did.  I'll keep experimenting so that I get a better grasp of the hows and whys.  My students rightfully expect value for their tuition, so I need to be prepared to give them good information.


pmccool's picture

It's been two months since I last posted and I've scarcely gotten past the lurking stage here at TFL in that time.  The new project has kept me very busy at work, with more overtime than I care for.  The good news is that if the project progresses past the current stage, I'll get to work even more overtime for the next three years!  Yippee!  It's kind of like the airlines; if you fly with them often enough, they reward you by - wait for it - letting you fly even more!  I really can't complain too much, though, having learned that being underworked is a lot less satisfying than being overloaded.

Nevertheless, I have managed to fit a bit of life in and around the work schedule.  In one 7-day period in mid-February, I taught a sandwich breads class (Portugese Sweet Bread and Ciabattini) and a sourdough class (a light wheat sourdough and wheat/rye sourdough crackers) at the Culinary Center of Kansas City.  In between those two classes, there was a King Cake class for the Slow Food Kansas City organization.  It was cool to get acquainted with Chef Jasper Mirabile and have 20 or so people up to their elbows in flour.  This weekend, I taught an artisanal breads class (a French country boule and a variation on Pain a l'Ancienne) at CCKC.  

You never know what will resonate with the students.  This last time around, while discussing measuring ingredients by weight instead of by volume, one exclaimed "Why hasn't anyone ever told us about this before?  Learning that alone is worth the price of the class."  For others, learning techniques for handling high-hydration doughs was a big benefit.

Besides baking all of the breads for the classes (anywhere from 2-4 times each), other baking has included Mini's Favorite 100% Rye (absolutely delicious), as well as some lavender lemon scones that I've been testing for an upcoming class (my neighbors are really happy).  

So, even though I may not show up around here as often as I have previously, I'm still having fun with bread.


pmccool's picture

January has been a busy month already and there is nothing to indicate that it will slow down anytime soon.  Consequently, I haven't posted much recently but I have been busy with baking.

I taught two classes at the Culinary Center of Kansas City this month.  Last weekend was a Breadmaking 101 class and this weekend had an advanced course on formula design utilizing the BBGA spreadsheet format, which I think is unique to the area.  Each went well, with 17 in attendance for the Breadmaking 101 class and 5 in attendance for the formula design class.  We would usually cancel a class if only 5 people sign up for it, since it isn't profitable for the Center to deal with a group that small.  However, we felt that it was important to hold this first-ever class so we made some adjustments and rolled with it.  The small attendance may have been a real advantage, since it gave me much more time with each student than would have been possible in a larger group.

As the name implies, the Breadmaking 101 class was geared to people who are new to baking bread.  The focus was on introducing the basics that are so important, and often so daunting, to new bakers.  We only dealt with two breads during the 5-hour class so that students would have an opportunity to learn about ingredients, mixing, kneading, and fermentation first-hand.  While I had wanted to have the students bake at least one of the breads while they were in class, circumstances just didn't allow that to happen so they took the dough that they had prepared to bake at home.  They did get to see the bake for one of the doughs that I had made while setting up for class, which gave them an idea of how the finished product should look, as shown below:

I'm not sure what point I was making but it was obviously an important one!  The bread in question is a simple Italian-style white loaf.  Here's a picture of what I baked from the demonstration dough:

Interestingly, the adjoining classroom had an all-day Italian cooking class going on.  From talking to that instructor before our classes started, I learned that her father had owned S&A Italian Bakery, one of the larger bakeries in the Kansas City area dating back to the early 1900's.  Apparently the old bakery building in downtown KC has been converted into condominiums and one of those condos still houses the old brick oven, though it is not in use.  Her comment was "Someday, I'm going to buy that condo!"  When we took a break for lunch, I carried one of the loaves into her classroom, making her a very happy camper.

The other bread featured in class was a honey whole wheat, which gave the students a panned bread to work with, too.  As usual, I stressed the importance of measuring by weight, instead of by volume.  This was the first class in which I had the students do all of their measurements by weight, using new scales that the Center has recently acquired.  That presented some mental shifting of gears for a few of the students but all got through it in good shape.  One student commented that the whole idea of hydration, and how it could be controlled, was an important new understanding for her.  All in all, a tiring but enjoyable day.

This Saturday's class was the polar opposite.  It was structured to have the students develop and make a bread of their choosing (within some parameters that I set to keep things simple) so that they could familiarize themselves with the thought processes that go into formula development.  I had set up a spreadsheet with three different templates, all based on the BBGA format, that was emailed to the students in advance of class.  They were encouraged to bring a computer, or tablet, or other device that would allow them to manipulate the templates in class to produce their formula.  Before getting to the spreadsheet proper, we covered the importance of measuring by weight and how to use Baker's Math, since those two concepts are at the core of the BBGA format.  As part of that discussion, we mixed three series of hydration experiments, one each of bread flour, whole wheat flour, and rye flour, with hydration levels from 50% to 90%.  Each sample used 50g of flour and the students did all of the mixing by hand so that they could see how the flours behaved across the range of hydration levels and how they changed from one flour to the next.  That turned out to be an eye-opener for them, since they gained a visual and tactile understanding of what the hydration numbers meant.  Each student's packet included two worksheets with a series of questions that prompted them to think about what they wanted in the finished bread, with regard to intended use, flavor, shape, texture, crust, and other factors.  With that background, each one put together a draft formula for their new bread.  I also let them use some bread books as references, not so they could copy formulae but so they could get a sense of how different ingredients were combined, and in what percentages, for various styles of bread.  

After mixing, kneading and setting their doughs to ferment, we regrouped for a discussion and demonstration of various techniques.  From there we broke for lunch, with occasional interruptions for stretch and folds by a couple of the students.  The menu included sandwiches made with Italian bread and German Farmer's Bread, the latter from Hamelman's bread.  It's absolutely lovely stuff, very flavorful with a small inclusion of rye and yogurt, moist, and chewy.  A loaf is shown in the headline photo and sang quietly while its picture was being made.  Some slices showing the crumb are pictured, below:

After the students shaped their breads, we spent some time discussing various ingredients that can be used in breads and what kinds of effects they have.  Then the students went to work on designing a second bread.  By the time they were ready to mix and knead their second bread, the first set of loaves were ready to bake.  After their second doughs were prepared, we cleaned up our area and had a discussion to answer any questions that hadn't been adequately covered earlier in the day.  Eventually, the breads came out of the oven and the students went their separate ways with one baked loaf and some dough to bake at home, plus a headful of new understanding.  

Considering that it was the first-ever presentation and radically different than any of my other classes, I'm very pleased with how the class went.  There are things that can be improved, certainly, but it was a definite success.

A bake from earlier in January featured Hamelman's Tarte Flambee, which is a kind of pizza in much the same way that a Bugatti Veyron is a kind of automobile.  Luxe, in other words.  Bacon, onions, creme fraiche (I substituted Mexican crema), a hint of nutmeg, plus some mushrooms that I threw in just because; all combining to produce an artery-clogging rapture.  This is seriously good stuff and should probably not be indulged in more than once a year.  The picture, below, was taken with my cell phone and seems to have emphasized the red end of the spectrum, leaving the bacon appearing much more pink than it actually was.

The other thing that I've been playing with is King Cake for Mardi Gras, since I've been invited by Slow Food Kansas City to teach a class at their February meeting.  The dough itself is where I want it to be and I've worked out a shaping technique.  The only thing that I'm still fiddling with is the filling.  The one that I have used tastes great but it has a tendency to liquefy and ooze out of the cake while baking, so that needs a bit more work.  The second iteration, unadorned, is shown below:

That about catches me up, I think.


pmccool's picture

Although this bread is the topic of a number of posts here at TFL, I wanted to make it as presented in Hamelman's Bread (as nearly as possible) so that I would have a baseline for future bakes.  Since making it, I have re-read most of those posts and recognize some things that I will employ for the next attempt.

On my part, there were three departures from the formula as presented in the book.  The first was that I did not have pumpernickel, or coarse rye, meal on hand but I did have plenty of a finely milled whole rye flour, which I used in place of the pumpernickel.  The second was that I substituted cracked rye that I made by processing whole rye kernels with the grain mill attachment for my KitchenAide mixer in place of the rye chops that the formula specifies.  I also used barley malt syrup in place of the blackstrap molasses, which Hamelman notes is an acceptable substitution. While these changes have some effect on the outcome, my assessment is that their influence is relatively minor.

The two factors that I perceive to have a major effect on the finished bread are both inherent in the formula.  

The first is the degree of hydration.  Hamelman's directions for this bread are unusually vague, compared to other breads in the book.  He directs the reader to use the water left from soaking the altus for hydrating the dough but not to put any in unless it is needed.  He mentions that the dough should have a "medium" consistency and that it will be "slightly sticky".  This is a mostly-rye bread, loaded with whole rye kernels (soaked) and rye chops (dry).  Not surprisingly, it is a heavy dough and supremely sticky.

The second factor is the suggested baking profile for home ovens; and it is only a suggestion.  Not knowing exactly how my oven compares to his experience and knowing that my kitchen is rather cool at this time of year, I chose to depart from his notes in detail but tried to stay within the general intent.  To that end, I baked the bread for an hour at 350F, 90 minutes at 300F, 90 minutes at 250F, and 2 hours at 225F.  At that point, the oven was switched off and the bread remained in the oven for another 2 hours.  The bread was baked in lidded pullman pans that measure 9x4x4 inches.  I'll discuss the outcome a little further along in this post.

On a Friday evening, I mixed the rye levain and set it to ripen overnight.  Not having any old rye bread on hand, I used some Vermont Sourdough (another Hamelman bread) for the altus.  I also prepped the whole rye soaker, leaving the kernels to soak overnight in cool water.  I was a bit surprised to see that the kernels had begun to chit by morning, so it's a good thing that the rye soaker has to be boiled before use.  That prevented an enzymatic nightmare.

On Saturday morning, I boiled the rye soaker as directed, then drained and cooled it.  While that was going on, I cracked the rye kernels as described earlier.  The altus was also wrung out while the whole rye soaker was cooling.  Then I weighed out the rest of the ingredients.  When the rye soaker reached a usable temperature, all of the ingredients were mixed by hand.  My impression was that the dough was somewhat stiff, so I mixed in a few grams of the water from the altus soaker.  That loosened things up somewhat, although I would still not have described the dough as being wet.  Having some prior experiences with too-wet rye pastes, I decided to call it good enough.  The dough was covered and allowed to ferment in my B&T proofer at the recommended temperature.

During the bulk fermentation, the pans were greased and floured in preparation for loading with the shaped loaves.

At the completion of the bulk ferment, the dough was divided and shaped.  I had to wet my hands a few times to keep the stickiness in check and used a plastic scraper to help lift the loaves from the countertop without deforming them.  They were placed in the prepared pans and the lids were closed.  The loaded pans went back into the proofer for the final fermentation at the prescribed temperature.  When I checked the dough at the 50-minute mark, I found it to be within 3/4 of an inch of the pan lids, as Hamelman directs.  The oven was preheated and the bread went in for its marathon bake, as described above.

The fragrance of this bread while it bakes is amazing!  Lots of rye / caramel / malty / hazelnut notes that get "darker" as the bake proceeds and the Maillard reactions progress.  Marvelous stuff!  

When I was finally able to depan the loaves, I was surprised to find that they had shrunk by almost 1/2 inch in length.  The side-to-side dimension stayed about the same.  The crust was rock hard.  My first impression was that if the bread wasn't edible, I'd at least have a couple of foundation blocks for that WFO that I may or may not get around to building someday.  

When you look at the photo, below, a couple of things are noticeable.  One is that the top of the loaf is slightly rounded, indicating that it never expanded all of the way to the pan lid.  I attribute that to the dough being somewhat under-hydrated, since I was very careful to scale the quantities for the size pans I have.  The other is that a lot of the flour from dusting the pan is quite stubbornly clinging to the loaf.  That isn't the most esthetically pleasing thing but it does show just how much color change there was from the raw flour to the finished bread.  

The bread was wrapped in cotton towels and allowed to sit 24 hours.  I then bagged it in plastic in the hope that the moisture from the interior might soften the crust somewhat.  That hasn't happened to any great degree.  Cutting the bread, even with a good bread knife, is a struggle.  I have an acquaintance who does a lot of woodworking.  Maybe I could use his band saw to slice off the crusts...  After trying to use the bread with the crust still on the slices, I've taken to cutting off the crusts before eating.  No point in cracking that new dental implant on one of those rye berries.

The crumb, as shown in the headline photo, is very much what one expects with this bread; dense, dark, and chunky with whole rye and cracked rye.  The flavor is fabulous by itself and in sandwiches.  This is filling stuff, too.  It can keep you going for several hours without any sense of hunger.

For the next bake, I'll follow Andy's excellent advice to weigh everything before and after soaking so that I can be more scrupulous about hydration.  I'll also tinker with introducing steam for part, if not all, of the bake.  That will be a significant departure from the formula but I can't help but think that an oven full of bread probably has a higher humidity than mine did with just two loaves.  The lids on the pullman pans are obviously not able to retain enough moisture to prevent excessive hardening of the crusts during the long bake.

This won't be one of my go-to breads, simply because of the length of the bake.  It is, however, one that I will make from time to time because it is so good.




pmccool's picture

Yes, baking instructors have homework, too.  And both of this week's bakes are geared to upcoming classes that I will teach at the Culinary Center of Kansas City.

The bread pictured in the lead photo is the first pass at a variation on Clayton's Chopped Apple Bread.  A bit of background: one of the classes that I teach is a Breakfast Breads class.  The current version, coming up again this next weekend, features sourdough English Muffins and Kolaches.  It's a popular class (there's a waiting list for next Saturday) but we wanted to add some variety.  Consequently, there will be a Breakfast Breads II class next Spring which will feature a scone and a further evolution of this apple bread.  I left the ingredients alone for this version because I wanted to try a different fermentation regime.  Since that worked out as hoped for, I can tweak ingredients next time around to add a bit of this to the dough and a bit of that to the filling and eventually wind up with something that (thanks to my darling wife) will be called Apple Fritter Bread.  I think it will be a hit because of its convenience, flavor and novelty.  And yes, it is supposed to look knobby and rough.

The other bake this weekend was a batch of stollen.  The stollen, and a Bavarian Braid, are the featured breads in a holiday breads class coming up in three weeks.  Baking students are a surprisingly hungry bunch, so it pays to have something for them to munch on in class.  While it would have been better to bake these a week previously, that just wasn't in the cards what with my wife having had knee surgery two days previously and me having a roaring cold.  Happily, both of us are feeling much better this weekend.  

Here are the stollen, just out of the oven and brushed with melted butter:

And here they are, cooled, sugared, wrapped in foil, bagged, and settling in for three weeks of "maturing":

Actually, one of them is staying home and will get more than three weeks of quality time.

My previous class resulted in an interesting bread.  The class itself was on Pain a L'Ancienne and and a Pain de Compagne.  Postal Grunt was there to steal some ideas for a class that he will offer through the County Extension office.  The class itself was well attended and, as is typical, the students went home with dough to be baked in their own ovens.  This time, so did the instructor.  Since I had a number of other things clamoring for my attention, I slung the dough into the garage refrigerator and promptly forgot about it until three days later.  Figuring that other people do the same thing intentionally, I pulled out the two doughs, kneaded them together with some additional flour to make a manageable but still very soft dough, shaped them, fermented them, and baked them off.  That was some of the best tasting bread I have made recently!  That long, cold fermentation gave plenty of time for the enzymes to work their magic on the starches and the new flour gave the yeast an additional food source.  The oven spring was only moderate, even though the dough wasn't over-proofed, but crust color and crumb structure were both good.  For a yeasted bread, it was delicious.  Still not as complex as a sourdough but very, very good.

Other than that, the freezer has been my "oven" recently, since I need to work down the backlog there.  It's not a bad thing, since I got to enjoy the second loaf of Hamelman's Potato Bread with Roasted Onions this last week.  It just means that I have to resort to homework to have some fun in the kitchen.  Which sounds really sad, somehow.


pmccool's picture

Although this past Saturday morning was wet and dreary outside, things were lively inside the Culinary Center of Kansas City.  Twenty students showed up to try their hand at a Swedish-style bread and practice several shaping techniques.  

One student arrived a few minutes early.  She has attended other classes that I have taught, too.  While we were chatting, she said to me "You've created a monster, you know."  I asked what she meant.  She said, "Well, I bought that book (meaning ITJB) and I've been baking a lot from it."  When I replied that that sounded like a good thing, she said she had killed her Kitchen Aide double ovens and had to replace them.  Apparently her steaming method had cooked the electronics and the cost of replacement was high enough that she figured it would be better spent on a new appliance, so she bought a high-end prosumer brand.  Since she bakes for markets, it's probably justifiable but her husband has apparently been grumbling somewhat.

Other familiar faces included Fuzzy Whiskers and her daughter.  The rest were as new to me as I to them but it didn't take long to break the ice and start having some fun.

The bread itself is lovely, rich with milk and eggs and butter and redolent of cardamom and cinnamon.  Just for good measure, some almonds made their way into the mix, too.  Contrary to most American sweet breads, this bread is just slightly sweet, making it an excellent accompaniment for tea or coffee.

As part of preparation for class, I had made up a double batch of dough and baked it off in four different shapes so that the students could see how the finished product looked.  And then, of course, we served it up so that they could see how it tasted, too.  There were only a few pieces left by the end of class.

Class began with a demonstration of mixing and kneading the dough while fielding questions from the students.  One part of the demonstration included the slap and fold method of kneading, since the dough is quite soft.  It's almost magical to see the dough firming up and gaining body after just a couple of minutes of this treatment, while losing its stickiness at the same time.  The students then went to their workstations and set to work with a will.  As they worked, I moved from station to station to answer questions and offer tips.  It's in this stage that I am often reminded of just how many small things we learn as we develop our skills.  Examples: "See how the dough sticks to your hands less if you pick it up with your fingertips instead of in your fist?"  "Yes, slapping it down is necessary but look at how we stretch the dough outward, too."  "It's okay that the butter isn't perfectly dispersed at this stage of mixing; you will finish blending it in as you add the flour."  And, always, reading the dough's consistency.  

Once the doughs were prepared, I had the students leave them on the bench, covered with the mixing bowls.  Then it was back to the teaching station to demonstrate four different shaping techniques.  The first was just a simple, three-strand braid.  Everyone felt confident that they could handle braiding without practicing in class, so we moved on to the next shape, which was the epi.  Although the epi is usually associated with baguette doughs, it makes a lovely presentation for a cinnamon roll, too.  Everyone wanted to try their hand with this shape, so it was back to the workstations for practice.  None of the practice shaping included the filling, since I wanted the students to gain confidence with the mechanics of the shaping method rather than having to worry about spoiling their bread.  I noticed that a few went ahead and made some braids, too.

The third shape will be familiar to anyone who has made Floyd's Blueberry Cream Cheese Braid.  As before, I demonstrated the method, then the students went back to practice it with their own dough.  It is pictured, below.

The fourth shape was inspired by breadsong's A Rose for Christmas post.  For the class, I treated it as a simple twist rather than coiling it into a rosette.  Following the previous pattern, I demonstrated the technique and then the students practiced it at their workstations.  It is also pictured, below.

What I heard, repeatedly, was "I had no idea something that fancy was that easy!"  People were surprised, and impressed, that they could turn out some very pretty breads all on their own.

At the end of the shaping practice, everyone's dough was bagged up so that they could take it home for shaping and baking as they wished.  We concluded with some further Q&A and then our time was up.

Since I had some take-home dough of my own, I baked it that afternoon.  Here's a picture:

Most of it went to friends at church this morning.

The other thing that I did this weekend was verify the formulae and run some test bakes for an upcoming class on October 14.  Here's a preview, PG:



pmccool's picture

I like good bread.  This is not good bread.  This is seriously good bread!  And I like it a lot.

This is Hamelman's Potato Bread with Roasted Onions.  It's a rustic bread featuring a preferment, roasted potatoes, and roasted onions.  While the photography isn't anything to write home about, the bread is.

Hamelman starts off with a pate fermentee that works overnight; a new chunk of old dough, if you will.  He also has you oven-roast some potatoes with absolutely no seasonings.  They show up in the bread as a slight variation in texture and flavor.  The onions are lightly coated with olive oil and then also oven-roasted to a deep brown, almost black, thoroughly caramelized state.  They don't need any seasoning!  I roasted the potatoes and onions after putting the pate fermentee together, so that they could be cooled and ready to go into the bread the next morning.

Since I was mixing by hand, instead of by machine, I mixed all of the final dough ingredients together and then kneaded in the pate fermentee until everything was uniformly distributed.  Then the chopped up potatoes were folded in and kneaded to distribute, followed at last by the onions.  Since I stopped short of working the onions to an absolute pulp, they left streaky traces throughout the dough.  

Fermentation, shaping and baking were by the book.

All of this happened last weekend and it was this Thursday before I stirred myself to grab a camera.  Here's what's left of the loaf:

And here's how the crumb looked:

The flavor is absolutely delightful.  There is the gentle aroma and flavor of the onions, more sweet than pungent.  The potatoes are very much in the background, unless you happen to bite into a chunk.  Then you get the roasted notes of both starch and skin.  The bread itself is surprisingly rich in flavor for being a lean dough; the deeply browned crust is very enjoyable.  It's been a fabulous base for sandwiches all week long.  No doubt it would make an excellent savory French toast.

Although the hydration is a nominal 61%, the crumb feels moister in the mouth.  No doubt the moisture from the potatoes and onions contributes to that.  It is a firm bread but not tough.  Given the hydration level and the amount of kneading, the crumb is fairly close-textured, rather than open.

This is a definite two thumbs up bread.  


pmccool's picture

This bake took place on Labor Day weekend.  My pullman pans were silently mocking me from their perch in the cupboard, reminding me that the last time I used them, the loaves had ears.  Or eaves.  That isn't supposed to happen with pain de mie.  Chalk it up to overfilling the pans.

So, this seemed like as good a time as any to experiment again.  As before, I used the pain de mie formula from Hamelman's 2nd edition of Bread.  In checking my previous numbers, it became evident that there was, indeed, an error in the math.  Having checked the scaling factor for my 9x4x4 pans, compared to the larger ones that Hamelman uses, it appeared that 810g of dough would be appropriate for one of my pans.  From that point, the rest of numbers were quickly calculated and I set to work.

This bread departs from the formula in three ways.  First, it contains 50% whole wheat flour, rather than being an entirely white bread.  Second, I took my first stab at using the tang zhong method, reasoning that it could benefit the texture of the finished bread.  Fifty grams of flour were combined with 250g of water and cooked until it formed a soft paste or roux.  Third, I substituted honey for the sugar in the formula, in equal weight.

The balance of the bread was pretty much according to Hamelman's instructions, except that I mixed and kneaded by hand instead of with a machine.  

The finished bread was much better than my first attempt.  Look, Ma, no eaves!:

The corners are slightly rounded.  Either there should have been a few more grams of dough in the pans or it should have been allowed to proof just a bit longer.  Or the shaping wasn't quite as uniform as needed.  I'm leaning toward the latter, since the dough was almost touching the pan lid when the dough went into the oven.

The crumb also suggests that the dough was neither under weight or under fermented:

Despite the less-than-stellar focus, it's easy to see that there is a small zone of compaction around the sides and bottom of the loaf.  It appears that the center of the loaf, which is the last to expand as the heat reaches it, has compressed the outer layer.  My read is that there may actually have been slightly too much dough in the pan, though not nearly as overloaded as my first attempt.  The bread was certainly easier to chew than its predecessor.

The results of the tang zhong showed up less in the form of a "shreddable" crumb and more in the form of a non-crumbly crumb that stayed moist.  Achieving a wispy, ethereal crumb would probably have required twice as much time in kneading as I used.  I'm happy for the way that the bread didn't dry and crumble, which whole wheat breads are prone to do.

For next time, then, a small reduction in dough quantity, keep the tang zhong, and work on shaping for more end to end uniformity.  I'll probably also drop the oven temperature by 25-50F from Hamelman's recommendation.  Although he is known for his preference for deeply colored crusts, my opinion is that less is more for a pain de mie style bread crust.


pmccool's picture

It was time for a break from the whole-grain breads that I have made, more often than not, in recent months.  Even so, I wasn't looking for an all-white bread, either.  In thumbing through the second edition of Hamelman's Bread, I came across his Sourdough Seed bread.  It calls for a bit of rye flour, and a generous helping of flax, sesame, and sunflower seeds.  Although there weren't any flax seeds on hand, I figured I could bluff my way through it with a bit of improvisation.

In casting about for something to substitute for the flax seed cold soaker, I came across some oatmeal that had been milled from oat groats while playing with the Kitchen Aide grain mill attachment.  Okay, so oats are a cereal grain, which isn't what people usually mean when they refer to seeds.  And these are ground up, not whole.  Work with me, people, this is improv.  So, flax seeds out, equal quantity of oat meal in.  Cold water out, equal quantity of boiling water in.  Now we have an oat meal scald, instead of a cold flax seed soaker.  

Since my starter was at a healthy stage of development in the refrigerator, it went straight into the liquid levain with no preliminary feedings.  By next morning, the levain was bubbly and ready to go.  The oat meal scald was also ready, although not nearly so demonstrative, which was very much in keeping with its Scottish reserve.

Before mixing the dough, the sunflower and sesame seeds were toasted in the oven.  Some stayed rather pale, others were a beautiful deep brown.  After toasting, they were allowed to cool.

Per the instructions, the soaker (scald, in this case), the levain, the seeds, and the final dough ingredients were all combined and mixed.  Mixing was done by hand, rather than by machine.  The resulting dough at first appeared to be somewhat dry, since it required some work to get all of the flour absorbed.  Once past that stage, it switched to being a rather sticky dough and stayed sticky throughout.  This may have been an artifact of the oat meal scald.  After mixing to a rough dough, it underwent another 8 minutes of slap and fold kneading.  By the end of that workout, it was showing good gluten development.  

The dough was shaped into a loose boule and placed in a plastic-covered bowl to ferment.  About an hour and a quarter later, the dough was given a stretch and fold, then reshaped into a boule and returned to the bowl for roughly an hour and a half of additional fermentation.  I was surprised when I uncovered the dough in preparation for shaping by the scent of peanut butter.  It wasn't really that, on closer consideration, but that was how my brain first interpreted the the toasty/oily fragrance of the sunflower seeds and sesame seeds in the dough.

At the end of the bulk fermentation, the dough was divided in two.  Each piece was pre-shaped, allowed to rest for a few minutes, then given a final shaping as a batard.  Final proofing was in parchment couches with side support.  It took nearly three hours of final proofing before the bread was ready for baking; kitchen temperatures were in the 70-72F range yesterday.  

Baking was pretty much as instructed, with steam.  I chose to go a few minutes longer with the bake to get a darker crust color.  The bread was removed from the oven when the internal temperature was 207F.

While I would have liked additional oven spring, that may not be a reasonable expectation, given the load of the seeds and the scald.  Both loaves have a lovely ear.  The coloring of the grigne shows that the bread continued to expand throughout the bake.  I had noticed a lot of condensation of the steam on the surface of the loaves a couple of minutes into the bake, which helped keep the crust soft and allow good expansion.

Here's another picture of the baked loaves:

The crumb, when I cut some slices for toast this morning, has a range of bubble sizes:

None are especially large, but, when you look at the seed distribution, there really isn't much they could have grown without banging into a seed of some kind.  The crust was initially very hard.  After 24 hours in plastic, it has softened somewhat.  The crumb is very moist and cool, some of which I attribute to the oat meal scald.  The flavor is definitely tilted in the direction of the toasted seeds,with plenty of nutty and toasty notes.  I can't distinguish the oat meal or the rye flour as individual flavors, although I am certain that they are part of the background grainy flavors.  The crust contributes hints of caramel, as well.  Overall, it's a very good bread that I enjoyed toasted and expect to enjoy as the foundation for sandwiches.  My thanks to Chef Hamelman for creating a bread that is still good in spite of my unanticipated variation.



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