The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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PMcCool

Saturday's game plan was to do a turkey dinner with all the trimmings for some of our South African friends.  The aim was partly to broaden their cultural sensibilities (not to mention waistlines) but more importantly to thank them for how pleasant they have made this past year for a couple of Americans who are a long way from home.  Alas, it was not to be.  My wife came down with some sort of abdominal unpleasantness that had her down for the count on Friday and left her feeling very weak on Saturday and Sunday.  Fortunately, she's back to her usual self but the planned activities for the day were pretty much shot to tatters.


With only a few errands to run and not wanting to leave her home by herself, I made up a Plan B which, wait for it, also involved food!  It started small enough and then morphed into something bigger.  It wasn't too long after starting that I thought "I have the whole day.  I could make some bread to give away as well as some for ourselves."


I started with Leader's Polish Cottage Rye, since that is naturally leavened and would therefore take the longest to go from ingredients to finished bread.  I've not made this before but I will be making it again.  It contains just over 25% rye flour (I used whole rye instead of the recommended white rye), all of which is in the rye sour.  It makes a beautiful big miche-sized loaf, just over 1200g in weight.  I missed that note.  I had the oven all set up to bake on the stone, with steam.  When I looked at how the dough was doming over the top of the bannetons, I realized that wasn't going to work.  Then I pulled the stone and steam pan out of the oven and put each loaf on parchment in its own half-sheet pan.  The oven in this house has only two shelves and the coil is exposed in the bottom of the oven, so that left no room for the steam pan.  Consequently, I baked them with convection.  When first transferred from banneton to pan, each loaf spread quite a bit.  Each one had good oven-spring but I wonder whether they might have been even higher if there had been a way to get steam in the oven at the same time.  Note that I'm not complaining about result.  The crumb is smooth, moist, cool and creamy; sorry, no pics of that.  The outside looks like this:


Leader's Polish Cottage Rye


It's the time of year that I usually make Bernard Clayton's Pain Allemande aux Fruits.  I've blogged about this previously, so won't repeat myself here except to say this is a wonderful bread!  It is rather messy and tedious, which is why I usually only make it once a year. Shaping is always a challenge with that much fruit and nuts in the dough.  The fragrance and the flavors are so exquisite, though, that I can't just not make it.  Here it is, all baked, bagged, and ready to go:


Clayton's Pain Allemande aux Fruits


And, just because I knew some friends wouldn't be all that jazzed by rye bread or fruity bread, I decided to make Sweet Vanilla Challah from Beth Hensperger's The Bread Bible.  This has been blogged about, too.  The shaping is extremely simple, especially compared to a braid, but the result is stunningly elegant:


Hensperger's Sweet Vanilla Challah


So, instead of saying thank you to a few friends, we were able to thank several more.  While my wife would have preferred to skip the whole sickness thing, the end result was much appreciated by others.


Paul

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PMcCool

I've taken a bit of a break from ryes in the past couple of weeks, baking Honey Lemon Whole Wheat from Clayton's Complete Book of Breads and the Pain au Levain with Whole Wheat from the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking book.  This weekend, though, I went back to rye again, baking the Soulful German Farmhouse Rye from Daniel Leader's Local Breads.


Leader's Soulful German Farmhouse Rye


I've blogged about this bread previously, so I won't repeat what I've said previously.  


The most obvious difference this time is that I proofed the boules smooth side up and then baked them with the seam side up, allowing the natural weaknesses in the dough to be the expansion points.  I like the effect, particularly since the darkness of the crumb contrasts with the lighter-color flour on the crust.  Not so evident, but still different this time is that I did not add any of the instant yeast called for in the formula (I had all day at the house anyway), nor did I "dust" the banneton with rye flakes.  That did nothing for my enjoyment or for the bread, so I just used a light dusting of rye flour on top of the rice flour already embedded in the fabric.


If I remember the next time that I make this bread, I'll double the quantities but still shape it into just two boules.  That might give a bit more height to the loaves, which would make them more serviceable for sandwiches.  Despite the diminutive size of the loaves, this is a delicious bread and well worth the making.


Paul 

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PMcCool

On Friday morning, I did a rather large refresh of my starter, thinking that it would be the makings of a levain for something to bake this weekend.  There was no specific plan, mind you, just the notion that I needed to bake something and that sourdough would be preferred.  In taking stock of my pantry after a late dinner Friday evening, it became evident that whatever I made wouldn't contain rye--I needed to restock.  That may be good news to Nico and the rest of the crew at Eureka Mills but it did steer my considerations out of one path and down another.


What to bake, then?  After riffling through some books, the bread that looked most appealing to me was the Pain de Campagne from Leader's Local Breads.  Yes, it wants 30g of rye flour, too, but I substituted WW and was happily on my way.  My starter was at, or just passing, its zenith.  Since I keep a firm starter, I needed to add water to achieve the hydration of Leader's liquid levain.  Before doing that, I made sure to set some starter aside to refeed and put back into storage.  It's no fun to find out you've baked up all of your starter and need to start anew.  Even worse, there are no T-shirts after you've been there and done that.


In reading the formula, I found that I had just about the same quantity of levain (after adding the requisite water) that would be required for a double batch.  Good!  One mess and four loaves instead of one mess and two loaves.  That would yield two for us and a couple of loaves to give to friends.  Leader recommends mixing the water and flour for a 20-minute autolyze, then add in the levain and salt.  I varied by mixing the flour, water and levain for the autolyse and left it for 25 minutes, on the presumption that the coarser bran particles of the WW flour would benefit from additional time soaking.


Upon returning to the now-autolyzed dough, I found it to be wonderfully elastic even before adding the salt.  I worked in about half of the salt using a stretch and fold in the bowl process, then patted the dough out on the countertop and worked in the rest of the salt.  Leader directs the baker to knead the dough for 10-12 minutes.  For once, I followed directions.  The dough was a joy to handle.  It verged on being sticky at the beginning of the knead.  Per Leader's directions, I did not add any bench flour.  Instead, I would dust my hands with flour occasionally.  As the kneading progressed, the stickiness reduced to a light tackiness (and I mean that in a good way).  The dough left very little of itself on the countertop even though it was quite capable of latching on if left to sit for more than a few seconds.  It was able to produce a window pane at the end of the kneading, something that I don't usually check for, especially in a dough freckled with flakes of bran.  In spite of the addition of some WW flour (and rye, if you have it), this is essentially a white bread.  And I suspect that the dough felt so responsive to me because my previous bake was a 100% rye.  Two different worlds!


By this time, it was already close to 9:00 in the evening, so I had to consider my next step.  Should I stay up late through two fermentation cycles and baking, or should I retard it in the refrigerator?  Since I was dealing with a sourdough, I opted to leave it on the counter for about an hour more before placing it in the refrigerator.  My experience with sourdoughs is that they are rather slow to develop and I did not want to sacrifice that much sleep.  Imagine my surprise at about 7:00 this morning when I opened the refrigerator door to find the dough well above the rim of the bowl, straining against the plastic wrap!  It had at least tripled, perhaps quadrupled, in roughly 9 hours in the refrigerator.  I've never seen a sourdough bread do that before.  It must be that this starter, even though only a couple of months old, has a potent strain of yeast!


So, I divided the dough into four pieces and shaped each piece into a boule.  I only have two bannetons that size, and only two loaves would fit on my stone at one time, so I opted for using two half-sheet pans with two loaves on parchment on each.  While I can fit those into my oven, it does not leave any room for a steam pan.  When the loaves had doubled (visually) and the poke test indicated that they were fully risen, I scored them and brushed their surfaces with water before putting them in the preheated oven.  Leader recommends baking at 450ºF for 15 minutes, then dropping the temperature to 400ºF for an additional 20-25 minutes.  I opted to use the convection setting, with temperatures that were 40º-50º lower, supposing that I would get a more even bake.  I also planned to rotate and switch the pans at the 15-minute mark.  When I opened the oven, I found that the lower loaves were pressing against the rack above them.  Instead of the planned switch-and-rotate maneuver, I took all four loaves off the pans and placed them on the top rack, with the paler pair at the rear, to finish the lower-temperature last segment of the bake.


Here's how they look:


pain de campagne


As you can see from the crackling in the crust of the left-hand loaf, they sang as they cooled.  Two of the loaves suffered small blow-outs along their bases, indicating that they weren't as fully proofed as they seemed to be (or that I really did need more steam in the oven).  I'm very happy with how they expanded upward more than they did outward, since I was careful to get a tight gluten cloak while shaping.  I'm less happy with the scoring; it's a skill I need to develop further.  I anticipate some good eating from these.  We'll see how the crumb looks when I've cut into one.  That much kneading could lead to a fairly even and close crumb, even though this is a moist dough.


Stay tuned!


Paul

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PMcCool

 


Or to Eureka Mills, if you are more fluent in English than in Afrikaans.


We spent the past week on vacation in the Western Cape Province of South Africa.  Along with spectacular vistas, fynbos, animals we’ve never seen before (who knew that bontebok and blesbok would be so difficult to differentiate?), rolling farmlands, orchards, vineyards, calving whales and two different oceans, we managed to fit in a visit with Nico Steyn, miller and manager of Eureka Mills. 


It was really a happy accident rather than the result of any forethought.  We had stopped at a farm stand, noticed several bags of Eureka Mills flour, and read the address: Heidelberg.   And then it hit us—we were standing in a shop on the outskirts of Heidelberg!   After locating a telephone number, we called and made arrangements to visit that afternoon and see, as Nico put it, “how we make what we think is the best flour in South Africa.”


For those who might be in the vicinity someday, Eureka Mills is located just south of the N2 highway at the Karringmelkrivier (Buttermilk River) exit, west of Heidleberg.  And it is easy to spot: there is an enormous grain elevator visible from the highway which, so far as I know now, has nothing to do with Eureka Mills.  Since it was the biggest and most obvious grain-related structure, I aimed for that and drove right past the mill, only noticing the sign at the last second.  Eureka Mills is a much smaller and bare-bones outfit; as Nico said, a “one-man band operation” that looks like it is one of the buildings of the farm from which it sprang.  All of the buildings were erected by mill staff (including the new expansion that is in progress) and all equipment was installed by mill staff.


Eureka Mills was born in 1998 because two farmers were frustrated by the low prices they were being quoted for their wheat.  They recognized that they could get a much better price for their product if they converted it from raw grain to flour.  As the mill’s output has grown over the years (it currently produces about 100 tonnes/month), additional wheat is now purchased from other growers in the area to supplement the original farms’ production.  Nico joined the mill in 1999.  He had been interested in a career as a chef but, when that didn’t develop, started working at the mill to generate some income.  He has since worked his way up to the miller/manager position.


The wheat used by Eureka Mills is a hard red variety.  Since the area is short of the 35th parallel in latitude and has more of a Mediterranean-style climate, the winter and spring designations used by European and North American growers don’t quite apply.  Nico describes it as a “pre-winter” wheat.  The resulting flour is approximately 11% protein and contains nothing but wheat.  No malt.  No added vitamins.  No bleaches.  Just wheat.  Visitors to the mill (“All foreigners” a bemused Nico remarks) include James McGuire and Jeff Hamelman and they have been astonished to find a flour of this purity.


The milling process has just a few steps.  The incoming wheat is first screened to remove any stray pebbles that might have gotten in.  It is then screened again to remove any other non-wheat materials.  From the screens, it is mixed with water (tempered) and stored for 18 hours to achieve a 15% moisture content.  After tempering is completed, the wheat is sent through a series of 3 roller mills that separate the outer layer of bran from the inner endosperm and germ.  The endosperm and germ are then ground between two granite burrs in a stone mill.  The resulting (unbleached) white flour is packaged as either white bread flour or as cake flour (roughly equivalent to All Purpose flour in the U.S.).   As I’m writing this, I realize I didn’t ask what differentiates the two white flours.  If it all comes from the same wheat, there can’t be much difference except, perhaps, in the fineness of the grind.  Brown bread flour is made by reintroducing a portion of the bran and wholemeal flour is made by recombining all of the bran.  Nico explained that they had learned that running the whole grain through the stone mills resulted in the bran clogging the stones, which costs them about a day of lost production by the time everything is taken apart, cleaned, and reassembled.  Hence, the initial passes through the roller mills to separate the bran before the grain reaches the stone mills.  Lest I leave you with the impression that the milling is easy, here's Nico's take on the process: "The flour is like a woman; what worked with it yesterday may not work today."


Although none of the grains used by the mill are certified as organic, Nico explained that the growers exercise careful soil conservation practices.  Typically, a field will be planted to wheat for two consecutive years.  It will then be planted with canola (seeing hundreds of hectares of the yellow blossoms is dazzling) for a year.  Following that, it will be left fallow for 2 years.  All of the plant material that remains after harvest is worked back into the soil with toothed implements, rather than with plows or discs, to minimize disruption of the soil structure.  As a result, such fields host plentiful earthworms and other beneficial organisms that are not present in a heavy cultivation/heavy chemical use regime.  Soils in this region tend to be very thin and lacking in organic matter, so such practices are essential to long-term productivity.  I remember driving by one field in which the farmer had gathered rocks into large piles and the soil still appeared to have more stones than dirt.


Eureka Mills also produces rye flour, rye meal and crushed rye because of customer demand.  That rye is imported, since the local climate is not conducive to rye cultivation.  If it hadn’t been for my whining in one post about not finding rye flour locally, I might not have known about Eureka Mills.  MiniOven did some research on the Web, found out about Eureka Mills, and got me pointed in the right direction.


Nico works closely with a number of artisanal bakers (mostly from France or Italy, he notes) and with distributors to extend the use of Eureka Mills products.  He is frequently on the telephone with bakers, responding to their questions or requests; something that he values as much as they do.  South Africa is going through a dietary shift that, in many ways, is both parallel and linked to its social shifts.  Brown bread flour was not previously taxed, therefore it was cheaper for institutions (schools, prisons, etc.) and low income persons to use for their baking needs.  It now has a stigma as “poor peoples’ food” and the growing demand is for baked goods made with white flour.  At the same time, as more people have increasing affluence, there is also a nascent willingness to spend more for artisanal breads.  Most of the master bakers producing those artisanal breads are either Europeans or have European training, hence Nico’s comment that visitors to the mill tend to be foreigners.  Those bakers want to have a product they can trust and a person on whom they can rely to address their needs.


If you would like to visit the Eureka Mills website, the address is www.eurekamills.co.za. And, if you are in South Africa and would like to buy some of their flours or goods made with their flours, you can find a list of distributors and bakers on their website.


Future flour (the green fields in the middle distance, not the grasses in the foreground:


Wheat fields


 


The primary (stones) screen:



 


Secondary (trash) screens:


Secondary (trash) screens


 


Roller mills:


Roller mills


 


Stone mill (foreground) and sifter (background, right):


Stone mill and sifter


 


Cleaning up at the end of the shift.  Anything that lands on the floor is sold to a local farmer as cattle feed.:


Cleanup at end of shift


 


Mill expansion in progress:


Mill expansion


 


Nico Steyn, miller:


Nico Steyn

 

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PMcCool

Although blogging has taken a back seat to other activities, I have been baking in the background.  It's just that none of those have made the leap from the kitchen to the Web.  And, frankly, most of them were old favorites and I really didn't have anything new to say about them, except for yum!


This weekend, though, was different.  My wife has decided to make some dietary changes, with the objective of greatly reducing the GI loads of the things she eats.  On the one hand, that means eliminating a lot of foods that are either sugary or constituted primarily of simple carbohydrates and replacing them with foods that contribute either higher protein content or complex carbohydrates.  So, when she had a package of 100% rye bread in her hand while shopping this weekend, I said "I can make that at home.  And I can use sourdough, which will make it even better for you."  All true but highly optimistic, considering some of my recent sorties into high-rye land.


Back at the house, groceries unloaded and put away, I made a bee-line for TFL and started looking at the accumulated wisdom and experience regarding 100% rye breads.  Of the various possibilities, Mini's Favorite 100% Rye was most appealing to me so I started the mise en place Friday evening.  First up was to prepare the rye sour.  Keep in mind that I pitched my old starter some weeks back and began another.  So, while potent with yeast, the new starter is still fairly mild in flavor.  It would have to do.  Next up (although not in Mini's original formula) was a soaker consisting of 100g each of cracked rye and boiling water.  Still another addition, a sunflower seed soaker consisting of "some" (about a handful) sunflower seeds and enough cool water to cover.  Yeah, yeah, I know, always measure for repeatability.  I was off the page at that point, anyway, so measurements didn't seem too important.  After that, off to bed.


The next morning, I toasted the bread spices in a skillet on the stove top and ground them.  Not knowing the exact formulation, I guesstimated that 2 tablespoons of coriander seed and 1 tablespoon each of caraway and fennel seeds should do.  Oh, my, the house smelled wonderful!  From previous experience, I knew to keep an eye on the fennel seeds; they start out with a greenish cast and turn a golden brown when ready.  The caraway and coriander start out a tan/brown color, so they aren't as helpful in indicating when they are done.  It is important to give the seeds a shake every minute or so to prevent scorching.


From there, it was a matter of combining the starter, the water, the spices, the cracked rye soaker, the (drained) sunflower seed soaker, and rye flour.  It's a bit of a stretch to refer to a 100% rye dough as "dough".  Wet mortar seems to have a closer similarity to this stuff than any dough based on wheat flour.  Anyway, the ingredients were thoroughly mixed, covered with plastic wrap, and left in the sunshine on our stoep.  We're seeing the first signs of Spring here in Pretoria and the sunny stoep was warmer than my kitchen.


An hour later, I brought the bowl back in, troweled the dough onto a wet countertop and worked in the salt, per Mini's recommendation.  The dough was put back in the bowl, covered, and set back out in the warmth of the sunshine.  At the 3-hour mark, the mortar/dough was showing some aeration, which indicated that the starter was at work. 


Since the cooking gear available to me is a bit different than Mini's, I elected to split the dough into two loaves and bake each in a 4x8 (inches) loaf pan.  Those fit neatly into a covered roasting pan, giving me the steam chamber that Mini devised by flipping one pot upside down on top of the other.  Having oiled the pans and dusted them with rye flour, I brought the dough in, divided it into two pieces, shaped each, and gently tamped them into the waiting loaf pans.  Each pan was approximately half full, giving me a reference point for gauging their eventual expansion.  Just to be sure that I didn't miss anything, I also lightly sprinkled the loaves' surface with rye flour, knowing that the resulting cracks in the flour would be another indicator that the dough was rising.  After that, I covered each loaf pan with plastic, put them in the roasting pan, covered it, and set the whole shebang back out in the sunshine. 


Two and a half hours later, or five and a half hours into the process, the loaves had filled the pans about 3/4 full, which was about a 50% expansion.  The top was a network of dark fissures in the lighter rye flour.  After debating the merits of allowing further fermentation/expansion versus the possibility of over-proofing, I decided to err on the side of caution and bake the bread.  I did remember to remove the plastic wrap (whew!) from the loaf pans before sliding the roaster into the oven.  I also chose to sprinkle a tablespoon or so of water in the floor of the roasting pan, just to add some more steam.  Maybe that helped, maybe not.


Per Mini's instructions, the bread went into a cold oven, then spent the first 25 minutes at 200C in convection mode.  After that, I took the roaster out of the oven, pulled the loaf pans from the roaster and put them back in the oven, then switched the oven from convection mode to a top and bottom heat mode, still at 200C.  Not knowing exactly how long they would take to reach the recommended internal temperature of 93C, I checked back in 20 minutes.  The internal temperature was barely 91C, so I gave them an additional 5 minutes.  At that point, the thermometer showed 94C, so I removed the bread from the oven and depanned the loaves onto a cooling rack, covering them with a cotton towel.  A few hours later, after they were thoroughly cooled, I put each in a plastic bag.


If you read Mini's account and compare it to this one, you'll notice that the added soakers and the division into two loaves are not my only departures from her formula.  She is working with a finely ground rye flour (Type 950, I think) that, back in the States, I might call a medium rye.  What I have available is a stone ground whole rye with noticeable flecks of bran.  I think that my dough was a bit stiffer than she describes hers, probably because of the additional absorption of the bran.  Consequently, I wasn't bashful about working additional water in from either the countertop or my hands.


Having given the bread 25 hours to for moisture distribution and stabilization, I cut into one of the loaves this afternoon.  Several things became evident.  First, I could have allowed the ferment to continue longer.  These are not bricks but neither did they achieve the airiness of crumb that Mini's bread shows.  My concern about over-proofing made me a little too twitchy.  I think that is going to be one of those experience things (with probably at least one flop) to know how much is enough and how much is too much.  Second, the bread spices that were so evident during the baking have taken a backseat to the rye itself in the finished bread.  They are still in there, but they are the background singers to the rye's lead (if we were talking music).  The sunflower seeds add a bit of nutty crunch and flavor to the blend.  The crumb is very moist and cool but not gluey.  Were it not for the textures of the the cracked rye and sunflower seed soakers, it would be almost cakelike; albeit a very dense and chewy cake.  There's a lot going on in this bread and it's only Day 1.  I'm curious to see how the flavors evolve as the bread ages.  Most importantly, my wife likes it!  Since it was intended for her benefit, that's a good thing.


The first picture, below, shows the loaf profile and crumb.  Like I said, not a brick but more proofing would have been allowable.



The second picture, below, shows the "crackle" texture in the flour sprinkled on top that was caused by the loaf's expansion during proofing.



There are things that I might do differently next time.  I'd probably skip the rye flour dusting in the loaf pans and use a solid fat instead of oil.  The oil/flour residue on the sides of the loaves isn't visually appealing to me.  I might also skip the dusting of flour on top of the loaves.  It was my choice rather than anything Mini recommended and I don't know that it helped me to ascertain readiness as much as I had hoped.  Oh, and I would try to remember to dock the loaves prior to baking.  That step got left out entirely and it was probably only because the loaves were somewhat underproofed that I don't see any problems as a result.


Thank you, Mini, for sharing your formula with us.  Once I feel like I have a handle on this bread, I'd like to try some that have a very long, low-temperature bake to see if I can approximate a pumpernickel that is baked in a WFO overnight.


Paul

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PMcCool

What with having dinner guests on Saturday and more coming on Monday, it was a wonderful excuse for puttering around in the kitchen this weekend.  I started with Pain au Levain from Leader's Local Breads Saturday morning and followed with Rich and Tender Dinner Rolls from The King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cook Book and finished up with a Chocolate / Chocolate Chip cake, source unknown.  


Having posted about the Pain au Levain previously, I won't go into detail about the process here.  This bread is consistenly good, in both outcome and flavor.  This bake resulted in lovely oven spring and big ears, in spite of some rather deficient scoring.  It hasn't been cut yet, so I don't know about the crumb but the exterior suggests that the interior ought to be good.


The dinner rolls were a typical enriched roll, with butter, eggs, sugar and milk.  The two differences that set it apart from most such rolls was the addition of some whole wheat, maybe 20%, and no refrigeration.  The former was a pleasant addition in flavor and the latter was a real convenience since I was a bit pressed for time.  I just shaped them as simple pan rolls.  As the name suggested, they were rich and tender and a good accompaniment with dinner.


The cake was a bit over the top (which won't stop us from making it again!), what with a cup of butter, 4 ounces of melted chocolate, 5 eggs and buttermilk in the batter.  Oh, and chocolate chips, too.  My wife halved the frosting recipe (it called for 5-1/2 cups of confectioners/icing sugar), since we baked it in a 9x13 pan instead of in 3, 9-inch round cake pans.  This is not a light and airy cake.  It is moist, it is heavy, and it is sweet!  Good stuff, in other words.  Best of all, with others to help eat it, the danger of too much snacking on the leftovers is reduced.


Before going to bed Saturday night, I mixed a biga for Portugese Sweet Bread.  Today I finished the bread, shaped it as hamburger buns and baked it.  Now we have the base for some barbecue sandwiches for our guests Monday evening.  I've learned that the store-bought buns just don't stand up well to the sauce that comes along with the barbecue, so something like PSB is less likely to go all floppy in mid-bite while still being tender.


No pics of anything described here.  Just lots of enjoyment in both the baking and the eating.


Paul

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PMcCool

While I have been baking in the last several weeks, most of it has been geared to sandwich loaves.  Don't get me wrong; that is some pretty important baking.  While it has been nourishing to the body, it hasn't been anything to stir the soul.  I've had some old favorites: Clayton's Honey Lemon Whole Wheat and plain old honey whole wheat.  I gave Beatrice Ojakangas' Granary Bread a try.  Lovely stuff, but not at all anything that qahtan or others who have had the real thing would recognize as such.  Essentially, it's honey whole wheat (um, I'm beginning to see a theme emerging here) with golden syrup subbed in for the honey.  I'm going to digress for a moment.   For all of you in the U.S. who have been wondering what on earth golden syrup is, here's the inside scoop: it's molasses.  Yes!  Really!  A very light, mildly flavored grade of molasses, but molasses none the less.  There.  Now you know.


I've also been experimenting with some rye breads.  The most noteworthy was a spectacular flop of the Sour Rye, year 1939, which came to my attention via Shiao Ping's blog.  It looked and sounded so lovely in Shiao Ping's post and I'd been wanting to venture further into the rye world, so I thought I would give it a try.  The first bad decision (I won't bore you with the entire list) was to opt for the free-form loaf, rather than the panned loaf.  Being in full "never say die" mode (not readily distinguishable from denial), I soldiered on to the bitter end and was rewarded with something that had the general dimensions and texture of a 1x8 pine board, albeit somewhat darker.  The flavor was worlds better than pine, but the amount of chewing necessary to extract the flavor made the whole enterprise unrewarding.  Hence, my retreat to Ms. Ojakangas' book and the selection of her version of Granary Bread.  A man's gotta eat, after all.


This weekend, still smarting from last week's debacle and still wanting rye bread, I hauled out Mark Sinclair's formula for Sour Rye bread.  This I've made before, and in quantity, so I know how it works and how it is supposed to turn out.  There are some differences between my execution and Mark's.  First, he's a professional baker and I am not.  Second, he uses dark rye and what I had on hand was medium rye.  Third, he has some really big and really cool toys, while I was doing all of my mixing by hand.  Since my use of Mark's formula is by his permission and a consequence of my internship at his Back Home Bakery, I'm not at liberty to share it here.  If you really, really want to make this bread, sign up whenever Mark offers opportunities to intern with him.  If you want something very close to Mark's bread, look up Eric's Fav Rye on this site.  Mark started with that and made some adjustments that suit his selection of ingredients and production scheme.  Both are excellent breads and they are very nearly the same bread.


As noted, I have medium rye flour on hand, so my bread came out somewhat lighter than Marks.  Since I don't have a mixer here, I mixed by hand.  Initially, the mixing was primarily to combine the ingredients uniformly.  Since Mark relies on the mixer for kneading as well as mixing, I continued to work the dough in the bowl in what was essentially a stretch and fold maneuver to develop the dough's gluten network.  As the dough became more cohesive, I dumped it out on the counter for some "slap and fold" or "French fold" kneading, a la Richard Bertinet.  This worked very effectively to finish the dough's development.  The dough was then gathered into a loose boule and placed in a greased bowl for the bulk ferment.  After the dough had approximately doubled, it was divided in three pieces of about 710 grams each and pre-shaped.  After resting a few minutes, the dough was then given its final shape and placed on a Silpat-lined baking sheet for final fermentation, lightly covered with oiled plastic wrap to prevent drying.  As the dough was nearing the end of the final fermentation, I pre-heated the oven.  When the oven was ready, the loaves were uncovered, brushed with egg wash, liberally sprinkled with poppy seeds and slashed.  The baking sheet was put in the oven and hot water was put into the steam pan on the lower rack.  Half-way through the bake, I rotated the loaves so that they would bake evenly, even though I was using the convection setting.  I also pulled them off the baking sheet and let them bake directly on the oven rack so that they would bake and color evenly.  They were a bit closer together on the baking sheet than I thought they should be for optimum results.


And the results?  Well, I'm a happy baker today.  Here's the finished bread:


Sour Rye, Back Home Bakery


I won't have a crumb shot until tomorrow, but the exterior is encouraging.  Slashing can definitely improve and I might have allowed the final proof to go a bit longer, but I'm pretty pleased with how things are looking so far.


Maybe I can get back on that 1939 horse again...


Paul


Here is a picture of the crumb:


Back Home Bakery Sour Rye crumb


As I surmised from seeing how the slashes opened during the bake, the bread could have been proofed a while longer.  However, it's rye bread; it is supposed to be hefty rather than fluffy.  The crumb is very moist and surprisingly tender.  The interplay between the earthy rye and the pungent/astringent caraway flavors is balanced so that each complements the other, with neither dominating.  It makes a wicked base for a ham and swiss sandwich.  The lighting for this photo was an overhead fluorescent fixture (sheesh, I almost spelled that as flourescent!), hence the greyer tone of the crumb


 

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

I took the day off from work today with the stated purpose of looking for a car for my wife.  The company has provided me with a leased vehicle but that leaves my wife stuck at the house most days.  With a 45-60 minute commute in each direction, it isn't practical for her to take me to work and then use the car for the rest of the day.


Every country has its bureaucratic quirks (I cringe when I think of what expats from other countries must encounter when they arrive in the U.S.) and South Africa has its own.  One of those quirks being that you must acquire a particular form from the government before purchasing a car.  After standing in line 2 hours, we finally reached the window; only to be told that the form would be issued one month after filing the application and that that particular office would be closing by the end of January, so we would need to make our application at a different office.  After some gnashing of teeth (ours, not the clerk's), we set off in search of the other office.  We started to make a turn at an intersection and were T-boned by an oncoming car.  Both of us thought that the way was clear; our view of the on-coming car must have been obstructed by a stopped vehicle on the opposite side of the intersection.  My wife's side of the car took the impact, just behind her door.  The force was strong enough to send our car spinning into the guardrail, thereby destroying the front of the vehicle, too.  Since my wife's door was wedged shut, the firemen cut off the door before she could be extricated.  Fortunately, after a number of x-rays and a thorough examination at the hospital, she was pronounced well enough to be released and a co-worker took us home.  She will be very sore for a few days but the doctor thinks that some light therapy will soon reduce the effects of the mild whiplash she experienced.  All in all, we are very blessed that a potentially fatal encounter has only left us shaken and bruised.  The other driver suffered a cut on his forehead but didn't speak of any other injuries.


Everyone working the accident scene was very professional and competent, from the police to the paramedics to the firement; even the tow truck driver.


My therapy is already in progress.  I have a batch of Reinhart's N.Y. Deli Rye under construction.  I think the onions have cooled enough to stir into the starter, so I'll do that and head to bed.


Paul

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PMcCool

Between last weekend's experiments with varying hydration levels, locating rye flour, and tuning up my sourdough starter over the past few days, things took a turn for the better with this weekend's bake.  If I had to rank the importance of those three, it would be a difficult choice.  I'd probably nominate the improved starter as the most important but that wouldn't have happened if I hadn't obtained some rye flour.  Of course, having a notion where things were headed because of the hydration experiments gave me confidence in what to expect, so, I suppose I'm back to where I started...


I'll start with the starter.  It was initially propagated with whole wheat flour and orange juice (didn't find pineapple juice at the store until several days later) and has always had an intense acidity.  It's residents may also have been a little too active in pumping out enzymes because it tended to go gooey after a few hours at room temps (it's summer here in South Africa) in spite of being maintained at approximately 50% hydration.  I took a tablespoon or so of the starter, mixed it with another couple tablespoons of mineral water and enough rye flour to make a soft paste.  I repeated this regimen with morning and evening feedings for two days.  Over the next 3-4 days, I introduced bread flour until the mix was mostly bread flour and a couple of pinches of rye flour, always discarding all but a tablespoonful before the feeding.  By the end of the third day, the starter was much bubblier and the odor and flavor were much less acidic.  The starter now has more of a yeasty/fruity odor.  


With a now lively, less-acidulated starter in hand, I decided that Leader's pain de compagne looked like a good candidate for a trial run.  The hydration level is approximately 67%, which is right in the sweet spot of the previous week's hydration tests.  All of the required ingredients were on hand, so I mixed up the liquid levain on Friday evening before going to bed.  The next morning it was evident that the levain had more than tripled overnight and was already subsiding, so I mixed the dough before breakfast.  Here's where I have a slight quibble with the process.  Leader directs you to mix up the final dough, sans salt and levain, let it autolyze for 20 minutes, then mix in the salt, followed by the liquid levain.  Nothing unorthodox there, except that the final dough without the levain is about 50% hydration.  Try mixing a liquid levain into bagel dough!  By hand!  At least I had the good sense to chop the dough into small pieces before starting to mix in the levain (the directions do not suggest this step).  Still, it was a long, slow, laborious process to mix the dough and the levain into a uniform mass.  Toward the end, I was effectively doing stretch and folds with the dough in the bowl, trying to get everything folded in and combined.  Needless to say, I settled for a few rounds of French folds instead of the recommended 12 minutes of kneading on the bench.  I can attest that the dough was well developed by that point.


Bulk fermention, shaping, final fermentation and baking all proceeded pretty much as advertised in the book.  It was extremely gratifying to see strong oven spring with this bread, after having had a few less-than-stellar bakes.


Here's how the finished bread looked:



 


I like the coloration of the crust.  Apparently I'm starting to get better acquainted with the oven, too.


The crumb, shown below, has a mix of smaller and larger alveoli.  Not classic pain de compagne texture but it will work well for sandwiches, which is how most of it will be consumed.



The crust, though thin, was more chewy than crunchy.  After sitting overnight in plastic, it has softened considerably.  The flavor is definitely more French than San Francisco: only slightly tangy and thoroughly wheaty.  The crumb is somewhat moist and feels slightly cool upon the tongue.  Very pleasing to the palate.


All in all, a very pleasing outcome.

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PMcCool

After several not-so-happy outcomes, and one pleasing outcome, it was obvious that I needed to get better acquainted with the South African flours that I have.  Previous bakes seemed to indicate that the flours' absorbency was different than I was anticipating, based on my previous experience with U.S.-produced flours.  The only way to find out what was going on with any certainty was to do side-by-side bakes of identical breads, adjusting only one variable (hydration, in this case) at a time so that I could compare the outcomes.


For this bake, I decided to use a 50/50 mix of brown bread flour (protein content in the 12%-12.5% range) and bread flour (protein content in the 11.5%-12% range).  Although the label isn't altogether clear, I think that the brown bread flour is either whole wheat, or possibly de-germed wheat.  It contains large particles of bran.  Note that the same miller also produces a "Nutty Wheat" flour that they describe as white flour with the bran mixed back in.  I used 2% salt and 1.6% yeast (IDY).  Hydration levels ranged from 55% to 80%, in 5% increments.  Each dough contained 100g flour, to make the math easy.  (It also makes a pretty decent size roll for sandwiches.)  The dry ingredients for all of the doughs were premixed in one batch, then weighed out for individual mixing with the selected quantity of water.  These are straight, lean doughs; no preferments or enrichments were used.  This was to eliminate the potential for other ingredients masking the effects of differing levels of hydration.  Autolyse was not used for any of the doughs.  All mixing was by hand.  No bench flour or water was used.  Room temperature was 75ºF-77ºF.  The temperatures of the ingredients and the finished doughs were not measured but are assumed to be within 3ºF-5ºF of room temperature. The water came straight from the tap, compliments of the City of Pretoria.  All doughs were fermented on a lightly oiled granite countertop and covered with oiled plastic wrap.  Each was preshaped after the bulk ferment, then given 15-20 minutes to rest before final shaping.  Breads were baked for 25 minutes on a sheet pan in a 400ºF oven, with light steam.  


Observations are as follows:


55% hydration - this dough was very stiff and did not want to come together in the bowl.  The dough was dumped out on the countertop to finish mixing/kneading.  All flour was incorporated and after several minutes of kneading, the dough smoothed out and became pliable with almost no tackiness.  This dough was the slowest to rise.  Due to an interruption in the process, this dough had approximately 2 hours of bulk fermentation and barely doubled in that time.  The finished bread was the smallest of any in this test bake, having risen less after shaping even though it had the longest final fermentation duration.  The crust was thick, hard, and tough; the crumb very tight and dense and slightly gummy, even though the bread was thoroughly cooled before slicing.


60% hydration -  This dough was also somewhat stiff, although it was fully mixed in the bowl, unlike the 55% dough.  Pliability was better than the 55% dough and the dough was just slightly tacky at the conclusion of kneading.  The bulk ferment was slightly less than 2 hours and the dough was a bit more than doubled in that time.  The finished bread was only slightly larger than the 55% hydration bread, exhibiting a similarly hard/tough crust and dense crumb.  However, the crumb was not gummy in the finished bread.  


65% hydration - Early in the mix, this dough was sticky, although that improved to being moderately tacky by the end of kneading.  The dough cleaned the bowl with all flour being absorbed.  The bulk ferment was approximately 1:20 and the dough inflated to about 2.5 times its original volume in that period.  The finished bread still has a tight crumb, but the crust is thinner and less resistant to cutting.  Size is slightly larger than the two preceding breads.


70% hydration - This dough was noticeably stickier during mixing and kneading than the previous doughs.  It did clean the bowl during mixing.  I wound up using a combination of standard kneading and stretch and fold to manage this dough (not easy with such a small sample).  I don't think it would have come together without the stretch and fold technique.  At the end of kneading, it was still more sticky than tacky, with some sticking to my fingers.  It had about a 1 hour bulk ferment, during which time it nearly trebled in volume.  This bread also rose more after shaping, and was significantly larger in volume than the preceding breads (and, consequently, felt "lighter" because of the reduced density).  The crumb was the most open of any the breads made to this point.


Intermission - a co-worker stopped by to drop off some things just as I was finishing kneading the 70% hydration dough.  That inserted about an hour's delay between the 70% dough and starting the 75% dough.  All of the first four doughs were baked on the same sheet pan at the same time.  The last two doughs were baked on a separate sheet pan.


75% hydration - This dough never stopped being sticky.  It did not entirely clean the mixing bowl.  Standard kneading techniques were not working, so I switched to using the French Fold.  Kind of a challenge with such a small quantity of dough.  This bulk proofed about 45-50 minutes, easily doubling in that time.  Slashing before baking was problematic because of the dough's stickiness.  The finished bread was larger than its predecessors, felt "lighter" still, had a thinner crust and a more open crumb.  


80% hydration - This was an extremely sticky dough.  It had to be scraped out of the bowl after mixing and repeatedly scraped from the bench while kneading.  The only kneading technique that worked was the French Fold method.  Even that took several minutes (not several cycles) before the dough started to exhibit some structure.  This dough expanded the fastest during the bulk ferment and grew the largest after shaping, even though it had the shortest times in both ferments.  The knife dragged a trench in the dough, but did not actually slash it.  The finished bread had the thinnest crust and most open crumb of any of the breads in this test bake.


Follow-up thoughts:


1. One of the notions going into this test was that the city water might be a culprit in some of the former bakes.  Based on the results of this test bake, I think I can get good bread using city water, without going to the effort of running a similar test using bottled water.


2. For this blend of these particular flours, a hydration of approximately 70% seems to offer the best dough handling traits and a pleasing finished bread.


3. None of the doughs experienced much oven-spring.  I would attribute that to handling during shaping that was not gentle enough (too much degassing) and to baking on a cold sheet instead of on a hot stone.


4. It appears that the jury is still out on my starter.  Most (not all) of the previous bakes that experienced problems were sourdoughs, rather than yeasted breads.  This starter may be too acidic or too enzymatically active, either of which might be leading to gluten attack.  I'll see how it behaves after a few days of rye feedings.


5. I'm still not sure how much effect, if any, altitude is having on the results (I'm at approximately 4200 feet elevation in Pretoria, compared to having been at about 800 feet elevation in Kansas City).  I can't control for that, so I'll use the results of this test as an indicator of what to do with future bakes.


6. Weather today was mostly sunny, with outdoor temperatures nearing 80ºF while I was running this test.  I didn't think to check the relative humidity while running the test.  It's now 47% at 75ºF, about 7 hours after starting the test.


7. Since this is a whole wheat blend, I'll be interested to see whether I can get better results at either the 65% or 70% hydration levels by utilizing an autolyse step in the process.



Front row: right, 55%; center 60%; left 65%.  Back row: right 70%, center 75%, left 80%.  The 75% and 80% doughs have just been mixed and kneaded.  The others have been on the bench anywhere from nearly 2 hours (55%) to just over an hour (70%).  It's a good illustration of how hydration affects the fermentation rate.



Right to left, finished breads, lowest (55%) to highest (80%) hydration.  Note that these were initially shaped to be the same size.  Growth occurred during final proof and baking.



Crumb of, right to left, lowest (55%) to highest (80%) hydration.  I think the crumb of the three higher hydration breads (70%, 75% and 80%) ought to have been more open than this.  That they aren't is probably an indication that I was too forceful during shaping and degassed the breads too much.  An autolyse step might also help.


That's today's effort.  It's one datum, not a trend, but I can use it as a benchmark for future bakes for gauging how much hydration is required and to make some educated guesses about the effects of added fats or sweeteners for enriched doughs.  Now I suppose I should do something similar for panned breads...


Paul


 


 

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