The Fresh Loaf

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Simon280586

I've been sticking to a couple of formulas recently, to practice and attempt to improve my baking while keeping most variables the same. I decided on the Tartine country loaf as one, because I wanted to have a substantial sourdough boule in my repertoire, as well as Txfarmer's practice baguette, because being able to make a simple yeasted baguette was my goal when I started baking (after having first gotten into pizza - incidentally my pizzas have gotten much better as I've learnt more about bread and dough). I've made baguettes and Tartine bread before, but I wanted to go back to basics for a while, and focus my efforts.

 

My first bake was the baguettes - Txfarmer's beautiful loaves and excellent outline of the process inspired me. I followed her instructions very closely, though I extended bulk fermentation a little because the dough hadn't risen quite as much as I wanted. I tried her folding method, but in the end decided I preferred folding in the bowl.

 

When shaping, I decided to try to degas as little as possible and handle the dough very gently. It was quite sticky and very slack, to the point where I had to be careful not to let them extend too much (and end up longer than my baking stone). Next time I may reduce the hydration or develop the gluten more. But I got the job done.

 

Since there were 4 baguettes, I baked two at a time. I decided not to proof the first batch at all, because they already felt delicate and full of air, and because it was an interesting experiment. They didn't turn out badly:

The second batch proofed about 45 minutes, and also turned out well:

The second batch did have a darker crust and slightly better oven spring, but I'm not sure how much of that is down to the oven (which is a bit unreliable when baking without the fan and with steam). In any case, I was really just interested in the crumb for this first bake. And I was quite pleased with it, though there's certainly room for improvement. Keeping my oven evenly hot and maintaining the appropriate amount of steam is a bit tricky, which is why I prefer Dutch oven baking. Less variables to consider.

 

Then I starter baking some of the Tartine bread, in batches of two boules. First attempt, I followed the instructions pretty much to the letter. One loaf was baked straight away, the other proofed in the fridge overnight. The flavour of these was good, with a nice mild acidity. Primarily though I want to get the texture of the crust and crumb suited to my liking, and if necessary tweak the flavour later when I'm more comfortable with the process. First loaf turned out well:

 

 

Overnight loaf got a bit stuck to the banneton and ended up lopsided, as you can tell from the pattern. I think it may have been slightly underproofed.

 

A few days later, I made a new batch, again following the formula closely but looking to get more practice at shaping and proofing in particular. First loaf looked beautiful with a nice crust, and not a bad crumb either:

In some parts of the loaf there were some excessively large caverns in the crumb. I often get these towards the sides of my boules, not just with this particular formula, so there must be some defect in my shaping. What often happens is the middle of the loaf in relatively dense and even, while the outer edges are full of big air pockets and stretched-to-breaking-point gluten strands. I note that at no point during shaping does Chad Robertson advise to degas the dough - quite the opposite in fact.

I allowed the overnight loaf to proof at room temp for 45 min or so before retarding, due to the previous one seemingly being underproofed, but this one was perhaps worse. I think the fridge I use is just too cold for this purpose - an infrared thermometer told me the dough was about 6-7c. It looked barely different from when I put it in the night before. Also noticeable on both this and the previous overnight loaf is that the colours of the crust have a less vibrant contrast compared to the straight-baked loaves. The crumb was noticeably denser, though not terrible.

Most recently, I baked a third batch of Tartine bread. However, I decided to do a little experiment by using the slap and fold technique to develop the gluten more thoroughly before the bulk ferment. I was curious whether this would lead to a stronger gluten network better able to hold onto the cell structure of the dough for a nice open and irregular crumb. The dough was quite rough and sticky, but I worked it for maybe 7-10 minutes until the surface started to look somewhat smooth rather than a shaggy mess. I then proceeded as usual. It may have been a fluke, but I ended up with a gorgeous crumb. I think I proofed it for about 2 hours rather than 3-4 as per the formula, because the poke test resulted in indentations that bounced slowly back about halfway.

That is pretty much my ideal crumb - open and irregular but no huge caverns. Lots of small but distinct air cells in between medium-sized holes. Some parts of the bread still had some big gaps with torn gluten strands, but hopefully I can work towards eliminating these in future:

For the overnight loaf, I reduced the fridge setting so it was slightly warmer, about 9c. The loaf turned out quite well - it was better risen by morning, though the crumb was a little less open than the straight loaf. But it was still light and airy, with just the right amount of chewiness. Crust colours were better too, I think.


No big gaps, which is interesting because I shaped both loaves in the same way. Not sure what to conclude from this. It tasted good for sure.

That's all for now, though I plan to continue with these breads for a while. I wish uploading pictures was easier, doing all those one at a time is a bit of a chore. But it's nice to have some evidence of progress to look back on.

 

Happy baking everyone.

-Simon

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Simon280586

I need to start taking better notes. I've accumulated a lot of pictures recently, and looking through them I find I have trouble remembering exactly what I actually baked. Also, a couple of the breads seem to have fairly nice crumbs in hindsight (I tend to be quite critical at the time), so I wish I could remember my precise handling methods and timings. Oh well.

 

I think this was a Pain au Levain from Hamelman.

 

 

This was from Forkish's FWSY, either a white bread with poolish or biga. I made some pizzas with it too.

 

 

 

 

This was a white bread with poolish from Forkish, but I reduced the hydration to around 65% because I wanted to work with a less sticky dough:

 

I made it again a few days later, this time at about 63% hydration. Somehow the high percentage of poolish (50% of total flour) allows for a fairly open crumb even at this low(ish) hydration. Environmental variables and flour type may be partly responsible too, of course (I think the weather was a little bit more humid than usual when I made this).

 

 

There are some more (including a French boule which had a very nice crumb and noticeably sweet taste) but I took them on someone else's camera and still need to copy them off there. Just wanted to clear my backlog a bit.

 

I also have a few questions, if anyone is inclined to answer. These are mainly related to differences in approach I've noiced between Hamelman's recipes and Forkish's.

1) None of Hamelman's breads specify a volume (eg double, triple) for bulk fermentation. Nor does he (as far as I can tell) give much indication of how to assess whether bulk fermentation has progressed enough. Do any of you try to reach a specific volume, after folds? And what do you look for when deciding whether the dough is ready to divide and shape?

It may be because I'm not using American flours, or because I make smaller quantities of dough, but I've noticed that my doughs invariably take longer to rise during the bulk stage than specified. For instance, for the Forkish recipes where the dough is meant to triple, my dough can take hours longer than specified despite meeting the target temperature or even exceeding it. So I'd prefer not to rely solely on time. I do look at things like the amount of aeration and volume, but I'm interested in your thoughts.

 

2) The Forkish recipes I've been making recently (white bread with poolish or biga) involve 2 or 3 folds after a light hand mixing, no autolyse period, and a 2.5-3x volume increase during bulk fermentation. I found it interesting because Hamelman's recipes tend to involve a similar number of folds, but only after a good few minutes at second speed in a professional mixer, at which point the gluten is already moderately developed. Neither does Forkish include any preshaping in his recipes. In addition, the high-hydration of Forkish's doughs mean the gluten develops more slowly (if I remember correctly). So why are 2-3 folds after a light mix sufficient in his recipes? I suppose the longer fermentation times have something to do with it, as in no-knead recipes. I'm really just curious.

 

3) I'm still conflicted as to the appropriate amount of degassing during shaping. Forkish suggests not trying to degas at all, to preserve the gases and structure of the dough, which I've found to be quite tricky as the dough (when tripled in volume) is very light, fragile and gassy. On the other hand, Hamelman's method involves degassing multiple times, during both preshaping and final shaping. If you watch the King Arthur Flour Youtube video where he demonstrates shaping techniques, during the final shaping of the boule you can see he really squeezes his fingers quite firmly into the dough during the initial rounding, and seems to not be overly concerned about maintaining the majority of the gas. Both methods seem to result in beautiful, open crumbs, judging from the photographs in their books. What's your favoured approach?

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Simon280586

I've baked a few more loaves recently. I'm still having a bit of trouble deciding when they're properly proofed. All of these are from Hamelman's 'Bread'. I used a Dutch Oven for all the boules.

 

The image above is from about a week ago, a Vermont Sourdough. This wasn't a bad loaf, really. It tasted good and the crust was nice and crisp. The crumb was fine, fairly light and slightly chewy, but not very open. This bread was retarded overnight before baking, and it may have been slightly under-proofed as it didn't seem to have risen much. I only gave it about 8-9 hours. It still bounced back when gently poked. Crumb shown below:

 

Same loaf sliced up:

 

I also made a Sourdough Seed Bread. The dough felt quite firm and heavy during bulk fermentation, almost like playdough. It certainly wasn't loose or extensible, and resisted folds during shaping. I suppose the seeds absorb a lot of moisture and provide structure. This also was retarded overnight, and didn't seem to have risen much. I didn't have time to let it rest any longer at room temperature. It ended up a bit dense for my liking, but tasted quite nice. Picture below:

 

Crumb shot:

 

I made a Roasted Garlic Levain a few days ago. It was retarded for the full 18 hrs, and while the crumb was not very open, it was light and moist and the crust was crisp. I used a bit less garlic than the recipe called for as that was all I had, but the flavour was very good. I'll probably try this one again soon. Picture below:

 

Crumb shot:

 

Sliced up:

 

Today's loaf was a French Bread with Poolish from Hamelman's 'Bread'. It turned out a bit bland and lacking in character. I made myself take pictures even though I didn't feel like it, so I can try to improve it. It had almost doubled during bulk fermenation (2.5 hrs) and was full of air bubbles during shaping. I tried to avoid degassing it much. I deliberately proofed it as long as I dared, to see if I had been underproving previous loaves. This was done at room temperature, rather than overnight in the fridge, for just under 2 hrs at 24-25c (recipe said 1-1.5 hrs). I used the poke test regularly and the dough was still bouncing back right to the end - albeit a bit more slowly and not quite as fully as after being shaped. It looked fairly well expanded and felt light, but didn't seem to be near the point of collapsing. I was hoping to see a light, open crumb, instead it was dense and dull. Oh well. Also I used way too much flour in the banneton because I was using it without the liner for the first time in a while. The loaf was coated in it. Pictures (after brushing off much of the flour):

 

Crumb:

 

Sliced:

 

On the plus side, I made some awesome pizzas the other night (also from Hamelman, though I skipped the Biga and reduced the yeast for a longer bulk fermentation instead).

 

I also made some great burger buns, from the King Arthur website (https://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/beautiful-burger-buns-recipe). I've made these many times and they are always delicious, and mostly foolproof. I just make sure to steam the oven well otherwise they get crusty and split open instead of being lovely and soft. I forgot to put sesame seeds on this time, only realising when they were already in the oven.

 

I'm still dwelling on the disappointing French Bread. My plan now is to repeat it a few times and see if I can get to grips with it properly, trying to alter a variable at a time. The simplest breads are supposedly the hardest to get right, and I'm determined to improve. If anyone has any advice, I'll gladly take it.

-Simon

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Simon280586

Hi,

I've been baking bread for a year or two now. This site has been a great resource and although I haven't commented very much I have absorbed a great deal of knowledge from many of the posters here.

 

I've made a few nice loaves recently, so I thought I would share some photos. More importantly, I'm starting to feel more confident in my ability to produce consistent results, which is a great feeling. I'm starting to understand how the dough is supposed to feel, and what to expect at various stages.

 

I've been baking boules almost exclusively, and using a Dutch oven to bake in, so as to eliminate as many variables as possible as I practice. I started out just wanting to make a good baguette, which is an ambition many of many novice bakers before they realise the deceptive magnitude of the task! Making boules and using the D.O. allows for simpler shaping and a consistent oven environment, so I know that if my results vary, they can be attributed to the dough itself.

 

There are two important things that I think I have learned recently:

 

Mixing

Firstly, it's remarkable how little mixing you actually need to do. Even having read books like Hamelman and Tartine, which advocate folds over intensive mixing, and the use of autolyse periods, it's not until recently that I really tried testing the limits of how little you can get away with. I've been touching, pulling and stretching the dough to see how it feels at various stages (I used to be afraid to 'mess up' the dough by playing with it too much!) and have been amazed at the difference after an hour of autolysis. It goes from tearing easily to being able to form a damn good attempt at a windowpane. It still tears eventually, but the difference is huge.

 

Knowing that, I started to worry much less about getting enough gluten development. After autolysing, I mixed this bread for just 2-3 minutes at a low speed (I use an old bread machine for mixing most of the time, on the speed for incorporating ingredients rather than the faster 'kneading' speed). I also did a full stretch and fold on the counter, folding the dough up into a tight bundle, and finished off by sort of shaping it into a boule for practice. But I only did the one fold (recipe says one or two), because the dough seemed to hold its shape well and I wanted to see how it turned out.

 

Proofing

Secondly, proofing. During bulk fermentation, the dough didn't rise that much, because I wanted to follow the time and temperature guidelines from the recipe and see how it worked out. It didn't get close to doubling, but I could tell that the dough was active by looking at the bottom of the (clear) container and seeing the well-aerated structure of the dough. Also, after shaping the dough had that wonderful bounce-back upon being gently prodded or poked. From experience, that's when I know things are on the right track (the first time this happened was with a Tartine loaf a while back - I immediately said to myself, 'oh, so that's what it's supposed to feel like!' and spent the next few minutes prodding the dough with a stupid grin).

 

Anyway, I've been struggling with the final proof for a while now. It is a mysterious thing. Descriptions in books are rarely adequate, because it is a difficult thing to describe. You really need to touch a lot of loaves before you start to get a sense of how they look and feel as they rise. The finger-poke test is commonly recommended, but really, what is a 'slow bounce'? When does the dent 'almost remain?' Sometimes the dent would 'almost remain' in some parts of the loaf but not others, like when you poke what feels like a big air bubble close to the surface and get a misleading impression.

 

I was making a recipe from www.weekendbakery.com (another very good site) recently and liked their description of the poke test: "use your finger to carefully make a very small dent in the dough. If the dent remains, the bread is ready to bake, if the indentation totally disappears, the dough needs a little bit more time". I took two things from that: one, to make very small, gentle indentations. And the other, that if the indentation remains, I haven't necessarily gone too far. That was partly what used to scare me. Also, I remember reading descriptions on this site of the poke test being a test of the potential of the loaf's gluten network to hold on to the developing gases; so now when I poke the loaf and there is some bounce back, however small and slow, I think of the dough as still 'having potential' to rise further while retaining its shape and strength, and feel reassured. All this has allowed me to feel more confident and comfortable in assessing when the dough is ready to bake, and I think I've been proofing more fully than I used to when I was always afraid of 'going too far'.

 

The loaf

Back to the Vermont Sourdough. The moderate hydration meant it was a joy to handle after dealing so often with higher hyration doughs. Just a little flour, and no sticking! It felt moderately firm, and not excessively full of gas, which made it easy to shape. I used the method when you up your hands around and pull the dough to tighten it, after doing a series of folds. I baked it in a preheated Dutch oven at 240-250c with the fan on, took the lid off after 25 min, and baked for another 20 min with the fan still on but reducing the heat a little based on how the crust was developing.

 

(edit to add: I forgot to mention that this particular loaf was retarded overnight before baking. In the morning it looked fairly well expanded, but I gave it some more time at room temp since it spent only around 10 hours in the fridge compared to the recipe's time of up to 18 hours, and the poke test showed it still had some bounce to it. The cold dough made for nice and easy scoring.)

 

It turned out better than many breads I've made in the past with more mixing / more folding. Often I get a dense, even crumb, especially in the middle of large boules, and a slightly rubbery, chewy texture. This had a nice irregular structure throughout, and was light and moist. I like the hint of grey and the small specks of rye you get with this loaf. The flavour was subtle and subdued, with only a hint of acidity, which is fine for its use as an 'everyday bread' as Hamelman describes it. The flavour of this bread doesn't hit you so much as it gently prods at your senses. The smell was pleasant, the crust crisp and crunchy. I've made it before but not as well as this.

 

Oh, and this was made with an 11% protein white flour (Allied Mills Superb, an Australian flour, unmalted I believe) and some local rye flour (Eden Valley mills). I'm English but currently living in Perth, Western Australia.

 

That's all, I think. Here's some more pictures:

 

 

 

- Simon

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