Over the past few weeks I have been trying to "take it up a level." I had hit the wall on getting properly shaped and slashed naturally leavened loaves. LindyD's recent post http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/21045/fire-and-ice-great-oven-steam on generating steam set off a lightbulb in my head. The symptoms I have been trying to cure are cuts that open a little and then seal over, and a split side. I had been convinced that this was caused by underproofing even though I was doing my best with the poke test, rise times and so on. When I read her post I started to wonder if I was having trouble with steam. I had been preheating a dry jelly roll pan on the base of the oven and pouring in cold water at the same time as loading the loaves. This sets off a cloud of steam and then the water continues to boil for around 15 minutes before it evaporates completely so I thought I was all set. But I do have a brand new gas oven and after reading Lindy's post, I began to suspect that it was efficiently venting out steam as fast as I could generate it. After surfing around a bit, I found the following excellent comment in a post on side splitting http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/10363/my-bread-keeps-quotsplittingquot-side#comment-54369. So I surfed around some more for steaming methods that didn't involve going out and buying rocks and I found the following: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/20162/oven-steaming-my-new-favorite-way and I tried it and dramatic improvement. But it involved a little too much mucking around with steaming hot towels so I experimented some more and came up with a similar, but what seemed to me like a simpler and safer method. I placed some soaked towels into bread pans half filled with unheated tap water on each side of my stone half an hour before loading the loaves, and let them preheat with everything else. By the time I loaded the loaves, I got hit in the face with a cloud of steam. Then fifteen minutes later, I removed the bread pans (with a long tongs) and once again got hit in the face with a cloud of steam, so I figured that the oven had been steamy enough in the interim. The bottom line is the cuts opened, and the sides did not. In fact they opened too much. I have overdone it. Too much steam? Something else? By the way, this site is just fantastic. I would still be baking out of Clayton using speed em up 70s methods if it hadn't been for all of you.
Awhile ago, I tried making Tunisian Flatbread from a sketchy set of instructions, and while the result was delicious it was also a total mess. I got some extremely helpful comments in the forum, and decided to try again. This is a lot prettier than last time. And certainly a quick and easy bread to make if you haven't gotten around to planning the day before. The loaves are a bit less than 8 inches in diameter and over an inch tall. I'll serve with lamb this evening for dinner.
250g semolina flour
250g bread flour (I used King Arthur All Purpose)
1 tsp salt
2 tsp instant yeast
250 ml warm water
125 ml olive oil
egg yolk for glazing
Mix flour, water, salt, olive oil, yeast until dough adheres and cleans the bowl - two to four minutes in a stand up mixer at high speed with a dough hook. Let rise for around an hour until double. Preheat oven to 400 deg F. (Around 200 deg C) Divide and shape into two disks on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Brush with egg yolk. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 40 minutes. (I turned down oven to 300 after 25 minutes.) Other version of this type of bread used all white flour, milk instead of water, and an egg thrown in, but I wanted to try to preserve as much of the taste of my last try before moving on to other variations.
The other day I stopped into a Whole Foods store in the hope that I could find some white rye. I couldn't, in fact the person I spoke to had no idea what white rye was. But there on the shelf were bags of King Arthur Italian Flour. Wow! No shipping. But what to make? I decided on Ciabatta. Specifically Hamelman's Ciabatta with Poolish (p. 107 of Bread). Only after I had mixed everything up did I remember that the Italian Flour bag had a note recommending less water for this flour than others - and I had even accidentally put in around an extra ounce of water. So it was wet. I just decided to go with it instead of adding more flour. It was too wet to take out of the bowl to stretch and fold, so I used the in the bowl method. Then I decided it was too wet to move it around too much so after the first rise, I poured it (yes poured) into a dutch oven and let it do the second rise there. Then baked with the top on for 30 minutes, and the top off for 25. What did I get? Well it looks a bit like a three pound muffin.
with an extremely blistery top:
and the lightest feathery texture I've ever managed to produce.
Some time ago, I started trying to recreate a Tzitzel (caraway) Jewish Rye that was sold in a neighborhood bakery where I grew up. But first I had to get more skilled at baking bread period. This site was a font of information, and at one point, David Snyder gave me a pointer to a comment hidden deep in one of his two year old blog posts from nbicomputers http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/6103/craving-crackly-crust-sour-rye-bread#comment-31138. After putting my Tzitzel dreams on hold for awhile, I decided to try again. This time I went directly to Norm's comment and made a few modifications. I did the following:
1 lb King Arthur Bread Flour (instead of First Clear flour which I can't get easily)
1 lb thick rye sour (built up from an existing rye starter with rye flour and water over the course of around 24 hours)
10 oz water
1 Tbsp vital wheat gluten (since I think First Clear is higher protein than even KABF)
.6oz kosher salt
.5oz instant yeast
I mixed everything up in my kitchen aid for around 10 minutes - so long because the rye sour is very tough to blend with the rest of the ingredients. Then I took a wooden bowl and rinsed it in water, and shook out the excess water without drying it. This was to recreate the wooden box environment as described by Norm (see above comment). I shaped the dough by patting it gently into a ball. I know from having tried to make this bread before that trying to shape it after it rises is a lost cause, so I decided to shape it right after the mix. Then I brushed water over the top with a pastry brush and then put a piece of damp linen over the the top of the bowl. I let the dough double in size (this took around 1.5 hours). Then I sprinkled thickly with corn meal. Then with very wet hands, I transfered the dough to a peel covered with corn meal and then a hot stone and baked for 1.5 hours at 450 deg F. Then waited overnight to cut. It came out with very thick crackly crust and a fine rye flavor. And I guess I'm starting to think that I will never recreate the bread I remember, but maybe this is even better.
A few weeks ago, I made an accidental very sour rye bread, which had an addictive quality to it, but unfortunately failed in every other regard. So armed with advice from some very helpful people on the forum, I have been trying to make a successful loaf with that same tart and delicious taste. This I have not yet succeeded in doing. Yesterday I decided to try to follow the Hamelman pain au levain approach with some notable deviations to see where that would get me. So I started with the basic pain au levain formula, but upped the ratio of rye to bread flour to almost 1, and even higher on the starter. Then for the second ferment, I placed the shaped loaves in linen lined bread pans for support, and refrigerated for 20 hours. Then baked for over an hour in my WFO. I thought that the long ferment and the higher percentage of rye flour would get me to sour (without turning the entire dough into starter which is why the original bread was such a failure) but it didn't. But I did get a delicious rye bread with a much higher percentage of rye flour than I have ever dared to try. So I'm not yet daring to make 100% rye (for which I'll follow Mini Oven when I do) and I still haven't managed to get back the sour without the flopping, but nevertheless I'll pause for a minute to enjoy this very tiny milestone.
Yes, I scored two different ways - just to see - and got some extra scores besides. Could have proofed even longer?
It seems to me that if you are trying to gain proficiency in baking bread that it helps to pick a formula and make it over and over again until it starts to seem natural and easy. I'm not there yet with Hamelman's pain au levain but it ain't for lack of trying. My biggest difficulty with it so far has been something that should be simple - following the instructions. When I first started making it I viewed the rise times as something like suggestions. 2 hours seemed like a ridiculously long time to do the final rise, and I would do 1 hour and then wonder why the bottom split. Last week I did an experiment. I split the dough into three 1 lb loaves and tried doing a final ferment of 1.5 hours, 2 hours, and 2.5 hours respectively. The 2.5 hour rise won the looks test, but the 2 hour tasted the best. And surprise, surprise, the 1.5 hour loaf was a mess. Today, I followed all of Hamelman's times with 2 hours for the final ferment (the book says 2 to 2.5 hours.) I still can't get as pretty a loaf as my model in all this (and the post that set me off on this particular quest) http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/17236/agony-defeat-and-thrill-victory. But that doesn't mean I can't keep trying. And the great thing about practicing on a bread like this is you get to eat it.
Yesterday I tried my hand at a miche after reading so much about these loaves on this site. I must admit that I had to restrain myself from dividing it into three loaves as I was wondering what a three person household was going to do with an almost four pound loaf. I tried Hamelman's Pointe-a-Calliere (page 164 of Bread.) I had to make a few modifications. I was planning to do 85% whole wheat flour, 15% AP, but ended up with around 60-40 because I was lower on whole wheat flour than I had thought. Since I was baking in my clay oven which has a fairly narrow door, I found that the dough had grown so large that I had to make an oval rather than round loaf, and again because of the oven, I took it out after 45 minutes instead of the full hour since it was already quite cooked and would have turned into a cinder after any longer. But I did follow the instructions to wait a full 12 hours before slicing despite my usual impatience in these matters. And after all that? Wow. That is a delicious bread. It is very hearty. A slice with a bit of peanut butter makes a substantial meal. But will we eat the whole thing? I guess it depends how long it remains fresh, which I've yet to see.
I continue to bake in my mud oven - in fact I haven't baked any bread at all in my "indoor" oven so far this summer. It is a steep learning curve. Since I last posted, I have added a thermometer and a door (essential) a peel (helpful) and have started to use parchment paper to keep things cleaner. I continue to make my slow progress through Hamelman's Bread. Today I tried Semolina with a levain. (page 171) I split it into three small loaves which are a bit more manageable. Here they are.
and the crumb
When I finished baking, I put tonight's dinner (chicken and vegetables) in a dutch oven into the oven and let it cook with the "leftover" heat for several hours. And served with bread of course.
I just finished making my first edible bread in my cob oven. In May I had no kitchen so wasn't able to bake at all. Then in June, I got my kitchen back, but I started the process of building an outdoor oven. Since I am not a handy person this was very challenging. I read Kiko Denzer's book from cover to cover, did soil testing on the dirt around my house, bought some materials, scrounged some materials and made some materials, and got some great advice on the forum here. I heard a lot of things about how you could make this sort of thing in an afternoon. Maybe if you have a team of oxen or a lot of friends who want to help. Suffice it to say it took me a lot longer than that. I have tried for the last few days to bake in it. The first day it wasn't quite dried out - I left some wood in it - so half of the bread got smoked and the other half didn't cook. It all got dirty. The second day, I cleaned it out properly before baking, but I didn't quite get just how long or how hot the fire had to burn. So the loaf was as mushy as it went in an hour later. Today, I stoked the fire for three hours to make sure it was hot enough, did a thorough cleaning, and then cooked away. 40 minutes later I had this:
and finally the oven ad hoc and unlovely as it may be
Today I made Hamelman's poolish baguettes. Which retaught me a lesson I've already learned which is that making baguettes is hard. A month or two ago, I tried the Bouabsa formula several times, without having any idea that it wasn't reasonable to start one's baguette making career with that, so I backed off to Hamelman which I think is quite delicious in its own right. But it is still hard for the novice bread baker.
From this side it doesn't look so bad -
From this side, not so much ...
All I can say is thank god for bagels which are tasty and rewarding -