The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Good Bread Vs. Great Bread

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crumb bum's picture
crumb bum

Good Bread Vs. Great Bread

Hello All

I thought I would ask a question that has been rattling around in my ciabatta like brain for a few days.  What makes good bread great and how did it get that way?  I have baked allot of bad bread, lots of good bread and not allot of great bread.  Sometimes the same recipie made twice yeilds different results.  My guess is 9 out of 10 of us mix up the initial dough the same way.  Some knead, some auto and fold.  Some fold allot early and some fold at even intervals.  Then its scaling and preshaping.  I think there may be more differences between us at this step than the previous one.  Then its shaping, my acillies heel .  This is an art unto itself and seperates the gifted from people like me.  Flour is another variable but does one flour really taste better than another?  The French have been making  great bread with notoriously weak flour for centuries.  Starters can make a huge difference in taste and texture and probably deserve a post all by itself.  What techniques do you use that yeild great bread vs just good bread?

Da Crumb Bum  

CosmicChuck's picture
CosmicChuck

That's my best trick. Lots of patience. As I see it, bread like many other fermented foods needs to be allowed to sufficently mature before the full flavor and texture properties reach their peak. I am predominantly a sourdough baker and I have found the more I extend the preparation process, the better my bread gets. One step I have started recently that has really changed the quality and flavor of my breads is doing a second ferment of the dough, after the first rise, in the fridge overnight. In the morning I punch it down and do a third ferment before baking. It really helps to bring out the flavor.

 

-Steve 

crumb bum's picture
crumb bum

Hey Steve

I think your right on the money.  I have tried to circumvent lengthy ferments by pumping my bread with as much starter as I dare.  I have made a fair amount of wallpaper paste doing this and the bread that did look good did not taste that good.  You would think that 40% starter in a dough would yeild the same flaver as a very small amount of culture and a couple of builds.  I guess that we should be thankful one of the biggest factors in great bread does not have to do with equipment or gadgets, or flour, just time.  And most of the time its time spent in the fridge unattended.  I am going to try giving my doughs another ferment like you.  Thanks for the tip.

Da Crumb Bum

crumb bum's picture
crumb bum

Hey Steve

I gave your technique of an extra rise and extended proof a whirl this weekend.  I made the Miche in Hammelmans book.  I made the firm starter earlier than usual and fridged it overnight.  Took it out a few hours early and let it peak.  Made dough with cold water, folded as usual and kept the dough outside where it was cool.  I did not punch it down like you but I did give it a "hard" fold  Gave it another few hours shaped and let rise at room temp.  The bread turned out really good flavor and aromawise.  It also had a good irregular crumb which I thought I might lose after the hard fold.  Another bonus is after your folds you can keep it cool and get on with your weekend and bake when it's convienent.  Thanks again for the advice.

Da Crumb Bum

newbiebaker's picture
newbiebaker

i think, personally the water can make a huge difference... the different mineral and vitamins and other junk seems like it could greatly affect the flavor

CosmicChuck's picture
CosmicChuck

I have actually wondered about this myself. I use my local water filtered through a Brita but have been tempted to try distilled water or bottled mountain spring water to see how much they affect it.

Has anyone out there done any experimentation along these lines?

Cliff Johnston's picture
Cliff Johnston

Yes, I've found that water does make a difference. 

We moved recently.  My wife and I like the water here more than at our previous residence;  however, our dogs drink it only as a last resort.  They prefer to go outside and drink rainwater.  I started to use bottled spring water sometime ago because the tap water was horrible.  I have stayed with it.  It does make a difference.  It is a major ingredient and having it as a stabile ingredient is a big plus.

Cliff. Johnston
"May the best you've ever seen,
 Be the worst you'll ever see;"
from A Scots Toast by Allan Ramsay

xma's picture
xma

Like Cliff Johnston, I have played around with water.  Many people deem it strange that we drink distilled water in the house, but I learned to make bread using distilled water.  Imagine my shock when I read from Hamelman's 'Bread' that the yeast needs the minerals and what-have-you in water, and voila! the slack dough I've been wondering about for years and have always blamed on weak flour turned to beautiful and easy-to-work-with doughs.  He says the best water to use is neither too soft nor too hard, with the ppm in the 100-150 range.  He also says it's good to use water on the slightly acidic side, just a little under ph7.

I must say I don't think it makes much of a difference in the final product, but the handling ability of the dough is distinct.  But I have noted this difference only in the basic doughs--the just flour-water-yeast-salt kind--but in anything with considerable fats, eggs or milk, I continue to use distilled because with all the other elements in it, I don't think the water would make much of a difference.

bakker_be's picture
bakker_be

Regarding the "notoriously weak flour" in France: we in Belgium use about the same types of flour as they do. French traditional bakers use a "Type 55" flour, while in Belgium we don't use that kind of denomination, but refer to the flour by it's protein and ash content. The flour used for the real good baguettes does have a much lower protein content than your average American flour (11.5 vs 14.5 for what we call "American flour", correct me if I'm wrong) but the ash content is quite high (680 to 750).

As far as I'm concerned this is not the reason for a bread being great or just good or even below par. It can influence the amount of water you can use while still obtaining a "workable" dough, but with enough expertise you should be able to create a perfectly shaped and palatable loaf of bread no matter what kind of flour you use. I believe the secret is in the time you give your piece of dough to develop it's taste, and at the same time let the available protein (gluten) develop into a nice crumb. 2 "formulas" to illustrate this:

1. The standard "French bread" (I won't call it baguette) as found in the typical Belgian bakery and supermarket

  • 1kg white flour (11,5/680)
  • 50 grams of yeast (not instant yeast)
  • 16 grams of salt
  • around 600 grams of ice cold water
  • knead very intensively for about 12 minutes (in a machine of course)
  • divide dough into 350 gram pieces, fashion into small rectangular loaves
  • let rest around 15 minutes at room temperature (around 25°C in my bakery)
  • fashion into a sausage-like shape (typically 20cm long/100 grams of dough) and put into proofing chamber (~40°C, 85% humidity) on steel baking sheets or siliconed nets
  • when sufficiently risen (typically after about 30 minutes), add slashes to the surface and put into oven with a generous amount of steam added at the start.
  • bake for around 20 minutes

This gives in around 2.5 hours an oven (8 sq m off baking surface) full of a rather bland-tasting bread which vaguely resembles the traditional french baguette, with a rather dry crumb that's sponge-like in appearance and texture.

 

2. A real good baguette

  • 1kg white flour (11,5/680)
  • 7.5 grams of yeast (not instant yeast)
  • 16 grams of salt
  • around 600 grams of ice cold water
  • knead very intensively for about 12 minutes (in a machine of course)
  • divide dough into 350 gram pieces, fashion into small rectangular loaves
  • let the pieces rest at room temperature (around 25°C in my bakery). Before you are able to progress to the next step without tearing your dough, at least 3 to 4 hours will have passed. Experience is indispensable to judge this.
  • fashion into a sausage-like shape (typically 20cm long/100 grams of dough)
  • let rise at room temperature in a parisien.parisien
  • when suffiently risen (this may easily take around 5 hours), gently transfer onto a "tapis d'enfournement" Tapijt This device allows you to put the bread directly onto the "floor" of the oven (comparable to the baking stone many of you use), add slashes and put into oven with a generous amount of steam added at the start.
  • Bake for around 20 minutes.

This yields in around 12 hours time an oven full of admittedly less voluminous but delicious baguettes with a nice holey, moist crumb, and as you can see it uses exactly the same ingredients with only a lower percentage of yeast.

Bart

Neil C's picture
Neil C

According to Calvel, the French measure Protein and Ash content as a % of "dry matter", compared with the Americans who measure it based on flour with "14% humidity".


What this all means is that a French flour with 11.5% protein is equivalent to American flour with 13.69%. 


Ref. (Pg. 4) The Taste of Bread - Raymond Calvel

ehanner's picture
ehanner

Do you have knowledge of the flours we use in America? I would be curious what you think a comparable flour is to the T-55 type you use in Belgium. Based on the testing I have done here in America, I suspect that the protein and ash levels mainly affect the crumb and airiness and not so much the taste. Taste being more impacted by extended fermenting. I get good results using standard All Purpose flour from King Arthur flour but it is higher than normal in protein.

Some of us have spent much time searching for what is ordinary in Europe. I believe along the way we missed the value of not rushing to the oven. Who really wants Wonder-bread anyway.

Eric

bakker_be's picture
bakker_be

In my experience a higher protein flour is absolutely necessary if you want your dough to be able to maintain some level of oven spring after extended fermenting, as this tends to really "exhaust" your dough, so I'm not amazed that you get good results with your flour.

Ash levels do have an impact on taste, but only really noticeable when using prolonged fermentation, as the chemical process gets more chance to interact with the various minerals and assorted stuff present in the flour.

Bart 

pcfisher66's picture
pcfisher66

My family has never been "big bread eaters but moving from the States to here in Germany (USAF) has changed us. We visit a "Grocery store" in France called Cora (45 min away) to purchase our wine and every time we go me kids insist on getting french bread to eat on the ride home.  It's amazing to see 100 baguettes being place in basket and grabbing 3 or 4 still warm.  There is a difference in the taste of bread here, also bread is home delivered here, at least in my village.

 Tod

Rudolph's picture
Rudolph

Here in Britain we have basically two types of flours for sale supplied by various national purveyors of flour. For bread we have 'Stong' or ' Hard' flour with a protein content from 11% to 14%, while the other is just labelled flour(suitable for confectionary) at about 9% protein. Our strong or hard flours traditionally originated from Canada, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, I believe. With our closer trading ties to Europe I couldn't say with certainty where our flour originates nowadays.

Rudolph