The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Baking with the Right Side of the Brain

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louie brown's picture
louie brown

Baking with the Right Side of the Brain

I don't know what I am doing hanging around a culinary activity that largely demands, and attracts, precision-oriented individuals and the sort of methodical, careful procedures that lend themselves to notekeeping. I am a right side person. I don't keep records of my bakes. I do measure my ingredients by weight but I often make arithmetic mistakes. I fail to take account of variations in temperature and humidity in my apartment. I share the drive for self improvement in baking, but I don't crave the utter perfection of some, unless it comes through my hands and experiential learning, rather than through scientific or quasi scientific trial.

I envy those with stable environmental conditions. I'm amazed by professional bakeries, which have their procedures right down to the number of revolutions of the mixer. But being a right side type, variation more than consistency inhabits my home bakery. I've learned to accept it.

Take Nancy Silverton's walnut bread, the best walnut bread I've ever had anywhere, by a mile. I've been baking it since the book was published and it usually turns out more or less the same. Yesterday, though, the dough wanted a good deal more water, and the dark rye flour seemed, somehow, to make up more of the dough than usual. For scheduling reasons, fermentation and proofing went on longer than they should have. Not by much, but by enough to make a difference. By the same token, Silverton calls for a fairly intensive mix, so taken all together, this is a loaf with a relatively close crumb, albeit one in which the cell structure should be evident throughout.

This is one the best specialty breads I've come across. The taste is very rich and complex, creamy and deep. The crust shatters all over the place. It's great out of hand, but it is spectacular with cheese. Highly recommended, even if you are a right sider, like me.

Comments

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

That is simply beautiful bread in spite of,  or because of,  all your traits.  The Yellow Brick Road is not the only way and your way looks to work quite well.

Jeff

louie brown's picture
louie brown

Try this formula if you can. It is outstanding.

Anjali's picture
Anjali

I do not know how to see these pics.The imageshack logo appears in the space for photos. Can you please guide me?

Thanks,

Anjali

Anjali's picture
Anjali

O.k. Now the photos have suddenly appeared. Initially the imageshack frog was to be seen. I still need to figure out how to turn all those frogs into beautiful bread pics(without kissing them;-)).

Anjali

 

louie brown's picture
louie brown

Glad you can see the pix, Anjali. Hope you enjoy them.

ananda's picture
ananda

Hi Louie,

Lovely post, very interesting, honest, and a great end product.

One of the variables you have to deal with is that Rye flour is notoriously inconsistent in terms of water absorption.   I'm not sure that rigid right brain procedures will work well enough to set absolutes for water addition.   More left-sided brain work is a clear benefit here, improvising by being prepared to add a little extra water if needed.   If this is necessary...how will this then impact on the rest of the procedures going forward.   Rigidly sticking to the process as laid down will not necessarily produce the best result.   Some degree of flexibility in interpreting carefully formulated processes will bring further reward.

It's clear that you have a good handle on all this stuff anyway; just looking at the bread you have made

Best wishes

Andy

louie brown's picture
louie brown

Your observations are always welcome and useful.

The right side of the brain, which, as I understand it, favors creative thinking, is the side that, for me, anyway, is likely to be fast and loose. The discipline needs to come from the left side and you are correct, of course. Both sides are needed as are adjustments in the face of flour condition and the environment. In this case, the cold bulk fermentation seemed about right, but the proof of the formed loaves was probably a bit too long. I think I both made a mistake, using too much dark rye, and failed to take account of it going forward, as well as of the increased water that the dough needed.

Reading and making use of technical information is not my strong suit, but I do tend to retain the lessons. Thanks again for writing.

SylviaH's picture
SylviaH

Looks like you have reached a very happy medium on this one!

Sylvia

louie brown's picture
louie brown

Your good words are always appreciated. I used my version of your steaming method for these.

HeidiH's picture
HeidiH

My basic, no-thinking, bread formula is 4-ish cups of grocery-store bread flour, 1 1/2 or so cups water, some yeast, and a partial palm-full of salt.  More yeast if I'm in a hurry.  Less if I can let it rest a long time.  I find starting with 2-ish cups of bread flour and then making the other two something else like whole wheat flour is good.  Sometimes I go wild and make anadama-rye where I use 1/2 bread flour, 1/2 rye flour and throw in a 1/2 cup or so of corn meal and a good dollop of molasses. Sometimes I actually knead a little but when I start the bread soon enough I go no-knead.  I often forget what time I set the bread to rise so that varies too.

Okay, so when I make bread this way I'm never quite sure what it's consistency will be or how high it will rise.   It is, as hubby says, always better than any store-bought bread. Other times I follow a recipe to a T and get fantastic results, like yesterday's bialys using Bread Cetera's recipe. 

So go for it.  If you don't kill your yeast or use stale flour you'll probably have a good loaf of bread.

louie brown's picture
louie brown

There's always room under the big tent  for people like us!

Syd's picture
Syd

Louie, wonderful breads, and that despite your lack of aptitude for the technical stuff.  All the more credit to you!  If you are a right brainer, I must be a curious mix of the two.  I do like the weights and temps (weights more than temps) but I take too much creative licence with the whole lot and find it very difficult to stick to anyone else's recipe.  It seems I always have to change something, even it it is only the procedure.  I can be scientific up to a point, but then sometimes I  'have to do this just to see what happens'!

All the best,

Syd

louie brown's picture
louie brown

I'm coming around to the idea that the "loose ends" are part of what makes it interesting and fun for me. I always gravitated towards the artists, not the engineers, although, even for people like me, it's a good idea to know how to change the spark plugs, at least.

varda's picture
varda

and interesting comments on the different styles people bring to their breadmaking.   -Varda

louie brown's picture
louie brown

Differences are what makes life interesting, no?

jlewis30's picture
jlewis30

That is funny. What I like the most about bread is that Right Brained "gotta feel it to know it is right". I love that measuring always carries the caveat that the dough should *feel* thus and so on. Drives my husband CRAZY when I claim that the temperature and huniddity of a day changes my formula. But my bread comes out tasty most of the time, and when it does not the meatloaves and meatballs and french toasts ans bread puddings surely are delicious =)

HeidiH's picture
HeidiH

If anyplace has a no-change formula it is the makers of fluffy white bread.  As a college student, I worked night-shift in a Batter-Whipped Sunbeam bread factory.  Think of a Harold Lloyd movie with millions of Whopper rolls coming down a conveyor belt at you.  It was very true that the weather affected the rolls.  On cool, dry nights, the dough or rolls, at any stage of the process,  were smaller and wreaked havoc.  Imagine trying to pack a 4-on-4 bag of hamburger rolls when none of the rolls are attached to each other.  On hot, humid nights, the rolls were so big they would jam up everywhere.  When, in the middle of the night, one of the executives came in to see how we were doing, he picked up a bag where the twistie-tie was wrapped around the oversized rolls. He bellowed, "People have to eat this crap so don't put sh-t in the bags!"  A sentence I will carry, verbatim, to my grave.

clazar123's picture
clazar123

I,too am a right brain person. I am able to follow a formula but I really believe they are guidelines. I tend to throw my bread together and it usually turns out since I  have made all iterations of errors in the past. If I need to make a production of bread (baked 15 loaves of French last Christmas and 6 doz filled brioche buns) then I follow my formula or if I am making a new bread. After that, anything goes.

The last post is great about the marshmallow rolls and "people have to eat this c&%@#" . Once in a while I have a marshmallow bun for a hotdog or hamburger and I think I will probably chuckle each time I have one now. Thanks!Good to laugh.

breadsong's picture
breadsong

Hello louie, Your description of this walnut bread is so compelling.
This a lovely bake, and a bread I'd really like to try - it must be so good!
Thank you for sharing!
from breadsong

louie brown's picture
louie brown

Thanks for writing. You will enjoy this bread, I am sure. I'm already looking forward to your presentation as they are always so beautiful.

rossnroller's picture
rossnroller

Oh, and terrific looking walnut bread. I was first introduced to walnut bread during a year I spent in Germany back in the 80s, and have never come across any to match the great loaves I had back then. I've baked a couple of SD versions that came closest. Dan Lepard's from The Handmade Loaf was not to my liking. You've inspired me to try Nancy Silverton's next - and going by your pics and comments, I have high hopes for this one. Thanks!

On the right brain/left brain stuff, I think Andy is spot on with his comments. Artisan bread baking, especially at home where conditions are not as controlled as in commercial settings, is a blend of precision and intuition. I'm a strong advocate of using scales to ensure precise weight measurement of ingredients, but there will always be adjustments necessary to bring the best out of a bake, and these adjustments are ongoing since they are dependent on variables in a state of flux. This is where more intuitive bakers like you come into their own. To optimise home bread baking outcomes (aaarrgghh - where did that boardroom speak come from?), those home bakers who are less inclined to right-brain activity have to learn to get in touch with the feely side of thangs, just as 'right-brainers' aspiring to consistency and ongoing development of their bread baking have to cross to the dark side and - gasp - do a bit of measuring, take notes, etc.

No amount of reading and theoretical inquiry will compensate for gettin' yer mitts in the flour and clocking up time baking bread. Getting that all-important feel for the dough comes from handling it over multiple bakes, making mistakes, having triumphs, and learning through experience - both practical and theoretical - to determine the 'why' behind the 'what'.

Best of baking!
Ross

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

"No amount of reading and theoretical inquiry will compensate for gettin' yer mitts in the flour and clocking up time baking bread. Getting that all-important feel for the dough comes from handling it over multiple bakes, making mistakes, having triumphs, and learning through experience - both practical and theoretical - to determine the 'why' behind the 'what'."

This is one of the best to the point, and concise,  comments I have seen here at TFL here on baking bread.  Very nice Ross.

Jeff

rossnroller's picture
rossnroller

...but thank you!

Ross

ananda's picture
ananda

Wise words indeed Ross!

Best wishes

Andy

rossnroller's picture
rossnroller

Best wishes to you, too, Andy!

louie brown's picture
louie brown

This is really a delicious loaf. 

And thank you for taking the time to write a thoughtful reply. It's just flour and water and salt, but it is oh so complex and subtle. That's what I like best about baking, the variety and variation. I am sure I'll spend the rest of my time in the kitchen learning from working with these ingredients and their variables.

rossnroller's picture
rossnroller

Synchronistically, Louie, earlier today I tapped out some musings in my recent blog that equate exactly to yours above. See here (my response to Markus).

Good to know there are like-minded folk around - and I suspect a disproportionate number are within this community.  Reassuring, because I sometimes wonder whether I'm dwelling in a parallel universe running just off-axis to the one most other earthlings inhabit.

R