The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Some direction needed

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Kyle B's picture
Kyle B

Some direction needed

Hello Everyone,

I'm a Canadian currently living in South Asia.  I'm rather new to baking but I love to cook and I'm quite comfortable in the kitchen. Bread here is either terrible, or decent bread is only available a fair distance from my house. Thus I've begun baking 2-3 loaves a week for my wife and I. I have a few limitations when it comes to equipment and ingredients so I thought I'd tap into the collective wisdom and experience here for some ideas about what types of breads would be worth learning to make.

First of all my oven is a small and propane fueled. It has no regulating thermostat and depending on the season its max temp is somewhere between 360-400F. It has only one burner on the bottom. The insulation is pretty bad, so even quickly opening the door to rotate a loaf  can cause the temp to plummet to 350 or below. I do have a ceramic pizza stone that I usually place my baking sheet on top of. This seems to help the temperature from dropping.

Our house is unheated and made of concrete. Most of the year the temperature indoors will stay above 20 C but in the winter it can get as low as 5C (you can see your breath indoors). This can certainly can effect fermentation both overnight and bulk. I try to place the dough in the sun during bulk fermentation or place it on top of the stove while the oven is heating up for the final rise.  From now (April) till mid November it should stay fairly warm in the house.

The last limitation I have in ingredients. Flour is either white or brown. The white seems to be all-purpose, and the brown is what you would use to make roti. Whole grain might be available but I've yet to find it. I might be able to get whole grains themselves and mix them into the dough with the brown flower. I did get a large pack of instant yeast imported from Holland thats been working well for me.

My goal would be to have a few relatively low maintenance breads in my repertoire that once learned I cam whip up easily that give some variety in flavor. I've been making this bread for a while with good results. Considering how little active time it takes it actually tastes just as good as this rustic loaf thats twice as much work. I made the Ciabatta from the fresh loaf handbook the other day. It was delicious but even though you spend hardly any time touching the dough, babysitting the thing for the hours of fermentation plus the baking makes it not practice for day in day out bread. More of an every 2-3 weeks recipe.

I'm thinking of starting a sour dough in hopes of getting some more flavor depth, but I wonder how much extra work that creates if I'm only making a max of 3 loaves a week.

Thanks you for reading all of this, I'd love to hear any suggestions you have.

Kyle

 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

A good one "as is" and also to experiment with.  Get to know this recipe inside and out.  You can drop the oil or use another kind.  You can up the hydration or lower it, you can add sugar, you can poolish it (combine equal amounts of water & flour, 200g each with a pinch of yeast and let that sit overnight)  and then make your dough with the rest ingredients.  You can grate cooked potatoes into it.  You can toast flour or brown it and add to your recipe.  I am curious about the "brown" flour and suspect it is toasted barley flour.  Barley flour adds flavour but no gluten to your bread dough.  A test would be to wet some of the flour and see how it reacts as a dough.  Knead it for a while and let stand half an hour.  Then submerse under water and see how well it holds together.  If not, it is most likely toasted barley flour a very common flour staple in Asia eaten by making a paste with it and tea.  You can try to substitute up to about 1/3 of the wheat flour with this flour.  You also have cereals, beans and nuts and fruits to play with and lots of ingredients you never dreamed could be used in bread.   Your set up sounds good.  Asia is a big place.  Which country and elevation?  You must have some elevation to get those cool temps.   (It's crawfish/crawdad time in Central China right now, bake up some french sticks and head for the streets! ...if you're there.)

I get excited about a situation like yours as you can play around so much with one or two flours and have all kinds of variety.  You will also learn a lot if you test the limits of your flour and your local ingredients.  Naturally you are busy with work.  Getting a good sieve is essential.  Sift your flour before using.  I found the flat metal ones with cake pan rim and fine mesh work well.  Bang out flour after each use and keep it dry and inside a plastic zpperlock bag between uses.  If you use raw sugar, dissolve and sieve (smaller plastic or metal) before using.   

Check out the yeast water threads.  A way of using fermenting juices and fruits to flavour (and color) bread not to mention that this form of yeast will raise the bread and add great texture to it.   You can store also in the fridge.  Don't be afraid to hit the whole spice rack, toast and crush some of them too.  

The oven.  Is it possible for you to fold a medium sized terry cotton towel and place it on top (outside) of the oven to insulate it.  perhaps a little alufoil between.  This will make a big difference.  Important is that the towel does not hang over the sides of the oven where it can catch fire.  Tie some cotton cord or string around the towel so it stays together when the wind blows.  It also makes a nice place to park the next rising loaf as you mentioned.   

Mini 

Kyle B's picture
Kyle B

Thanks Mini, Great advice.

The brown flour I'm using is Atta flour, which you can read about here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atta_flour. Good news is that depending on the quality of atta it should have a high gluten level. The white flour is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maida_flour. I also saw in the store the other day that I can get millet flour here, just throwing that out there. I can't tell you the country I'm in, I need to be careful about Internet security, but I live around 4000ft. given my oven design I don't know if the towel will help. The oven has large vent holes at the back of the thing. You can actually see right into the oven from the back of the stove. I might take the back off and wrap some more metal foil around the oven cavity, but inside the stove casing, to see if that helps. But its warm now, and I baked a loaf the other day at 400 the whole way!

I think I'm going to experiment with toasting some of the white flour and see how a poolish, or overnight fridge bulk fermentation goes. Any suggestions on things to add to this basic white bread? I'd love to put various seeds or grains in it, but those are hard to come by. I do have access to nuts, dried fruit, and cereals.

The thing I'm wondering with going down the sour dough road is the fermentation times. With the ciabatta, even though I hardly touched the dough, it felt like I was making bread all day. Isn't sour dough a similar process?

I might have a go with challah to mix things up a little bit.

 

Thanks again for the input

Kyle

isand66's picture
isand66

Mini....sounds like great advice, but I'm curious why you think he should sift the flour?

I also see no reason why he couldn't create a sour dough starter and go down that path.  I would also suggest you try bulk fermenting your dough overnight to develop the flavor.  If using yeast in the dough make sure to cut it back about 15% to compensate for the long cool rise.

Not sure what part of Asia you are in.  I'm leaving for a business trip to China on Tuesday. 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

to name a few reasons...  wood splinters, metal objects, bugs, hard lumps, threads from bags, sawdust

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

but once you've done it a few times, you seemed to get scheduled so that you only fuss with it the few minutes you need to and do other stuff between.  Sourdough can be done to fit schedules too.  A time consuming part is getting a starter started as one doesn't know what to expect so you end up watching it all the time.  Big mistake.  Mix it up, let it alone and it pretty much ferments on its own if it is warm enough about 26°C and has enough moisture.

Raising dough in the fridge is easy enough, one does have to let the yeast get into replicating itself (raising the yeast numbers) before being slowed down so the process continues in the fridge.  If chilled after mixing the dough, depending on the amount of yeast and type of yeast, the dough is slowed down much more than if chilled after a bulk rise.  Sourdough adds a great deal of flavour, no doubt about it but it does involve a more patient method as wild yeast replicate slower.  This is what brings out the flavour.  

Anytime you slow down the fermenting process, more complex flavours are brought out of the flour.  Even with instant, you can mix up the dough without the yeast, tuck it into the fridge in a small container until you want to use it (usually the next day or two) then flatten out the stiff cold dough, mist or dab on water and sprinkle with yeast.  Roll up and knead in the yeast while warming the dough with your hands.  Then you get long wet times on the flour plus a faster rise than sourdough.  Sourdough wheat bread can be mixed up, bulk risen and tucked into the fridge also, shaped or unshaped.  Refrigeration or retardation is often employed to spread out or cut the process into specific working times.  The time one actually touches the dough is short.  Waiting for doughs to rise is time consuming but if you are sensitive to temps and conditions around you, everything can be manipulated.  It is sort of the fun and challenge of the stuff.    You versus the Dough!

Nuts are great for adding fat, protein and flavour.  Nuts that go inside the dough can be roasted cut up or grated or just thrown in whole, you have to make your own judgements.  If you see walnuts in the market, grab them up fast because this is the end of the season and wont be available until October or Nov.  Nuts or seeds on the outside should be stuck on raw and roast with the bake.  Because of their fat content, nuts tend to brown quickly so take care roasting them not to rush them.  Onions dried and roasted are also good additions.  Playing with the liquids is also a fun thing.  Water, tea, juices, wine, young wine, egg white, milk, coconut milk, thin rice porridge, meat broths, veggie soups and whey (goats?) beer or spirits.   

Yesterday, I took regular baking soda and baked it for half an hour 200°C, wow, did that increase the strength!  Plan on dissolving as much as I can in a shallow glass or plastic non-reactive pan of cooled (boiled) water and using this water to soak shaped rolls for about 10 to 20 minutes of the proof rise.  Remove and place onto baking parchment or well greased pans, score before bake.  They brown like crazy and take on pretzel taste.  (I've made thin wormy pretzels but my husband ate them faster than I could bake them!)   A great bake to watch and don't let the darkening scare the crap out of you!  Use a stiffer dough so it doesn't fall apart in the soak.  Heat up the soda soaker when done (vacuum pack in glass jar) or simply save and refrigerate for the next time.  Add more of the baked soda and water as needed.  (Do not use the baked soda as "baking soda" after this, it is too strong.)  Stir up before using again at room temp or slightly warmer if speeding up the rise.  Can use your fingers and a slotted plastic spoon.  Rub hands in a very thin vinegar solution after playing (under 5%) and rinse.

Kyle B's picture
Kyle B

So I tried toasting half of the white flour in my everyday white bread that I linked to above. 1.5 cups white, 1.5 cups toasted white, 3/4 cup whole wheat. I sifted the toasted flour because it had some little clumps in it after toasting.

When I first started kneading the dough I noticed it was much much drier than normal. I added water till it felt about right, probably an additional 50ml for a total of 375ml (I usually do 325ml water with 3cup white 3/4 whole wheat). Is toasted flour more 'thirsty' like whole wheat is? Is there a general rule for how much extra water to add when using toasted flour?

The dough behaved like normal during the bulk ferment and rise after shaping, but to my dismay I only got about 5% of the usual oven spring. The bread cooked and was even fairly tasty, though it was a little doughy at one end. Any idea why this happened? It was shaped in a batard on a baking sheet with one long score down the middle like I always do

Thanks again for all the advice, its really helpful

Kyle

isand66's picture
isand66

What was the purpose of toasting the flour?  I've never heard of that one before?  Did it taste toasted?

Kyle B's picture
Kyle B

Toasting the flour was something Mini Oven suggested above. It added a nice depth of flavor to the bread.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

In the beginning, sorry, my fault, I should have made the suggestion to not replace any more than one third of your total basic wheat flour with anything that doesn't add to the gluten structure of your bread.  Replacing half of the wheat flour with toasted would put a damper on things for sure.   Good to know.   Toasted flour will not contribute much glue to hold the loaf together and trap yeast gasses.  So it more or less reacted as it should with that amount of toasted flour.  So lets think of that as too much to add.  Reduce the amount to about 1/2 cup and try again.  WW likes to soak a little first to soften the bran and plump up, as weather warms up you might want to add the salt (from the recipe) to the soaking WW to control enzymes that form during long (4 hr +) soaks.  Even a soak of an hour can make a big difference.  

You can test your ingredients with simple tests before hand.  Combine small amounts with water and see how the substance holds together as you work with it trying to make a little dough ball.  If it can't make a dough and behaves more like a ball of wet crumbs, then it won't add much to dough adhesion.   This will tell you to keep the amount (under a third) in your overall flour amount.  It also means that if you have several non-gluing flour like ingredients that can react with the flour adding them up should also stay under one third of total flour weight.  That way you give your loaf the best chance at rising.  

Other tricks would be to take a heaping tablespoon of the toasted flour (or other flour) and blend with some of the recipe water and thicken it, it doesn't have to boil, just thicken, allow to cool and use this glue in your recipe.  The same effect with boiling cut starchy vegetables and noodle water so you might find yourself using these "waters" in your breads as well.  Use them right away or chill for the next day, don't keep them around too long and do taste them first.  If you don't like them before using them, by all means don't use them!   

Kyle B's picture
Kyle B

Thanks for all the replies Mini Oven!

I'm ok with experimenting ups an downs, its part of the process. The 1/2 toasted flour loaf wasn't an inedible brick, just a dense crumb.

What do you mean by soaking Whole Wheat? Is this different than autolyze? I usually autolyze this dough for ~10 mins, but 1 -4 hours? Just wanted to clairfy.