Various Questions about crust, "layers", acidity, and more!
Hey all, I’ve been plugging away with my bread baking, altering recipes and times to try and see what I end up with. It’s like chemistry lab with no grade! I have not ended up with a horrible loaf yet, but I’ve seen a few interesting things in my loaves, and heard mention of a couple others, that make me curious about a few different aspects of my baking, so here goes, and thank you so much in advance for any and all help!
1. Crackly bubbles on crust exterior: I started my baking education with the Tartine method, and would end up with big round crackly loaves, however with a couple of more recent loves where I’ve lowered hydration, used 100% or close to 100% KABF, and actually kneaded instead of stretch and folds, I’ve seen a smoother crust without the small (1/2 cm?) russet-colored surface bubbles on the crust itself. Can you tell me what about these loaves is making the crust stay more uniform and smooth? Is there a aspect of sugar content or some other ingredient of whole wheat that promotes this surface bubbling? Could I have created a skin of sorts with unabsorbed flour that would prevent liquid bubbling on the surface? I’m not sure this is a flavor issue, I just like the look of it.
2. “Layers” within crumb: Somewhat related to number 1, in one of my loaves I knew I might have a problem when I went for final shaping, and stretched the loaf out into a disk. This was my first time with a lower hydration, and in retrospect, I don’t think I needed to reshape at all… The dough had a bit of a skin, not super dry, but visible whiteness from unabsorbed flour where I had turned the loaf out onto the counter, and I folded it into the middle letter-style. The loaf turned out very well, and had great oven spring and very even crumb, but there are clear “layers” where I folded the dough together. When pulled apart, the crumb feels the same between any two layers as the inside of a normal hole in the crumb. Is this due to the skin created from driying out? Could it be from the oil coating the bowl I proofed in? Is it related to the unabsorbed flour on the somewhat dry side?
These next ones are more unique and/or general:
3. Acidity: I’ve heard recently that too much acidity in a starter can lessen the ability of lactobacillus to thrive, and will impact my ability to get sour bread. Is this true? Also, how do you recommend testing for acidity, and what methods can be used to lower the acidity of a starter?
4. Rise, “Doubling”, and Oven Spring: I get very little rise during fermentation (10-15%?) and just a bit more during proofing (20-25%), but I have excellent oven spring with even bubble distribution, and with the wetter dough I usually use, I get very open crumb. Am I using a good steam environment as a crutch for rising or is this normal? Should I be concerned about my starter at all?
5. In the Tartine recipe, it calls for creation of about 400g of levain, and then has you only use half for the bread itself. I keep the starter and feed that instead of using the leftover levain as my replacement starter, so in the interest of waste, what factors will be impacted by using ALL of the levain in the dough build? I’m not interested in doubling the recipe, but if I use all of the levain, can I expect the dough to develop faster? Would this mean a shortening of the bulk ferment AND proof, or just the proofing stage? Does twice as much levain in a build equate to half as much time?