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Sourdough brick wall - trying to find a way forward

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carthurjohn's picture
carthurjohn

Sourdough brick wall - trying to find a way forward

Hi,

Looking for some inspiration to get past a brick wall with sourdough baking.

I've been baking sourdough now for 10+ years, read lots of books and done courses. After a lot of experimentation I have been producing some relatively successful loaves, but have got stuck into a rut. I tend to like bread with some guts and body to it, preferably with seeds added. But there are times when I hanker for something lighter and it's here that I am continually hitting a wall. I can't seem to make a decent white-ish loaf that has an interesting flavour and lighter crumb

My standard loaf recipe and method is as follows:

400g white flour

100g wholemeal

320g water

180g levain (@55% hydration)

10g salt

Seeds - 20g each of some or all of the following: sunflower, pumpkin, linseed, sesame, poppy

Method

  1. Mix all ingredients and knead briefly by hand to ensure they are integrated.
  2. Bulk proof for 3-4 hrs with a couple of stretch and folds
  3. Shape
  4. Proof in banneton for 2-3 hrs
  5. Bake in an iron casserole @ 225 degrees for 30 mins and then for 15 minutes @200 with the lid off

This produces reasonable bread, quite a dense crumb but tasty.

Using a similar recipe (minus seeds, and using white or an 80/20 white / wholemeal mix) to get a white-ish sourdough loaf produces bread with a dense crumb and with no taste or character.

Following suggestions from a UK miller, I have tried longer bulk proofing times (up to 12 hours) and shorter final proofs. No great improvement. In fact when I tried this yesterday, it had over bulk proofed and was so sticky it was impossible to shape properly for the banneton. I gave it an hour and a half in the basket. but there was (unsurprisingly) little oven spring and the taste was too sour for my liking. I prefer just a mild sour taste.

Folks, I would welcome any suggestions as to how to improve my baking and get me back on track to producing some tasty, light, white-ish sourdough.

Thanks. 

 

 

 

 

DavidEF's picture
DavidEF

Try Susan's Norwich Sourdough (adapted from Jeffrey Hamelman's Vermont Sourdough, she says) on the Wild Yeast Blog at http://www.wildyeastblog.com/2007/07/08/my-new-favorite-sourdough/ If you read the first paragraph of her post, you can see if the description she gives is what you're looking for. In her words: "With a thin, crisp crust and soft but substantial crumb, this is now my go-to bread for everyday good eating, anytime, with anything." If you poke around a little on her blog site, you'll see she also has a recipe index, in which are several different sourdough breads, including a soft white sandwich loaf, to be baked in a 8.5 in x 4.5 in loaf pan. I've tried that recipe, and it is very good!

carthurjohn's picture
carthurjohn

Hi DavidEF,

Thanks for the suggestion, it does look good. I will have to give that one a try. 

 

 

FlourChild's picture
FlourChild

A few things you could try:

-Increase the water in your loaf, it will help produce a lighter, more open crumb.  I calculate that your loaf is only about 62% hydration, you could easily go to 68%.

-Increase the sugar in your loaf, it will not make the loaf taste sweet, just give it more richness and browning on the crust.  If you are mixing the levain the night before, also mix the main dough flours and water the night before and let it sit until morning.  The enzymes in the dough will unlock more sugar for you.  If you don't want to mix the night before, you can also add two teaspoons of sugar to mimic the effect of an overnight autolyse.  In tandem with increasing sugar, try baking the bread at a slightly higher temp to get plenty of coppery dark brown color on the crust.

-Add more salt.  It appears that you are only at about 1.6% salt in your formula, you can easily increase that to 2%.

-Try sifting/straining your whole wheat flour to remove some of the bran. This will reduce bitterness and help you get a better structure (not so dense, lighter).

-A "dense brick" can be a sign of underdeveloped structure, you are experienced so I'm not sure this would apply to you, but if you suspect that the dough could be underdeveloped, try kneading more or doing more folds to get a lighter loaf.

-Try adding a small amount of rye flour (3-4%) for complexity, especially in your levain.  

You haven't given any details about your levain/starter, so I haven't focused on that.  Hope something here helps you out. 

carthurjohn's picture
carthurjohn

Hi FlourChild,

Many thanks for all your suggestions. I am a bit reluctant to up the hydration as from previous experience I know how difficult wet doughs can be to handle, but accept that it may be a way to get a more open crumb.

On the salt content, I make it that my10g is already 2% (of the total flour weight of 500g). Is that how you are calculating it?

Apologies for not including details of my levain. I use a 2 stage build to create a stiffish levain with white and wholemeal flour @55% hydration (wholemeal content is 25%). Gap between Stage 1 & 2 is 8 hrs and I usually use the levain c.4hrs after the second build when it's at its greatest strength.

   

 

FlourChild's picture
FlourChild

re: hydration, I don't think 68% hydration in a bread dough will give you a loaf that is too wet to handle- yes, it will be somewhat soft and, before it reaches full gluten development it may still be a bit sticky, but it will not be the liquidy mess that, say, an 80% loaf would be.  It will help give you a more open crumb and it will also give a small boost to fermentation, which may also help with flavor.

re: salt, I calculate that you have 500g of flour in your main dough plus another 116 in your levain, so your salt is 10/616 or 1.6%.  Moving that up to 2.0 or even 2.3% will really help bring out more flavor in your bread.

re: autolysing, yes it does work.  A shorter autolyse (1-4 hours are mentioned by others in this thread) can help with flour absorbing water- this will make a wetter dough less sticky and should help address your concerns about working with higher hydration doughs.  However, what I am suggesting is that you try an overnight autolyse in order to allow the malting enzymes in the flour to break down some of the complex carbohydrates into simple sugars.  This will improve both the richness of the crumb flavor and the crust browning, both of which can give a big flavor boost to whiter breads.  

Don't forget about sifting/straining out some of the larger bran flakes in your quest to get a lighter loaf, it only takes a minute or two and taking out the larger bran flakes helps create a more open crumb.  Have to also plug again for a small bit of rye flour to give a different flavor note and add complexity.

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

whole grain and large seed amount that chances of getting a white bread open crumb are just not possible.  This isn't anywhere near a white bread.  I'm with though in that this is as white as I want to got too and bake similar breads all the time when i want white bread.  As FourChild  says, at 62% hydration, you are baking closer to a bagel.  For your recipe with 80 g of seeds I would be at 75% hydration to open up the crumb depending on how thirsty the WW is.

I would also autolyse the whole wheat  for 4 hours and the white flours for 1 hour.  Another thing to do is to put as much of the whole wheat flour in the levain, rather than the dough,  so it will be wet the longest.

Also getting the dough to a higher hydration you can do 10 minutes of slap and folds to make sure the gluten is developed and do 3 sets of S&F's incorporating the seeds on the first one.

Happy baking

carthurjohn's picture
carthurjohn

Thanks, dabrownman. Some interesting ideas here. I think I might struggle to handle a dough at 75% hydration. How would you stop it flowing after the final proof?

Do you think autolysis works? I'm never sure whether it makes much difference when I've tried it before. 

Assume the slap and fold technique is Bertinet's+

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

Once you complete the French slap and folds you will wish you were at 75%.  I personally, after shaping and an hour on the counter in a trash bag, would refrigerate this bread for 16 hours.  It will rise about 50%, maybe more, in the fridge while developing a much better flavor.  When you take it out in the morning just let it rise to 85% probably 1 - 2 hours depending on how it did in the fridge - it will still be cool,  Then unbasket, slash and lower it into the hot DO with a parchment sling.  I would cover and steam for 25 minutes at 450 F and then uncover to finish at 425 F convection if you have it.  It should be done in about 10-15 minutes if around 1,000 g like this is.

It won't spread much if still cool and certainly won't when it hits the hot DO. The more water you put in it the bigger holes you will get.  I think once you get used to developing the gluten with Bertinet's methods you will actually like the higher hydration more than you think - you just need to get used to it.

Sometimes the bread rises over 90% in the fridge and is perfect to bake right out of the cold.  Slashing is a breeze that way and the bread is too cold to spread.  Just add about 5-10 minutes or so to the steaming time to account for the cold dough and longer baking time required.

108 breads's picture
108 breads

I would add a little, maybe a tablespoon, of one kind of seed, so that the seeds do not weigh down the final product. I would also experiment with rye and spelt. A 20 percent rye that you use in the sponge, then just white or white with whole wheat flour, will produce a nice bread - the one tablespoon of caraway seeds is a must. So far, that one is my most popular (but my family and friends include lots of NY natives who enjoy a good rye bread). I also have had nice results with spelt.

A good source for easy, light recipes are the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day folks. Their Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day book has recipes that mix white and whole grain flours. When I have a run of breads do not turn out well, I make one based on their master recipe and get my bread mojo back. They are now releasing their third book.

Their recipes are foolproof and I basically substitute a little starter for their commercial yeast with wonderful results. I do not bother to weigh or do substitution calculations. Their bread doughs are pretty wet and come out very light.

carthurjohn's picture
carthurjohn

Hi 108 breads: Thanks for your suggestions!

I am using different UK flours at the moment: eg T55, T65, Shipton Mill #4.

When you say 'sponge' do you mean putting 20% rye in the final stage levain build?

I don't know the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day stuff. Is that a US thing? I'll have to Google it!

 

 

 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

the shaped loaf into them to coat.  Spread out a flat dishtowel and cover with raw seeds, Spread out another wet and wrung dishtowel next to it. Roll the shaped loaf onto the wet towel first (if needed) and then into the seeds and pull up the sides of the cloth to roll the dough around or just push the dough gently with hands.  Use the cloth to move the loaf to a pan or dust with a little more flour and let it rise supporting the cloth and when risen move to a peel.  That way the heavy seeds are on the outside and work like an exoskeleton to support the rising loaf.  Big flat seeds give great results.  Grain tends to get hard but I like sunflower, pumpkin seeds and nuts the best on the outside of loaves.

carthurjohn's picture
carthurjohn

Any comments / recommendations on the method I posted?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

spending a few days to do so, you will see a big improvement in the crumb and with less sour.  

108 breads's picture
108 breads

Yes, I put the rye in the levain build. I called it a sponge, but I have seen it referred to with various terms. Bread Making by Laura Chattman gives a good rundown on the different types of preferments (sponge, biga, poolish, etc.).

The Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day series of books (of which I have only read the second and the third is due out soon) also has a blog and a twitter feed, though tweets are mostly about dessert stuff. I am reading lots of bread books right now and writing reviews. Those reviews are from my perspective as a beginner.

Snigglefritz's picture
Snigglefritz

675 g white bread flour

2 c water

1 1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp starter

Dissolve salt in water. Stir in starter.

Set at room temp. for 48 hours or until it rises which is sometimes much sooner depending upon temp.

Shape loaf or just dump into loaf pan.

Place loaf pan in covered roasting pan (vent hole open) on rack (one cup of water in bottom of roaster) to rise.

Bake in 375 degree oven in covered roasting pan for 45 mins. or so.

Remove bread from roasting pan and continue baking in oven until crust browns and bread tests done.

 

 

Snigglefritz's picture
Snigglefritz

after "dissolve salt in water. Stir in starter." ...stir in all the flour.

carthurjohn's picture
carthurjohn

Thanks for posting your recipe.

Gosh, that's one long bulk proof! What's the flavour / crumb like? I would think the taste would be very sour with that length of fermentation.

Snigglefritz's picture
Snigglefritz

One would think it would be quite sour but it's actually quite mild in flavor. I have been trying for a long time to get a stronger flavor out of this bread.

The crumb is fairly tight. Steaming in the roaster gives the crust a nice crispy glaze. Makes delicious toast, french toast and sandwiches.

 

108 breads's picture
108 breads

Wow, that recipe looks very easy. Am I missing something? Should I knead or do some stretch and folds?

Snigglefritz's picture
Snigglefritz

I've done it with and without kneading. A little kneading and stretch and folding would probably be optimal.

Nickisafoodie's picture
Nickisafoodie

In addition to increasing the hydration and other recommendations above, get two themometers:

1) an oven themometer to make sure your oven is calibrated correctly, can be off as much as 50° either way and can be calibrated back to correct temp (whether old school with pilot, or modern with electronic touch pad - Google your model and "oven temp adjustment" if in fact you are off and need instructions - cost of themometer is only a few dollars

2) buy a second one with a probe attached to a longer 3' cord, which will allow you to stick the probe into the center of your loaf, and with the cord sticking out, you can easily shut the oven door and attach to the themometer will sound an alarm when the temp you set (use 201°) is reached.  Remove bread when center is 201°F.  Cost is $16-20, well worth it to ensure you are not over baking.  Useful for roasts too to ensure proper cook time...

Good Luck!