Some practice loaves
I've been sticking to a couple of formulas recently, to practice and attempt to improve my baking while keeping most variables the same. I decided on the Tartine country loaf as one, because I wanted to have a substantial sourdough boule in my repertoire, as well as Txfarmer's practice baguette, because being able to make a simple yeasted baguette was my goal when I started baking (after having first gotten into pizza - incidentally my pizzas have gotten much better as I've learnt more about bread and dough). I've made baguettes and Tartine bread before, but I wanted to go back to basics for a while, and focus my efforts.
My first bake was the baguettes - Txfarmer's beautiful loaves and excellent outline of the process inspired me. I followed her instructions very closely, though I extended bulk fermentation a little because the dough hadn't risen quite as much as I wanted. I tried her folding method, but in the end decided I preferred folding in the bowl.
When shaping, I decided to try to degas as little as possible and handle the dough very gently. It was quite sticky and very slack, to the point where I had to be careful not to let them extend too much (and end up longer than my baking stone). Next time I may reduce the hydration or develop the gluten more. But I got the job done.
Since there were 4 baguettes, I baked two at a time. I decided not to proof the first batch at all, because they already felt delicate and full of air, and because it was an interesting experiment. They didn't turn out badly:
The second batch proofed about 45 minutes, and also turned out well:
The second batch did have a darker crust and slightly better oven spring, but I'm not sure how much of that is down to the oven (which is a bit unreliable when baking without the fan and with steam). In any case, I was really just interested in the crumb for this first bake. And I was quite pleased with it, though there's certainly room for improvement. Keeping my oven evenly hot and maintaining the appropriate amount of steam is a bit tricky, which is why I prefer Dutch oven baking. Less variables to consider.
Then I starter baking some of the Tartine bread, in batches of two boules. First attempt, I followed the instructions pretty much to the letter. One loaf was baked straight away, the other proofed in the fridge overnight. The flavour of these was good, with a nice mild acidity. Primarily though I want to get the texture of the crust and crumb suited to my liking, and if necessary tweak the flavour later when I'm more comfortable with the process. First loaf turned out well:
Overnight loaf got a bit stuck to the banneton and ended up lopsided, as you can tell from the pattern. I think it may have been slightly underproofed.
A few days later, I made a new batch, again following the formula closely but looking to get more practice at shaping and proofing in particular. First loaf looked beautiful with a nice crust, and not a bad crumb either:
In some parts of the loaf there were some excessively large caverns in the crumb. I often get these towards the sides of my boules, not just with this particular formula, so there must be some defect in my shaping. What often happens is the middle of the loaf in relatively dense and even, while the outer edges are full of big air pockets and stretched-to-breaking-point gluten strands. I note that at no point during shaping does Chad Robertson advise to degas the dough - quite the opposite in fact.
I allowed the overnight loaf to proof at room temp for 45 min or so before retarding, due to the previous one seemingly being underproofed, but this one was perhaps worse. I think the fridge I use is just too cold for this purpose - an infrared thermometer told me the dough was about 6-7c. It looked barely different from when I put it in the night before. Also noticeable on both this and the previous overnight loaf is that the colours of the crust have a less vibrant contrast compared to the straight-baked loaves. The crumb was noticeably denser, though not terrible.
Most recently, I baked a third batch of Tartine bread. However, I decided to do a little experiment by using the slap and fold technique to develop the gluten more thoroughly before the bulk ferment. I was curious whether this would lead to a stronger gluten network better able to hold onto the cell structure of the dough for a nice open and irregular crumb. The dough was quite rough and sticky, but I worked it for maybe 7-10 minutes until the surface started to look somewhat smooth rather than a shaggy mess. I then proceeded as usual. It may have been a fluke, but I ended up with a gorgeous crumb. I think I proofed it for about 2 hours rather than 3-4 as per the formula, because the poke test resulted in indentations that bounced slowly back about halfway.
That is pretty much my ideal crumb - open and irregular but no huge caverns. Lots of small but distinct air cells in between medium-sized holes. Some parts of the bread still had some big gaps with torn gluten strands, but hopefully I can work towards eliminating these in future:
For the overnight loaf, I reduced the fridge setting so it was slightly warmer, about 9c. The loaf turned out quite well - it was better risen by morning, though the crumb was a little less open than the straight loaf. But it was still light and airy, with just the right amount of chewiness. Crust colours were better too, I think.
No big gaps, which is interesting because I shaped both loaves in the same way. Not sure what to conclude from this. It tasted good for sure.
That's all for now, though I plan to continue with these breads for a while. I wish uploading pictures was easier, doing all those one at a time is a bit of a chore. But it's nice to have some evidence of progress to look back on.
Happy baking everyone.