The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

couche

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sergio83's picture
sergio83

Hi All,


I tried again with the baguettes.  This time I used 1.25 cups of flour and .5 cup of water, 1/4 teaspoon of active dry yeast (i bought the glass jar in spite of some of ya'll's advice so i'll be using it for a while.) and 1/4 teaspoon of salt (i should've used more salt)...


So, does it count as an autolyzing if I've already added the yeast and the salt? Since i've got the active dry stuff i have to soak it first and since i'm using so little water i don't have enough to divide it.


Anyway, the dough was a lot firmer than I'm used to and I'm thinking I might try an extra .25 cup of water to see what happens.  I transferred the shaped baguette onto a hot cookie sheet and that seems to have helped with oven spring.  This time the shaping was a lot better-- I took occidental's advice and dusted the flour with a sifter and that combined with how the dough was a lot more dry than what I've been using so I managed to shape a pretty pretty loaf.



My knife obviously isn't cutting it ;) when it comes to scoring.  I went to the local wal-mart to look for straight razors (is that what they're called... oops, double edged razors) well, the saleslady looked at me like i was crazy.  I also went to the hardware store to find drop canvas-- more on that in a bit-- and some quarry stones.  All the tiles they had were glazed.  There's this place down the road that has a lot of rocks and stuff so maybe they'll have some.


The bread came out a bit darker than I like and i'm not too crazy about the taste of it.  Also it's missing some salt... actually, i've got some more dough in the fridge, let me go add salt to that now...


I'll let you all know what happens when you add salt 10 hours into a cold fermentation/rising.


Here's the crumb




The bread came out sort of dry but that may have been because i tried baking at 500 for the first 10 minutes-- i won't try that again...


I don't reckon I'll count this as a victory-- except for the shaping; it's the best shaping i've been able to manage so far...


I think i put too much salt in the dough for next time... it'll be a half teaspoon for ~1.25 cups of flour.


anyway, regarding couches-- i went to the hardware store and got canvas drop cloth.  It says it's heavy-duty tight cotton weave, absorbent, washable and reusable, 8.oz. 4'x5' finished size



sorry about it being sideways... and here's as good a closeup of the weave as i could get with my camera



It's still in the plastic in case i've made a terrible mistake I can return it.


Does anyone know whether it'll work or not?  By the way, I need to wash it (with bleach as well as detergent?) then once it's dry rub flour into the weave?  is that how one turns it into a couche?

proth5's picture
proth5

 On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of "Good Eats" I've decide to get my "nerd on" and offer a detailed explanation for a small detail.


 From time to time I read discussions on couches and couche care on these pages and I encounter what I will call "folklore" about the fibers and  fabric care.


I will not wade too deeply into the various controversies, but I do have some small expertise on fibers and fabric care and would really like to share it for those who desire a more complete understanding of this fascinating topic.


 Let's start with linen.  Linen is a bast fiber (other common bast fibers are jute, hemp, and ramie) which means that it comes from the center stalk of a plant.  In the case of linen, it comes from the center stalk of the flax plant.  The fibers that are known as flax before they are spun and linen after they are spun are the long fibrous strands found between the outer "bark" and inner core of the flax plant.  Although the flax plant obligingly provides us with seeds for use in our baking as well as fiber, the culture is different between those plants destined mostly for fiber and those destined mostly for seed.  Plants to be grown for fiber are planted close together so that the plant will grow tall and straight with little branching and fewer flowers.  Plants grown for seed are planted further apart so that they will branch and produce more flowers.  Additionally, different varieties of flax are cultivated commercially for these purposes and to achieve these ends, so while it is a romantic notion to think that the very same plant gives us linen for our couche and seeds for our bread, it is a just a bit invalid here in the early days of the 21st century.


 Because it is a bast fiber, linen is extremely strong.  Also bast fibers do not have any crimp (like a lock of wool or a cotton fiber) and so will not shrink.


 Because of the expense of producing cotton (more later) and its limited growing range, linen was the most commonly used fiber in Europe until the end of the 18th century and continued to be widely used until the invention of the cotton gin.


Flax becomes linen in a multi step process.  After the plant has reached maturity, it is harvested - preferably by pulling it from the ground root and all to maximize the length of the fiber.  It is dried, the seed pods removed, and then retted.  Retting is a process where the flax is kept wet - either by submerging it in water or keeping it on a moist surface (like the dew on grass) until the outer layer partially decomposes exposing the fibers.  Once again it is dried.  The next step is breaking where the outer layer is further broken mechanically.  Scutching comes next - where a knife like device is used to further scrape the outer layer from the fibers.  At this point the fibers are mostly clean, but they are further cleaned and straightened by a process known as hackling.  A flax hackle looks something like a medieval torture device and is a board from which protrude number of sharp iron spikes.  The hackling process will produce long fibers that will be spun into fine linen and short yellow fibers called "tow."  When we look at a blonde child and call her a "tow head" we are comparing the color and texture of her hair to the color and texture of the tow produced by this process.  Tow can also be spun, but it will not be as smooth as fine linen.  After all this, the fibers are spun (after mounting them on a distaff) (oh, and they are usually spun wet to give the smoothest results) and become linen.  This can either be bleached (by the action of chemicals or the sun) or left natural.  Then it is woven and there is one more chance to bleach it. 


 After all it has gone through to become cloth; one really must ponder why we have come to think of this fiber as "delicate."  Yes, it can be finely spun to produce a very fine fabric, but this is a tough fiber indeed.


 I have planted and tended flax, processed it and spun it into linen.  This is one of the reasons why $9 per yard for couche linen does not cause me to flinch.  While I understand that people's economic situations and propensity to spend vary, I consider the number of steps to create that cloth and I can't begrudge anyone the money.


One characteristic of linen is that it absorbs and evaporates moisture quickly.  This makes it particularly suited for use as a couche, since in theory one of the functions of the couche is to pull moisture from the surface of the bread to prepare it for better scoring.  This also means that once a linen couche is used and has absorbed some moisture, it will dry more quickly and so prevent mold.


 New linen couche cloth needs to be washed to rid it of any chemicals used in finishing.  It will ravel somewhat, but well woven linen couche cloth will not ravel excessively.  It can be washed in hot water simply to get it as clean as possible.  There is no need to use hot water to shrink it (for, as mentioned before, it can not shrink).  Mild soap should be used for fine or antique linens, but for a couche as long as you feel good about it rinsing out of the cloth, the linen does just fine with any modern detergent (I routinely launder my linen aprons in regular detergent and they are holding up just fine...).  This being the one of the sturdiest fibers there is (consider that sails were made of linen) there is no need for a gentle cycle for couche cloth.  (Again, fine or antique linens are another diverting topic in and of themselves and are treated differently.)  Linen couche cloth can safely be dried in an automatic dryer.  (Actually, the dryer is the biggest enemy of linen (and cotton) - not because of the heat, but because the tumbling action will cause friction on the fabric and pull off parts of the fiber which we experience as dryer lint.  However, since the couche will not be washed often - have no fear.)  Fabric softeners (liquids or dryer sheets) should not be used as they impact the absorption qualities of the fiber (this also goes for cotton.)  (Won't get involved in the whole "toxic chemicals" debate.)  It might be slightly puckered after washing and drying (and again, this is wrinkling, not shrinkage) but since this is the one and only time you should be washing it, any raveled threads can be trimmed and the cloth is ready.  No need to hem or serge it.  If you wish to iron it, it should be ironed when quite damp.


 Linen contains a wax that when exposed to the heat of an iron will provide the fabric with a luster.  We hardly care about this in our couches, but when dealing with fine linen cloth it is best to iron it on both sides to maximize the luster.


 Cotton requires a warm climate and a long growing season to reach maturity.  When picked from the plant, the cotton contains about 2/3 seeds to 1/3 fiber.  Prior to the invention of the cotton gin, these seeds needed to be picked out by hand or by putting each cotton tuft through a couple of rollers to squeeze out the seeds (either one a labor intensive process.)  When the cotton is dried after harvest, the fiber dries into a flat ribbon shape that corkscrews.  This is the crimp that will cause cotton to shrink.  It also gives cotton more elasticity than linen, so it is less prone to wrinkles.


 Because cotton fibers are relatively short (different varieties of cotton have different fiber lengths, but they are all considered short in relation to wool - and of course linen where the fibers may be 2-3 feet in length), they require a great deal of twist when spinning.  Although cotton is easy to spin, putting in a lot of twist causes spinning to be relatively slow.  In an environment of hand spinning or limited mechanical spinning, cotton is a luxury fiber.  Most folks who live in the US are familiar with the role that the cotton gin played in the American South and how ensuing events lead to conflict.


 I have also planted, grown, harvested, cleaned, and spun my own cotton.  It seems like it should be less effort than processing flax, but harvesting is kind of grueling (yes, the cotton pods are sharp!), and picking out the seeds - although simple - is pretty time consuming.  Also, I could grow flax in Colorado and not cotton.  And I like it here...  In fact, it is this limited growing range that created an important cotton trade.  Flax, on the other hand, was readily grown in many climates and never reached this kind of economic importance.


 Cotton does not have the wicking power of linen so will take longer to dry and "in theory" will not perform as well as linen to pull moisture from dough.  I won't weigh in on the cotton vs. linen couche decision except to say that I like the feel of linen as opposed to cotton.  I like touching it and I try to use it when I can.  (A linen bath towel dries like nothing else, by the way.)  Obsessive perfectionists might want to blow the money to get the absolute perfect fabric for the application (and it is.)  If we look backwards to "the old ways" - especially old European ways - linen would be the fabric of choice as cotton would have been too rare and expensive.  But cotton is just fine.


 Once again, a well woven cotton couche will ravel when washed (and it should be washed to remove finishing chemicals), but not so much as to be a problem.  Since this should be the one and only time the couche is washed, these threads can be trimmed and will not be a problem again.  No need to hem, serge, etc. unless even the smallest amount of raveling (in the past) is something you simply cannot tolerate.  Similarly, since the couche will not be washed again, washing it in hot water will cause it to shrink a bit, but there is really no need to shrink it.  Most cotton that is commercially available has already gone through enough processing so that any major shrinkage has already occurred.


 No matter what fabric you use, the couche should be dry before storage, or stored in such a way that it will dry quickly in storage.  Those of us in dry climates can be a bit careless, while those in humid climates might wish to find a spot to hang couches until they are dry.  Folding any fabric will result - over time - in permanent creases and will eventually cause weak spots in the fabric along those crease lines.  "Over time" is sort of a relative thing.  For a couche which we might be using for ten or twenty years and will not be passed down to the children and grandchildren, this should not be a concern.  Creases will develop, but they will not substantially reduce the functionality of the couche.  For treasured quilts or tablecloths, many experts recommend that they be rolled, or if that is not practical that folds be padded with acid free tissue paper and that periodically they be re folded in a different way.  Personally I can roll my couche and so I do.


 Yes, it's a long winded post with no pictures and I realize that it will fade away as more blogs are created, but I've really done my homework on this and attempted to present facts as opposed to folklore.  Hope it is useful and dispels some myths.

tgw1962_slo's picture

Daniel's Rustic Bread testimonials?

January 13, 2009 - 10:03pm -- tgw1962_slo
Forums: 

Hello,


I couldn't really find an appropriate area to post this, so I'm hoping it will be ok here.


I'm wondering if anyone here has ever purchased anything from danielsrusticbread.com


What was your experience? Were you happy with your purchase?


They have a good price on a baguette couche and I'm considering placing an order with them but wonder if they're a reputable company.


Any feedback is appreciated. Thanks.


 


Tory

Eli's picture

Couche Question

April 15, 2008 - 2:08pm -- Eli
Forums: 

I proofed two batards last night in the refrigerator on a couche (homemade, I purchased duck cloth and hemmed the edges, foured it and keep it in a plastic bag with two cups of flour. I roll it around every now and then to keep it floured. Anyway, for the first time the loaves stuck to it like super glu. I managed to take a razor and gently peel them off. I will post pix later. I then took the razor and gently scraped off the stuck dough. Question (hours later) should I shake it out and then wash and try to re-flour or just reflour and leave it alone.

Thanks,

Eli

dwg302's picture

Baker's couche

August 21, 2007 - 12:53pm -- dwg302

hi,

i've ordered a baker's couche from KA and am wondering if anyone can give some pointers about transferring the loaf onto parchment paper after it has risen.    i'm assuming it rises with the seam side up and that you roll it onto the parchment paper in order to bake it.   but it sounds clumsy to do and would love any pointers or advice from people who do this alot and what works good for them.   thanks,

david

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