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GSnyde's picture
GSnyde

SF Country Sourdough – My Best Ever…Not Sure Why

They say everything happens for a reason, and I believe them.  But I can’t always identify the reasons some things happen.  Why was this bake of the San Francisco Country Sourdough (my version of pain de campagne) the best ever?   This was probably the 7th or 8th time I’ve baked it, but this one had that je-ne-sais-what like my best bakes of Tartine BCB and last week’s bake of Hamelman’s pain au levain.  Beautifully caramelized, golden brown, crispy crust; moist, airy-but-substantial crumb, with nicely gelatinized membranes; complex wheaty flavor with a hint of rye.

I guess I should compare this to other bakes of the same formula.

Here’s what was the same:

  • The ingredients and the basic technique (described below).

Here’s what might have been different:

  • My starter was very active (after last week’s near-death experience).
  • Both the primary ferment (3 ¼ hours) and the proof (2 ¼ hours) were on the long side.
  • My handling/shaping skills are improving, and I got a nice taut sheath.
  • I made a recipe-and-a-half so I could cold retard one loaf’s worth to bake tomorrow for some friends.

Whatever factor(s) made the difference, I hope I can do it again.

And excellent with some early Autumn barbecue.

San Francisco Country Sourdough (Sourdough Pain de Campagne) version 10-8-11

Yield: Two 750g Loaves; or Three Mini-Baguettes (235g each) and one 800g Loaf; or One 1000g loaf and two 250g baguettes; 0r Three 500 gram loaves; or…   

Ingredients

LIQUID-LEVAIN BUILD

100 grams   AP flour

24 grams  Whole Wheat flour

12 grams  Whole rye flour

170 grams   Water, cool (60 F or so)

28     Mature culture (75% hydration)

FINAL DOUGH (67% hydration, including levain)

640 grams   All-Purpose flour (83%)*

85 grams  Whole wheat flour (11%)**

45 grams   Whole rye flour (6%)

435 grams   Warm water (80 F or so) (56%)

17 grams   Salt (2%)

306     Liquid levain  (48%)   

* used CM Artisan Baker’s Craft (malted)

** used CM Organic Hi-protein fine whole wheat

Directions

1. LIQUID LEVAIN:  Make the final build 12 to 15 hours before the final mix, and let stand in a covered container at about 70°F

2. MIXING: Add all the ingredients to the mixing bowl, including the levain, but not the salt. Mix just until the ingredients are incorporated into a shaggy mass. Correct the hydration as necessary.  Cover the bowl and let stand for an autolyse phase of 30 to 60 minutes. At the end of the autolyse, sprinkle the salt over the surface of the dough, and finish mixing 5 minutes. The dough should have a medium consistency. 

3. BULK FERMENTATION WITH S&F:  3 hours. Stretch and fold the dough in the bowl twice 20-strokes at 45-minute intervals.  Place dough ball in lightly oiled bowl, and stretch and fold on lightly floured board at 45 minutes.  If the dough has not increased in size by 75% or so, let it go a bit longer.

4. RETARDED BULK FERMENTATION (optional):  After second S&F on board, form dough into ball and then place again in lightly oiled bowl.  Refrigerate 8-20 hours, depending on sourness desired and scheduling convenience.

5. DIVIDING AND SHAPING: [Note: if bulk retarded, let dough come to room temperature for 30-90 minutes before pre-shaping.]  Divide the dough into pieces and pre-shape.  Let sit on board for 30-45 minutes, and then shape into boules or batards or baguettes.

6. PROOFING: Approximately 1.5 to 2.5 hours at 72° F. Ready when poke test dictates.  Pre-heat oven to 500 with steam apparatus in place.

7. BAKING: Slash loaves.  Bake with steam, on stone.  Turn oven to 450 °F after it hits 500F after loading loaves.  Remove steaming apparatus after 12 minutes (10 for baguettes). Bake for 35 to 40 minutes total (for 750g loaves; less for smaller loaves).   Rotate loaves for evenness as necessary.  When done (205 F internal temp), leave loaves on stone with oven door ajar 10 minutes.

Happy baking!

Glenn

Submitted to http://www.wildyeastblog.com/category/yeastspotting/

 

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Walnut Raisin Sourdough Bread from SFBI Artisan II


 


 


Most of the breads we baked in the Artisan II workshop at the San Francisco Baking Institute (SFBI) are found in Michel Suas' “Advanced Bread & Pastry” (AB&P) textbook. A couple of the breads I and the other students enjoyed the most are not, and one of them was a delicious Walnut Raisin bread made with a firm levain and a small amount of instant yeast.


The following is my scaled down version which made two loaves of 563 gms each. (The 26 g by which the dough exceeded the ingredient weights must be due to water absorbed by the raisins.) I incorporated an autolyse in the procedure which we did not use at the SFBI.


 


Total Formula

 

 

Ingredients

Baker's %

Wt (g)

KAF AP flour

71.57

383

KAF Whole Wheat flour

19.77

106

BRM Dark Rye flour

8.66

46

Water

67.62

362

Walnuts (toasted)

15.81

85

Raisins (soaked)

19.77

106

Salt

2.13

11

Total

206.41

1100

 

Levain

 

 

Ingredients

Baker's %

Wt (g)

KAF AP flour

95

77

BRM Dark Rye flour

5

4

Water

50

40

Stiff Starter

60

48

Total

210

169

  1. Mix all ingredients until well incorporated.

  2. Ferment 12 hrs at room temperature.

     

Final Dough

 

 

Ingredients

Baker's %

Wt (g)

KAF AP flour

65

275

KAF Whole Wheat flour

25

106

BRM Dark Rye flour

10

42

Water

72

305

Yeast (dry instant)

0.1

0.4

Walnuts (toasted)

25

85

Raisins (soaked)

20

106

Salt

2.7

11

Levain

40

169

Total

259.8

1100

Procedure

  1. Mix the flours and the water to a shaggy mass. Cover tightly and autolyse for 20-60 minutes.

  2. Toast the walnuts, broken into large pieces, for 15 minutes at 325ºF. (Can be done ahead of time)

  3. Soak the raisins in cold water. (Can be done ahead of time)

  4. Add the salt and the levain and mix at Speed 1 until well incorporated (about 2 minutes).

  5. Mix at Speed 2 to moderate gluten development (about 8 minutes).

  6. Add the nuts and raisins (well-drained) and mix at Speed 1 until they are well-distributed in the dough.

  7. Transfer to a lightly floured board and knead/fold a few times if necessary to better distribute the nuts and raisins.

  8. Round up the dough and transfer to a lightly oiled bowl. Cover tightly.

  9. Ferment for 2 hours at 80ºF.

  10. Divide the dough into two equal pieces. Pre-shape as boules. Let the pieces relax for 20-30 minutes, covered.

  11. Shape as bâtards or boules and place, seam side up. In bannetons or en couche. Cover well.

  12. Proof for 1.5 to 2 hours.

  13. An hour before baking, pre-heat oven to 500ºF with baking stone and steaming apparatus in place.

  14. Transfer the loaves to a peel. Score them. Transfer to the baking stone.

  15. Turn the oven down to 450ºF and bake for 15 minutes with steam, then another 15 minutes in a dry oven. (Boules may take a few more minutes to bake than bâtards.)

  16. When the loaves are done, turn off the oven but leave the loaves on the baking stone with the oven door ajar for another 8-10 minutes.

  17. Transfer the loaves to a cooling rack.

  18. Cool completely before slicing.

Notes

Because of the water in the soaked raisins, The dough was wetter than expected from the 67% hydration given for the total dough. It felt more like a 70-72% hydration dough.

The crust was thinner and got soft faster with this bake than that done in the deck oven at SFBI. I might try baking at 460ºF and also leaving the loaves in the turned off oven for longer. Perhaps a shorter period baking with steam would help get the crunchier crust I would like with this bread.

This bread has a delicious flavor which is exceptionally well-balance between the grains, nuts and raisins. There is a very mild sourdough tang. Definitely a bread I'll be baking frequently.

David

Submitted to YeastSpotting

 

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

San Joaquin Sourdough

The "San Joaquin Sourdough" is my own recipe. It evolved through multiple iterations from Anis Bouabsa's formula for baguettes. Most of my deviations developed in discussion here on TFL with Janedo, who first suggested adding sourdough starter and rye, and, then, leaving out the baker's yeast and making it as a "pure" pain au levain.



I got a pretty nice ear and grigne on this one.



 


 


Ingredients

 

Active starter (67% hydration)

100 gms

KAF European Artisan-style flour

450 gms

Giusto's whole rye flour

50 gms

Water

370 gms

Salt

10 gms

Note: Whole Wheat flour or White Whole Wheat flour may be substituted for the Whole Rye. Each results in a noticeable difference in flavor. All are good, but you may find you prefer one over the others.

 

Procedures

 

Mixing

In a large bowl, mix the active starter with the water to dissolve it. Add the flours and stir to form a shaggy mass. Cover tightly and let rest (autolyse) for 30 minutes.

Sprinkle the salt over the dough. Using the plastic scraper, stretch and fold the dough 30 times, rotating the bowl 1/5 turn between each stroke. Cover tightly. Repeat this stretch and fold procedure 3 times more at 30 minute intervals. 

 

Fermentation

After the last series of stretches and folds, scape the dough into a lightly oiled 2 quart/2 liter container and cover tightly. (I use a 2 quart glass measuring pitcher with a tightly fitting plastic lid manufactured by Anchor Glass.) Ferment at room temperature for an hour, then place in the refrigerator and leave it there for 21 hours. (In this time, my dough doubles in volume and is full of bubbles. YMMV.)

 

Dividing and Shaping

Take the dough out of the refrigerator and scrape it gently onto a lightly floured work surface. Gently pat it into a rectangle. Divide as desired or leave in one piece to make a 980 gm loaf. To pre-shape for a bâtard, fold the near edge up just past the center of the dough and seal the edge by gently pressing the two layers together with the ulnar (little finger) edge of your hand or the heel of your hand, whichever works best for you. Then, bring the far edge of the dough gently just over the sealed edge and seal the new seam as described.

Cover the dough with plastic wrap and/or a kitchen towel and let it rest for 30-60 minutes, with the seams facing up. (The time will depend on ambient temperature and how active your starter is. The dough should have risen slightly, but not much.)

To shape a bâtard, fold the near edge of the dough and seal the edge, as before. Now, take the far edge of the dough and bring it towards you all the way to the work surface and seal the seam with the heel of your hand. Rotate the loaf gently toward you 1/4 turn so the last seam you formed is against the work surface and roll the loaf back and forth, with minimal downward pressure, to further seal the seam. Then, with the palms of both hands resting softly on the loaf, roll it back and forth to shape a bâtard. Start with both hands in the middle of the loaf and move them outward as you roll the loaf, slightly increasing the pressure as you move outward, so the bâtard ends up with the middle highest and the ends pointed .

 

Preheating the oven

One hour before baking, place a baking stone on the middle rack and both a cast iron skillet (Mine is filled with lava rocks.) and a metal loaf pan (or equivalent receptacles of your choosing) on the bottom shelf. Heat the oven to 500F. Put a kettle of water to boil 10 minutes before baking.

 

Proofing

After shaping the loaf, transfer it to parchment paper liberally dusted with semolina or a linen couche, liberally dusted with flour. Cover the loaf with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel or a fold of the linen. Proof until the loaf has expanded to about 1-1/2 times it's original size. (30-45 minutes) Do not over-proof, if you want good oven-spring and bloom!

 

Baking

Put about a cup full of ice cubes in the loaf pan on the bottom shelf of the oven and close the door.

Slip a peel or cookie sheet under the parchment paper holding the loaf or transfer to a peel, if you used a couche. Score the loaf. (For a bâtard, hold the blade at about a 30 degree angle to the surface of the loaf. Make one swift end-to-end cut, about 1/2 inch deep.)

Transfer the loaf and parchment paper to the baking stone, pour one cup of boiling water into the skillet, and close the oven door. Turn the oven down to 460F.

After 12-15 minutes, remove the loaf pan and the skillet from the oven. Rotate the loaf 180 degrees, if it is browning unevenly. Close the oven door.

Bake for another 12-15 minutes, then remove the loaf and place on a cooling rack. Check for doneness. (Nice crust color. Internal temperature of at least 205F. Hollow sound when you thump the bottom of the loaf.) If necessary, return to loaf to the oven to bake longer.

When the loaf is done, leave it on the baking stone with the oven turned off and the door ajar for 5-10 minutes to dry and crisp up the crust.

 

Cooling

Cool on a rack for two hours before slicing.

Enjoy!

David

 

Submitted to Wild Yeast Spotting on Wildyeastblog

Sourdough Starters

(These instructions have been adapted from a posting at thefreshloaf.com by Sourdolady.)

Procedure for Making Sourdough Starter

Day 1: mix...
2 T. whole grain flour (rye and/or wheat)
1 T. unsweetened pineapple juice or orange juice
Cover and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours.

Day 2: add...
2 T. whole grain flour
1 T. juice
Stir well, cover and let sit at room temperature 24 hours. At day 2 you may (or may not) start to see some small bubbles.

Day 3: add...
2 T. whole grain flour
1 T. juice
Stir well, cover and let sit at room temperature 24 hours.

Day 4:
Stir down, measure out 1/4 cup and discard the rest.
To the 1/4 cup add...
1/4 cup flour*
2 Tbs water

*You can feed the starter whatever type of flour you want at this point (unbleached white, whole wheat, rye). If you are new to sourdough, a white starter is probably the best choice. Unbleached all-purpose flour is fine.

Repeat Day 4:
Once daily until the mixture starts to expand and smell yeasty. It is not unusual for the mixture to get very bubbly around Day 3 or 4 and then go completely flat and appear dead. If the mixture does not start to grow again by Day 6, add 1/4 tsp. apple cider vinegar with the daily feeding. This will lower the pH level a bit more and it should kill off competitors to the yeast, allowing them to thrive.

How it Works
The yeast we are trying to cultivate will only become active when the environment is right. When you mix flour and water together, you end up with a mixture that is close to neutral in pH, and our yeasties need it a bit more on the acid side. This is why we are using the acidic fruit juice. There are other microbes in the flour that prefer a more neutral pH, and so they are the first to wake up and grow. Some will produce acids as by-products. That helps to lower the pH to the point that they can no longer grow, until the environment is just right for wild yeast to activate. The length of time it takes for this to happen varies.

When using just flour and water, many nascent starters will grow a gas-producing bacteria that slows down the process. It can raise the starter to three times its volume in a relatively short time. Don't worry--it is harmless. It is a bacterium sometimes used in other food fermentations like cheeses, and it is in the environment, including wheat fields and flours. It does not grow at a low pH, and the fruit juices keep the pH low enough to stop it from growing. Things will still progress, but this is the point at which people get frustrated and quit, because the gassy bacteria stop growing. It will appear that the "yeast" died on you, when in fact, you haven't begun to grow yeast yet. When the pH drops below 3.5--4 or so, the yeast will activate, begin to grow, and the starter will expand again. You just need to keep it fed and cared for until then.


Once your wild yeast is growing, the character and flavor will improve if you continue to give it daily feedings and keep it at room temperature for a couple of weeks longer.


After that time, it should be kept in the refrigerator between uses/feedings. Every week or so, take it out of the fridge, feed it by retaining only ¼ cup of starter and then feed it ¼ cup flour and 2 Tbs water.

Section II: Bread Basics

You can jump right in and start baking without knowing much about the ingredients or how the process works, but if you'll take the time to learn a little bit about the baking process you'll find baking to be much more rewarding.  You'll also be equipped to modify recipes to fit your taste if you first understand how those modifications will change the results.

zolablue's picture
zolablue

Sourdough Challah (photos & recipe)

I baked my first challah last Thursday and wanted to share.

I was unsure what to expect but it was so much fun. I’d been meaning for some time to bake a recipe from Maggie Glezer’s book, A Blessing of Bread, which is a wonderful compilation of traditional Jewish recipes from around the world. Floyd has written a very nice review of the book here.

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/bookreviews/ablessingofbread

I decided to start with Glezer’s own personal recipe for sourdough challah. I love making sourdough and was interested to see what the texture of this bread would be compared to a yeasted challah which I have eaten only a couple times.

The recipe seemed easy to me despite the fact Glezer calls it expert. I’m not sure why but, again, I’m new to challah. The dough was so easy to mix together and then, as Glezer puts it, the time involved is mostly waiting after that.

She says to bake it to a dark brown which I did. I’m not sure if it is considered too dark or not but it was really a beautiful color and I do typically bake my bread darker as she instructs in Artisan Baking.

The crumb was amazing to me. It was very creamy and soft and almost reminded me of an angel food cake. It has remained moist to this day (5 days later) as there are only two of us to eat and can’t quite get rid of all the bread I bake. I am going to cut very thick slices of what is remaining to freeze and later use to make French toast.

I decided for my maiden voyage into challah bread I would make an elaborate braid. I used the six-strand braid version and got a lot of help from the video Glezer did showing how to do it. Gosh, the internet is awesome! Just as she said it makes a beautiful, very high loaf.

Braiding ChallahFine Cooking Video, Maggie Glezer

http://www.taunton.com/finecooking/videos/braiding-challah.aspx?

I’m posting the recipe so those of you who are new to challah as I am can have a chance to make it and perhaps will be inspired to buy this lovely book. For those who have made challah for years I’d love it if you tried the recipe and let me know your thoughts on it compared the some of your favorite traditional recipes.

More of my photos can be seen here:

http://zolablue.smugmug.com/gallery/3500289#197395950

Thank you to each and every one of you on this site that have been such inspirations in baking such as Floyd, Bill Wraith, Susanfnp, Mountaindog, JMonkey, Browndog, Bluezebra, Eric, SDBaker, Mini Oven, Dolf, Qahtan, Zainab and so many others. All you wonderful bakers have helped me incredibly along the way over the past few months that I have been baking so many thanks to all.

My Sourdough Challah - Maggie Glezer's personal recipe from her book, A Blessing of Bread

Sweet sourdough breads are delicious and well worth the time (which is mainly waiting time) if you are a sourdough baker. The sourdough adds a subtle tang to my challah, and the crumb has a moister, creamier texture that keeps even longer than the yeasted version. While it’s true that challah or, for that matter, all bread was at one time sourdough (the Hebrew word for leaven, chametz, means “sour”), challahs have definitely gotten sweeter and richer since the introduction of commercial yeast. To convert such recipes back to 100 percent sourdough, the sugar has to be cut back in order for the dough to rise in a reasonable length of time (sugar that is more than 12 percent of the flour weight inhibits fermentation), so this version will taste slightly less sweet than the yeasted one, a deficit completely overridden by the rich complexity of the sourdough. I have also changed the all-purpose flour to bread flour, which has more gluten, to counteract the starter’s propensity to loosen the gluten (the acids in the starter change the proteins, a natural part of sourdough baking).

Skill Level: Expert

Time: About 20 hours (about 8 1/2 hours on baking day)

Makes: Two 1-pound (450-gram) challahs, one 1 1/2-pound (680-gram) challah plus three rolls, or sixteen 2-ounce (60-gram) rolls

Recipe synopsis: Make the sourdough starter and let if ferment overnight for 12 hours. The next day, mix the dough and let it ferment for 2 hours. Shape the dough and let it proof for 5 hours. Bake the breads for 15 to 40 minutes, depending on their size.

For the starter:

2 tablespoons (35 grams/1.2 ounces) very active, fully fermented firm sourdough starter, refreshed 8 to 12 hours earlier

1/3 cup (80 grams/2.8 ounces) warm water

About 1 cup (135 grams/4.8 ounces) bread flour

For final dough:

1/4 cup (60 grams/2 ounces) warm water

3 large eggs, plus 1 for glazing

1 1/2 teaspoons (8 grams/0.3 ounce) table salt

1/4 cup (55 grams/1.9 ounces) vegetable oil

3 tablespoons (65 grams/2.3 ounces) mild honey or a scant 1/3 cup (60 grams/2.1 ounces) granulated sugar

About 3 cups (400 grams/14 ounces) bread flour

Fully fermented sourdough starter

Evening before baking - mixing the sourdough starter: Knead starter into water until it is partially dissolved, then stir in the flour. Knead this firm dough until it is smooth. Remove 1 cup (200grams/7 ounces) of the starter to use in the final dough and place it in a sealed container at least four times its volume. (Place the remaining starter in a sealed container and refrigerate to use in the next bake.) Let the starter ferment until it has tripled in volume and is just starting to deflate, 8 to 12 hours.

Baking day - Mixing the dough:

In a large bowl, beat together the water, the 3 eggs, salt, oil, and honey (measure the oil first, then use the same cup for measuring the honey — the oil will coat the cup and let the honey just slip right out) or sugar until the salt has dissolved and the mixture is fairly well combined. With your hands or a wooden spoon, mix in the bread flour all at once. When the mixture is a shaggy ball, scrape it out onto your work surface, add the starter, and knead until the dough is smooth, no more than 10 minutes. (Soak your mixing bowl in hot water now to clean and warm it for fermenting the dough.) This dough is very firm and should feel almost like modeling clay. If the dough is too firm to knead easily, add a tablespoon or two of water to it; if it seems too wet, add a few tablespoons flour.

The dough should feel smooth and very firm but be easy to knead.

Fermenting the dough:

Place the dough in the warm cleaned bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Let the dough ferment for about 2 hours. It will probably not rise much, if at all.

Shaping and proofing the dough:

Line one or two large baking sheets, with parchment paper or oil them. Divide the dough into two 1-pound (450-gram) portions for loaves, one 1 1/2 pound (680-gram) portion for a large loaf and three small pieces for rolls (the easiest way to do this without a scale is to divide the dough into quarters and use one quarter for the rolls and the rest for the large loaf), or sixteen 2-ounce (60-gram) portions for rolls. Braid or shape them as desired, position them on the prepared sheet(s), and cover them well with plastic wrap. Let proof until tripled in size, about 5 hours.

Meanwhile, 30 minutes before baking, arrange the oven racks in the lower and upper third positions if using two baking sheets or arrange one rack in the upper third position if using one sheet, and remove any racks above them. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C/gas mark 4). If desired, preheat one or two baking sheets to double with the baking sheet(s) the loaves are on. Beat the remaining egg with a pinch of salt for glazing the breads.

Baking the loaves:

When the loaves have tripled and do not push back when gently pressed with your finger but remain indented, brush them with the egg glaze. Bake rolls for 15 to 20 minutes, the 1-pound (450-gram) loaves for 25 to 35 minutes, or the 1 1/2-pound (680-gram) loaf for 35 to 45 minutes, until very well browned. After the first 20 minutes of baking, switch the loaves from front to back so that they brown evenly; if the large loaf is browning too quickly, tent it with foil. When the loaves are done, remove them from the oven and let cool on a rack.

zorra's picture
zorra

Chickpea bread

Recently I baked the following bread with chickpea flour. This recipe is my own creation. The chickpea flour gives the bread a light sweet taste.

chickpea bread

100 g chickpea flour
150 g white flour
5 g fresh yeast
~110 g water
1 TL honey
5 g salt
50 g refreshed sourdough

Dissolve yeast and honey in 20 g water. Mix the two flours and salt. Add sourdough, yeast and rest of water, mix and knead your dough (by hand or mixer) until smooth and elastic. Shape into a ball and leave covered for 1 hour or until double in size. 
Shape and leave to prove for another 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 230C. Mist inside with a spray. After 10 minutes reduce heat to 190 C and bake for another 20 minutes. Remove and cool.

Recipe in German: http://kochtopf.twoday.net/stories/2841127/

Recipe Convertor

I haven't had a chance to document this much. Play with it. You'll figure it out.
Better documentation to come soon.
JMonkey's picture
JMonkey

Biga vs. straight dough Whole-Wheat Buttermilk Bread experiment

I'm still not ready to write a review, but from my first hands-on experience with their work, I can confidently say that Laurel Robertson and her compatriots know a thing or two about whole wheat bread.

I started my foray into the Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book with their Buttermilk Bread, a loaf that they say "keeps well (when hidden)." It's true. These loaves are moist and delicious days later, but they're so deliciously sweet and light, they won't likely stick around that long.

I made two different loaves. For the first loaf, the night before, I took 30% of the flour and mixed it with the appropriate amount of water from the recipe and a bit of yeast to make a biga. The next morning, the biga was nice and ripe, so I took the remainder of the recipe, reduced the yeast from 1 tsp to 3/4 tsp, mixed it up and started to knead.

And knead.

And knead.

Then about an hour later, I mixed up a second loaf, this time following the straight-dough recipe to the letter.

Laurel recommends a long, hearty knead for whole wheat bread if you want a light, high rising loaf, which I do. About 20 minutes or 600 strokes. A few more weekends of Laurel's Kitchen-style kneading, and I'll not only have great whole-wheat bread, but enormous, rock-hard shoulders to boot. Or a herniated disc, whichever comes first.

But it does make an enormous difference in the quality of the bread. I have never seen whole-wheat bread rise so high. It's astonishing.

Her other piece of advice, which I'd heard of second-hand long before buying the book, was to let whole-wheat doughs rise twice during the bulk rise before shaping. This step takes a lot of the edge of the whole-wheat flavor, and also helps with the final rise.

I'd wondered previously in this forum whether the double rise would make a pre-ferment unnecessary. My experiment lacks a wide enough sample (2 loaves does not a sample make) to make a conclusive finding, but ... well, see for yourself. I wasn't able to put them in the oven at the same time, because kneading them seperately takes 20 minutes a piece, but I did keep all other factors equal to the best of my ability. I can't guarrantee that they proofed for exactly the same amount of time, but the age-old finger poke test showed both loaves were ready.

On the left, the straight dough. On the right, the dough made with a biga. Now, the loaf on the right did suffer from a bit of poor shaping that left a moderate gap in the top middle of the loaf, but that gap alone can't account entirely for the difference in size. Clearly, the biga loaf rose higher.

Here's another view. I scored the loaves differently so that I could tell them apart during the tasting.

So, what about it? How did they taste?

Both breads were excellent. Nevertheless, the difference was noticeable, though subtle. The loaf with the biga had a richer, stronger aroma, a deeper sweetness and a longer finish than the straight-dough. If you plan to eat this bread primarily in sandwiches or with jam, the biga will make little difference. As a bike commuter, however, the first thing I usually do after removing my helmet after my ride home is to run to the kitchen for a slice or two of plain bread to tide me over until I can cook the family meal.

If you eat the bread plain, the biga does make a difference.

Here's my version of the Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book Buttermilk Bread, with a biga. NOTE: I made this using the flour and water weights, not cups (except for the buttermilk). Laurel seems to have a heavy hand with a cup of flour, so you may need to add some if you use volumetric measurements -- let the dough be your guide. Some of the cup measurements don't match grams / ounces. That's OK. It all comes out even in the end.

Biga 5 ¼ ounces -- 150 grams -- 1 cup water 250 grams -- 8 3/4 ounces -- 1 3/4 cup whole wheat flour 1/8 tsp instant yeast

Final dough All of the biga 1 ½ tsp instant yeast 4 3/4 ounces -- 135 grams-- 3/4 cup warm water ¼ cup honey 1 ¼ cup cold buttermilk 580 grams / 20.5 ounces -- 4 3/4 cup whole wheat flour 2 tsp salt 2 Tbs butter

The night before, make up the biga. Knead it until it forms a relatively smooth dough, and then cover it to sit overnight for about 12-14 hours.

The next day, tear the biga into about 12 pieces and mix it up with the rest of the ingredients. Start kneading -- it'll take about 600 strokes and 20 minutes, but once you're finished, the dough should stretch nicely into a translucent, whitish pane, flecked with bits of bran. This dough may start a bit sticky, but should lose the stickiness and become simply tacky about halfway through. Add water or flour as necessary.

Form the dough into a ball and put it into bowl or bucket. Cover it, and allow the dough to rise for about 90 minutes or so. Poke the dough with a wet finger. When the indention starts to fill in very, very slowly, the dough is risen.

Gently degas the dough, and tuck it back into a tight ball for the second rise. Fold the dough if you wish, but really, after 600 strokes, the dough shouldn't need any additional strength. Once it has risen, divide the dough into two and shape it into sandwich loaves. Place the loaves into pre-greased 8.5 x 4.5 pans. Cover the pans with plastic for the final rise.

Preheat the oven to 350 degree F. (I like my oven a little hotter than Laurel does -- she prefers 325). Once the dough is risen and has crested one to two inches above the side of the pan in the center, slash the loaves as you wish with a serrated knife or razor blade. Personally, I prefer a single slash down the middle, but do whatever makes you happy. Place them in the oven and steam it if you wish (I find it helps with oven spring quite a bit, even with panned loaves), and bake for about 35-40 minutes, turning once to ensure even baking.

The loaves are done when they register 195-200 in the center. Let them cool for one hour before slicing.

If you want to make this as a straight dough (no biga), just dump everything together and increase the yeast to 2 tsp.

One other point. The quality of the whole wheat flour you use will make a big difference in the quality of your bread. Whole wheat flour, unlike white flour, goes rancid and if your brand has sat on the shelf for a while at the store, it may not make good bread. Also, you want the flour to be high in gluten, so look for flour made form hard spring wheat, if possible. Hard winter will do, but it won't rise quite as high. I use King Arthur Flour, myself, and it's worked fine.

Sourdough Lessons

Community members have contributed some great information about baking naturally leavened breads. SourdoLady's pieces (who, as the name implies, knows a thing or two about sourdough) Wild Yeast Sourdough Starter and her Deluxe Sourdough Bread are among the most popular articles on the topic. JMonkey posted a great lesson on getting a sourer sourdough. Gaarp has also posted a wonderful sourdough tutorial. Other folks contributed some excellent recipes for sourdough pancakes and sourdough banana bread.

When I had my first starter going, I was able to write a couple of introductory articles on sourdough: When Yeasts Attack: A First Experience with Naturally Leavened Bread and More about Sourdough. These two articles contain enough information for an amateur baker to learn how to bake with a starter.

More recent forum posts, blog entries, and articles have included information on sourdough as well (and new information gets posted all of the time), so use the site search and look for terms like "sourdough" and "starter" to find the very latest.

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