The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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Kaiser Rolls

Kaiser rolls are great for picnics, sandwiches, and other summertime meals. The hardest part about making them is shaping them. If you want them to be perfect, order yourself a kaiser roll stamp. Or you can roll out the dough out and knot it the way Peter Reinhart suggests in The Bread Baker's Apprentice. Below I'll show you the technique I've found easiest.

The recipe I'm using is a cross between Bernard Clayton's recipe and Peter Reinhart's recipe. Peter's recipe uses a pre-ferment, the one I've listed below does not. You can adjust this recipe to use a pre-ferment quite easily: simply throw in some old dough if you want to use a pate fermentee. Or pull out a cup of the flour and 1/2 a cup of the water and 1/4 teaspoon of the yeast, mix them together, and let them sit out in a covered bowl overnight to create a poolish. Either technique will result in a more flavorful roll, but if you are going to be making sandwiches slathered in mustard or a sharp cheese, something likely to overwhelm the flavor of the bread, the extra work is probably not warranted.

Kaiser Rolls
Makes 8-12 rolls, depending on how large you like them
3 1/2-4 cups (1 lb.) bread or unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon malt powder
1 tablespoon shortening, butter, or oil
1 egg
1 egg white
1 1/4 cups (10 oz.) water

Combine 3 cups of the flour and the other dry ingredients in a mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix in the water, eggs, and shortening. Knead by hand for approximately 10 minutes or 5-7 minutes in a mixer, adding more flour by the handful as necessary. The dough should still be tacky but not terribly wet. Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover, and allow to rise until doubled in size, approximately 1 hour. Allow it to rise a second time for an hour before shaping. To shape the rolls, divide the dough into smaller pieces (if you are particular, use a scale to get them the same size). Roll the pieces of dough into balls and cover them with a damp kitchen towel so they can relax for 5 minutes.

To shape them, first I press them out into flat disks on a well floured surface (Clayton suggests using rye flour, though any type of flour will do). I let them rest, covered, another 5 minutes. Then I stretch the dough a bit thinner again and fold pieces up into the center.

Finally I press down in the center to seal it up tight.

I place them face down on a sheet pan covered with poppy seeds while they are rising for the final hour.

One could just as well let them rise face up and then spritz them with water and sprinkle the poppy seeds on, but doing it this way prevents the seals from splitting while they rise.

Preheat the oven to 450 during the final rise. Just before placing them in the oven, flip the rolls upright. You want to have steam in the oven when you bake them, so use whatever technique you prefer: squirting them with water, squirting the oven sides with water, pouring boiling water in a preheated cast-iron pan or a cookie sheet. These rolls take around 20 to 25 minutes to bake. I suggest rotating the pan once 10 minutes into it so they'll brown evenly.

Related Recipe: Potato Rosemary Rolls.

Flax Seed Wheat Bread

flax seed wheat bread

I finally got my copy of Dan Lepard's The Handmade Loaf, a book that the Brits on this site have been recommending to me for a while. Occasionally imported copies will show up on Amazon for a reasonable price, but I found it cheaper to order a copy from a bookseller in Ipswich via Abebooks. It is a splendid book, with great photos, easy to follow instructions, and excellent recipes; well worth the cost of admission for a baking fanatic. His website is also worth checking out.

Of the recipes I've baked so far, the Linseed and Wheat Bread has been my favorite. The first loaf I baked we ate in under an hour. I was forced to bake it again the next day. The horror.

The recipe I'm posting below is based on his Linseed and Wheat Bread. I modified it some to match the ingredients I had on hand and my personal taste.

Flax Seed Wheat Bread
makes 1 one pound loaf

200g bread flour
50g whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
100g flax seeds
2 teaspoons malt powder
150 grams water
1 teaspoon instant yeast

Combine the flours, salt, seeds, malt, and yeast in a bowl. Stir in the water and mix until thoroughly combined. This dough is not a terribly moist one: it should be slightly tacky but not sticky. When shaped into a ball it should easily hold its shape.

The seed and bran from the whole wheat prevent a high level of gluten development in this dough, so extensive kneading is not necessary.

Once all of the ingredients are thoroughly combined, place the ball of dough in a greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise for an hour to an hour and a half.

Shape the dough into 1 large or two small loaves, cover the loaves with plastic, and give them another hour to rise. In the meantime, preheat the oven and baking stone to 425 degrees.

Brush the top of the loaves with water, score the loaves, and place them in the oven. Bake them at 425 for 20 minutes, rotate them 180 degrees, then bake them another 20 to 25 minutes. When done, they will be nicely browned on the outside, make a hollow sound when tapped upon, and register approximately 205 degrees in the center when measured with an instant read thermometer.

flax seed wheat bread

These loaves remind me of yams.

flax seed wheat bread

Related Recipe: Five Seed French Bread

Pretzels

pretzel shapingThe other day I was reading Jeffrey Hamelman's recent book Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes when I came across his pretzel recipe. His recipe requires a pate fermente overnight, a long fermentation, and a bath in a solution of water and lye, which means rubber gloves and goggles are required.

"Rubber gloves and goggles and caustic fluids to make a batch of pretzels?!? You've got to be kidding me," I thought.

The next day I found myself flipping through another baking book when I stumbled across another pretzel recipe. No caustic bath. No preferment. Not even an initial fermentation: simply mix everything together, shape the pretzels, and bake them; beginning to end, under an hour.

So which is it? Is it necessary to make the preferment and use lye to make decent pretzels at home? Do you even need to ferment the dough to make passable pretzels, or can you just jam them into the oven?

Find out below.

By the way, the other baking book I was looking at was Breaking Bread with Father Dominic 2. Not a bad little book. I gather that it is out of print, but if you see a cheap used copy at the local bookstore it might be worth picking up.

I didn't follow his recipe exactly, but it provided a nice balance to Hamelman's recipe.

The Experiment

There was no way I was going to try the lye bath at home. Maybe to make world class, authentic German pretzels that is necessary, but for a half dozen pretzels at home? Forget about it.

I decided to try make pretzels with an initial fermentation and without. I also tried boiling them briefly in water, egg washing them, and just baking them dry. If any of those methods could produce something reasonably like the soft pretzels I've had before I'd be happy.

The Recipe

I buy my yeast in a jar so that I can measure out as much or as little as I want (well, that and it is cheaper when you bake as often as I do). If you are using yeast from a packet, you can either use half a packet or double the recipe and use an entire packet (at least the packets they sell in the grocery stores in the US... international bakers will have to do their own conversion).

If you are using instant (AKA Rapid Rise or Bread Machine) yeast, you can just mix the yeast in with the rest of the dry ingredients before adding the warm milk and it'll activate fine. If you are using active dry yeast, mix it into the warm milk along with the malt powder (or brown sugar) and give it 5 to 10 minutes to activate before incorporating it into the dry ingredients.

Pretzels

Makes 6 large pretzels
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 tablespoon malt powder or brown sugar
2-3 cups all-purpose unbleached or bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup warm milk (approximately 110 degrees, which is 1 minute in my microwave)

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and mix together until it forms a ball. I start with 2 cups of the flour and mix it together until it forms something like a thick batter, then add more flour a handful at a time until it'll form a nice ball that I can knead by hand.

Either use an electric mixer to mix the dough for 5 minutes or remove it from the bowl and knead it by hand for 5 to 10 minutes until the dough begins to get smooth and satiny.

If you are going to ferment the dough (more information on whether this set is necessary below), return the ball of dough to a clean, greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set it aside to rise until it has doubled in size, approximately an hour.

If you fermented it, degas the dough gently before moving on to the next step.

Before shaping, start preheating the oven to 425 degrees.

Cut the dough into 6 pieces. Roll each one into a short log, cover with a towel, and let the dough relax for 5 to 10 minutes. After it has relaxed you should be able to roll it out and stretch again fairly easily.

pretzel logs

After taking this photo, I let them relax again and then gave each a third roll and stretch session before they were as long and thin as I wanted (about 15 inches long and about as big around as my index finger). They'll nearly double in width while baking, so it is ok to roll them out quite thin.

pretzel shaping

Shaping pretzels is simple, once you get a hang of it. Place a rope of dough on the work surface in front of you. Take each end in a hand, loop the dough away from you, and bring the ends back toward your stomach, crossing them about an inch above the rope. Apply a little bit of pressure to make the loops stick together, but not too much because you don't want then to flatten out.

Pretzels don't appear to need to rise again before baking, so you just need to figure out how you want to prep them for the oven. Here are the options I tried:

To boil them: If you want to boil them, bring a pot of water to a boil. Dunk each of the pretzels into the boiling water for 5 seconds, then place them onto a baking sheet and sprinkle with coarse salt (I use the kosher stuff that is easy to find at the grocery store) or other toppings.

pretzel shaping

I used a pair of spatulas to hold the pretzel in place while holding it under water.

To eggwash them: Simply place them on a baking sheet, brush them gently with an egg that has been whisked, then sprinkle with coarse salt or other toppings.

To bake them (mostly) dry: Sprinkle or spritz them with a little bit of water so that the toppings will stick, then sprinkle with coarse salt or other toppings.

Place the baking sheets into the oven. It took around 15 minutes for my pretzels to get golden and brown. Remove from the oven and eat immediately.

Results

pretzels done

We definitely thought the boiled pretzels (on the left) were better than the pretzels that had just been spritzed with water (on the right). The spritzed ones were dry and had a slightly french bread like crust. Crust like that is good on french bread but not so good on soft pretzels.

I liked the boiled pretzels more than the eggwashed pretzels, my wife preferred the eggwashed pretzels better. The eggwashed ones rose considerably more in the oven than the boiled ones, so they were quite soft and fluffy. The boiled ones were still soft, but they were a little denser and chewier.

Truthfully, I couldn't tell the difference between the batch that I let ferment for an hour and the batch I baked immediately. If I were tasting them side by side with no toppings I probably could detect a slight difference. But at least when I eat soft pretzels they are a medium for other flavors (salt and mustard), either method produces an adequate pretzel.

pretzel alone

And the lye bath? At least for the home baker I can say with confidence that you can skip it.

Defender of the lye bath? Or have any other insight into proper pretzel making? Please comment!

txfarmer's picture
txfarmer

Index for My Blog Entries - will keep updating and linking to it

My favorite 36 hours Sourdough baguette and its many variations:


Other baguettes:


Sourdough breads can be very soft and fluffy:

100% whole wheat breads can be very soft and fluffy too, SD or not:


My obsession for laminated dough:


Other stuff made with starters:


Other non-sourdough stuff:

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Maintaining a 100% Hydration White Flour Starter

The following is a description of how I maintain my 100% hydration (1:1 flour:water by weight) starter. The term 100% hydration refers to the baker's percentage of water in the starter, i.e. the water in the starter is 100% of the weight of the flour in the starter.

This maintenance regime assumes that your starter is already healthy, fresh, and active. This is not what I would do to "start a starter", but rather it is the maintenance regime I follow to store, revive, and use my starter over time.

The following characteristics are for a 100% hydration starter. The characteristics, signs of health, problems, and readiness for use are different for starters maintained at different hydration levels.

Characteristics of my 100% hydration white flour starter:

  • The weight of flour and water in the starter are equal.
  • The flour is either bread or AP flour with protein content around 11-13%.
  • The water is bottled (Poland Spring).
  • Normally fed at room temperature.
  • Stored in the refrigerator when not being fed.
  • The consistency can be described as a thick, stirrable paste after it is fed.

Characteristics of a recently fed, fresh, active 100% hydration starter:

  • It rises by double in about 4-5 hours at room temperature after a feeding of 1:2:2 (starter:flour:water by weight)
  • It maintains a reasonably thick, elastic consistency after rising by double.
  • It smells very pleasant. The smell could be described as flowery, tangy, and slightly sweet.
  • No liquid layers develop on top or in the middle even hours after rising by double.
  • Hooch (an alcoholic layer of liquid on top) forms eventually when it is stored in the refrigerator for a week or more or left out for a long time at room temperature after doubling.

Characteristics of a 100% hydration starter that is not yet ready or is possibly unhealthy:

  • Unpleasant odors a few hours after feeding.
  • Separated layers of liquid form a few hours after feeding.
  • Takes longer than 4-6 hours to rise by double at room temperature after a 1:2:2 feeding (starter:flour:water by weight).
  • Develops a runny consistency a few hours after feeding.

An Important Note on the Large Effect of Temperature on Rise Times

Before launching into the information below on maintaining starters, it is worthwhile to point out one of the largest points of confusion in sourdough starter maintenance. Temperature has a big effect on the speed of reproduction and the activity of the organisms in a sourdough culture. For example my kitchen may average 76F in the summer and only 69F in the winter. At 76F, my starter may rise by double after a 1:2:2 feeding in 4.2 hours, whereas at 69F it will double in 6.4 hours. At 64F, it would take 9.4 hours. It is not a problem to follow the procedures below in a kitchen with a temperature averaging 64F; but clearly, you need to allow for rise times of roughly double in the various discussions below. So, adjust your expectations and timing accordingly, if your temperatures don't hover fairly close to 74F or so, which is the temperature assumed for the discussions below.

Assuming a healthy, active starter, here is the maintenance regime I follow to feed, store, revive, and use my starter.

Feeding

I almost always feed my starter 1:2:2 (starter:flour:water by weight) and then allow it to rise by double at room temperature, which should take about 4.5 hours when it is fully active and recently fed. Once it has risen by double, it is placed in the refrigerator. The starter can then be used directly from the refrigerator in a recipe for the next 3 days. On the first day, it is almost the same as it was right after it rose by double. On the second day, it has a little more flavor and may be ever so slightly weaker, but it is still at an excellent point to use in a recipe. After 3 days, it can still be used, but it will have stronger, more sour flavors, and it will be noticeably weaker in terms of rising power. If you have a recipe that uses a very small percentage of starter in the dough, it won't matter much if you use old starter. I've used week old starter in recipes where the flour contributed to the dough was only 5% of the total flour weight. If you are using the starter in a recipe that has a high percentage of starter, it may be better to use the starter after 2 days or less in the refrigerator.

Although it may not make much difference, I actually maintain my starter with a 1:2:2.2 feeding ratio, i.e. at a 90% hydration. With the bread flour I use (KA Bread Flour) that results in a consistency of a thick paste that is a little difficult to stir once you mix it up well. The amounts you work with don't matter much, either, other than the amount of flour being thrown out. I typically work with a total culture size of about 80 grams. My scale will measure down to 1 gram of precision. A typical 1:2:2.2 feeding would be (16g:30g:34g) of (old starter:water:flour). Below I am doing 1:10:11 feedings, which are done by feeding (4g:40g:44g) of (old starter:water:flour).

The above method works great, but see in the variation section below for an update on how I am feeding most recently to better accomodate a 12 hour feeding cycle. Also, I now use an even thicker consistency, around 80% hydration. It seems to keep longer this way on the counter or in the refrigerator.

Storage

Once the starter has been in the refrigerator for more than three days, I consider it to be in storage. It can't be used directly in a recipe, but instead will have to be revived. If I plan to store my starter for a period of time longer than 2 weeks, I usually will thicken it up, as it keeps better at a thicker consistency. However, even at 100% hydration, I've had no problems reviving my starter after 2 months. At thicker consistencies, the starter can last for many months in the refrigerator. I believe Glezer says it can last more than a year in a very stiff consistency, like 50% hydration. However, the longest I've gone with my starter is 2 months. I use glass canisters for both feeding and storage. I usually pour the ready to refrigerate starter into a fresh container, so that the sides are clean and the starter is stirred down to take up less volume. The containers have a rubber gasket that seals them from the air in the refrigerator but allows some gas to escape if pressure and gasses build up in the container.

Revival

When the starter has been in the refrigerator for more than a few days, it must be revived first before it can be used in a recipe. I do this by simply feeding it once or twice in the manner described under "Feeding". After being stored for a week or two or more, rising by double after a 1:2:2 feeding may take something like 6-8 hours at room temperature. If it only takes 6 hours, one feeding works fine. However, if it takes more than 6 hours to rise by double at room temperature, I generally feed it one more time. The second feeding usually takes much closer to 4.5 hours, which is an indication it is fully revived. On the occasion where it had been stored for 2 months, it took a third feeding at room temperature before the starter would rise by double in 4.5 hours at room temperature after a 1:2:2 feeding.

One subtle aspect of all this is the question of how long after the starter has doubled should you wait to feed it again. The starter needs to ripen enough to bring the cell counts up to their maximum level. In the period after you feed the starter, the cell counts of yeast and lactobacillus will double every couple of hours or so. Once the starter is ripe enough, the yeast and lactobacillus cell counts will stop increasing. The pH and acid levels get to a point where they attenuate the cell activity, and they can no longer multiply in numbers. So, you want to let the starter mature enough to reach that maximum cell count, and then feed it again or store it. Just based on experience, it seems like my starter does well as long as I let it sit for an hour or two beyond the point it doubles. I usually "stir it down" at the point it doubles, and then let it rise some more. However, I refrigerate it right when it doubles, since it will continue to ripen in the refrigerator. Recently, I was rushing my feeding schedule and slowed my starter down by trying to feed too early, just before it had completely doubled, in fact. The result was that it was taking longer than usual to rise. The solution was to let it sit a while longer for a few feedings in a row. It didn't take long at all for it to bounce back to doubling in 4.5 hours from a 1:2:2 feeding at room temperature.

Variations

You can feed at a lower or higher ratio than 1:2:2 in order to adjust the amount of starter you want to build to match a recipe or to better match the times when you can feed the starter conveniently. However, I never feed at a lower ratio than 1:1:1 to avoid any problems with acid building up or the starter becoming too ripe or underfed. Higher ratios can be used to lengthen out the rise time if you know you will not be back within 4-6 hours to store the starter in the refrigerator before it becomes too ripe. At warmer temperatures, the starter will rise by double much more quickly after a 1:2:2 feeding, taking something like 2.5 hours at about 85F, for example. At 85F the timing for rising by double will be very roughly half as long as at room temperature, and at 65F the timing will be very roughly twice as long (very, very roughly).

Recently, I've been experimenting with feeding ratios for a 12 hour room temperature maintenance schedule. I have found that feeding 1:10:11 (for a slightly thicker consistency I'm using 90% hydration), results in a 12 hour cycle. The starter will double 8 hours after the 1:10:11 feeding, and then I stir it down and let it ripen some more. If I feed every 12 hours on this cycle, the starter is at full strength from about 8 to 12 hours after being fed (all this at room temperature). When you feed a starter routinely at higher ratios, like 1:10:11, it will ferment for longer periods of time at higher pH. The result should be that the starter will have relatively more lactobacillus in it compared to a starter maintained with a 1:2:2 feeding ratio, since the lactobacillus thrive in a slightly higher pH environment (around 5 pH).  I can't say what the effect on flavor would be, but it makes sense that the aromatic compounds and acids produced by the lactobacillus would be more evident in the one maintained with the high feeding ratio. Although this is not at all scientific, I do think that the starter I've maintained with a 1:10:11 feeding ratio has a more intense aroma than the one fed with a 1:2:2 ratio.

Even more recently (added 12/14/2007), I've settled on feeding every 12-17 hours using a feeding of 1:4:5 (starter:water:flour by weight). Using this procedure, the starter doubles in volume in about 4.75 hours at 76F or about 7.25 hours at 69F. Even at 69F, the starter has peaked in 12 hours, so it can be fed again. At 76F, it will peak and fall after 12 hours, but it is still at full strength and will rise vigorously when fed. It seems like a good compromise that can be used year-round for a 12 hour cycle. The starter can be maintained on the counter at room temperature indefinitely using this procedure. If I know I won't be baking bread for a while, I thicken up the starter by feeding it 1:4:7 to thicken it up when I feed it next, and put it in the refrigerator immediately after feeding. Then, I take it out a day or two in advance of the next bread-making session and revive by letting it rise by double and feeding 1:4:5 every 12 hours. Although I generally go through the revival procedure, I've found that the starter is at close to full strength even after 7 days in the refrigerator when stored this way. So, it's possible to take the starter out of the refrigerator, let it rise by double, and use most of it in a bread recipe, and take a tiny portion of it to revive for a couple of feeding cycles before returning it again to the refrigerator using the 1:4:7 feeding and refrigerating immediately.

When to Refrigerate

I like flavors to be less sour and more mild in sourdough breads I make. I've found that the right flavors and lower amounts of sour flavor seem to be there when I don't let the starter become overly ripe before using it in a recipe. That's why I tend to refrigerate when the starter has just doubled. You can experiment with feeding schedules that allow the starter to become more ripe before refrigerating. It will change the balance of organisms in the culture and therefore the flavor. Also, when you use a large percentage of starter, the larger amount of accumulated byproducts of fermentation in a more ripe starter will contribute directly to the flavor and texture of the dough, in addition to the contribution made by the subsequent fermentation.

An Additional Tip on Refrigerated Starter Storage

If you are using your starter fairly frequently, like once a week, then just refrigerating it when it doubles will work very well. You can use the starter directly out of the refrigerator for a period of time if stored that way. For storage it works well, as I've had no problem reviving my starter after 2 months when stored just after doubling. However, as Mike Avery commented below, and I've verified as well, feeding a well revived and healthy starter in such a way as to thicken it to a firm consistency and then refrigerating it immediately allows the starter to keep very well for longer periods of time. It can be removed from the refrigerator and allowed to rise by double or a little more and used directly in a recipe, even after a week, I've found. If you use this procedure, the starter should still be "revived" with enough feedings, usually one or two more, at room temperature to verify that the starter is rising at full strength again before it is again stored in the refrigerator.

Converting Starters

I sometimes make a recipe starter for a whole grain bread by feeding some of my starter with spelt or whole wheat. I have never fed a starter with whole grain repeatedly to completely convert it, so I have to accept the flavor as is and a small amount of white flour in my whole grain recipes. I'm sure there are many subtle flavor differences if you feed repeatedly and fully convert a starter from being fed exclusively with white flour to being fed exclusively with a whole grain flour. I've found the feeding and rising process works about the same way with whole grains for a recipe starter, except that the rise times seem a little bit faster with the whole grain flours.

Mistakes

It's pretty hard to kill a healthy starter, but here are a few ways to possibly send yours over the edge.

  • Heat the starter to over 95F and kill the organisms - easier than you might think, for example...
    • Use actual oven heat and get up over 100F very quickly.
    • Place the starter in an oven with the light on - check carefully first - it can be much hotter than you think in there with just the oven light on and the door closed.
    • Use hot water to feed your starter
  • Put acids in the culture
    • The culture doesn't need acid if it's healthy. It generates all the acid it needs on its own.
    • Sometimes a small shot of vinegar or other acid, such as pineapple juice, may help fix a sluggish culture, but if you feed acid repeatedly, you can put too much in and kill the starter.
  • Not feeding the culture for too long at warm temperatures or repeatedly underfeeding over long periods.
    • When out of the refrigerator, the culture will be very active and must be fed to stay healthy.
    • It is especially easy to underfeed a culture when temperatures are warmer.
  • Overfeeding the culture
    • If you feed before the culture has ripened enough repeatedly you can dilute the culture and eventually kill it.
    • More likely to happen at colder temperatures, stiffer consistencies, or higher feeding ratios. Let the culture rise by double, then let it ripen for a number of hours beyond that. A dip should form in the middle when the culture is at its peak. You can let it go for a number of hours beyond the point it dips, but it should be ready to feed at the point it is dipping or collapsing on itself.
    • If you refrigerate the culture for storage, you can let it just rise by double and then refrigerate it. It will continue to ripen in the refrigerator. However, allow it to come to full ripeness at room temperature over a couple of feedings once in a while, normally done when reviving the culture for baking, to avoid any decline similar to overfeeding caused by repeatedly refrigerating when it has just doubled.

Given the above, it makes a lot of sense to keep back a small amount of old starter in the refrigerator, even if just the scrapings from the inside of the container that came out of the refrigerator, until you're sure the feeding went well. It's also not a bad idea to make a small amount of stiff starter and keep as a backup. Some dry their starter and freeze or store it for backup.

Tips on Quantities Used, Mixing Technique, and Volumes (a scale is highly recommended, but to use measuring spoons...)

As I've gained experience, the amounts of starter I work with have dropped. I haven't found any disadvantages to using smaller quantities. For example, my most recent feeding routine (mentioned in the variations section above) is 1:4:5 (starter:water:flour by weight) is done by taking a clean jar, putting it on the scale and adding 5 grams of starter and 20 grams of water. I stir vigorously with a tiny whisk to aerate and thoroughly mix the starter into the water. Then, I add 25g of flour and use a fork to thoroughly mix the flour into water, forming a fairly thick paste - not quite a dough, but very thick. I then take a small spatula and scrape down the sides, put the lid on the jar, and place the jar in a nice unobtrusive spot on my counter where hopefully no one will disturb it.

If you don't have a scale, my first advice is to get one. It makes baking much more reliable, especially when you are trying to reproduce another baker's recipe. A good digital scale costs about $25 and is very much worth the trouble. Still, the procedure in the previous paragraph is easy to do by taking 1 teaspoon of starter, adding 2 tablespoons of water, and stirring vigorously to aerate and completely mix the starter into the water. Then, add 3 tablespoons and possibly another teaspoon or so of flour, and mix thoroughly with a fork. Scrape down the sides of the jar, cover, and place on the counter.

If you are planning to store the starter for a long time in the refrigerator, it helps to carefully drop the recently fed and thickened starter into a clean jar, so that there is no film of flour or paste stuck to the sides at all. Over a longer period, it is possible for mold to grow on a residue of flour paste left on the sides of the jar.

Comments

What I describe above is just one way to do it. I'm sure there are many other ways, but I find this method convenient and robust. It's hard to kill a healthy freshly fed and risen starter that is stored in the refrigerator. It is convenient that the starter remains in a good usable state for several days. Very small amounts can be used when storing it for long periods to avoid large amounts of flour waste. I store something like 100 grams when I'm planning to store the starter for more than a few days, so my revival can be used in a recipe without wasting much if any flour. Maintaining only one starter and converting it for recipes each time is easy and convenient, although by not fully converting the starter to a whole grain flour some flavor or other characteristics may be missed with this approach.

nicodvb's picture
nicodvb

Very liquid sourdough

Hi,
I read that most of you use a sourdough with 100% hydratation, just like me.
Recently I came across a more liquid sourdough (130% hydratation) that doesn't actually rise (a lot). It has the consistence of yogurth but it thickens during refreshments. It's supposed to develop exclusively lactic acid (none of acetic acid), and to grow the yeasts better

Did anyone ever use it? Can you share your experiences? Can you explain the differences?

Thanks,
Nico

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Lactic Acid Fermentation in Sourdough

A few years ago, I was asked to explain lactic acid fermentation in sourdough, and the difference between homo- and heterofermentation. Not an easy task, partly because I wasn't satisfied that I knew enough, or that I could reconcile what I was reading in bread-baking books with what I had learned in school. To sort it out, I had to dig deeper into the scientific literature. Answers are there in bits and pieces, although not in a context that is easy to make sense of. As I plugged away at deciphering current microbiology textbooks and scientific research, I started to see things in a new light. And so now, I want to share what I've learned with those who wish to know more.

First, I'd like to introduce the concept of a metabolic pathway. On paper, a metabolic pathway can be illustrated in a flow diagram that represents a sequence of enzyme-controlled chemical transformations. While the pathways in this discussion start with sugar and finish as various end-products, there are several intermediate compounds formed along the way as one thing is converted to the next. The names may be intimidating at first glance, but don't let them scare you. Knowing their chemical reactions and what all the compounds are is not as important here as understanding their overall purpose, which is to produce energy for the organism. Like all living things, microbes need energy to perform the tasks that enable them to live, grow and multiply.

Some pathways generate more energy than others. Through respiration, glucose and oxygen are turned into carbon dioxide and water via the Krebs cycle, also known as the tricarboxylic acid or TCA cycle. You may have seen it before if you've studied biology, because it's the same pathway we humans use. It is aerobic, meaning that oxygen (O2) is involved, and it generates far more energy than any fermentation pathway. Whenever oxygen is available, respiration is favored by facultative anaerobes like yeasts, because they will always take the path that generates the most energy under the prevailing conditions. For the most part though, bread dough is anaerobic (without oxygen), and fermentation is an alternative pathway that doesn't require oxygen. When yeasts ferment sugars, they produce alcohol (ethanol) in addition to carbon dioxide. Fermentation produces much less energy than respiration, but it allows microorganisms to carry on when no oxygen is available, or they lack the ability to respire as is the case with lactobacilli.

Bacterial fermentation is more varied than fermentation by yeast. Bacteria produce organic acids that contribute, for good and bad, to the quality of bread. Controlling acid balance and degree of sourness is something that artisan bakers strive to do, so it may be useful to understand where the acids come from and how their production can be influenced by things that are within the baker's control. In yeasted breads, acids come in small doses from naturally occurring bacteria present in flour and commercial yeast. (Fresh yeast generally has more bacterial inhabitants than dried, and whole grain flours more than refined.) In sourdough breads, acid-producing bacteria are supplied in much greater numbers from starter. There are many different species and strains of bacteria found in various types of starters, and because they produce lactic acid while fermenting sugar, they fall under the heading of Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB).

Lactic acid bacteria common to sourdoughs include members of Leuconostoc, Pediococcus, Weissella and other genera. But by far, the most prevalent species belong to the very large and diverse genus, Lactobacillus. Based upon how they ferment sugars, lactic acid bacteria can be sorted into three categories. Please bear with me now, because while these terms may look impossibly long and technical, they are actually self-descriptive. Take homofermentative LAB for example. Homo-, meaning "all the same," refers to the end product of fermentation (by lactic acid bacteria), which is only, or "all" lactic acid. Heterofermentative then, means "different" or mixed end products. As lactic acid bacteria, heterofermentative LAB produce lactic acid, but they also produce carbon dioxide gas, alcohol or acetic acid as well. 

SUGAR STRUCTURE

As carbo-hydrates, sugars are made up of carbon (C) and water, which is composed of hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O). The hydrogen and oxygen atoms are arranged in various configurations around a chain of carbon atoms which form the structural backbone of the molecule. The carbon chain may be various lengths, but sugars common in bread fermentations are of the 5- and 6-carbon types, referred to generically as pentoses and hexoses, respectively. Glucose and fructose are examples of hexoses. Pentoses are sugars such as arabinose and xylose.

                                                                         
                              Glucose                    Fructose                  Arabinose                     Xylose

Pentoses and hexoses can exist in the chain form, or in a ring structure which forms when dissolved in water. Single sugars, or monosaccharides, are often linked together into larger carbohydrates of two or more units. Disaccharides, containing two sugars, are important in bread fermentations. Maltose, which is made up of two glucose molecules, is the free-form sugar most abundant in dough. Sucrose, another disaccharide consists of one glucose and one fructose.

                                                   

                                  Glucose                                             Maltose    

                                           

                                 Fructose                                            Sucrose

-Sugars illustrated by Antonio Zamora. For a more complete explanation, with diagrams of starches and pentosans, please see his lesson, "Carbohydrates - Chemical Structure" at: http://www.scientificpsychic.com/fitness/carbohydrates.html

Sugars that can be fermented, and their end-products are variable from one species of LAB to the next. But the key lies in the structure of the sugar---particularly, the number of carbon atoms in the backbone of the molecule. Homofermentative LAB can only ferment 6-carbon sugars. In the homofermentative pathway, a hexose is processed and split into two identical 3-carbon pieces, which are passed down through the reaction sequence and transformed into lactic acid molecules. In contrast, heterolactic fermentation is based on 5-carbon sugars. Pentoses may be used directly, although more often, a hexose is cut down by removing one of its carbons. The extra carbon is cast off in the form of carbon dioxide gas, and the remaining 5-carbon molecule is split unequally into 3- and 2-carbon units. The 3-carbon piece is turned into lactic acid, while the 2-carbon piece will become either ethanol or acetic acid. Up to this point, heterolactic fermentation doesn't produce as much energy as homolactic, but it does give an advantage over homofermentative LAB, which cannot utilize pentose sugars.

Additional energy can be produced by turning the 2-carbon piece into acetic acid, but it requires the assistance of another substance. The term for this is co-metabolism, meaning that two substrates are used simultaneously---a hexose for its carbon backbone, and a co-substrate to facilitate the formation of acetic acid and generation of additional energy. The co-substrate can be one of a number of things including oxygen, citrate, malate, short chain aldehydes, oxidized glutathione, fructose and 5-carbon sugars. In the absence of co-substrates, the 2-carbon piece is turned to ethanol instead. Alternatively, when pentose sugars are fermented (used as the carbon source), acetic acid may be produced without the help of co-substrates.

Some lactobacilli can use oxygen as a co-substrate. Some cannot, and are inhibited by aerobic conditions. In any case, there is a small amount of oxygen in dough only at the beginning of fermentation, and generally not enough to affect acetic acid production to any extent. Likewise, citrate and malate aren't naturally present in significant amounts, and pentose utilization varies by species and strain as well as availability. While all these things may be used to the extent that they are present, it turns out that fructose is generally the one most available in bread dough. 

 

  

 

All of the pathways in this discussion are glycolytic pathways. Glycolysis is the conversion of glucose to pyruvate, which is the springboard to both respiration and alcohol fermentation in yeast, to lactic acid fermentation in LAB, and to many biosynthetic pathways (manufacture of compounds used in other life processes). Oxygen is not required, so glycolysis is especially important to microorganisms that ferment sugars, like the yeast and bacteria which grow in the anaerobic environment of sourdough.

Homofermentative lactobacilli share the same glycolytic pathway with yeasts---the Embden-Meyerhof-Parnas, or EMP pathway. But in contrast to alcohol fermentation, pyruvate is reduced to lactic acid. In either of the two pathways here, the sugars are split into smaller molecules---two identical 3-carbon units (glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate) in the EMP pathway, or a 3- and a 2-carbon unit in the heterofermentative pathway. The 3-carbon pieces all follow the same path to become pyruvate and then lactic acid, while the 2-carbon acetyl-phosphate on the other side of the heterofermentative pathway can become either ethanol or acetic acid.

Glucose is not the only sugar that can be utilized. With appropriate enzyme systems, other sugars can be converted into glucose or one of the intermediates in the pathway such as glucose-6-phosphate (or in the case of pentose sugars, ribulose-5-phosphate). The ability to use other sugars varies by species and strain. Most sourdough lactic acid bacteria ferment glucose preferentially, but Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis separates maltose into a glucose-1-phosphate and a glucose. The glucose-1-phosphate portion is converted to glucose-6-phosphate to enter the heterofermentative pathway, and glucose is excreted from the cell.

In addition to obligately hetero- and homofermentive, there is a third type of lactobacilli characterized as facultatively heterofermentive. These are lactobacilli that are not restricted to one pathway or the other, but can use both. Facultative heterofermenters switch back and forth between the homo- and heterofermentative pathways depending upon which sugars are available. In general, they ferment hexoses via the homofermentive route, and pentoses heterofermentively. Most will use the hexose sugars first, although some strains ferment pentoses preferentially. Many co-metabolize fructose with maltose through the heterofermentative pathway, but use the homofermentative pathway when only maltose is available.

To put all this technical information to practical use, we need to consider factors that influence LAB activity and pathway selection. The end products are determined by the species and available sugars, which for lean doughs, depend upon the flour and the activity of enzymes. Whole grain and high extraction flours can affect acidification in two ways. First, the higher mineral (ash) content serves as a natural buffer system, which allows bacteria to produce more acid before the pH drops low enough to slow their growth. And second, grains supply pentose sugars in the form of pentosans. Although rye flours are best-known for these, pentosans are also present in wheat and other grains. (But, because they occur in the outer layers of the kernel, they are largely removed along with enzymes and many other substances in the milling of refined flours.) Cereal enzymes act on pentosans to some degree, freeing pentose sugars like xylose and arabinose that heterofermenters may be able to use according to species and strain. Pentoses will increase acetic acid production if they can be fermented or co-metabolized, either one.

Acidification is also influenced by hydration and temperature. Contrary to popular belief, all three groups of sourdough lactobacilli prefer wetter doughs a bit on the warm side, many growing fastest at about 90ºF or a little higher. For the homofermentive species producing only lactic acid, increasing activity by raising the hydration and/or temperature will increase acid production. Decreasing activity by reducing hydration or by retarding will slow production. There is a direct relationship between activity and lactic acid. During heterofermentation, for each molecule of glucose consumed, one lactic acid is produced, along with one carbon dioxide (if a hexose is fermented), and either one ethanol or one acetic acid. But under wetter, warmer conditions, where sugars are metabolized more rapidly, the tendency is toward lactic acid and alcohol production in obligate heterofermenters, and all lactic acid (homofermentation) in the facultative heterofermenters. Lactic acid production is directly related to activity during heterofermentation just as in homofermentation, even if only half the rate.

At lower hydrations and temperatures (lower activity), more acetic acid is produced, but not because of temperature per se. Acetic acid production is influenced indirectly by temperature, in that it affects the kinds of sugars available. The fructose that drives acetic acid production, is liberated from fructose-containing substances in flour, largely through the enzyme activity of yeast. And, because lower temperatures are more suited to yeast growth than higher, more fructose is made available to the bacteria at lower temperatures. At the same time, the bacteria are growing and using maltose more slowly, so the demand for co-substrates goes down as the fructose supply goes up. The ratio of acetic acid to ethanol and lactic acid goes up, because a higher percentage of the maltose is being co-metabolized with fructose. Reducing hydration has a similar effect of slowing the bacteria more than yeast, which I believe is the real basis for increased acetic acid production in lean breads made with refined flours.

Contrary to myth, the species that grow in sourdough starters are not tied to geographic location, but rather to the traditional practices in the different regions. Several organisms go into the mix, but the environment created inside the starter from the combination of flour, temperature and maintenance routines is what determines which ones will thrive. In type I, or traditional sourdoughs (i.e., those maintained by continuous refreshment at room temperature), the obligately heterofermentive Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis is the species most frequently and consistently found---not just in San Francisco where it was first discovered, but all around the world. And so it deserves special attention.

Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis is fairly unique among the obligately heterofermentive lactobacilli, in that it ferments no pentose sugars. And unusual among lactic acid bacteria in general, because it prefers maltose over glucose. But it will co-metabolize fructose with maltose to produce acetic acid. L. sanfranciscensis converts maltose into one glucose-6-phosphate which enters the heterofermentative pathway, and a glucose which is excreted back into its surroundings. This is a good arrangement for common sourdough yeasts, since maltose is the most abundant sugar in wheat doughs, and some lack the ability to break it down for themselves. Yeasts and other bacteria that can ferment maltose, generally prefer glucose. And so by providing glucose to competing organisms, L. sanfranciscensis actually helps to conserve the maltose for itself---just one of the ways in which it gets along well with other sourdough microorganisms, and perhaps one of the reasons it is found so often.

Alternate pathways are a recurring theme in the microbial world, because microorganisms have less ability to control their environment or to leave when conditions become difficult. They sometimes have to switch gears to survive. In that effort, lactic acid bacteria will utilize whichever fermentation pathway that generates the most energy within their capabilities and resources. In order of preference, the hierarchy seems to be heterofermentation with co-substrates (forming lactic acid and acetic acid), followed by homofermentation (all lactic acid) and heterofermentation without co-substrates (lactic acid and ethanol).

While traditional sourdough starters usually support one or more strains of Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis, it is often found in combination with the facultatively heterofermentive Lactobacillus plantarum, many strains of which can either ferment or co-metabolize at least one pentose sugar. Various other obligate and facultatively heterolactic acid bacteria are also common (obligately homofermentive LAB are only transient in the startup process and do not persist in established type I starters). Sourdough starters are sensitive ecosystems with complex associations of lactic acid bacteria, and combinations can be highly variable from one starter to the next. Lactic acid fermentation is as complex and varied as the organisms involved, and so sourdough processes may need to be optimized on a starter by starter basis.
- Debra Wink  

 

Bibliography

Arendt, Elke K., Liam A.M. Ryan, and Fabio Dal Bello. 2007. Impact of sourdough on the texture of bread. Food Microbiology 24: 165-174.

De Vuyst, Luc and Marc Vancanneyt. 2007. Biodiversity and identification of sourdough lactic acid bacteria. Food Microbiology 24:120-127.

Doyle, Michael P., Larry R. Beuchat, and Thomas J. Montville. 2001. Microbial physiology and metabolism, p. 19-22; Lactose metabolism, p. 653-655. Food Microbiology Fundamentals and Frontiers, 2nd ed. American Society for Microbiology Press, Washington, DC.

Gänzle, Michael G., Michaela Ehmann, and Walter P. Hammes. 1998. Modeling of growth of Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis and Candida milleri in response to process parameters of sourdough fermentation. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 64:2616-2623.

Gänzle, Michael G., Nicoline Vermeulen, Rudi F. Vogel. 2007. Carbohydrate, peptide and lipid metabolism of lactic acid bacteria in sourdough. Food Microbiology 24:128-138.

Gobbetti, M., P. Lavermicocca, F. Minervini, M. De Angelis, and A. Corsetti. 2000. Arabinose fermentation by Lactobacillus plantarum in sourdough with added pentosans and "alpha-L-arabinofuranosidase: a tool to increase the production of acetic acid. Journal of Applied Microbiology 88:317-324.

Holt, John G., Noel R. Krieg, Peter H. A. Sneath, James T. Staley, and Stanley T. Williams. 2000. Regular, nonsporing gram-positive rods, p. 566. Bergey's Manual of Determinative Bacteriology, 9th ed. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Philadelphia, PA.

Katina, Kati. 2005. Sourdough: a tool for the improved flavour, texture and shelf-life of wheat bread. VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

Ng, Henry. 1972. Factors affecting organic acid production by sourdough (San Francisco) bacteria. Applied Microbiology 23:1153-1159.

Paramithiotis, Spiros, Aggeliki Sofou, Effie Tsakalidou, and George Kalantzopoulos. 2007. Flour carbohydrate catabolism and metabolite production by sourdough lactic acid bacteria. World J Microbiol Biotechnol 23:1417-1423.

Wing, Daniel, and Alan Scott. 1999. Baker's Resource: Sourdough Microbiology, p. 230. The Bread Builders. Chelsea Green Publishing Company, White River Junction, VT.

This article was first published in Bread Lines, a publication of The Bread Bakers Guild of America. Vol. 15, Issue 4, Dec. 2007.

 

Revised:  November 4, 2009

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Anis Bouabsa's baguettes

 

Anis-Boabsa-baguettes

Anis-Boabsa-baguettes Crumb

Anis-Boabsa-baguettes Crumb

 

Last month, Janedo visited the bakery of Anis Bouabsa in Paris. This young baker had won the prize for the best baguettes in Paris this year. Jane was able to acutally meet M. Bouabsa, and he generously shared his formula and techiniques with her, which she then generously shared with us at TFL. See her blog topic: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/8066/great-baguette-quest-n%C2%B03-anis-bouabsa Eric (ehanner} and Howard (holds99} have successfully made baguettes from the recipe I extracted from Jane's notes. I attempted them once with poor results, but that was while on vacation, in a rented house on the Oregon coast. I was eager to try these baguettes again with my familiar home oven and equipment. I was happy with the results, although not completely. Formula for Anis Bouabsa's Baguettes Flour 500 gms (about 3.85 cups of AP flour) Water 375 gms (about 13.25 oz or about 1-2/3 cups) Yeast 1/4 tsp (for instant yeast) Salt 10 gms (about 2 tsp) Mix ingredients and knead. Ferment for 1 hour, folding every 20 minutes. Refrigerate for 21 hours. Divide right out of refrigerator and pre-shape. Rest for one hour. Shape. Proof for 45 minutes. Score and Bake at 250C (480F) for 20-25 (?) min. Notes: I used King Arthur French Style Flour, filtered tap water, Balene Sea Salt and SAF instant yeast. The dough was initially quite gloppy. I did a few french folds with minimal change in it. I then placed it in a covered glass bowl and folded every 20 minutes for an hour. Even before the first of these, after a 20 minute rest, the dough had come together nicely. It was still a bit sticky, but the gluten was forming surprisingly well. After the 3rd folding, I refrigerated the dough for 22.5 hours, then proceded per the recipe above. The dough actually almost doubled in the refrigerator. It continued to form bubbles after preforming and the formed baguettes rose to about 1.5 times during proofing. I baked with steam at 460F with convection for 10 minutes, then for another 10 minutes at 480F without convection. I let the loaves rest in the turned off and cracked open oven for another 5 minutes. I got nice oven spring and bloom. One of the loaves burst along the side. In hindsight, I probably didn't seal the seam well enough in forming it. The crust was more crunchy than crackly - a bit thicker than standard baguettes. The crumb was fairly open with a cool, tender/chewy mouth feel. The taste was not bad but not as sweet as classic baguettes. I wonder why. I'm going to have some tonight with chicken cacciatore (made yesterday), buttered broad beans and fedelini. Matter of fact, I better go get it all going! David

Your First Loaf - A Primer for the New Baker

The Fresh Loaf
Pocket Book of Bread Baking

Now available for Kindle

When I tell people I am into bread baking, people often respond by telling me that they wish they could bake bread but it just seems too complicated. I find this discouraging, because baking a basic loaf of bread is about the easiest thing you can do in the kitchen. Once you understand what is going on in a simple loaf of bread you should be able to look at 90% of more difficult bread recipes and have a sense of what that loaf will taste and feel like.

Bread, at its core, is just four things:

Flour
Water
Yeast
Salt

That's it. There are even methods to cut out at least two more of those (yeast and salt), but the end product is unlikely to come out tasting like a typical loaf of bread.

Each ingredient and step in the process of making bread serves a distinct purpose. Once you understand what role each ingredient performs and what is occurring in each step of the process you will feel liberated to experiment and create your own recipes.

Understanding the Ingredients

  • Flour. There are a million different types of flour. Among them are those made from different grains, those made from different types of wheat, bleached and unbleached flour, enriched flour, blended flours, whole grain flours, and on and on. Don't let this intimidate you! Realize that your standard grocery store, All-Purpose Enriched Unbleached Flour that comes in a ten pound bag for under two bucks is good enough to produce an excellent loaf of bread. It is probably higher quality than the flour that 90% of bakers throughout history have ever gotten their hands on. Ok, you are unlikely to win the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie (The Bread Baker's World Cup) using it, but that isn't what most of us are aiming for.

    Flour forms the basis for your loaf of bread. No flour, no bread.

  • Water. You can probably find some of this around the house, can't you?

    Water activates the yeast and dissolves all of the other ingredients. Adding more water results is a stickier, flatter loaf with less regular holes in it, like a Ciabatta. Too little water restricts the expansion of the dough and results in a tight, dry, hard loaf.

  • Yeast. Once again, basic Instant Yeast (also known as Bread Machine Yeast) from the grocery store that comes in those little packets is good enough for all but the most elite baker.

    Active Dry Yeast, another kind commonly found in grocery stores, needs to be activated by pouring it in warm water prior to mixing it into the dough. So read the back of the packet before adding it to your mixture.

    Yeast is what causes the dough to rise. Adding more yeast will cause the loaf to rise more quickly. Adding too much yeast can cause a beery, off taste in your loaf. A teaspoon or two of yeast per loaf is typically called for.

  • Salt. Table salt works well enough. The kosher salt or sea salt that most grocery stores carry tastes a little better, but it isn't worth picking any up just for baking your first loaf: use whatever you've got in the house.

    Salt retards the yeast and helps control the fermentation process. It also adds flavor that most of us expect in even the simplest of breads.

These are the fundamental ingredients for making a decent loaf of bread. Additional ingredients add flavor or complexity to your bread. These will be discussed in a later article.

Once you understand the way these four principle ingredients function, you can look at any recipe and realize that the basic rules of how bread works don't change.

Understanding The Process

For a basic loaf, all you need to do is put the ingredients together in a large bowl, mix them together with a wooden spoon, and then knead the dough on a hard surface for approximately 10 minutes.

Kneading


before rising

Kneading is more than just stirring: kneading actually releases and aligns a protein in the flour called gluten. Gluten strands are what allow bread to form irregular pockets of carbon dioxide. Without this step your bread will have uniformly small holes, more like a muffin or loaf of banana bread.

As long as you aren't tearing or cutting the dough it is hard to go wrong with kneading. Squish and roll, squish and fold, applying a fair amount of pressure on the dough, is a basic kneading technique.

At some point, typically around seven or eight minutes into the process, the consistency of the dough will change. It'll become silky and smooth. You should feel it change. This is a good sign that you've kneaded enough. I typically give it another 2 or 3 minutes before calling it quits.

At this point, drop the dough into a bowl (it's helpful if the bowl is greased to keep your dough from sticking to the bottom - regular spray oil will usually do the trick) and throw a towel over the bowl, and leave it alone to let it rise.

Rising


after rising

Status check: by the time you are ready to let your loaf rise the yeast should be activated and the gluten should be aligned. The yeast does what any organism does after a long nap: it eats. The yeast feeds on the simple sugars that occur naturally in the flour. The yeast then releases carbon dioxide, which causes the bread to swell and form pockets.

If you have kneaded properly the dough will form long strands of gluten which allow large air pockets to form in your loaf. If not you will end up with numerous smaller holes. No holes in your dough means your yeast failed to activate.

The loaf must rise until it is approximately double in size. This typically takes from 45 minutes to a couple of hours, all depending on how much yeast the recipe called for. Temperature too is a factor: the warmer the room is the quicker the yeast will rise.

Punching Down and Shaping


shaped loaf

Some recipes call for one rise before shaping the loaf. Other recipes call for punching down the loaf to allow two or more rises. Punching down means simply to squish the risen dough down and re-knead it so that it is smaller again.

The purpose of punching down is to free up more food for the yeast. The longer the yeast feeds, the more complex the flavor of the loaf. Too many rises, however, can result in off flavors, such as bitterness and a beery flavor, to occur in your bread. As well as carbon dioxide yeast releases alcohol and acids. Too much acid in your loaf can actually cause the yeast to die off.

You do not shape the loaf until you are ready for the final rise. Either you place the loaf in a loaf pan or you shape it into a baguette, batard, round, or whatever shape you want. Then you give it another hour or so to double in size again.


scored loaf

Scoring the bread is just slicing it. You'll want to use something really sharp so that the dough doesn't fall and collapse again. A razor blade does the trick if you don't have fancy knives. The purpose of this is to release some of the trapped gases in your loaf so that it doesn't tear open while baking. It also makes your loaf look nice.

Baking

In the first five minutes in the oven your loaf will have one last growth spurt. This is called oven spring. Think of it as the yeast feeding itself quicker and quicker as it heats up until the rising temperature finally kills it off.



done

Many bakers use baking stones, which retain heat, to try to maximize the oven spring. This is helpful but not necessary when starting out.

Let's Make a Loaf!

OK, now that you have the basic idea, let's try it out with a really simple basic recipe. I tried this one today while stuck inside during an ice storm. This worked out well, since the freezing rain hit before we had realized that our refrigerator was lacking eggs and milk, along with a variety of other grocery items!

A Generic Recipe

3 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons yeast
1 1/8 cup water

Mix everything together. If it is too wet and won't come free from the sides of the bowl or keeps sticking to your hands, add a little more flour. If it is too dry and won't form into a ball, add a bit of water.

Knead it for 10 minutes. Cover and set it aside to rise until it doubles in size, approximately 90 minutes. Punch it down and let it rise again. Shape it, either by putting it in a greased loaf pan or by rolling it out into a long loaf and putting it on the back of a cookie sheet.



Ready to eat!

After it has risen to twice it size again, another hour or so, put the loaf into a preheated oven at 375 degrees. Let it bake for 45 minutes and then pull it out. If you made it into a long skinny loaf, it may cook 5 or 10 minutes quicker, so adjust the time based on what shape you chose. I baked the loaf in these photos for 40 minutes). 350-375°F for 45 minutes is typical for a loaf in a loaf pan.

Eat!

Wrap Up

Well, how was it? It may not be the best loaf of bread you've ever had, but it ain't bad.

There are many additional ingredients and techniques that are used in creating world class breads (some of which I will talk about in future articles), and each step of the process that we discussed (kneading, rising, shaping, scoring, baking) can be further elaborated on, but the approach used in this recipe is at the core of almost every other recipe you will encounter.

Continue to Lesson Two: Adding Something More to Your Loaf.

Flo Makanai's picture
Flo Makanai

1.2.3, An Easy Formula for Sourdough Bread

Hi Everyone!

I'm Flo Makanai, French "author" of the (in French, sorry...) blog Makanai (http://makanaibio.com/). I love bread baking, especially sourdough baking, and I've been doing it for about 15 years.

As I always have many obligations other than baking bread (who does'nt?!) AND lots of sourdough to use (I hate throwing it away once it has reached maturity), I eventually came to "invent" a formula that works for me in France (Janedo from http://aulevain.fr/, whom you certainly know, has also tested that formula and it works for her too).

Here it is:

I weigh the liquid (100%) mature sourdough I have on my counter. It gives me a weight which I shall call weight 1.

I then multiply "weight 1" by 2 to obtain the quantity of liquid (water, rice milk, milk...) I'll need. So the liquid will weigh twice as much as the sourdough.

Then, I multiply "weight 1" by 3 to obtain the quantity of flour(s) (always organic for me) that I'll need. So the flour(s) will weigh 3 times the sourdough. 

I mix those 3 ingredients, I let the dough rest 30 minutes and then I knead my dough, adding 1.8% to 2% of the flour(s) weight of salt.

So "1" = sourdough weight

"2" = liquid weight, which is "1"x2

and "3" = flour(s) weight, which is "1" x3

Example : with 125g sourdough, I'll bake bread with 250g liquid and 375g flour + 6 to 7g salt

The reason I'm writing today on TFL is that I wonder if that formula works in the States, where flours are so different from the ones we have in France. Is anyone interested in trying and then posting a comment on TFL? That would be interesting.

I posted this formula (in French, but you can use the Google translator, even if the result is quite ... unusual!) on Makanaibio yesterday (here: http://www.makanaibio.com/2008/10/123-pain-au-levain-une-formule-qui.html), if you can read French or if you'd like to see a few pictures of some of my breads.

(And please excuse my english, I certainly made mistakes I'm not even aware of...)

I hope to read you soon!

Flo Makanai

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