Lesson: Squeeze more sour from your sourdough
I am far from a sourdough expert. I’ve only been baking sourdough since February, and I still have a lot to learn about shaping, scoring and proofing to perfection.
However, there is one thing I have learned well: how to squeeze more flavor out of my naturally sweet starter. Here's the basic tips.
1) Keep the starter stiff
2) Spike your white starter with whole rye
3) Use starter that is well-fed
4) Keep the dough cool
5) Extend the rise by degassing
6) Proof the shaped loaves overnight in the fridge
Photos and elaboration follow.
It’s a common lament that I see on bread baking forums – Why isn’t my sourdough sour?
Personally, I blame Watertown. My evidence? I gave some of my starter to a friend who lives six miles away in Lexington. Within 6 weeks, she was making sour tasting sourdough. Her local yeastie beasties are clearly more sour than mine.
I don’t know what it is about the microflora that live in the little hollow between the hills that I occupy in Watertown, Mass., but treated traditionally, my white starter and my whole wheat starter pack as much sour taste as a loaf of Wonder Bread. That’s not to say that the loaves don’t taste nice. They do. They’re wheaty with a touch of a buttery aftertaste.
But they don’t taste sour, which is how I think sourdough ought to taste.
Anyway, I’ve finally figured out how to get the tangy loaves I love. If you’re facing the same sweet trouble as me, perhaps some (or all) of these tips will help.
1) Keep your starter stiff:
Traditionally, sourdough starter is kept as a batter. The most common consistency is to have equal weights of water and flour, also known as 100% hydration because the water weight is equal to 100% of the flour weight. That’s roughly 1 scant cup of flour to about ½ cup of water. Jeffrey Hammelman keeps his at 125%, and quite a few folks keep theirs at 200% (1 cup water to 1 cup flour).
I keep my sourdough starter at 50% hydration, meaning that for every 2 units of flour weight, I add 1 unit of water.
Barney Barm, my white starter is on the left; Arthur the whole wheat starter on the right. The bran and germ in whole wheat absorb a lot of water, so that starter is even stiffer than the white.
There are two basic types of bacteria that flourish in a sourdough starter. One produces lactic acid, which gives the bread a smooth taste, sort of like yogurt. It does best in wet, warm environment. The other makes acetic acid, the acid that gives bread its sharp tang. These bacteria prefer a drier, cooler environment.
(Or so I've read, anyway. I ain't no biochemist; I just know what they print in them books.)
A hydration of 50% is pretty stiff, especially for a whole-wheat starter. You really have to knead strongly to convince the starter to incorporate all the flour.
For example, here's my white starter after I've done my best to mix it up in the bucket. Time to knead a bit.
Here's what it looks like after kneading.
And here's what it looks like 5 hours later once it's ripe.
Conversion from 100% to 50% isn't hard to do if you've got a kitchen scale.
Take 2 ounces of your 100% starter. Then add 5 ounces of flour and 2 ounces of water. This should give you 9 ounces of starter. Leave it overnight, and it should be ripened in the morning.
From there on out when you feed it, add 1 unit of water for every 2 units of flour. I'd recommend feeding it 2 or 3 more times before using it, though, so that the yeast and bacteria can acclimate to the new environment.
There are additional advantages to a stiff starter beyond producing a more sour bread.
First, a stiff starter is easier to transport. Just throw a hunk into a bag, and you’re done.
Supposedly, the stiff stuff keeps longer than the batters. You can leave stiff starter in the fridge for months, or so I hear, and it can still be revived. Never tried it myself, though, so don't take my word for it.
Finally, the math for feeding is easy at 50% hydration, much easier than 60% or 65%. Just feed your starter in multiples of threes. For exmaple, if I’ve got 3 ounces of starter and I need to feed it, I'll probably triple it in size. To get six additional ounces for food, I just add 4 ounces flour and 2 ounces water. Piece of cake.
Converting recipes isn’t hard either. First, figure out the total water weight and total flour weight in the original recipe, including what's in the starter. If the recipe calls for a 100% hydration starter, then half of the starter is flour and the other half is water. Divide it accordingly to get the total flour and total water weights in the final dough.
Now, add the total water and total flour together. Take that figure and multiply by 0.30. This will tell you how much stiff starter you’ll need.
Last, subtract the amount of water in the stiff starter from the total water in the final dough, and the amount of flour in the stiff starter from the total flour in the final dough. The results tell you how much flour and water to add to the starter to get the final dough. Everything else remains the same.
2) Spike your white starter with whole rye flour:
It doesn’t take much. Currently, my white starter is about 10-15% whole rye. Basically, for every 3 ounces of white flour that I feed the starter, I replace ½ ounce with whole rye. That small portion of rye makes a big difference in flavor. Rye is to sourdough microflora as spinach is to Popeye. It’s super-food that’s easily digestible and nutrient rich. That’s why so many recipes for getting a starter going from scratch suggest you start with whole rye.
Here I am, about to add rye to "Barney Barm," my white starter. I haven’t added rye to my whole-wheat starter, though. It hasn’t needed it – there’s more than enough nutrients in the whole wheat to keep the starter party going strong.
3) Use starter that is well fed: Early in my search to sour my sourdough, I’d read that, if you leave a starter unfed and on the counter for a few days before baking, it will make your bread more sour.
I’ve found that’s not the case. The starter gets more sour, but the bread doesn’t taste very sour at all.
The better course is to take your starter out of the fridge at least a couple of days before you use it, and then feed it two or three times before you make the final dough. Healthy microflora make a more flavorful bread.
4) Keep the dough cool:
When I first started out, I was following recipes that called for the dough to be at 79 degrees, and I’d often put it in a fairly warm place to rise. Warmth kills sour taste. Nowadays, I add water that’s room temperature, not warmed, and aim for a much cooler rise, no higher than 75 degrees and often as low as 64.
The cellar is your friend.
5) Extend the rise by degassing:
When I make whole wheat sourdough, I usually let the dough rise until it has doubled and then degass it by folding until it rises a second time. Along with cool dough, this means the bulk fermentation usually lasts 5-6 hours.
When I’m making pain au levain or some other white flour sourdough, I usually have the dough very wet, so it needs more than one fold to give it the strength it needs. In this case, I fold once at 90 minutes and then again after another 90 minutes. Usually, the full bulk rise lasts about 5 hours.
Here's a sequence showing how I fold my whole-wheat sourdough.
First, turn the risen dough out on a lightly floured surface (heavily floured if your dough is very wet).
Stretch it to about twice its length.
Gently degass one-third of the dough, fold it over the middle, and degass the middle section to seal.
Do the same for the remaining side. Take the folded dough, turn it one-quarter, and fold once more before returning to the bowl or bucket to rise again.
6) Proof the shaped loaves overnight in the fridge:
This final touch really brings out the flavor. So much so that, if you’ve incorporated all the other suggestions, proofing overnight might make your bread a bit too sour for your taste. My wife and I like it assertively sour, however, so this step is a must.
Normally, I’d suggest proofing your loaves on the top shelf where it’s warmest, so as not to kill off any yeast, but I find that if I put my loaves in the top, they’re ready in about 4-6 hours, at which time I’m usually sound asleep. So I started putting them in the bottom, and had better luck.
I hope this helps those of you who dread pulling another beautiful loaf from the oven, only to find it looks better than it tastes. Best of luck!
In the 15 years since I first tried Brother Juniper's Struan Bread, I've tasted a lot of great bread, but I still don't think I've tried anything that makes as great toast as Struan Bread does. Nor have I tried any bread is so universally enjoyed: everyone who tries it agrees that this bread makes killer toast.
It isn't bad for sandwiches either.
I have to admit though that this bread occasionally gives me nightmares. Click "Read More" to learn why.
When I was in high school I worked in the Brother Juniper's bakery and cafe. For the most part I worked on the slicing machine, but I also helped scale and shape the loaves. Oh yes, and top the loaves with poppy seeds.
The poppy seeds. The poppy seeds are what give me nightmares.
I have no idea how many pounds of poppy seeds we went through a day, but I know we made as many as 500 loaves of Struan Bread, each one covered with hundreds of poppy seeds. Those seeds would get everywhere: in your hair, under your fingernails, in your clothes, everywhere you can imagine. Even a few places you can't imagine: I recall a number of times pulling poppy seeds out of strange places (like my book bag for school or a clean pair of pants) and wondering "How in the world did poppy seeds get in there?!?
I still avoid poppy seeds most of the time, though I'll admit they are wonderful on top of this loaf.
About Struan Bread
Struan Bread (properly pronounced "STRU-en bread", but most people I know call it "STRON bread") is a harvest bread. I believe the story is that Peter Reinhart read something about a traditional bread that Irish villagers baked into which they threw a little bit of everything they were harvesting. Struan Bread as we know it is an attempt to capture the spirit of that loaf.
Regardless of the origin, this bread is wonderful. One is certainly free to experiment with including different or additional grains. I've done so a bit and the bread has turned out quite good, though I don't think any of them have be as excellent as the combination found in the original recipe (reproduced below).
Oh yeah, I need to add that this recipe is roughly the recipe found in Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice. I believe he includes versions of it in most of his other baking books (Crust & Crumb and Brother Juniper's Bread Book come to mind). If you don't already have one of his bread books on your shelf you owe it to yourself to pick one up.
Makes 1 large loaf or 2 small loaves
3 tablespoons polenta
3 tablespoons rolled oats
2 tablespoons wheat bran
1/4 cup water
3 cups unbleached bread flour
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon instant yeast
3 tablespoons cooked brown rice
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
Mix together the ingredients for the soaker. Cover and allow to soak for at least half an hour or as long as overnight.
In a larger bowl, combine the dry ingredients, then stir in wet ingredients and soaker. Add more flour or water until the dough can be formed into a ball that is tacky but not sticky. Place the ball of dough on a clean work surface and knead it for 10 to 12 minutes, then return it to the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to ferment until doubled in size, approximately 90 minutes.
Remove the dough from the bowl, degas it gently, and split it for two loaves or shape it as is for one. Place the loaves in greased bread pans, spritz or sprinkle water on top, and sprinkle a handful of poppy seeds on top.
Cover the pans loosely with plastic and allow the loaves to rise until doubled in size again, approximately 90 minutes.
Bake these loaves at 350 for 40 to 60 minutes, until the internal temperature is around 190 degrees. When ready the loaves will be quite brown on top and will make a hollow thud when tapped on the bottom.
Doesn't that look good? Trust me, it is WONDERFUL! Try it, it is worth the work!
Related Recipes: Maple Oatmeal Bread
Baguettes a l'Ancienne with Cold Retardation
My first post in April of last year was about a side by side comparison of two of my favorite baguette formulations by Philippe Gosselin and Anis Bouabsa that David Snyder had previously published here on TFL. It was a tough choice to decide which one was better. The Gosselin baguette had an unequaled sweetness due to the overnight cold autolyse and the Bouabsa baguette had an incredibly complex taste due to the cold retardation. I was thinking why not have the best of both world so I started to experiment with combining the two formulations. After a couple of tries, I have succeeded in making a baguette that has the best attributes of both.
Yesterday, at the request of my wife, I made a batch of Baguettes a l'Ancienne with Cold Retardation for her monthly Book Club Party. The formulation follows David's transcription of Gosselin's Pain a l'Ancienne with a few slight variations. I have to clarify that this is not the formulation that Peter Reinhart and Daniel Leader had adapted from the original Gosselin technique but the true ice cold overnight autolyse method that David had published. After the overnight autolyse and the incorporation of the reserved water, yeast and salt the next morning, instead of bulk fermenting, shaping and baking the same day, I partially bulk ferment the dough at room temperature for 3 hours then retard it in the refrigerator for 18 hours before shaping and baking. I use a mix of 94% King Arthur Organic Select Artisan Flour (11.3% protein) and 6% Bob's Red Mill Organic Dark Rye Flour with 70% hydration. I also reduce the yeast amount by 2/3 because of the extended fermentation. Here are the results:
The crust has nice caramelization from the extra sugar produced by the long cold autolyse.
The crumb is open and soft with a slight chewiness. The taste is sweet and nutty with a complex aftertaste.
The crumb is medium thin with nice crunchiness and the crumb shows good translucent gelatinilization.
P.S. Following a number of requests, here is the entire formulation.
- - 470 gms Unbleached AP Flour
- - 30 gms Dark Rye Flour
- - 300 gms Ice Cold Water
- - 10 gms Sea Salt
- - 1/2 tsp Instant Yeast
- - 50 gms Cold Water
1- Mix flour blend and ice water w/ flat beater for 1 min. and refrigerate overnight.
2- Add yeast and water and mix w/ flat beater for 3 mins or until all water has been incorporated. Add salt and beat for 3 mins or until dough slaps side of bowl.
3- Let rest 15 mins and do S&F 4 times at 30 mins intervals (1 1/2 hrs total) and 2 more times at 45 mins intervals (1 1/2 hrs total).
4- Refrigerate for 24 hours.
5- Divide dough in 3 and gently pre-shape in torpedo shape. Let rest 1 hr.
6-Gently shape baguettes and proof on linen couche for 45 mins.
7- One hour before baking, preheat oven to 490 degrees f w/ baking stone and cast iron skillet filled w/ lava rocks.
8- Mist sides of oven then slash baguettes 4 times and transfer baguettes to baking stone in oven. Immediately pour 2/3 cup boiling water on lava rocks.
9- Reduce oven temperature to 460 degrees f and bake 10 mins.Remove cast iron skillet, reduce temperature to 430 degrees F and bake for another 10 mins on convection mode.
10- Remove baguettes from oven and let cool on wire rack.
The Fresh Loaf Baker's Handbook
The Fresh Loaf Handbook is a distillation of some of the baking wisdom of The Fresh Loaf community.
Use the content navigation on the right to find your way around.
I love pumpkin bread and muffins any time of the year, particularly with chocolate chips in it and while sipping a cup of dark coffee, but pumpkin bread seems particularly appropriate this time of year.
This is a recipe for your standard pumpkin quick bread; yeasted pumpkin breads are rare, though not unheard of. Fresh pumpkin can be be used, though I usually take the easy way out and just use canned pumpkin puree. Whole wheat flour can also be substituted for some or all of the all-purpose flour for a change of pace.
Because the moisture content of the pumpkin can vary, as it can in the flour, the recipe recommends between 3 and 4 cups of flour. I used about 3 1/2 cups, but don't be afraid to trust your gut and adjust according to conditions.
Makes approximately 12 muffins, 3 small loaves, or 1 large loaf
1 3/4 cup (1 15 oz. can) pureed pumpkin
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
3-4 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cups chopped walnuts or chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350.
Combine the pumpkin, brown sugar, butter, and eggs and mix until creamy. In a separate bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients except the nuts or chocolate chips. Mix 3 cups of the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, then add as much of the 4th cup as necessary to achieve the proper consistency (moist, but thick enough to stand a spoon in). Add the nuts or chocolate chips and stir in.
Pour or spoon the batter into greased muffin tins or bread pans. Bake on the center rack until a toothpick poked into the center comes out dry. At sea level, muffins should take between 20 and 25 minutes to bake, small loaves between 25 and 30 minutes, and full sized loaves between 50 minutes and 1 hour.
Autumn is here!
Tortas de Aceite
Our family traveled to Spain this past Spring, and Sevilla was our favorite city on the trip, we were there during Semana Santa. We particularly enjoyed the Tortas de Aceite- yeast-leavened olive oil wafters laced with sesame and anise. This version is a little different than the standard torta in that it is leavened with sourdough and uses star anise instead of anise seed.
A view of the courtyard in Sevilla's Alcazar, the Royal Palace.
Tortas de Aceite Recipe
|Sourdough starter, 60% hyd.||6g||Total flour||200g|
|KAF AP||30g||White flour||100%|
|Water, room temp||18g||Hydration||60%|
|Main Dough||Levain flour||10%|
|Unbleached AP, 10% protein||180g||Sugar||6%|
|Sesame seeds, toasted||1Tb + 3/4 tsp||Olive oil||27%|
|Water, room temp||108g|
|Star anise||1 piece|
|Granulated sugar||2 tsp + 2 Tbs|
Mix levain, allow to ferment ovenight at 68-70F. It should rise but not yet be fully mature.
Weigh flour into mixing bowl and coat a 3-4 cup bulk ferment container with olive oil.
Use spice grinder to grind toasted sesame seeds, salt and main dough sugar until fine. Stir into flour.
Add 32g levain (the rest is for perpetuating the culture), water and oil to the flour mixture and mix until combined, then knead by hand about 10 minutes.
Transfer to oiled container and cover.
Ferment until dough has doubled, about 5 hours at 81F.
Using olive oil to grease work surfaces and dough, stretch and fold 3 times in first 3.5 hours, then allow to rise. Ready when rounded peak reaches a little past 2 2/3 cups.
Divide and pre-shape into 12 rounds. Place on oiled sheet pan and rest one hour, covered.
In spice grinder, grind star anise with 2 tsp sugar until fine, then scrape into bowl.
Preheat oven to 450F, placing rack in middle of oven. Prep a half sheet pan with silpat or parchment.
Spread 2 Tbs granulated sugar on a plate.
Flatten dough balls slightly, then sprinkle the top with 1/4 tsp of the anise-sugar mixture. Spread mixture over dough disc with fingertip.
Shape six discs into pizza-like tortas about 3 1/2 inches in diameter, then turn face down in sugar plate to coat with sugar.
Place six tortas on one half sheet pan and bake 8 minutes, then rotate and bake 3-5 more minutes, until nicely caramelized.
Repeat with remaining six tortas.
Editing to add notes:
Don't be tempted to add the anise into the main dough- it has potent anti-bacterial and anti-fungal qualities and will kill off every discernable trace of sourdough culture (did this with my first go at these).
These re-heat and re-crisp beautifully in the toaster.
Flattened Discs with Anise-Sugar Mixture:
The Shaped Tortas:
Plaza Nueva at Sunset:
Looking for Tapas:
Mini's Favorite 100% Rye Ratio
I've been playing with rye loaf ratios (starter/water/flour) and I came up with one using any amount of rye starter that when refreshed is a paste (100% hydration) and as it ferments loostens to a thick batter. I was looking for basic numbers (like 1/2/3) and I found them they're 1/ 3.5/ 4.16. It makes Rye so much easier! The starter should be generously refreshed 8-12 hours before and mixed into the dough just before peaking and in a 22°c room (72°F) the dough ferments 7-8 hours before baking. Dough should not be folded or shaped 4 hours before going into the oven.
Basic Ratio> 1 part starter: 3.5 parts cold water: 4.16 parts rye flour
4 tablespoons bread spice for 500g flour Salt 1.8 to 2% of flour weight
Hydration of dough aprox 84%. Handle dough with wet hands and a wet spatula. Combine starter and water then the flour, stir well and let rest covered. Add salt about one hour after mixing and any other ingredients. If room is warmer add salt earlier. Three hours into the ferment lightly fold with wet hands and shape into a smooth ball. Place into a well floured brotform or oiled baking pan. Cover and let rise. Don't let it quite Double for it will if conditions are right. Before placing in the oven, use a wet toothpick and dock the loaf all over to release any large bubbles. Bake in covered dark dish in cold oven Convection 200°C or 390°F (oven can reach 220°C easy with the fan on.) Remove cover after 20 to 25 minutes and rotate loaf. Reduce heat by simply turning off convection and use top & bottom heat at 200°C. Remove when dough center reaches 93°C or 200° F.
All kinds of combinations are possible including addition of soaked & drained seeds and or cooked berries or moist altus and whole or cracked walnuts or a little spoon of honey.
How it works: I have 150g rye starter at 100% hydration. I figure for water: 150 x 3.5 gives the water amount or 525g. I figure the flour: 150 x 4.16 gives 624 g Rye flour. For salt: 2% of 700g (624g + aprox. 75g in the starter) makes salt 14g or one level tablespoon of table salt.
This amount of dough took 1 1/2 hours to bake and included moist rye altus. It was baked in two non-stick cast aluminum sauce pans (20cm diameter) one inverted over the other . The rounder of the two on the bottom. No steam other than what was trapped inside. Top removed after 25 minutes. It has a beautiful dark crust with a light shine. Aroma is heavenly.
San Joaquin Sourdough: another variation produces the best flavor yet.
My San Francisco Sourdough starter from sourdo.com is now two weeks old. I made another pair of my San Joaquin Sourdough breads with it yesterday. I modified my formula somewhat. I used a 60% hydration starter fed with AP flour only. I increased the amount of starter by 50%. I used KAF AP flour for the dough. I used no added instant yeast.
KAF AP flour
BRM Dark Rye flour
Mix the firm starter (1:3:5 – Starter:Water:Flour). Let it ferment at room temperature for 12 hours.
Pour the water into a large mixing bowl. Add the starter and dissolve it in the water.
Add the flours and mix to a shaggy mass. Cover tightly and let it sit for 20-60 minutes.
Sprinkle the salt over the dough and mix thoroughly using the “stretch and fold in the bowl” technique. Let it rest for 30 minutes.
Repeat the “stretch and fold in the bowl” for 30 strokes 2 more times at 30 minute intervals.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured board, and do one stretch and fold.
Form the dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl. Note the volume of the dough. Cover the bowl tightly. Let it rest for 30 minutes.
Repeat the stretch and fold on the board. Reform the dough into a ball and replace it in the bowl.
Allow the dough to continue fermenting until the volume has increased 50%.
Cold retard the dough for about 20 hours. (The dough had more than doubled and was full of large and small bubbles.)
Take the dough out of the refrigerator and immediately transfer it to a lightly floured board.
Divide the dough into two equal pieces and pre-shape them into logs or rounds, depending on whether you want to make boules or bâtards. Cover the pieces with plasti-crap and let them rest for 60 minutes. (Give them a shorter rest if the kitchen is very warm. You don't want them to expand very much, if any.)
Pre-heat the oven to 500ºF with a baking stone and your steaming method of choice in place.
Shape the pieces and place them in bannetons or on a couche. Cover the loaves and proof them until they have expanded by 50-70%. (30-45 minutes)
Pre-steam the oven. Then transfer the loaves to a peel (or equivalent). Score them, and load them onto your baking stone.
Turn the oven down to 460ºF.
After 12 minutes, remove your steaming apparatus. Turn the loaves 180º, if necessary for even browning.
Continue to bake the loaves for another 15-18 minutes or until their internal temperature is 205ºF.
Turn off the oven, but leave the loaves on the stone with the oven door ajar for another 7-10 minutes to dry the crust.
Transfer the loaves to a cooling rack.
Cool the loaves completely before slicing.
The loaves were already singing when I took them out of the oven. The crust developed crackles, which can be credited to the use of AP rather than higher gluten flour and the drying in the oven (Step 19., above).
The crumb was nice and open.
The crust was crisp when first cooled and crunchy/chewy the next morning. The flavor was sweet and wheaty, like a good baguette, with the barest hint of sourness. This was po
ssibly the best tasting San Joaquin Sourdough I've made. I think I'm going to stick with this version. Next time, I may use this dough to make baguettes.
Submitted to YeastSpotting
Poolish Croissant - the pursuit of perfection
In the past 1.5 months, this is what I have been doing in the kitchen, once, or even two batches every week. I have occasionally made croissants before, however, this time I really want to get the techinques down. My idea of a perfect croissant: golden flaky high on the outside, crisp layers and honeycomb like crumb inside, and of course, buttery rich taste. Using European style butter (Plugra), in TX warm weather, with no professional equipment (no sheeter here!), it's a process that requires patience, thorough understanding for each step, a lot of attention to details, and insane amount of practice. I am nowhere near "perfect" yet, but heading in the right direction, here are some lessons learned in the process.
First, the following are resources that helped me a great deal, many thanks!
1)"Advanced Bread and Pastry". This book has a whole chapter on viennoiserie, the formula I am used is adapted from it. However, the formula and procedures require quite a bit of changes in a home kitchen.
2)Hamelman's formula from here. while I didn't use his ingredient ratios, but his procedure is much more suitable for a home kitchen, comparing to what's in AB&P.
3)Ralph from this thread. The whole thread is helpful, but Ralph's input was extra enlightening to me. I emailed him asking for the formula he uses in the shop. Since his posting was from over a year ago, I really didn't expect a reply, but he did write back! I really appreciate his insight and generosity.
4)Many enlightening posts from TFL, especially andy's post here.
Since I made many mistakes along the way, and learned a lot form each of them, I am writing them all down below. Warning, it's long. I mean looooooooong.
Poolish Croissant (Adapted from AB&P)
*I get about 12 standard sized croissants from each batch, with some small rolls from scraps.
AP flour (KAF AP), 160g
instant yeast, 1/8tsp
1. mix and ferment 12 to 16 hours.
- Final Dough
AP flour (KAF AP), 362g
osmotolerant instant yeast (SAF gold), 3.55g, 1tsp+1/8tsp
malt, 3.55g (I used a tsp of barley malt syrup)
butter, 22g, softened
roll-in butter, 287g
NOTE 1, there are two poolish croissant formulas from AB&P, one for hand rolling, one for sheeter. The sheeter one has less liquid and less rest time between folding and rolling, the hand rolling one has much more liquid and more rest time. I find drier dough would give a more well defined cleaner crumb structur, but it's harder to rol out; wetter dough would be easier to roll out, but the crumb would be more sticky and less layered. What I try to do is to adjust the liquid amount so that it's dry, but still possible to roll out without messing up the layers. In the end, this amoutn is closer to the sheeter formula (the hand rolling one is way too wet for me), but with a tad more liquid.
NOTE 2, the original formula uses bread flour. As Andy mentions in his post, contrary to conventional belief, croissants need a strong dough to rise well and create layer in the end. Since the formula was meant for machine rolling, it can afford to use BF, however, 10 years of marathon running gave me strong legs, not arms, I had to change it to AP flour, otherwise butter would melt and leak when I struggle with the strong dough. Note that Hamelman's formula I quoted above is meant for home bakers, and it uses AP; while Ralph's formula (which he emailed to me) uses BF, but it's meant for shop production. I have seen recipes that uses mostly, even all, cake flour. It never ends well. The final product is usally small and bread like, with less rise. The crumb structure is not layered. IMO, those recipes are sacraficing the crumb structure for the ease of handling
NOTE3, this is probably the most important lesson in terms of ingredients. The industry standard for rolling in butter is apparently 25% of the dough weight, which comes out to be about 45%of flour weight. Andy says it's about the same over the pond. However, I have found that in a home environment, when the rolling is less even and efficient, more rolling-in butter is needs for a well defined crumb. The less butter to use, the thinner the butter layers are, which means easier for the butter to melt into the dough or leak out. I have increased the roll-in butter ratio to 55% of the flour weight, about 30% of dough weight, which gives me much more consistent good results. I know many have said more butter would cause butter to leak out during final proof or baking - it's simply not true. Butter leakage during proofing is caused by proofing temp being too hight, and butter leakage during baking is caused by under-proofing, neither is related to the amount of roll-in butter. With 55% of roll-in butter, zero butter is leaked during proofing for me, minimal leaks during baking - sometimes none at all.
NOTE4, I use Plugra European style butter for most of my croissants. Have also used Kerry Gold occasionally. Both taste great. I would suggest to stick to a good European butter, different brand handls a bit differently. My Chinese baking friends can buy "butter sheets" which are 100% butter with high melting point. Those are much easier to handle, but I have not found any here in US, if anyone knows a resouce pelase let me know. In fact if anyone knows why we don't have such a thing here, I am curious to know as well. Those are made in New Zealand and Europe.
1. Mix everything but the rolling butter, knead until gluten starts to form. In my KA mixer, 3min at first speed, 3 min at 3rd speed. The dough is not very smooth, but not sticky. Pat flat and put in fridge for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
NOTE5, some recipes ask for a thorough kneaded dough, some ask for no kneading at all. I think the objective is to have a strong dough with well developed gluten structure AT THE END. All the rolling, folding, even relaxing in the fridge would strengthen gluten, so it's not a good idea to knead the dough too well in the beginning. It will make rolling near impossible (if you don't have a sheeter).
NOTE6, some recipe would ask for some bulk rise time at room temperature. I think it's not suitable for home bakers. Bulk fermentations strengthen the dough, which means one would need to play with knead time, and rolling technique to accomodate the added dough strength. Furthurmore, there are a lot of resting in my procedure because the dough would get too tight or too warm. With a bulk rise, I am risking over fermentating, which would cause the final proof and oven spring to be weak.
2. Cut the roll-in butter into pieces, put between two sheets of plastic or wax paper. Use a rolling pin to tap the butter until it's soft enough to roll, roll between the two sheets until it's a 7.5X7.5inch square. Put in fridge.
NOTE7, this is a good time to learn how your butter behave. How long does it take for it to get soft? How long until it's melty? That's the guideline for later.
3. Roll the dough out until it's double size of the butter sheet, 11X11inch in this case. Tap butter until it's roll-able, and the texture is similar to the dough. put the butter in the middle of the dough as following, fold up dough and seal the butter. Pay attention to corners and edges, you don't want spots where there's no butter.
4. Roll out into a 8X24inch rectangle, do your first fold as following:
NOTE8, as Ralph emphasized in his posting: don't trap the dough! Before folding, cut the edge off to expose the layers before folding that side into the crease of the dough, that way there's no "extra trapped dough".
NOTE9, even though at this stage, it doesn't seem important to roll the dough out into specified sizes, but you will get better results if you do. The reason is simple: if your dough piece is smaller at this step, you will have to do more rolling in the later steps. Later steps would have more layers of butter, which means it will be harder to roll out evenly. Roll out the dough to the size now.
NOTE10, pay attention to corners and edges. Every imperfection would be magnified 27 times because you are folding 3 times.
5 Put in fridge and rest for 1 hour. Take out dough and repeat the rolling and folding 2 mroe times, which gives 3 folds in total.
NOTE11, I had the misconception that the more folds, the more layers, the flakier it will be. Wrong. With too many folds, butter layers would be thinner and thinner, and it will be more likely for the butter to melt and leak. Even with perfect rolling, too may layers would mean smaller honeycomb "holes" in the crumb. With no sheeter and TX weather, I find 3 folds sufficient, any more it's risky.
NOTE12, 1 hour is "MINIMAL" resting time. I often have rested longer since I was doing something else. There's no harm in resting a bit longer. During final fold, I sometimes have to rest it in the middle in order to roll out to the desired size. Sometimes when it's way too warm (the curse of TX, at one point I was rolling out croissant while hubby was eating watermelon in a tshirt), I would also rest in the middle to avoid butter melting. It's always better to be overly cautious. Allow you self more time than your expect.
6. Put in fridge and rest for at least 90min.Roll out to 9X36inch, 1/8inch thickness.
NOTE13, I don't have such a big counter space, niether do I have such a big fridge, so I cut the dough in half, which means I have 2 pieces, each one is 9X18inch.
NOTE14, Rest often. Rest when there's any indication of butter getting too warm, or the dough getting too elasticy. There's no harm in resting too much.
NOTE15, Use enough flour so the dough don't stick.
7. Cut into triangles, 4.5inch wide at the base, 9inches tall(the one on the left). Don't hesitate to cut off inperfect edges if you want a pefect crumb. Fridge and rest the triangle pieces, then strech them into 10inch high(the one on the right), this will creat more layers.
8. Roll up fairly tight, stretch out the tip with one hand when you roll the bottom with the other hand. You should get 3 rolls, and 7 little steps, wich the tip underneath.
NOTE16, this is the straight shape, if you want a curved shape, you will need to cut a slit in the base before rolling, and roll to the outside as you start from the base. See Hamelman's formual link.
9. At this point, you can proof right away, fridge overnight and proof next day, or freeze (defrost overnight in fridge before proofing). Brush with egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 TBSP of water), then proof @ about 80F until very soft and jiggly. About 3 hours for me. Brush another layer of egg wash after proofing.
NOTE17, don't proof warmer than 80F, the butter might leak otherwise.
NOTE18, don't under proof, otherwise butter will leak during baking. I have yet to overproof these. They have to be REALLY soft and jiggly. The layers will be very obvious at the end.
NOTE19, the egg wash before proofing would reduce the requirement on proofing humidity.
NOTE20, I have a madeshift proofing box made from foam box, a temperature sensor and control from pet shop, and a light bulb, works great.
10. Bake at 425F for 10min, 375 for 15min.
Honeycomb enough? Not really, but getting there.They should be more well defined, and the wall of each cell should be thinner.
For this one, I didn't cut off the imperfect edge before rolling up , which made the center too doughy.
I don't even know whether a "perfect" croissant can be achieved in a home kitchen, especially a warm TX home kitchen, but I will keep trying. In the mean time, my family, friends, and coworkers are loving me for feeding them such delicious breads.
Sending this to Yeastspotting.