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Elasticity of sourdough dough - light at the end of the tunnel?

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venkitac's picture
venkitac

Elasticity of sourdough dough - light at the end of the tunnel?

I made Hamelman's vermont sourdough with 10% wholewheat again yesterday (I've decided that I'll make this particular bread repeatedly till I get the hang of sourdough, seems to be the best way to learn). This time, I hand-kneaded the dough with the Richard Bertinet technique after a 20 min autolyse. Dough came together surprisingly quickly and developed a lot of strength in like 2-3 mins, it was really elastic but not too extensible - I almost got a full windowpane, but not a full one. I decided that that's sufficient because I'll do folds (plus the dough had some wholewheat after all). I did a fold at 1 hour, dough had developed a lot of extensibility, but elasticity was much lower than an hour ago. After that fold, I did another one at 2 hours, dough again had a lot of extensibility, elasticity was about what it was an hour ago. I did not retard the dough. I proceed to preshpae. After preshape, and rest, when it came to shaping, the dough again had a lot of extensiblity, but it didn't have much elasticity, I couldn't really get a tight skin around it, dough strengh was just not there. In the end, bread had a rather flat profile - tasted good, had good crust, had good volume too, just that it couldn't hold up the shape and height. And for the first time, I baked under a bowl, and I got massive oven spring too!


Net is that at the end of the knead, dough had lots of elasticity, but it didn't really maintain that elasticity despite stretch and folds. I don't think I've seen this with commercial yeast dough, but I could be wrong. Is it the case that for sourdoughs, you need to knead more in the beginning to develop more strength because of the acidic dough? Or is there another trick with sourdough to maintain dough strength? I understand that adding ascorbic acid helps, but I would rather learn to do this right than work around any technical issues I have with additives...


EDIT: In the past, in another thread, I was advised that I need good elasticity and that means mroe stretch and folds. That would mean I'd need the change the recipe to do more folds at more frequent intervals till I get the requisite elasticity (more frequent because I want to avoid changing the time recommended for bulk ferment). After typing all the above, I've been thinking about it more - I think that is probably my solution?


 

xaipete's picture
xaipete

Your finished product doesn't look bad to me, Venkitac. Maybe a little underproofed though. Did you try the finger poking test see when it was ready to bake? Also, did you bake this one under a cloche?


I love the way you faked a cloche. I've done the same many times.


--Pamela

venkitac's picture
venkitac

Thanks!


Yes, poke test - poked, and it bounced back just about half way (note, dough has 15% whole wheat, not 10% as I said originally), then I baked. Under steel bowl, taking a cue from David S. I must say that I have *never* gotten this much oven spring!


Loaf doesn't look bad as such, but I really couldn't get a skin around it, and I had to support it, and really, it was a "propped up loaf" not a "shaped loaf":)


 

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

Hi venkitac,


As I look at your loaf there, I think it could use more gluten development if height or tension are issues.  Don't feel constrained to follow a printed recipe to the letter IF things start looking like they shouldn't.


I think that hand-kneaded doughs need many more folds than those which are even partially mixed by machine.  You always want to let the appearance of the dough affect the decision of how many times to fold, in any case.  You really have to bake, I think, maybe half a dozen times with the same formula, preferably in succession, to get a reliable sense of whether the dough looks "right" at any given time.  And if it doesn't look right, I'd take action.


If a dough looks like it is showing signs of weakness, do more folds.  You can do them every 15 minutes or so if necessary.  Even with 5-6 sets of folds, I'd expect a hand-kneaded dough to require about 4-5 hours to mature and have sufficient strength for good division and shaping.


Hope you manage to solve that problem.


--Dan DiMuzio

hc's picture
hc

Hi Dan,


Interesting that you said that hand-kneaded doughs need more folds than those mixed by machine. Does that also apply to hand-kneaded doughs that have been autolysed for an hour or so? Because when I used to do that with Susan's 63 percent sourdough recipe (admittedly, using all-purpose flour, not high-gluten), the dough would be fine for the first couple of folds, then get all sticky and shiny at about the third fold. Of course, I panicked thinking that the dough was about to become overkneaded, and left it alone for the remainder of the fermentation. It turned out OK but ever since then I've been somewhat cautious about both the extent of autolyse and the number of folds (and I've switched to bread flour).


Recipe here: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/12006/63-hydration-sourdough . I have no idea why the post application won't let me use the link tool today.


Also, you may be able to explain something I've been wondering about for a while. How can you tell, just from seeing a cross section of a loaf, if it's been overproofed or underproofed, or troubleshoot it in other ways (such as being able to tell that it wasn't scored properly)? I'd really like to be able to understand what over/underproofing looks like on the inside to help me troubleshoot my own bread.

venkitac's picture
venkitac

"Because when I used to do that with Susan's 63 percent sourdough recipe (admittedly, using all-purpose flour, not high-gluten), the dough would be fine for the first couple of folds, then get all sticky and shiny at about the third fold. Of course, I panicked thinking that the dough was about to become overkneaded, and left it alone for the remainder of the fermentation"


That's *very* interesting. Is dough becoming shiny a sign of overkneading?

hc's picture
hc

and I would quote the passage if I hadn't had to return the book to the library this morning. As I remember, Hamelman says that overkneaded dough becomes shiny and sticky because it starts to release the water molecules that were bound to the gluten during its development.


I am not at all sure that MY shiny, sticky dough became that way because of overkneading, however. From Hamelman's description, it looked that way, but I have trouble believing that about 20 slap-and-folds followed by three stretch-and-folds would be enough to overknead anything, even after an hour-long autolyse.

venkitac's picture
venkitac

Hi Dan, thanks for the advice. I've decided to adopt the vermont sourdough and bake it everyday for atleast a week. I did more folds - not more frequent, but more in number at 50 minute intervals - yesterday, with much better luck: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/13022/sourdoug-succes-almost-last . I will try today with more frequent folds every 15 mins rather doing 20 of them at 50 mins. Thanks!

hansjoakim's picture
hansjoakim

Hi venkitac,


First, I think your loaf looks pretty good!


I'm trying to get my head around some of the same questions you raised in the original post, and I think these are important for bakers to understand. As I'm still sorting things out myself, I can't guarantee what I'm saying here is correct, but I thought I could put up some thoughts anyway.


I take it you're following Hamelman's formula, and use a liquid levain? Liquid levains are known to promote protease activity, which will increase the extensibility of the dough. Depending on what kind of flours you are using, what kind of loaf you want to make, etc., it may or may not, be a good idea to use a liquid levain. If you'd like to see the effect of levain hydration in practice, you could try Hamelman's ciabatta for instance, first with a poolish (liquid preferment) then with a biga (firm/stiff preferment). I think you would feel the difference between the doughs as you make the folds - the dough made with a poolish would grow increasingly "fluid" and more extensible. More so than the one with a firm preferment at least.


I've also seen scientific experiments on sourdough's influence on the rheology of bread dough. If I remember correctly, it was concluded that the acidity added to bread dough by preferments, increased solubility of proteins. I believe this is linked with increased protease activity, and greater extensibility. More importantly, however, is that the extensiblity increased with fermentation time. So, as time passes (and bulk fermentation gets longer), the dough will get more extensible and softer. This is also what you noticed, I think.  There were also performed experiments where bread dough was chemically acidified. Contrary to the dough with preferment, which got progressively more extensible over time, an immediate reduction in extensibility was observed for the chemically acidified dough.


I'm not sure if I'm the best to offer suggestions for improving your loaf, but I think that a) slightly increasing the initial mixing time, b) add a third fold (e.g. space them by 40 - 45 mins.) and/or c) try a stiff levain next time, could help, at least if you're aiming for a long bulk ferment. You probably need to develop the dough "more aggressively"... in a friendly way ;)


Best of luck! And: I hope you'll share thoughts about any progress/sidesteps/mishaps as you move along!

venkitac's picture
venkitac

Hi Hansjoakim,


I'm using the liquid levain, exactly as suggested by Hamelman (125% hydration), with a starter maintained at 100% hydration. I haven't really played with fermentation time in a scientific way, recording results, yet. Today, I increased initial mixing time just a bit, I'm going to do more frequent folds spaced at 20 mins, and I will definitely update with the results. Thanks for the encouragement!


 


EDIT: BTW, I'm not retarding the loaves at all, it's pretty much ferment for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, proof for 2 hours, and into the oven. I have had bad luck retarding in the past (see the thread Dan pointed to below, where I ended up with a complete mess), so I decided I need to get unretard loaves right before I play with retarding.

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

I didn't stop to think that your starter might be liquid and not firm. and I focused too much on mixing and folding instead of the enzymes being an issue.


I guess one down side of utilizing pre-ferments of any sort (especially wild pre-ferments) is that just mastering the pre-ferment can be a long process if you are unlucky and have no point of reference.  How do you know if a poolish is ripe enough, or over-ripe?  What does a liquid levain look like when it's ready?  And so on.  You need to use them frequently to have any personal point of reference.


I'm posting this photo to illustrate how my liquid levain, firm levain, and poolish look when they're ready for use.  A photo of how they looked just after creation (for poolish) or just after feeding (for levain) would have been helpful here, but I don't have one, and that just goes to show that I don't think of everything:


On the lower left is liquid levain at 100% hyd., on the top is firm levain at 60% hydration, and lower right is poolish at 100% hydration.  I am not posting these as international standards, but they work well as shown, and it might help somebody who's never done much of this stuff to use them for comparison.  If your versions don't look pretty close to that at the same hydrations (and with KA's AP flour), it might be worth asking why.


Now, I know that everything Hans said about lab findings and so forth is accurate, but one potentially confusing thing about the analysis of acid's effects on gluten structure is that it isn't simple.  I touched on this already at the link I'm posting below, and Debbie Wink did as well, so I'm just going to let anyone who wants to read about what I mean go there to do so:


http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/12868/overnight-retardation-causes-gluten-strength-drop-dramatically


Ya gotta have all your ducks in a row in most cases for dough creation and bread making to work as planned (or as directed by the author).  If you haven't done hundreds or thousands of loaves in quick succession, it might take years and years before you have the "Aha!" moment that clarifies why something isn't working as described.


--Dan DiMuzio

SallyBR's picture
SallyBR

Very nice photos...


 


I agree that the timing of the levain has a big effect on how well the dough behaves - even though Hamelman's sourdough is my favorite recipe and it calls for a liquid levain, I feel that firm starters give a larger window of use, as they stay at their peak longer. Still, I now feed my liquid starter twice before doing the final levain and try to make the final levain only 8 hours before preparing the dough. That way it I catch it before it collapses all the way down.


 

Soundman's picture
Soundman

That's a beautiful photo for newbie bread bakers to study. Love the bowls as well!


I wonder if you can get Floyd to put this in the Lessons?


David

venkitac's picture
venkitac

I will take photos of the levain when I mix the levain build and when I use the levain build tomorrow. (Today is already bulk-fermenting). Dan, Hans, thanks for the advice again - but I would rather not change levain hydration just now, because I've baked this particular levain hydration loaf about 7-8 times now. I would rather not go back to square one, I would rather vary other parameters for atleast 3-4 days before I change the formula.


BTW, I wish I had appended the content here:


http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/13022/sourdoug-succes-almost-last


to this thread. As Hansjoakim said, it would've documented progress in one thread. It's the exact same formula as in this thread, except with 20 S&Fs at 50 and 100 mins, and it did work out better. I will update this thread with today's and tomorrow's bake etc.

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

I don't mean to suggest any particular change in your formula or procedure yet -- without a lot more information I can't make an accurate assessment of what's happening.


But realize that, even when you think you've covered all control points when building or feeding your levain, there can always be things that you aren't aware are important, and they may have been missed.


If your levain looks very ready in 6 hours instead of 8, then feed it right then if possible, or use it right then to make the final dough -- again, if possible.  The target times are reference points when you aren't sure how this process will play out.  If the target moves, adjust your aim, and then try to figure out later why the target moved.


--Dan DiMuzio

venkitac's picture
venkitac

Pictures from today's bake. My camera died on me, so I have pics only of half a loaf (don't ask) and that's why the second pic looks triangular :


 



 


Differences from yesterday:


- Initial mix was a bit longer.


- Instead of 20 S&Fs at 50 and 100 mins, I did an S&F every 15-20 mins for 4 times, then bulk fermented for another 50 mins.


- Yesterday was with my sifted whole wheat flour. The original post, and today's loaf, are all with actual whole wheat flour (10% WW, 90% KA AP).


My observation was that the dough had a LOT more strength today when I increased the initial mix time, and did more frequent S&Fs. The oven spring was the best I have had. As you can see, the scoring marks completely filled out, and the bread held its shape better than yesterday (this was a 1.5 pound loaf, 8 inches diameter, and 3.75 inches tall). All in all, I am happier with the shape of the bread and the massive ovenspring, and the scoring marks are my best effort yet.


But, the crumb seems denser than yesterday (or is that about right for 10% whole wheat?). In addition, there are these large bubbles at the top but the bottom seems rather dense. I think I may have underproofed again, not sure. Also, the crust was thick rather than crunchy - this was under a steel bowl for 10 mins, and 20 mins without the bowl.


I don't have photos of the levain, that will be from tomorrow's bake...

venkitac's picture
venkitac

Ok, here are pictures of starter and levain:


 


Starter when I created levain build:


 


Levain build about 1 hour after mixing levain (125% hydration, per Hamelman):



 


Levain build when I used it this morning, rubber band indicates height at time of mixing yesterday evening. It is about 1.5-1.75 times the height of what it was yesterday:



 


2 more photos of levain build this morning, right before I used it:



 


I didn't really increase the mixing time today, instead I did S&Fs every 15-20 mins, 8 times! I think I underproofed yesterday, so today I really let it proof. Hamelman advocates 2 hours, I kept poking at it till I thought it's in the danger area (but I was wrong still, I think!). Net is that I proofed for 3 hours at room temp, which was scary to me, and then baked. I still got nice oven srping, and the crumb IMO was a lot better:




 


I think it turned out better today. Crumb is certainly more open, but I have a suspicion I overkneaded (or rather, over-S&Fd) the dough (or did I not?). It appears the bread really did need to proof for 3 hours, you can see the square scoring marks in the second photo of the bread, it pretty much filled out (and yeah, there were air bubbles resulting in black spots:(), it seems pretty hard to tell when a sourdough loaf is proofed properly. Bread didn't quite hold its shape despite all the kneading, but it did hold up enough for a decent crumb.


 


Any advice, help, criticism very much appreciated. I've already made the levain for tomorrow - taking what Hans said and Dan's comment earlier in another thread about protease, I'm building the levain at 90% hydration for tomorrow instead of 125.

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

If you like your results, then you should be happy.  Right?


Going strictly by looks,  I'd say your levain was probably healthy both before that feeding and later as well.  Still, the foamy, tiny bubbles near where the levain is starting to form a crevasse (just before you made the dough) tells me you may have been pushing it toward the end there on the length of interval.  Might have been a little too warm.   In any case, my liquid levain looks pretty close to that right before I refresh it or use it in a dough.


I think you may have overproofed the loaf after you shaped it, but I'm not sure.  I believe there is a photo I posted some months ago where a touch test is demonstrated.  If it wasn't overproofed, then I'm suspicious that there was too much proteolytic activity in your final dough.  Not sure.  Just suspicious.  My gut tells me you'll be happier with your results from the 90% hydration levain tomorrow.  The levain there should have less possibility of excessive enzyme activity.


I guess you can go on making changes to get where you want to be, but if you change two or three aspects among your hydration, ingredients, or procedure simultaneously it will be difficult to isolate the cause of any benefits or problems that result.


I think you've already looked at this thread I pasted below, but you may find it helpful in deciding how you want to go from here.  Before you make a change, ask yourself why you're making that change, or if it is needed.  Then ask later whether things were affected the way you expected.  Let me know if you need help:


http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/12629/sourdough-trouble-flat-loaves


--Dan DiMuzio


 

venkitac's picture
venkitac

Thanks, Dan. I would like to achieve 2 things, at which point I would call this really good bread: one is that it needs to hold its height instead of being flat, the second is a lighter crumb, it was still a bit dense - holey and open, yes, but still it's a bit dense. Given those two goals, I will keep everything exactly the same as today, except for using the 90% levain instead of 125% in the recipe. I did not realize that the levain was at the tail-end either - thanks for the tip, now I know what to watch for.


Thanks!

venkitac's picture
venkitac

I baked a total of 3 loaves in 2 days (vermont sourdough), and here are the results:


 


The first loaf, I baked with 90% hydration levain instead of 125% (but dough hydration remains unchanged - I added extra water to dough to compensate). The dough was significantly stronger and the crumb was softer - but still not soft enough. This was with a 2.5 hour bulk ferment and 2 hour proof, as recommended by Hamelman. I did 8 folds in 2.5 hours, though. The bread really didn't have that much height, crumb was just okay:


 


Second, I baked a loaf with same levain/dough hydation, but I added 0.2% yeast to the dough and kept the bulk ferment times the same (I had to reduce proofing time to 1.15 hours). The dough was significantly stronger than the above when I added the commercial yeast! Which was *very* surprising till I looked in the Fleischmann Instant Yeast bottle, it turns out the yeast has ascorbic acid added to it! The dough was much easier to handle, and you can see the height difference. The crumb was also much airier and lighter, but the "random sourdough holes" in this bread are less. Still, tasted good. Height-wise, this was much better (4 inches tall, 7.5 inches wide):



 


The third loaf, I completely ignored the bulk ferment timings in Hamelman's book. Instead, I S&Fd every 30 mins, and did so 8 times for a total of  4.40 hours of bulk ferment. This loaf had no yeast (nor ascorbic acid!), and I could totally feel the difference in the dough. The dough with ascorbic acid was so much tighter and firmer. In the end, this loaf was much better than the first loaf described in this comment (bulk ferment in 2.5 hours with 8 folds): had more height (3.1 inches), better crumb structure, softer, but didn't have as much height or soft crumb as the yeast-added loaf above:


 



 


Better than the first loaf, somewhat worse than the yeast-added loaf. (But taste was certainly better than yeast-added loaf - even if it was only 0.2% yeast!).


So there are two clear conclusion here:


- protease activity was causing trouble, reducing levain hydration to 90% definitely helped.


- ascorbic acid helps:)


The part which doesn't have as clear-cut conclusions for me:


- Increasing bulk ferment to 4.5 hours rather than the 2.5 hours recommended in the recipe helped. The number of folds where the same in both cases, but the time between the folds was 15 vs. 30 mins, and 30 min loaf was much better. Dough strength was noticeabley better.


- I am not sure whether the commercial yeast helped me gain height. I would like to think that my levain has enough juju and it was just the ascorbic acid that helped.


(As an aside, how come everyone else on TFL is happy with the 2.5 hour bulk ferment recommended in the recipe, and that too at a 125% hydration levain? I'm very curious).


So, for tomorrow, I am not sure what my experiment should be. I am loath to add ascorbic acid and whatnot, but maybe I should give it a shot. Another experiment would be to reduce levain hydration even further. On the whole, if I can get the height of the yeast-addeded loaf above and Hansjoakim's Pain Au Levain crumb, I will be happy as a clam. I suppose it will come after a few hundred loaves and lots of help:)