The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Learning and adjusting

  • Pin It
PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Learning and adjusting

For those who are keeping score, I moved from the USA to South Africa in late October to work on a project being managed by my employer.  After spending a week in a hotel and a month in a temporary apartment, my wife and I moved into a leased house on December 1.  We're feeling fairly settled now and can find our way to several different supermarkets, gas stations, restaurants and the like.  It's a different landscape, and I'm not just talking topography.  Still, we're learning to navigate our way around without creating unnecessary hazard to ourselves or others.


Part of the learning process involves getting acquainted with new players in familiar roles.  In the case of bread, this includes different flours, a new starter, a different oven, and a different elevation (approximately 4200 feet above sea level, give or take a kopje).  None of these are especially difficult to cope with, but the collective effect has me slightly off kilter.


Prior to this weekend, I had baked bread three times, with results ranging from dismal to passable.  


This weekend saw some improvement, with plenty of room for additional improvement.  I baked a pain de campagne from Clayton's Complete Book of Breads, a honey oat sandwich loaf and scones from KAF's Whole Grain Baking book, and Mark Sinclair's version of Portugese Sweet Bread (in hamburger bun form).


The pain de campagne calls for a yeasted "starter"; I used my own sourdough starter to build the levain.  I'm beginning to wonder if there is something about the whole wheat flour that I'm using (Snowflake brand Brown Bread Flour at 12.5% protein, if memory serves).  My impression is that it tends to absorb less water than other whole wheat flours that I have used, which produces a stickier dough.  By sticky, I mean almost rye-like stickiness.  The grind is a bit coarser than I have seen in other flours, so it may be that I need to go with extended autolysis to give it enough time to absorb moisture.  And I may need to dial back on water content, too.  The closest thing to AP flour that I've located so far is something labeled cake flour, at 10% protein content.  The initial dough was quite sticky after mixing (did I mention stickiness earlier?), so I gave it a series of stretch and folds during the bulk ferment that lasted about 5 hours.  Temperatures in the house ranged from the low 70'sF in the morning up to about 80F yesterday afternoon.  I shaped the dough into two batards, achieving a good gluten cloak, and set them to rise in a parchment "couche".  When they had expanded about 60-70% in size, I preheated the oven and baking stone, along with the steam pan, then poured in about a cup of boiling water.  I slashed each loaf and jockeyed it as gently as possible onto the stone, using a baking sheet for a peel.  Oven spring was modest, with the slashes opening partially.  The loaves colored up nicely, indicating that the yeast hadn't run through all available food.  I haven't cut into either loaf yet to know how the crumb turned out.


Things went quite well with the honey oat sandwich loaves, but for two glitches.  One was that I had intended to make each with a cinnamon swirl but failed to remember that until I was pulling them out of the oven.  The other is that both loaves were over proofed and partially collapsed during baking, even though they did not come close to reaching the volume ("one and a half inches above the pan rim") recommended in the directions.  Eish!  At least they taste good.


This morning's scones also tasted wonderful, but failed to rise as much as they should have.  Maybe the oven runs a bit cooler than the controls would suggest.  Then again, its geared for Celsius and I'm not.  I think I'll pick up an oven thermometer or two while we are back in the States over the holidays.  Then we can find out if it is a calibration issue, or operator error. 


The Portugese Sweet Bread was everything that I wanted it to be, though.  Texture, color, flavor, rise, everything worked just right.  If only I could figure out why!  My track record so far would suggest that it is more of a fluke than an exercise in skill.  Right now, I'm just happy to have had a bake go the way I wanted.


The experimenting and learning will continue.  I will keep trying various flours and methods until I get to where I can produce consistently good results. 


Oh, and if anyone can tell me where to look for rye flour, I'll be grateful.


Paul

Comments

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Good to hear you're doing well there, Paul.


You have excellent bread skills, so don't underestimate yourself.


Wish I could help you on the rye flour...but since you'll be home for the holidays, maybe you can fit a few bags in your luggage?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

http://www.eurekamills.co.za/


I find the sooner I let the local supermarket know what I like, the sooner I get my hands on it.  Good Luck!


Mini

audra36274's picture
audra36274

   I know it is a pain being in unfamiliar territory as far as baking goes, but I know a skilled baker such as yourself will be cranking out a Sweet Vanilla Challah that would make angels sing in no time. The buns worked out to keep you from giving up! Adapting to the new invironment sure will hone your skills. You will be a master. You used to be confident of your baking. Being able to turn out great bread by formulas you've used over and over. Now as your journey has taken a turn, you will be on top of the world again and then with a even deeper understanding of your craft. I have all confidence in you my friend. We here tucked in the safety of our own world, envy you and your sence of adventure. I wish you well. There is much to learn in your new life. Thanks for posting your troubles that we may learn with you.

Salome's picture
Salome

hi Paul,


reading about your sticky doughs I immediately thought about the water you're using. I'm sure that you've read as well here on tfl that the water quality can affect the stickyness of the dough. Have you ever tried botteled water?


I wish you a lot of fun with reacquiring the proficiency in baking! ;-)


Salome

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Lindy - I'm not brave enough to put a bag of flour in my checked luggage (can you imagine the scene if the luggage got banged around enough to open the flour sack inside?) and too lazy to want to cart it through 2 or 3 airports in my carry-on luggage.  Guess I'll have to pursue Mini's tip.


Mini - Thanks for the research.  Now I have a name and some locations to look for.


Audra - Such affirming thoughts!  Thank you.  By the way, if my grandson and his parents do make it here for a visit, the vanilla challah is on his list of things for Grandpa to make.


Salome - The water angle hadn't occurred to me.  It's definitely worth trying tap water side by side with bottled water (so long as I can be sure they aren't from the same source) to see how the results shape up.  Thanks for suggesting that.


The whole baking experience is analogous to what I have had to do with driving.  Even though all of the principles are the same, the details are wildly different.  I will eventually become accustomed to those differences and function successfully with them.  However, I get a lot more practice with driving than with baking.  ;-)


Paul

proth5's picture
proth5

I bake at 5280 ft (yes, almost to the foot) - and one challenge that one gets at a higher altitude is that bread does rise faster, so fermentation is not as thorough if you keep formulas and timings from lower altitudes.


I spent a lot of time tweaking my formulas for levain and commercial yeast breads and found that the percentage of flour prefermented made a big difference.  I dropped mine down quite a bit from what I would do at sea level and results improved - especially in levain based breads.


I know you are adjusting to different flours/water/etc.  But the % of flour prefermented can also be a factor as you gain in altitude...


People who claim to be experts on high altitude baking tell me to add a bit more flour.  I tend not to think in those terms, but I work at lower hydrations than most folks here. Hmmmmm, could be something to that....


One more thing to think about.


Have fun!

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

And not something that is intuitively obvious, either.  Like Denver, the climate here tends to be dry (although this is the rainy season).  Combined with the increased evaporation rates caused by higher altitude--compared to KC, anyway--I would have expected the doughs to require more water, rather than less.  Yet another factor to tinker with.


The lower yeast quantities do make sense.  And, by extension, so does lowering the quantity of pre-fermented flour, although that hadn't occurred to me.


When I baked (twice) at my daughter's house in Colorado Springs, which is even higher than Denver, I didn't run into difficulties which is why I was focusing more on flour than on altitude.  Looks like I need to address altitude-related issues more thoroughly.


To summarize your points, then, I should 1) reduce hydration by some amount and 2) reduce leavening by some amount to counteract the "bloat" caused by the higher altitude.


Any thoughts on why a couple of breads that appeared to be under-proofed might behave as if they were over-proofed?


Thanks,


Paul

proth5's picture
proth5

that altitude is the sole factor - it's one factor among many.  CO Spgs is definitely up there.


I'm pondering (and pondering is the word) that the Portugese Sweet bread is (as the name implies) a sweet bread with some enrichment.  The sugar/honey/butter may be holding the yeast back enough that it isn't rising too fast.  Speculation.  I don't adjust my classic enriched bread formulas, just my lean doughs, so there could be something to that speculation.  Or not. (Man, I just got a powerful craving for some two fisted roll making and some sweet bread - I love that stuff...)  Or - because you used milk rather than water, we could lay your problems at water's door.  It seems like if the majority of the problem was with the flour, you'd see it in the sweet bread also.


The loaves that collapsed display the classic "rose too fast and then the leavening gave up before they had baked enough" syndrome that does trouble high altitude baking.  Why they didn't rise well in the first place is a puzzlement.  Perhaps in the heat of the oven, the yeast gave its last gasp, the gasses expanded too much, and before the loaf was baked the yeast died.  I don't know.  Doesn't sound too scientific to me, but that is our most common problem with baked goods - rises too fast then collapses.  The pros recommend using our old friend active dry yeast (to reduce the effective yeast percentage) rather than instant.


There has been a persistent rumor in the Denver area, that our ovens are mysteriously "adjusted" to make them hotter.  For cakes, an added 15-25F is recommended to set the cake faster (with a reduction in baking time.) I don't know about the adjustment in the oven, but I do have better luck when my oven runs a little hotter than most folks put it at sea level.


I tend to go single factor;  tweaking one ingredient in the formula while holding all else steady, and even though the air is dry and even though higher hydrations are usually associated with an open crumb - my results improved with my near whole wheat breads when I dropped the hydration below what most people would think I should do.  I think its at 70% right now, but I don't have my records and I won't be home for another week to check them.  This seems high (well, actually it doesn't so much, does it?), but represents a drop from where I started.  The pros recommend higher hydration, but this has not been my experience.   Well, some pros do.  Others recommend extra flour.  This seems to be an art.


I do know that for levain breads the reduction in the pre fermented flour was like magic.  I struggled and struggled and when I hit the right number - there it was - beautiful bread - open crumb.  Change the % flour prefermented, and I go back to having issues. That is why my personal formulas and timings are so valuable to me.


Ah, it's a journey, right?


Good luck!


Pat

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

but I usually am happy to let someone else do the heavy lifting.  Looks as though I need to run a series of side by side experiments that vary just one factor at a time.  Maybe a series of mini-breads using 100g of flour each and hydration levels ranging from 60% to 80%, for instance.  Or a series that compares differing autolyse periods.  Or, or...the mind boggles.


Temperature is another variable that I need to address.  Partly to get a handle on what this oven's nominal and actual temperatures are for a given setting and partly to train myself to think in Celsius instead of Fahrenheit.


Finding time to do all of that, and still bake for enjoyment, is going to be a challenge.  


Part of the deal with the house we are leasing was that we had to retain the housekeeper.  Betty is a delightful lady who has worked for the landlord for 15 years.  And it turns out that she loves homemade bread.  She will happily use, or share with friends, any bread that I make, so I don't have to worry about an overflowing freezer if I go on an experimentation binge.


Paul

proth5's picture
proth5

I was just reading a post fron Dan DiMuzio on a sourdough topic where he equates lower hydration in a starter with slower yeast growth.  >Head slap to forehead< Doh!


If we work on the premise that good bread is getting the fermentation just right, and we accept that bread rises faster at higher altitudes, my lowering the hydration makes sense (even in a dry climate) in terms of slowing down the growth of the yeast. 


I actually took a year or so to get my baguette right because when my life is my version of normal I can only bake once a week.  Week after week, I'd tweak one thing  just in the course of normal baking.


I can tell you where I ended in case that helps - with a levain - preferment 12% of the flour, baguette 65% hydration (overall formula), whole wheat about 70%.  To keep the heavy lifting at a minimum you might want to start near those numbers (or not...) and work out from there.


Good luck!

ehanner's picture
ehanner

Paul have you considered that if your breads rise faster due to the altitude, maybe you should adopt a program of retarding all your doughs for some time to allow the lacto bacteria to  build while slowing down the yeast? Not withstanding all the other things you have been discussing, the ratio of yeast and bacteria activity is probably different at higher altitude. The Oxygen content is lower also at a mile up. Just a thought.


Eric

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

is certainly a tool that I may need to use, Eric.  I'm not sure yet that the collapsing breads were actually over-proofed.  If anything, I would have thought that they were underproofed.  Maybe this starter is producing acid faster than CO2 and attacking the gluten before the loaves can fully inflate.  Who can say?  It's way too early to rule anything out at this point, so I'll keep retarded proofing on the list of things to check out.


Altitude.  Oxygen.  That's right, you are a pilot, aren't you?  Yet another thing to consider.  


Too many "ifs" for one evening and it's time to go to bed.  I think I shall.


Paul

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Once the starter is going gangbusters you can do anything.  So trust your instincts and keep your starter healthy. 


You might want to transport a bag of rye in your suitcase, just for your starter.  Don't open it and put it inside a clear zip lock bag with just the corner open so air can escape in flight.  (otherwise it might pop)   Put it on top where inspectors can see it and declare it when you come in.  No big deal!


Mini


 

Paddyscake's picture
Paddyscake

Glad you have finally settled.


I haven't the foggiest notion of any assistance to offer. Just happy to see you safe and sound! Happiest of Holidays!


Betty