The Fresh Loaf

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Many questions about bread chemistry and technique

kolobezka's picture
kolobezka

Many questions about bread chemistry and technique

Hi,


first, I am very grateful to all here on TFL, for your comments and help. Thanks to you I could prepare my first sourdough starter and bake some successfull sourdough (and also yeasted) breads. However, as the information are rather scattered and sometimes seem contradictory, I am still a little confused and unsure regarding my bread making.


I will try to formulate some questions I still do not understand, if anybody could help. Well, they are not modest - I apologize. They have just accumulated over time - please do not be angry with me...


 


1) Why should only bulk fermentation affect the final flavour of the bread?


- What is the difference between the flavour from sourdough vs. from simple pre-ferments (poolish / biga or long fermentation of a stright dough (either by retarding in the fridge or by using less yeast)?


 


2) Should the amount of yeast be ajusted when I planned to retard the bulk ferment overnight?
- should the amount of sourdough in pure sourdough breads be different with and without overnight (or even 24hours) retardation?


 


3) isn´t the long room-temperature fermentation of no-knead recipe too favorable to protease acitivity? How it happens that it is not detrimental to the final loaf? And in ABin5/HBin5 it says that it is not important whether the dough doubles, or triples or fall beyond its peak, whether it rises 2 hours or 5 hours... - is that "lege artis" bakery?


 


4) Should the starter be refrigerated immediately after the feeding, 1-2hours later or let to double, then deflate and refrigerate? How does one know that a refrigerated starter is ready for use (building the final starter)?


- Should a low protein white flour (10.5%) or a higher protein flour (11.7%) be used to feed the starter?


- I know some people who "successfully" use a 4-day old starter (they always start a new one when the need) and their bread rises well. How is it possible?


- Is a firm or wet starter more suitable for fridge storing? (I bake app. 3x a week)


 


5) what is the rule of thumb for choosing the suitable oven temperature? Some recipes call for 350 or 375°F (even for lean breads) other for 420 or 450°F (even when a small amount of fat an sugar is used).


- Are the pan breads always baked at a lower temperature?


- Why is it OK to bake even a high hydration bread in the oven in a covered dish but in a bread machine, when the dough contains just a little bit of water than cca 60%, the loaf falls in the middle?


 


6) are the special steps to be taken when using whole wheat? I have heard about more kneading needed or, on the contrary, more gentle and shorter kneading? Or are S&F better?


- can any dough with 60% hydration and more be worked by French Folding instead of kneading (in a mixer or by hand - I do not have a mixer a have pain when kneading)


 


I will appreciate any comment!


zdenka

proth5's picture
proth5

and I cannot tackle them all, but I will take on a few.



1) Why should only bulk fermentation affect the final flavour of the bread?


- What is the difference between the flavour from sourdough vs. from simple pre-ferments (poolish / biga or long fermentation of a stright dough (either by retarding in the fridge or by using less yeast)?



It is not only bulk fermentation that affects the final flavor of the bread.  Every step in the process will affect the taste of the bread. Every step.


The difference between sourdough flavor and yeasted pre-ferments is really the taste of the lactobacilli and the wild yeasts in the sourdough vs. the commercial yeasts in the pre ferments (or a long ferment).  This difference is quite pronounced.  No commonly used commercially yeasted pre ferment (except the use of "instant sourdough extracts" like those produced by Fermipain) will produce the sourdough flavor.


Each choice - using yeasted pre ferments, using sourdough pre ferments, using a combination of pre ferments, using different hydrations of pre ferments - will have an effect on the final bread.  I am sure that folks more qualified than I can give detailed explanations about the effects, but when I asked similar questions, I eventually was told "Try it yourself and evaluate the taste."  So, I will tell you the same.



2) Should the amount of yeast be ajusted when I planned to retard the bulk ferment overnight?
- should the amount of sourdough in pure sourdough breads be different with and without overnight (or even 24hours) retardation?



Retardation usually involves fermenting the dough at a lower temperature.  This in and of itself will slow the growth of either the wild yeasts or commercial yeasts, so generally you do not need to make an adjustment to the amount of yeast.


That being said, there are alot of variables, including the temperature at which the dough is retarded, the quality of your sourdough starter, etc that might cause you to want to adjust the amount of leavening to suit your needs.  And if you want to retard for very long periods, you might want to decrease the amount of leaven.  Again, this might take some experimentation to get right.  your hands, your dough.  There is not one easy answer.



4) Should the starter be refrigerated immediately after the feeding, 1-2hours later or let to double, then deflate and refrigerate? How does one know that a refrigerated starter is ready for use (building the final starter)?



Okay, here's where I will create a flurry of disagreement.  You say you bake 3 times a week.  If you are baking that often, why refrigerate your starter at all?  If you want to keep it at peak vibrance, leave it at cool room temperature and feed it appropriately.  I am in the minority here in that I only refrigerate my starter under conditions of dire need (I even have my pet sitter feed it if I am away from home) and then at a temperature of about 50F - which is warmer than most home refrigerator temperatures.  I can tell in my bread when it has been refrigerated for a couple days even under these very mild conditions, so I try not to do it.


And that's all I can handle.  Hope it helps.

kolobezka's picture
kolobezka

 I am really happy somebody noticed and took time to answer.


I asked the first question because on several places I have read that it is mostly bulk ferment that affects the flavour. Final proofing should play much lesser role.  I remember that pre-ferments made the bread tastier that straight dough but since I had my starter, I have not made simple pre-ferments (I use the sourdough when posssible in order to avoid discards...).


Well, I was mostly interested in how are the microorganism and formed chemicals different between the to methods. I have also seen various opinions about how the hydration affect the taste, so I am quite confused


I would prefer to keep my starter on the counter, but I really do not like the idea of regular discarding. With 3 bakes a week and 12-hour cycle refreshment - that means throwing away more than 1 pound flour a week! I know, I know... there are pancakes and muffin recipes... but who would eat it? I do not like sweets much, my husband is at home only at weekends...


You say you keep your starter at 50°F? The only place in our 3-room flat where I can find such a temperature is on our fridge (upper shelf or door shelves).  Than in the hall - about 64°F. So, I do not understand. How do you manage to keep and use your starter?


I will be very happy to get some advice!


zdenka

proth5's picture
proth5

and don't have the scientific backgroud to discuss specific organisms and chemical reactions in bread.  Debra Wink has written a great deal on these pages about the more scientific aspects of sourdough - you might try searching for her work.


What I do know is that sourdough contains various beneficial bacteria (lactobacilli) that no commercially yeasted pre ferment will have.  A sourdough culture will have lactic and acetic acids in various amounts depending on the particular culture. A commercially yeasted pre ferment will not have these. The two different methods will vary greatly in taste.


Bulk ferment adds a great deal of flavor, but what if when I mixed the dough, I mixed for a longish time at a high speed?  I would have over oxidized it and removed a great deal of the taste.  Then, no amount of bulk fermenting will allow me to recover taste.  Again, I don't know the exact chemical reactions (and there are people who do)  but, I do know that gentle mixing is going to result in a different taste profile than intensive mixing.  An underproofed loaf will develop differently during the bake and taste will be impacted.  Every step matters.  Every step.


I keep my starter at room temperature - which is about 62F in the winter and about 68F (in my basement) in the summer.  If I need to refrigerate it, I have a small refrigerator that I set at 50F - and I very seldom refrigerate it.  If I do refrigerate it, because the environment is still warm enough for it to continue "eating," I feed it a little more than usual and then refrigerate it right away.  This is not only because of my theory that it is just being slowed down, but often the fact that when I do this, I have probably gotten up very early to cath a plane and simply don't have the time to do anything else.  It has been successful, but not ideal.


Many people are averse to "wasting" flour feeding their starter.  I look at this way.  My cat is fed every day and really doesn't do anything useful.  I really shouldn't "waste" the food feeding him.  But I feed him every day because I took on the responsibility of having a cat.  At least my starter raises bread for me.  And although many, many people claim their refrigerated starters do just fine, I can tell a difference.  I am fortunate to be able to afford keeping both a cat and a starter.  if I were fighting for my own survival, I would feel differently, but I'm not. Where I live, downhill skiing is a popular hobby.  People spend vast sums of money on clothing, gear and lift tickets.  They drive giant cars (because they need to be able to go in snow) vast distances so that they can pay to be hauled up a hill and slide down.   No one considers this a waste of anything.  I buy flour to feed my starter, and all I hear is how I "waste" flour.  It all depends on how you look at things.


Hope this is helpful.

Boboshempy's picture
Boboshempy

Proth5,


In regards to your "Why refrigerate your starter at all?" comment. If I leave my starter at my room temperature (69F-74F) and feed it every day will it perform better than my current system of feeding twice a week, letting it double (takes about 4 hours), and returning to the fridge where it is always kept?


PS I keep my starter at 100% hydration so my feeding consists of equal parts starter, flour, and water at every feeding.


Thanks,


Nick

proth5's picture
proth5

about your starter.  I do know about mine.  Mine performs somewhat better if it is left to be "free range"  rather than refrigerated.


Or - you may not care about the small difference.  I do.


Many would suggest that I feed the starter twice a day rather than once.  I tried this for an extended period of time and found that whatever difference that made (and I'm sure it did) was not something I could notice.  So I stopped doing it.


The only way to know for yourself is to do what I did.  Try it and see if there is a difference for you.

Boboshempy's picture
Boboshempy

You are right, I like this concept so I am trying it myself.  I am keeping my WW starter at room temperature and feed it once a day.  I will use it in a couple days and see for myself what the difference is.


Thanks for everything,


Nick

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

Zdenka,


You ask really good questions that show you are definitely thinking about bread baking and all that is involved.  I know that you seek specific answers to these questions and proth5 has provided some very good answers.


I would like to add another perspective, that of a more historic over view of bread.  There is no absolute right or wrong in creating a loaf of bread.  While there is quite clearly a scientific aspect to baking for much longer there has been the artistic or craft aspect to baking.  Bread was baked for hundreds and hundreds of years before some of these issues were understood or even known.  Trial and error, learning from the dough, knowing your oven and kitchen, working with the seasonal weather changes, and understanding your flour are all very important and essential parts of baking bread.


In my bread classes I teach that the number one lesson to be taken from the class is learning the "feel" of the dough at all its various stages on the way to becoming bread.  Secondly get to know your own unique surroundings which will be different from mine.  Finally, "listen" to the dough as it will tell you most of what you need to know.


In addition to pursuing the academic side of baking I would strongly encourage you to trust yourself and pay close attention to all that your learn in doing.  There are countless paths to a great loaf of bread, and within the basic conventions of creating bread, we all need to find our own version of that path.


Jeff

kolobezka's picture
kolobezka

You are certainly right, Jeff - one learns most by practice and experience. I could discover some "bread making laws" even in the short time of my breadmaking.


However, it take long to try out everything... so I find the help of others to be an excellent possibility. Or sometimes I have a problem and am not able to find a solution... Or there is a phenomenon I do not know how to explain. Or what I have read seem controversial and I cannot see the difference myslelf. Or sometimes I am afraid of trying a method, because the breads are to be offered or because I would not like to stay hungry overnight... ;-)


Moreover, I love biochemistry and (academic) studies, so when it is possible I would be really happy to understand the background of bread making process.


You are right, maybe in several years I won´t have these questions any more. But still I dare to ask now. To get thing clearer and to better direct my next attemps and test.


I hope it is not too daring...


zdenka

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

Zdenka,


Your questions are great and you should keep asking them, but remember to continue learning in your kitchen as that will be your greater education.


During the Winter months I keep my starter on the floor by the back door.  It is below 60 °F there.


You should not be throwing away a pound of flour every week.  I maintain a very small amount of starter and increase it in the two feedings before baking.


Almost all of my breads go into the oven at 550°F which is then lowered to 460°F.  There are some exceptions but this is the general rule.


100% whole wheat bread requires more water and very gentle handling after the initial mixing/kneading so as to not deflate the dough.  If it is stone gound whole grain the flour presents even greater challenges as the flakes in the flour tear at the gluten structure.


Jeff