The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

lower hydration skin for slashing?

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Chuck's picture
Chuck

lower hydration skin for slashing?

My most recent loaf had much better slashes than ever before. I want to do this again every time; I solicit your feedback guesses as to why it worked.


My dough was 75% hydration with traditional dry yeast. After the autolyse, the first (and only) rise -including some stretching and folding- was uneventful. My shaping and sealing was pretty lackadaisical; in the end the surface was only adequate, certainly not "tight".


For proofing, I sprinkled the loaf with flour, sprinkled a dry towel with flour too, covered the loaf with the towel flour side down, then covered the whole thing with an inverted plastic drawer.


Then just before baking, my Komatsu tomato knife slashed the loaf relatively easily. The slash opened nicely (over an inch at the widest part), and even had a significant "ear" (although the ear was on the other side of the slash, not on the undercut side where I expected it).


(All that flour baked into the top crust looks a little funny; it isn't my favorite. But maybe it's just a small price to pay for the improvement in slashing/scoring?)


My tentative theory is the flour/towel pulled some moisture out of only the surface of the loaf, making a "skin" of lower hydration (even though the overall hydration seemed unchanged). Does this make much sense? Is this theory worth pursuing?


 

Franko's picture
Franko

The idea that you want the skin to be dry before you cut is correct, particularly for high hydration white doughs. Next time try prooofing it normally (without the flour dusting) with warmth and some moisture . Once it's proofed the way you want it just let it sit at room temp uncovered for five or ten minutes then when the surface is dry/dry-ish it's ready for the cuts. Even really sharp knives and blades will hang up in a tacky dough skin. Another thing that helps is getting the final shaping/molding reasonably tight. Good luck with your next cuts.

proth5's picture
proth5

the reasons that we proof lean doughs on linen couches is just what you discovered - that the linen (with its particularly effective moisture wicking qualities) pulls moisture from the surface of the loaf and allows for easier/better slashing.


The reason that we dedicate our couche to raising bread and do not wash it, is that we can rub flour into the fabric to prevent stickage.  Over time, just like a well seasoned cast iron pan, the rubbed in flour creates a non-stick surface without large deposits of flour.  In humid climates, with very slack doughs, you may need to sprinkle the couche with flour and will get some on the bread (I've used a pastry brush to brush it off, which works, somewhat, as I do not like that look, but others find the flour to be attractive.)


In my home in the Mile High City, with hydrations at which I work, I rubbed flour into my couche some years ago and breads still never stick.  But that seems to be a gift of my climate.


Proof seam side up (so that the surface to be slashed is in contact with the linen.


If you are improvising a couche, and can afford a moderate investment in baking equipment, do yourself a favor - buy linen couche cloth.  The most economical place I have found is TMB Baking (not affiliated, of course - just type it into your favorite search engine).  Their narrowest linen is, I believe, $9 a yard. No - not "cheap" on an absolute scale (to my mind, not exactly expensive, either, but that's me) but with proper care it will last your lifetime and probably the next generation's lifetime.  Well worth the investment.  (Read my blog entry "The Couche Chronicals" to learn more about the history/manufacture and care of various fibers.)  King Arthur also sells couche linen - but at a somewhat higher price per yard.


While you are placing that order, buy a blade holder.  Learn how to mount a blade (dmsynder writes/illustrates how  on these pages much better than I ever could). You will ask yourself "Why didn't I do this before?"  You will.


Hope this helps.

LindyD's picture
LindyD

I enthusiastically endorse proth5's advice.  For the past three years I've been using a couche I made from unbleached cotton duck cloth.  It worked, but with limitations. One issue was that the cotton became quite wet from the contact with the dough.  The flour between the dough and the fabric caked, and the dough sometimes would stick.  I wound up using a strip of parchment under the dough, essentially defeating one of the purposes of a couche.


I had read proth5's Couche Chronicles, but procrastinated ordering a linen couche until last month.


I went to the SFBI site and ordered two yards of the 18" linen (supplied by TMB Baking at $8/yard).  Two yards is a lot of linen for my baking needs, so I washed it and cut it in half.  


The first time I used the lightly floured linen couche, I was astounded how smoothly the baguettes released.  There's no going back for me and my cotton duck has a new life as a paint drop cloth.


While I was at the TMB site, I also orded a blade holder.  Using a good lame, not one of those overpriced one-piece plastic throw-aways, makes a world of difference as well. Just skip ordering the double edge blades - you can find those locally at a much better price.  Since the blade has four corners and you can use each corner, I marked the top of the blade to more easily keep track of the rotations.


I just wish I had ordered two blade holders, to have one as a straight blade and the other for a curved blade.  


Good tools make a positive difference and Pat's advice is always good.

proth5's picture
proth5

the endorsement.  "The right tool for the job" is one of those "hot button" issues for me for some reason. I wasted too much money on those Matfer lames and spent years fooling around with the coffee stirrer and blade combination before (hand smack to forehead!) I spent the - what - $5? to get a decent blade/blade holder (and I did have the foresight to order two).  What was I thinking?


And while I have unlimited admiration for Alton Brown - his whole disdaining of "uni-taskers" sometimes pushes that button.  There are some tools designed to do one task and do it perfectly (this holds true in many disciplines) and sometimes we struggle with inferior tools thinking that we are being "thrifty" in some way when the savings in time and effort more than justify the money spent.


I bought several yards of the narrow linen (I'm a sucker for linen - I just love how it feels) and while I don't really need that much for my usual baking volumes, I rolled the excess and found that it makes a wonderful support for the proofing breads and tends to hold them to shape a little better. Since this is not going to wear out, I figure I've just purchased what I will need for my "next life" when I hope to be baking at larger volumes.


Unfortunately I haven't done any serious baking in some time, as I remain, for much longer than I had anticipated, in Okinawa. I'm positively wilting from the summer humidity - being the diametric opposite of a hothouse flower - and they tell me it hasn't really gotten hot, yet. Oi!


Take Care!


Pat 


 

amauer's picture
amauer

were last week with my little serrrated tomato knife. I grabbed it as it was handy. One dumb question, How would you use an egg wash with this method?  After the slashes? Andrea

Chuck's picture
Chuck

I'll take a stab at this even though I don't (yet:-) have a whole lot of first-hand experience nor any photographs. (My apologies in advance if you don't find this helpful.)


It doesn't matter all that much when you apply a wash vs. when you slash. The biggest difference is probably a relatively minor change in appearance, and you're the best judge of what appearance you want.


You have your choice of washing i) before slashing or ii) after slashing or iii) partway through baking. Washing before slashing seems to be the most common and easiest. When baked, the edges of the slash won't have a wash on them, but they'll hopefully look crusty and brown and raised and elegant anyway and that will be good enough. Washing after slashing may in some cases look a bit better, but is quite a bit harder because you have to be careful not to re-close any portion of the slash. Washing partway through baking is the only way to get the newly opened crust inside the slash (the thinner, lighter area) washed too. But maybe you don't care  ..or maybe your oven will lose too much heat ...or

LindyD's picture
LindyD

A whole egg or egg white wash should be done before the bread enters the oven.  I've never heard of pulling out the bread to apply a wash midbake and think that would negatively interrupt the baking process.


The BBA recommends applying the wash before the dough has reached its 85-90% proof stage (at which point it is loaded into the oven).  Some spritz their loaf with water before loading.


What type of bread are you baking, Andrea?

amauer's picture
amauer

sourdough mostly. Rustic Italian, French...I try to bake a different bread every week. I botched a batch yesterday of Swedish Rye started with my sourdough starter. I think I underproofed as it ripped on the bottoms of the loaves and looked like giant hamburgers. They are currently in a bag waiting to feed the crows today. Andrea