20100802 New Stones, New Toys, and Test Runs
As an old Chinese saying goes, 'If a craftman wishes to do a fine job, he must first sharpen his tools' (工欲善其事，必先利其器）, proper gear and setup, in addition to the right techniques, are essential in making good breads.
I'd noticed a 'deficiency' of my otherwise well functioned oven when I was making the sourdough bagels. The browning was somewhat uneven and by the time the bagels were browned, my kids' favorite onion toppings were already burned. To correct this deficiency, I opted for better quality pizza stones. After a long wait of almost three weeks, the stones had finally arrived. I chose the thickest stones (1") that, as represented by the manufacturer of the stones, the BTU of a home oven would support. I've retained the same setup as before, with one stone on top and the other on the bottom. However, this time the stones were cut in a way that there is a one inch clearance around them.
In addition, I bought a wine thermostat and turned one of the refrigerators into my official retarder. This setup was brought to my attention by DonD. I must tell you; it is another lifesaver after SteveB's proofer. A big 'thank you' to both gentlemen again.
With good stones, it's natural to think pizza. I'm curious if the temperature of the bottom stone can really be jacked up to over 550F (without rigging the oven) to make restaurant quality pizza, as one proud home baker boasted. So I got an infra-red thermometer, which I forgot to use since I was busy watching my bread.
The bread I made this time as an experiment was almost identical to this formula, except for the levains. The starter used in this bake was actually the final dough made from the same formula but ended up sitting in the fridge. I used this old dough as-is and did not refresh it before baking. The weights of ingredients were adjusted so that the % of prefermented flours and final dough hydration remained the same.
The controlled retardation was the highlight of this experiment and it was very playful to me. The fermentation schedule was as follows:
- 2 hours @ 76F
- 10 hrs - @54F
- 8 hrs - @65F
- 12 hrs - @58F
I was a bit hesitant when deciding the oven temperature with the new stones in place as I had no prior reference. Therefore, I used a more conservative 485F to preheat and immediately lowered to 465F after loading. The crackly part of the crust did not turn out as dark as last time. I have to avoid the darker crusts because they seem to irritate my kids' throat. It probably will take me a few more experiments before I find out the optimum timing and temperatures of my retarder and oven. With the assistance of my new tools, I'm looking forward to a more enjoyable baking experience.
Here are some pictures: