Like a dog walking on its hind legs...
You’ve heard that expression, right? It isn’t that it does it well – it’s that it does it at all.
In that vein, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why we love the wheat from America’s Heartland. The gluten is strong and tolerant – mix it gently or intensively, it stands up. Throw it in the retarder – it just gets stronger. Put it in a poolish and let it go slightly over ripe – well, it won’t be perfection, but it will still make decent bread. Shape it aggressively and it still holds together.
Wheat is grown other places and some of it is not so generous, but as I have recently been reminded, one can still produce pretty nice bread. It just takes more emphasis on process and technique.
I especially think about this as I return to my quest for good bread from that bad boy grain – triticale. I’ve read some works by researchers from the University of Colorado that claim it can be done. After some moderate progress towards my goal, I fell apart big time. I was producing bricks. Bricks with nasty, wet centers. No reason to post anything about those – they were just inedible. I began to think that triticale lobbyists had somehow sponsored and influenced these results.
After taking a break for a long, hot summer that made baking too much to endure, doing some traveling, studying, and being somewhat absorbed by the little hobby that pays for all this, I finally had a chance to get back to my work.
Of course, I had received some serious inspiration about working with lower protein wheats. As it turned out, my instincts were mostly correct – pre ferment a large percentage of the total flour in a firm levain based pre ferment – use a short bulk ferment – and bake in a hot oven. Some finer points, though, I had neglected. Some of those things were salting the pre ferment to slow down the action of the yeast and enzymes, keeping the hydration moderate (I was particularly inspired by a remark about high hydration and sperm counts, but that’s a story for another day), developing the dough carefully and shaping really gently but firmly.
So I tempered and milled up a batch of triticale. It was perhaps 75% extraction or so and contained only the bran that made it through my next to finest sieve. The researchers had used white flour in their studies, but I was convinced that I was up to the challenge of the "mostly white" flour.
The photo below shows the triticale flour on the left next to some all purpose flour for a comparison. It was a nice flour, in my opinion, just a little sandy from the bran. (Yes, need a better camera – or a better photographer)
I used a formula for commercially yeasted lightly enriched bread with 30% of the flour pre fermented in a firm levain. Into the levain I added 1.8% salt – the same percent as in the overall formula.
I decided that I had been a wimp in developing the dough in a mixer because the studies showed that triticale had low mixing tolerance, so I decided to use "slap and fold" method to develop the dough. At least if I was holding the dough in my hand, I would not be in constant fear of breaking down triticale's low quality gluten.
At the beginning the dough was quite a mess. I was reluctant to put (triticale) flour on the bench as the studies showed that triticale dough at lower hydrations became short and inelastic, where triticale dough at 68% hydration (the hydration of my formula) was elastic, although sticky. Finally, though, I came to the conclusion that discretion is the better part of valor and added flour to the bench. After some minutes of slapping and folding, I had dough that could be described as elastic. I actually kvelled. I had never gotten really elastic dough from triticale before. Had this been a wheat dough it would have been nothing special, but this was triticale…
After 20 minutes bulk fermentation, I gave it stretch and fold and it actually stretched. After 30 minutes it got another stretch and fold (And it stretched! Again! And didn’t cement itself to the bench!)
Clearly I was on to something here, but I had made a vital miscalculation. I had an appointment to get to and I would not have time to proof and bake the loaf. So I shaped it, popped it into the proofer (uncovered!) for 45 minutes and then loaded it into a 425F oven set to turn off after thirty minutes and rushed off.
Had this been my usual wheat in the bread, I could have retarded the loaf, but I remembered dire warnings about retarding low protein wheat and so thought better of it.
Amazingly, the baking technique was effective although it accounts for the thick crust.
And if I got a big shred like that on a wheat loaf, I would reconsider the degree of emotional investment I have given this bread baking thing. But for the first time ever I saw evidence of decent oven spring in a triticale loaf (in case you were wondering, I do consider that it might have been under proofed…).
The crumb was pretty tight (but this is what I want in a panned loaf) but fairly strong and soft. The taste is delicious. It is.
It isn’t there, yet. It isn’t a photo to make a person drool (maybe tribbles - do tribbles drool?) – but it is significant progress on a grain that most folks simply dismiss as unsuitable for bread baking. Look – triticale will not ever bake like hard wheat- I'm not delusional – but I’m more convinced than ever that acceptable bread can be made from it.
So to the source of my inspiration (and you should know who you are) – thank you – you helped me turn this little project around.
Until the next batch…