The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Proofing questions

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Appleseeed's picture
Appleseeed

Proofing questions

Hello, this might be my first post.. Long time lurker here, newish member. My inquiries are:

I use a flour/cornmeal dusted towel lined colander for my final proofs. I've had two problems with this. Sometimes the bread is so dried out where it was laying on the towel, it has a super tough crust that makes scoring a challenge. Other times, I get towel hairs in my bread! Not appetizing. Any tips regarding these problems would be welcome.

 

Also! While I have my first loaf proofing in the colander, what should I do with the second loaf while I wait? Put it in the fridge? Just shape it into a batard/other shape? Just let it rise longer and hope it doesn't overproof?

 

Thanks,

Bobby

GregS's picture
GregS

There are quite a few variables here, but first I would ask about the colander and the towel. The colander may let enough air reach the dough to dry it out while rising. The towel's absorbency might soak up a bit more moisture; and if it is a nice thirsty towel with relatively long loops, that could worsen the problem with "towel hairs". Probably something more like a dish towel would work better. Also, is the top of the loaf in the colander covered during the rise?

Another thing to look into is the moisture content of your dough. Is it dry to begin with? You can search the excellent archives here for "moisture percentage" or something similar. There is also a great deal of information dealing with "bakers percentage" that deals with the simple math for computing the moisture content of a dough.

Traditionally, long loaves are raised on a "couche" - a canvas fabric with a tight weave. The couche absorbs a bit of water which actually helps toughen the skin on the top of the loaf (raised seam-side up). The tougher skin can be slashed more easily with the lame.

Another popular way is with a banneton. Traditionally, bannetons are woven from a flexible reed-like wood. They are fairly tight, and wouldn't let in as much air as a colander. I've also done fine just using a cheap plastic "burger basket". Some use fabric lining in the banneton (like you do in the colander) to make it easier to unmold. I've found that if I dust the basket with a mixture of rice and rye flour, for a wet sticky dough, or just plain flour, for a normal dough, the loaves unmold just fine.

On the issue of the second loaf:If you shape the loaves after the bulk rise and then refrigerate them overnight in plastic bags, the retarding of the rise enriches the flavor. It also lets you take one loaf out, say, a half-hour before the second loaf so the second loaf doesn't finish rising at the same time.  I don't know what to recommend for the same-day rise if your oven can't handle two loaves. I've encountered the same problem, which led me to shift to the overnight routine.

I hope this helps you. Perhaps some of the old-timers will check in with their experience.

GregS

jaywillie's picture
jaywillie

I would suggest an occasional stop at your local thrift shop and keeping your eye out for some old linen napkins. Much better than a towel and you can get them cheap. 

I wonder if the cornmeal is absorbing more than its share of moisture. I read a hint a long time ago about using rice flour in my bannetons for proofing, I switched and it works great. Never sticks for me. But the corn meal may give your crust a quality that you are seeking. I don't use any cloth any more. I got wicker bannetons from a basket importer. Work great for me and inexpensive. Some will say you have to buy a foreign "banneton" but mine are *exactly* the same (same manufacturer in China) and half as expensive.

Are you enclosing your proofing basket while proofing? I use a large plastic bag, and just seal it up to protect against moisture loss. I once used a new garbage bag, but some TFL folks said those are not the best because the plastic used might have additives. Ziploc makes large and extra-large food-safe bags. I got mine at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Ziploc-Double-Zipper-X-Large-4-Count/dp/B003U6A3EY/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1331855790&sr=8-2), and they are plenty big enough for multiple baskets/colanders. Also look for oven-safe baking or brining bags. Most groceries carry those; Walmart does in my area as well. Wash and reuse over and over.

Which leads me to my last suggestion -- get another colander. You should just proof both loaves at the same time rather than trying to retard one while the other is proofing. Again, thrift stores are a good source for used colanders.

jaywillie

 

Appleseeed's picture
Appleseeed

All great suggestions and info. I cover the top of the colander loosely with oiled plastic wrap, but i'll try the used plastic bag to seal it better. Usually my doughs are on the wetter side, and so it makes sense that using a towel with big loops/looser knits would be a problem compared to a tighter knit cloth. I may have to just break down and get me a banneton, and some rice flour. Luckily my last baking day turned out great. I have been re using the same dish towel, and I think it's getting *seasoned* with flour, and hasn't been sticking as well. I also just shaped my second loaf into a batard and let it rise freely, so I could bake both the same night. They both turned out pretty good, not as sour as I prefer, so I'll try the suggestion of another long over night rise, and see what happens.