The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Stronger flour, weaker bread.

Grenage's picture
Grenage

Stronger flour, weaker bread.

Greetings,

As I'm still a bit green, I've been using a supermarket flour (Asda) with excellent results; it's 11%.  I was bought a fair amount of branded (Allison's) white bread flour, which is 12%. - and I'm having failure after failure.

The symptoms are that the loaf doesn't really proof properly, slops all over the place so that it flattens in the oven, then has immense oven spring - resulting in huge wholes in the middle of the loaf.  After drop-kicking a fourth failure and conceding defeat, I thought I'd ask here.  I used Allison's many years ago for normal yeasted bread, and it was fine; has anyone encountered any flour that seems to just plain suck for sourdough?

MangoChutney's picture
MangoChutney

The difference between 11% and 12% protein content should not be enough by itself to do much to the bread.  Furthermore, percent protein does not mean percent gluten.  The 12% protein bread could very well have less gluten.

How does the dough feel when you handle it?  Is it perhaps wetter than usual?  The moisture content of the two flours could be different.

PeterS's picture
PeterS

Please elaborate on this.

Grenage's picture
Grenage

Hi MC, thank you for your reply.  I was always under the impression that the higher protein content indicated higher gluten levels, or at least strength.  Thanks for setting me straight!

It was initally very similar (I stayed 100% white as a quick test), but the consistency quickly degraded over the following two hours.  I've attempted a little research on Google, and I've found a couple of posts where other sourdough users encountered the same problem.  It's ok keeping the starter going, so I can at least save it for that; I 'may' consider another attempt with a much lower hydration.

proth5's picture
proth5

that acts as you describe (starts out fine and then slackens during fermentation) can also be the result of using an over ripe pre ferment.

I'm not familiar with the Allison's brand from personal experience, but I believe others on these pages have used it with success. Again, you might want to verify the condition of your pre ferment (starter) before blaming the flour...

Just a thought...

Grenage's picture
Grenage

Hi Proth, thanks for your feedback.

That was my first thought, but I took extra care to create a new batch with less ferment time; I didn't think it likely, as I was following the exact same process on the other flour.  I suppose the only way to be sure is to make two loaves at the same time, with the same preferment, but different flour for the remainder.

proth5's picture
proth5

it's a mystery, then.  I don't know if you can get the ash content of your two flours.  A higher ash content would indicate that the gluten is of lower quality (as it would mean the flour contained grain milled closer to the bran) even though the protein content is higher.

Good luck with your problem...

Grenage's picture
Grenage

Cheers!  I really need to start getting some bulk flour from a local(ish) mill, but it's worth sticking with these until it's sorted.  Like you say, it could well indicate a massive flaw with my current technique - what good will I be if I can only make bread with one flour?

PeterS's picture
PeterS

 How did you make up your starter? How long did you ferment, proof etc. Was your starter particularly vinegary smelling, or not? It is difficult to troubleshoot without knowing exactly what you did. little things can make a big difference.

Grenage's picture
Grenage

Well my normal routine is to discard all but 50g of starter, then add 100g of flour and water; in four hours time it's getting near to peaking.  I take 150g and add it to 300g of water, mix, and add 450g of flour.  I normally let it autolyze for 30-60 minutes, then knead until it's developed enough.

I then S&F at 30, 60, 90 minutes; preshape at around 120 minutes, and shape at 130 minutes.  It then goes into the banneton to proof overnight.  That's my staple system, but I occasionally don't proof in the fridge!

PeterS's picture
PeterS

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/12868/overnight-retardation-causes-gluten-strength-drop-dramatically

Peaking (doubling volume or more?) in four hours indicates that you have a very active final build. Reducing the amount of starter in formula makes sense for an overnight ferment at room temperature (what temperature is that in your house?). I suggest 1/4 of your original amount if overnight means 10-12 hours.

If you are retarding at low temps, ie in the fridge, the yeast are mostly dormant, but the bacteria are not; increasing lactic acid concentrations leads to gluten degredation. You are also producing more acetic acid which is a dough enhancer, but lactic acid is typically about 3-6X the amount of acetic acid. Both acids reduce the pH which favors gluten hydrolysis (degredation). Your starter has a head start on this process--which is why all starters turn to mush if left long enough. You have two processes going on: production of acid by the starter and hydrolysis of your protein; temperature slows both down, but doesn't stop them. Having such a long proof after a full ferment with a very active starter is a good recipe for gluten breakdown.

Also, do you really need 3 stretch and folds? How developed is your dough after kneading? Overdoing it can lead to tearing and degredation of your gluten during shaping. Your internal structure seems to suggest that and overproofing. What does your dough look like after kneading and each fold, what kind of windowpanes are you getting. You have a relatively high hydration formula (71%), it is going to look a little saggy. If that is getting worse in time, you are losing gluten structure.

It eludes me why the Asda flour did not give similar results with the same sourdough formula and conditions. Did something else change? Is it warmer in your house since you switched flours?

My suggestion FWIW: you have a sound basic formula and seemingly a very active starter; try it as given in your post above, but knead just until you get a semblance of a windowpane (the dough will be shaggy and the windowpane will pull apart somewhat easily), bulk ferment for 2 hours stretching and folding once at 60 minutes (you can give it a second if it really needs it letting it rest an additional 30 minutes afterwards), then shape into boules or batards with minimal handling (don't preshape & rest; a banneton is fine) and proof (covered in plastic) until they have nearly doubled in size and pass the poke test, finally bake at 450F with steam.

This will give you a baseline. If successful, then you can work out your overnight retard again.

Grenage's picture
Grenage

Thank you for that!  It is indeed a very active starter; the starter seems to peak lower on the Allison flour, so I wondered if it was more easily broken down by the starter's inhabitents - although that does seem unlikely.  I'd have to do a side-by-side comparison.

The kitchen temperature hasn't changed, and sits at around 21C.

I probably don't need three S&Fs, as the dough is rather well developed after kneading by hand - while I never really use the window test, every time I have (out of curiosity), it has passed.  My average knead time is around 8-10 minutes, but I just knead until it feels right.  The only reason I really S&F at all is that I found that I had better gas distribution when throwing it into the mix; I'll try dropping it down to one, and skipping the preshape.

I'll have a go at a couple more loaves this weekend, skipping the retard.  If that goes well, I'll try adding a retard and dropping the preferment ratio!

sandydog's picture
sandydog

If it happened to me I would go back to the flour that gave me excellent results, and forget the flour that does not

Brian

Grenage's picture
Grenage

That is tempting. ;)

ananda's picture
ananda

It may well be a tempting idea, and one I agree has merit.

However, I will be extremely surprised if your problems have anything whatsoever to do with your choice of Allinson's Bread Flour.   It is an industrial flour produced with ideal breadmaking specifications.   I have used both the white bread flour and the wholemeal; the quality is undeniable.   The top grade [super strong, or whatever they call it] is too strong for "hearth-style" loaves.

Maybe you could look to Cann Mills as a source of better flour?   My preference is for Marriages, but Shipton Mill also produce great flour too.   If you go for really local and specialist flour, then you have to expect it to behave totally differently to the Asda flour you currently use.

Best wishes

Andy

Grenage's picture
Grenage

I'll drop the starter ratio down a notch and see how it gets on; I'd rather get some success out of it, especially as you say that you have no problems when using them!

Grenage's picture
Grenage

Well I had a bit of success over the weekend; after skipping the retard and extra folds, the loaf still did the same thing, but to a lesser extent.  I dropped the hydration to 65%, and it handles much better, although it glued itself to the banneton, it was much better.  The taste was not great, I don't think I've ever baked such a bland loaf in my life.

PeterS's picture
PeterS

and or tweaking your starter to get the flavor back. Your room temperature (21C) will favor a nice sourdough. Crudely, for every +10C change in temperature the activities of the yeast & bacteria double within their optimal range (about 55-85F); a 5C change in temperature is significant.  Followed by shape, into the banneton, proof at room temp for 30-60 min (optional, your call), and then retard in the fridge overnight for 8+ hours. Take it out of the fridge and bake when it has nearly doubled in size from when it went into the banneton. If you skipped the optional proof, then you might have to give it some time after coming out of the fridge. If you proofed it substantially before retarding, you can go right into the oven after the retard if the size is right & the poke test ok. Scoring will be easier when the dough is cold, too. If you cannot roughly doubled it between your retard and post fridge warm up, you have overproofed your dough between the two processes.

My mantra is "if one is going to cock up the proof, better to underproof it than overproof."

Lots of flour, cornmeal or my personal favorite, rice flour, on the banneton will take care the sticking.

Can you quantify what you mean by "same thing but to a lesser extent?" A pictures is worth a 1000 words...

 

Grenage's picture
Grenage

I do need to pick up some more rice flour, I ran out last week.

The slow proofing (and especially the retard) seems to be the issue, because I still don't get anywhere near the pre-oven rise that I was getting.  I should have taken a picture, so I'll remember to do so this week, when I get some more flour; I'll also keep a more detailed log of what I do, and when I do it.

I appreciate your advice. :)

ananda's picture
ananda

Hi Grenage,

I posted a range of breads here: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/26036/shoyuroasted-seed-bread-pain-de-campagne-ciabatta-rossisky-panned-wholewheat-bread which used the Allinson Strong Wholemeal.   Maybe the recipes/formulae and methods might offer you some tips?

For all that Mango Chutney is correct to counsel caution when interpreting headline protein figures, I would be prepared to put money on the Allinson flour offering better breadmaking specifications than the ASDA flour.

Best wishes

Andy

Grenage's picture
Grenage

Hi Andy,

Cheers for the link.  I have no doubt that it's a better bread flour, it's just slighly irritating that my results are so night and day between the two.  The lower hydration worked, but it resulted in a tougher texture and skipped retard resulted in poor flavour.  To be honest, I'm not overly distraught, if good bread was that easy, it wouldn't be much fun.

ananda's picture
ananda

Hi Grenage,

I see you have another thread going at the minute.   I didn't post on it as I am in Northumberland, and you were asking about courses closer to you.   However, Paul Merry at Panary is a good friend of mine, and I wholeheartedly recommend you sign up for a course with him.   Maybe you can have a look at Cann Mills at the same time and get hold of their flour too?

No, don't be distraught; there is no need for that.   Have confidence that you can see this through, perplexing as it is

All good wishes

Andy

Grenage's picture
Grenage

Success!  I ran out of flour, so I picked up a few more Kg of Allison's; for some reason the dough felt very different, and I was still working at 71% and an overnight retard.  The shaped dough didn't hold its own shape that well, but the banneton stops it going totally awol.  I don't know why tho Asda flour boule holds its shape better, but I should imagine it's because I only did one S&F, and no preshape on this loaf.

I suppose it could have been a bad batch of flour, the starter taking a short time to adjust to the new flour (doubtful), but here's hoping that whatever it was stays away. ;)  I could post a picture when I get home, but I'm not sure a successful loaf would be that insightful.

PeterS's picture
PeterS

Overlooked this: I looked up Asda's flours online, some have added ascorbic acid (vitamin c) which will affect dough strength significantly. Allinsons' do not; exactly which Asda flour did you use?

If that is the difference, the Allinson flour, sans ascorbic acid, will require more kneading (or S&F) than the Asda flour; the latter develops the gluten faster which is just the opposite of what I told you, of course. Bear in mind that increasing the kneading will lead to more oxidation and loss of flavor, you don't want overdo it. Your windowpane will tell you when to stop.

Unless you can say all other things being equal, it's just speculation. A flour quality control problem is the last thing I'd consider; I think the answer is right under our noses. It usually is.

Just happen to have a copy of Calvel's book in front of me for the weekend: A lack of maturation may sooner or later become apparent as a lack of dough strength, and may result in a relaxation or weakening of the paton (sic) during the course of the second fermentation. They usually proof "flat" and have a tendency to stick and become deformed. After baking, they yield flat loaves that suffer from poor volume and have barely acceptable appearance. The crumb structure is sometimes slightly coarse, lacks suppleness and elasticity, and very often has a marbled or irregularly colored appearance."

Sound familiar?

High hydration doughs have a certain amount of elasticity by virture of their water content. It shouldn't be confused with dough development. Posting pics would help. 

Grenage's picture
Grenage

Hi Peter, thanks for your reply.

I had no idea additives were used in some flours, that's something I'll have to look out for; it would certainly explain the difference in handling!  The flour I was using is Asda's 'strong white bread flour'.

They usually proof "flat" and have a tendency to stick and become deformed

That does sound rather familiar! By 'maturation', does Cavel refer to dough development in the kneading process, or of the starter? Here's a picture of the loaf that came out around the time of my last post, kneading ttook around 10 minutes (by hand).

PeterS's picture
PeterS

to dough development, the process of developing the gluten network in the dough. Mixing, kneading and fermenting all develop gluten--just at different rates with different degrees of concurrent effects, like oxidation (which also accelerates gluten development, but at the expense of flavor). When Calvel says underdeveloped, think of a crumb more like a cake than a bread.

You need to temper your conclusions somewhat though as Calvel is mostly writing about 63-68% standard baguette like formulations. Your higher hydration doughs will always be slack. By the way, it is a fantastic book, an industry standard; The Taste of Bread; Raymond Calvel; 1999.

Through the power of the "internets" I can shop for UK flours from the middle of the US of A. :) Asda Strong White Bread Flour indeed has added ascorbic acid. Kilo for kilo, all other things the same, it will mix differently from a flour that does not have added ascorbic acid. I'll always be amazed how little of an additive can affect things. So, in my semi-pro, semi-amateur opinion, you were not comparing apples to apples. Flour manufacturers are pretty good at what they do, their products are consistent, even the "value" products. Occam's razor says look to the obvious: user error.  

Your loaf looks good, the large holes look like those in a rustic dough that has not be overhandled. More stretching and folding will degas the dough and distribute the gas cells more evenly throughout the dough giving a more even crumb. The resultant dough will also behave differently than a more airy dough: think about it, the viscosity, thickness, if you will, of air is much less than dough.

I started off making a lot of long fermented minimally kneaded country style sourdoughs with hydrations on the order of 75%-100%. Essentially, no knead formulations. I tend to be biased in that direction as you might have noticed from my comments. Recently, taking a class, baking under the auspices of a CMB (certified master baker), and using a bigger mixer (and a deck oven--ooh la la!) I have developed a better appreciation of what dough development is all about. There is a lot of latitude with a high hydration slack dough; I have made many that were likely underdeveloped but since I was looking for a highly irregular crumb and to minimize oxidation, I didn't notice. Flavor, of course, was and is paramount. They were developed enough that the crumb was not gummy, but in retrospect, I think would have benefited from a little more kneading or folding, i.e. yielding a lighter crumb.

I buy unbromated/unbleached flours, sometimes enriched or with added diastatic malt, but usually without any dough modifiers, like ascorbic acid. The acid is not a big deal, but I don't need it. If I understand correctly, it found its home in the baking business with those that want good volume and to minimize processing time. Calvel doesn't seem to have a problem with it as it is a way to minimize mixing time with its accompanying oxidation. Those of us fermenting overnight shouldn't need it. You seem like a serious home baker, time to start reading labels. lol.

Grenage's picture
Grenage

Wow, thank you; it sounds like you've figured out why there was such a difference.  I spend so much time reading ingredient lists (vegetarian),  but I never thought to check basic things like flour!

I was worried about over-kneading, but it seems like I probably have some way to go until I reach that point; I'll try another loaf tomorrow, and crank up the dough development.   I'll post another loaf tomorrow, hopefully without the yellow filter that seems to have been present (curse you, bad lighting!).

Again, thank you.  I much appreciate your help!

PeterS's picture
PeterS

and, as usual, I reserve the right to retract anything I write without consequence. lol. It is tough to troubleshoot without actually being there. Everyone here will tell you, bread baking is all about touch. Sure, there is chemistry & biology, but it comes down to "what does the dough feel like." Do two doughs; both the same except for the kneading/mixing. A control is always nice and eventually through experience you are going to have this formula nailed; then, no matter what you change, you will be able to predict your result. Read TXfarmers baguettes posts, that will give you a good idea of what it is like to develop a bread. She is absolutely amazing; her breads & pastries are truly awesome. 

 

Grenage's picture
Grenage

Much better with a longer knead; I had no sticking to the bannneton, and it handled better in general.  I think I still need to knead more, but I also need a smaller banneton.  I was given one as a birthday present, and I think it's a 1.5kg - I generally make 900-950g loaves.  1Kg batard banneton is on its way!

The texture and taste was good, although I would have preferred a more even distribution of the larger holes - I think it was slightly under-proofed.  There was some minor bulging, as I'm sure you can see in the first picture.  Major progress now that you identified poor development, thanks!

Regarding TXfarmers threads, indeed!  They demonstrate such a level of skill, it's truly admirable.  I very much want to try out some of the soft sandwich loafs, I just need to get a stainless steel bread tin!

PeterS's picture
PeterS

Folding should help with the distribution of holes and give you  more gluten development. It will also help with the  bulging; just pop those big airpockets before it goes into the oven. When baking larger loaves (950g certainly qualifies), the crust is going to be well on its way to forming, even with steam, by the time the deep interior gets hot enough to spring.  From the looks of this bread, it might be a tad overproofed or, more likely, understeamed.  Hard to say without being there. :) What kind of poke test did it give? If you are baking on a stone (remind me, please), be sure it is thoroughly pre-heated; if not, that will help with the large loaves. So, if you can get more steam in there and hold it, that may help. Are you baking in a gas or electric oven?

Grenage's picture
Grenage

Hi again!

I'll try adding some more steam into the oven, which is an electric fan-assist; it seems to hold the steam fairly well - I'm currently throwing some ice into a hot roasting tin.  I use a stone, which I pre-heat to 225 for one hour (poor elecric bill ;).  The stone looks slightly porous, so I was tempted to soak it before heating the oven; unfortunately all the steam would escape when I put the loaf in.

I'll also work in more folds, going up to three at perhaps 40m-1h intervals.

ananda's picture
ananda

Hi grenage,

nice looking loaf.   The jump leading to the crumb tearing near the top of the loaf indicates the underproof you reference.

However the "bulges" you and PeterS mention are clear signs of overproof.   I would suggest you allow for a longer period of bulk fermentation, then you can cut down on the final proof without seeing the crumb structure compromised.

With regard to additives, Ascorbic Acid would have to be listed on the label if used here in the UK [E400 oxidiser, if I'm not wrong].   However, if ASDA have decided to beef up their flour with enzymes, these would not need to be listed; all part of the great food manufacturers' con, I'm afraid.   Obsession with "clean label" to the point of complete loss of product integrity!

Best wishes

Andy

Grenage's picture
Grenage

I have been struggling slightly with getting a lot of rise during the bulk ferment.  Perhaps I should try the above, and just stick with the bulk for much longer (it does rise, but I don't get the full double I was before).  I guess that could be down to the previously mentioned lack of development - more kneading, and perhaps more waiting on the ferment.

Ascorbic Acid is listed on the website, but I'll double-check the pack next time I'm in store; I'm sure it will be there, lurking in the small print.

PeterS's picture
PeterS

I see the kind of large bubbles you describe whenever I do a long ferment at RT (and sometimes in the fridge, but they're much slower developing, of course) and do minimal stretch & folds with very gentle handling. They look like internal versions of the large bubbles that you describe on the surface.  You have decent dough development: the bubbles are not breaking on the sides. The gaps at the top of your crumb are there from the start of the bake get a little bigger because they do not have the mass of the rest of the dough sitting on top of them--like the core. You can get rid of them, if you want, by better degassing the dough when stretching and folding. For reference, compare larger boule crumb to baguette crums.  I would plan the folding such that you do one just before you set the dough aside to proof. If you want less volume during fermentation, you have to reduce the amount of your leavening or slow it down or a combination there of.

Grenage's picture
Grenage

Hi Peter,

It's good that the development looks ok, I started another loaf last night, and kneaded it a little more than usual; I couldn't tell much difference between the two doughs.  It looks like this is probably a weakness with general skill and experience, so I'll crack on with maknig more bread and try smooth the process out.  My shaping and dough handling is awful. :)

 

Russell.

PeterS's picture
PeterS

and they all affect each other! I made the same loaf 2-3x  a week for over a year; I didn't set out to do that, but in hindsight it was a good move and taught me a lot about bread and, obviously, that one loaf. lol. Shaping and dough handling can be learned from a book, but can only be perfected on the bench. There is a reason why professional bakers make it look so easy and often deceptively simple: try making hundreds or thousands of something--every week or day! You are building a good base, keep it up and you will become a master of your formula.

Good bakers introduced me to the old adage: it is hard to overknead a bread: you'll give out before your bread does! I don't think getting good dough development with higher hydration breads and long ferments is much of a problem, especially if it is done at room temperature. Gluten development continues in the resting dough all by itself (as does protease catalyzed breakdown, but, IIRC, that doesn't seem to be a factor until much longer times.). Try making a liquid starter and notice how its strength changes over time. Fermenting for 10+ hours is a lot of time for the yeast and bacteria to multiply; it doesn't take much. A 1/4tsp of dry yeast will leaven 350-450g of flour over 12-18 hours with good flavor at room temp (23-24C). Off the top of my head, I use about 15-20% baker's % of a 75% hydration starter to leaven a sourdough; 0-2 hrs room temp w/8-12 hours in the fridge . If I did it at all at room temp, I would cut the starter down substantially. I don't like to go much higher than that as the dough gets too strong.

Try making baguettes with your dough. Do it a few different ways: degas thoroughly & tightly shape some, minimally handle some others. It's a good way to see the difference. 

 

Grenage's picture
Grenage

Boule's I can shape (being able to finish with a twist to close and tighten is handy), batards, as I discovered last night, require a bit more finesse.  I'll give baguettes a crack when I can get any sort of taughtness with the batard!  I saw a video some time ago where a baker did several different loaves, several different times - it only had backing music.  I might look for it again, as deceptively simple as it was made to appear.

Grenage's picture
Grenage

I just thought I'd finish off this thread with a thanks, it looks like insufficient ferment time was right on the money.

We were off camping with friends this weekend, so I made a boule on Thursday/Friday; this time I went with 65%.  I fermented and fermented as shaped as normal on Thursday, then put it in the frridge.  I noticed that the loaf hadn't risen 'quite' as much as I would have liked, so given this thread, I took it out and reshaped it.  It proofed to double, but stuck to the bannneton on removal - I'd forgotten to redust it.  A bit of a disaster moment, but I baked it regardless; really happy with it, so I'll try fermenting for longer on a 71% next time.

phil200's picture
phil200

Hi Grenage,

I had failure after failure when using Allinsons for a sourdough loaf.  The dough would liquify even at 60% hydration and had the texture of putty.  Switched to Carrs and never looked back.  This was 2-3 years ago and I've never tried Allinsons again.

Allinsons is fine for yeasted doughs though.

Phil.

ananda's picture
ananda

...is my favourite UK industrial white flour, by a long way too.

BW

Andy

Grenage's picture
Grenage

Cheers chaps, I'll have a look at Carrs.  I'm happy with the Allison results (now), but considering that this is only the second flour I've used, I don't have much to compare it to.  I'm going to take a trip to Waitrose this lunch time; while I rarely go in there, I noticed that they seem to have a pretty good range of flours.