Breaking Bread, an exploration of bread and its many facets
A fellow user asked a great question recently: How does a baker tell when bulk-fermentation is finished?
Of course, I do not think we can begin to answer this question without firstly asking some other questions, like: What is fermentation, and how does one measure it? And why ferment in bulk in the first place?
My favourite question to ask baking classes or new baking apprentices is, what is bread?
The simplest answer I've found is that it's a paste made from the ground-up seeds or grains of tall-grasses combined with water. Sometimes there's salt, sometimes not. Sometimes it's leavened, sometimes not. Sometimes it's baked, sometimes not.
For the purposes of this discussion, I think it's best to focus on one grass, wheat, as well focus on only two types of controlled fermentation, alcoholic- and lactic-acid-based.
We know that fermentation is a series of irreversible, physical changes that take place once the conditions for fermentation are met (in our case, mixing flour, water and the leavening agent). The aim of these fermentations? To make whatever it is we are fermenting edible (nutritious and tasty); of course, there are many other uses for fermentation (like preservation), but these are outside the bounds of this discussion.
We also know that time is completely irrelevant to fermentation. What does matter, especially for flavour, is the type and number of physical changes that take place in the fermentative process. We also know the elements that most affect the type and quantity of aromatic flavour compounds in a final dough come down to substrate type and condition, redox potential, inoculation percentage, the nature and condition of the sourdough culture, and the nature and conditions of the fermentation.
So, I ask this question to anybody reading, why do we ferment in bulk? Once we answer this question, we must then answer the second one, how do we measure fermentation? And what, exactly, is "done?"