The Fresh Loaf

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My sour dough bread making process up for critiquing

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Kneading One's picture
Kneading One

My sour dough bread making process up for critiquing

I am fairly new to bread baking (8 months ) and what I typically do is read as much as I can and then incorporate various techniques that I think will give good results. So this might be helpful to other newcomers to this world of bread making...or it might not! And it will probably bore the heck out of the seasoned bakers here. But nonetheless, here we go.

When I refresh my mother, barm, starter, I use 1/3 cup each of whole wheat, dark rye and vital wheat gluten and 1 cup of water. Let this sit out for 4 hours (or a light on in the oven) and then back into the fridge until further additions are done. I add 2 tbs of flour at each addition period, which is 2-3 days, and I try to coincide the last addition the night before I make my firm starter. My firm starter is whatever is left over after removing one cup of barm to refresh my starter. I measured the leftover one time and it was approximately 1 1/2 cups. I add 1 1/2 cups of whatever flour type that I will use and this produces a nice workable firm starter without the need for adding water. I then let this sit out for four hours or longer (since it is winter here and I keep my house cool, I turn on the oven light and put the firm starter in oven and let the light serve as a warmer. The temp will get anywhere from 78-83 degrees during a four+ hour period. A thermometer is essential to keep a watchful eye and accurate temperature rates.)  More often than not, I will exceed the 4 hour ferment and let it go sometimes 5-6 hours. It all depends on how much it has risen. Then after that period, I always stick it in the fridge for an overnight cold ferment. From "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" by Peter Reinhart.

The next morning I remove the firm starter, cut it into small pieces and stick it in the lighted oven to warm up for an hour. I add my flours to a large mixing bowl (I am currently adding 8 cups of "OO" , 1/2 hard red winter and 1/2 soft spring wheat, 1/2 cup of flax and 1/2 cup of vital wheat gluten) for a total of 9 cups. I then add approximately 3 3/4 +- cups of distilled water. I used to boil fridge filtered water and then let it cool to 90-100 degrees and let the chlorine evaporate. i am trying distilled water to see if it is any better. I incorporate the flours and water and then let it rest for 1 hour. Per Hannah Field in "How to Build Your Own Earthen Oven" by Kiko Denzer. Then I begin my hand kneading process. I add 1 tsp of sea salt at the start, 1 tsp salt after the 1st five  minutes, another 1 tsp at the 10 minute mark for a total 3 tsp and 15 minutes of hand kneading. The addition of salt after the rest period was also suggested by Hannah Field. I actually bought a KitchenAid mixer, but it is still in the box as I actually enjoy feeling the way the flour mixture responds to water amounts added. I then do a windowpane test to check for gluten development. It is like the blind leading the blind, but I am trying at least! I do not stretch and fold, as I have just come to learn of this technique from a reader here.  I simply hand knead.

Then I remove the kneaded dough and lightly mist the bowl with a vegetable oil  to keep it from sticking, as per Peter Reinhart. I cover the bowl with platic wrap and put it into a lighted oven for a 4+ hour ferment. The oven temperature at this point is typically 75-78 degrees. I measure the dough from the top of the rim and determine rise this way. I try to let the dough double in size and this is the best way to determine that result. I have found that a 5 hour ferment gives much better results than the typical 4 hour ferment. That is if you have the luxury of time. The oven temp is typically 81-83 degrees after this ferment period.

 

I remove the bowl and turn it upside down on the counter, resting on the plastic wrap. I then cut the rounded dough mass into four pieces. I have ready a cutting board that I put a piece of parchment paper on that has been generously dusted with cornmeal. I then shape my boules and arrange them approximately 1 1/2 inches apart from one another. This is so they fit onto my square pizza stone. I have found that the parchment paper allows me to hold one end of it while I gently put the boules into the oven on the pizza stone. Placement is fairly crucial, so this is why I use the parchment paper. Then I very lightly mist the tops of the boules with the vegetable spray, as per peter Reinhart, and cover the boules loosely with plastic wrap. I  then put the entire board into the lighted oven for the 3 hour proofing period. The oven is also 78-83 degrees at this time. I have found that with the limited space on the pizza stone, the boules will eventually touch lightly upon one another as the oven spring and spread takes place. It is a sacrifice that I endure since I would rather do 4 boules at a time than a fewer amount. I figure with that much effort, I want the greatest amount of benefit.

After the proofing period, I remove the cutting board and boules to the counter. I start my oven and set the temperature to 500 degrees. My pizza stone is in place and I have a cast iron skillet on the top rack. I boil some water in the tea kettle and will use this for my burst of steam at the start. I remove the plastic wrap and cut the grignes into my boules just a few moments before I put them into the ready oven. Doing this too soon makes the cuts spread as I have found out. I gently transfer the boules on the parchment paper onto my peel and get ready to put into the hot oven. The 1 cup of boiled water is put into a water canister with a long neck so that it is easier to pour into the hot cast iron skillet on the top rack. I have burned my fingers twice from the emitting steam and that is two times too many. Live and learn. I open the oven door and place the boules onto the pizza stone. Note: I also cut out a cardboard protector that I put on my oven glass door to protect it from splashing water, since this will cause the glass to break. I then add the water to the skillet and close the door quickly once the cardboard protector is removed. I count 30 seconds and open the door and spray misted water onto both sides of the oven and not the boules. I do this 3 times at 30 second intervals. Then I turn the oven to 450 degrees and bake for the approximately 30 minutes (minus the 1 1/2 minutes for the misting) or required time. I test my boules by tapping the bottom and if they sound like a hollow drum, they are good to be removed and put onto a cooling rack.

This is my process as I have accumulated information thus far. I keep very good notes for future reference. Or to try to avoid making the same mistake twice, would be more accurate! If anyone would care to give me helpful instruction to improve my process, I would be very appreciative of your effort. I am truly enjoying making my own bread and this addition to my cooking has been a pleasant and rewarding experience. And if you have read this far, thank you for taking the time to learn about how I do my bread making. Right or wrong, this is my technique! I have obtained satisfactory results for myself, but I am sure I am doing things that could be improved upon. This is where you come in! And thank you for that.

Richard

 

Bakingmadtoo's picture
Bakingmadtoo

Hi Richard, you sound as if you have come a long way in a short time. If you are getting results you are happy with, you will most likely find that your loaves just get better and better anyway. If there is something you want to improve you will probably get better advice if you are specific about the problem.

I started to find messing about trying to steam the oven a bit of a pain and had varying levels of success, which is why I started using covered bakers, no more steaming issues! 

But really it is all about finding the process that works best for you. It is a very rewarding thing to do, although once begun it can never be stopped, unless you stop eating bread altogether, as store bought bread will just never do again!

Kneading One's picture
Kneading One

Hello Sallyann!

Thank you for the reply. Well it has been difficult at times because I am not the analyzing type. I am the creative doer. I just like to try things and see how they work....to a degree. I also have a terrible habit of staying in a place if it feels good to me. But I must have read too many books and looked at perfect pictures of boules and loaves and such and for some reason, my boules just looked not quite up to par. But aside from that petty little deal, I really am quite happy with my results. Fun and rewarding is quite the understatement here. I am going to try to post a few pictures of the boules i baked last night. you can check them out. They do seem a little flat to me, but they have pretty much been that size most of the time. Now off to find out how to post a picture here. thanks again for your comments! Much appreciated.

Richard

 

Bakingmadtoo's picture
Bakingmadtoo

Well, a little flat! Now that would seem to be my ongoing problem, I think the poor folk on here are tired of me going on about it! I can offer you various suggestions of things to try, better shaping, less hydration, very hot baking stone/ baker, proofing to 80%, baking the dough from cold. I am trying to think of all the things that have been suggested to me. It could be simply that you are proofing just a little too long. In my case I don't think it is, my loaves spread when I turn them out of the banneton, but do spring quite well in the oven, it is just that they have spread very flat before going in. My best results come when I use a baker which is a good fit for the dough - but this is really a cheat in my eyes, as I should be able to get the results I want without any kind of containment.

However, I was looking through my books for a recipe to try today and I have to tell you that it struck me that pictures of loaves by some of the best experts out there, look very flat to me, and I wonder if I have built up an image in my head of what I want, yet really I should be more than happy with what I get.

I suspect that the answer to better spring/less spreading lies in improvement in many areas, and that it is something that will gradually improve over time, as all my skills improve. It would be nice to know the answer though.

chouette22's picture
chouette22

...no doubt, and you have read your baking books with a lot of attention. Excellent! Just two thoughts: the way you refresh and maintain your starter seems very elaborate and rather complicated to me, however if it works and is easy to you, by all means keep doing what you are doing. My process is MUCH easier and my starter is usually very strong. 

The second thing I noticed, and it may just be that you forgot to write down that step, is that you don't remove the pan you use for steaming your oven after about 10 minutes of baking. Or has all the water dried up? I usually put one cup of hot water into my pan and I remove it after the said 10 minutes to facilitate the crust formation (there is always some water left at that point). I also clog the oven vent for the first few minutes, otherwise all the steam escapes. However, I too bake many of my breads covered as then I don't need to worry about the steam.

Kneading One's picture
Kneading One

Hello Chouette22!

Thank you very much for your reply. I am truly impressed by your powers of observation and attention to detail, even with what was left out! I do take the pan of water out after 15 minutes....not sure why I picked that time, just how it happened. There is, indeed, some water remaining in the pan. Not a lot, but enough to pour into my gray water recycler. I have not tried clogging the vents, nor have I thought about doing that. I think the bread is getting a fair amount of attention from me as it is!

I would be quite interested in hearing your way of maintaining your starter. I have noticed that on the second day after refreshing, the barm is actually ready to burst it's confines of the quart jar that I keep it in. One time, the pressure actually buckled the lid and the barm slowly leaked out all over my fridge door shelf. Yes, what a mess to clean up. This morning I paid very close attention to the possible blow off again, and sure enough, the barm was at high pressure in my jar and I released the lid and took a spoon and quelled the escape. So this is definitely something that I know needs careful monitoring. I also added 2 tbs of flour and now will refresh every other day. I was actually refreshing every third day but I have determined that my boules seem relatively flat, so maybe a better feeding schedule will enhance the rise?

Thank you again for your excellent feedback. It is much appreciated.

Richard