The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

A short lesson in problem solving

varda's picture
varda

A short lesson in problem solving

What happens when your must have bread fails repeatedly?   Other than tears and recriminations, a lot of head scratching and experimentation.  This generally leads to upping your game at all levels as you optimize each step of the process, but unfortunately the main problem can remain hidden.  

This happened with my Lexington Sourdough which started out as an almost white, medium hydration sourdough and became....  This little devil had the most annoying habit of coming out absolutely beautifully for long periods of time, only to start failing alarmingly and in many ways, particularly when I made large batches of it for sale.   So what to do?   People must have their sourdough.   

First off - I finally had to break down and put a steam pan in my Cadco oven, even though I'd been avoiding this like the plague, as it already has a handy dandy piped in vapor setting, and that SHOULD BE enough.   Wasn't.   Denial was getting me nowhere.   So I took my cheap cast iron skillet and poured water in at the beginning of every bake, as well as turning off the oven for long enough for the bread to open.   This helped.   It stopped the scores hardening over and the sides splitting, and the bread giving birth to a baby bread.   So all done?   No way!   Many more successes but still alarming failures especially when getting ready for a market where "I love sourdough, what do you mean you don't have any!" 

So what did these next set of failures look like?    The dough would be absolutely beautiful, shape beautifully, and then mysteriously collapse into a puddle during the proof.   How could this be?   So time to fiddle with the formula - raise the hydration, lower the hydration, raise percentage of whole grains, eliminate whole grains altogether.   Some of these efforts created beautiful breads.   But come time to scale up for a market?   Same puddle bread, same failures, same walking away customers who didn't get their sourdough.  

Next up - must be the dough development right?   Yes right.    Add stretch and folds, bulk retard, mix like hell.... Did it help?   Most of the time but never for those crucial moments when you need a lot of loaves.   

Then luck struck.   One day, when I was making a few loaves of one of the instantiations of the elusive Lexington Sourdough, I had a bit of extra dough.   I formed these into 3 pretty rolls, and sent them off to the chef at a restaurant that serves our bread.   I didn't expect him to buy them as I had given him many samples of this or that, and he never added to his order.    Surprise, surprise, he ordered 300 of these babies a week.   Now suddenly I had to start producing these never before made rolls in quantity.    And strangely this went fine.   This went on for a few weeks before it occurred to me what had happened.   Same dough, same oven, same everything except for size and shape.   What the heck?

Thinking this over, I realized these rolls not only had the same dough development process as the bread, they also got cut up and rolled and twisted into shape.  Hmmmm.  

On to the bread at hand.   If you take a breadsworth of dough, cut it in two and shape each half separately then your dough gets twice the workout, yes?   Yes.   The bread pictured at top is exactly that - an olive bread using (one of the) Lexington Sourdough base (medium hydration, 20% whole wheat, 20% prefermented white flour)   No puddles either of dough or tears.   Just behaved itself from start to finish.  And this was at least a medium sized batch.

And for those of you who are still awake ---- Have I tried a big batch of straight up Lexington Sourdough?   Haven't dared yet, but by Jove, I think I've got it.

Comments

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

but it sure looks grand.  It looks like from the marks that you proof them in a peanut basket?  Very odd bread indeed. Sliced thinish, you could load up one side and just fold the other over at the middle to get a sandwich,

Who would have thought that double the shaping would make such a difference.....Love those rolls and we are glad to see the business doing well for you.

Happy baking Varda

varda's picture
varda

My husband walked by muttering mitosis, and the word paramecium keeps running through my mind, but it has been a long long time since 9th grade biology.   Apparently they sold in a heartbeat at the market and I'm hoping, hoping, hoping that the non-olive version will come out as well.    Thanks DA!  -Varda

Mebake's picture
Mebake

So, Varda, was it the insufficient dough development all along? You have a mixer, don't you? 

Khalid

varda's picture
varda

Khalid,   I can't say I really get this.   What has made it so perplexing is that the failures are interspersed among the successes in an apparently random way.    However, the rolls made of the same dough and produced in the same dough quantities always do very well.   So that certainly points to development.   I do have a planetary mixer, and the dough appears to be nicely developed especially after mixing and then 3 stretch and folds.   The first inkling of trouble is that the dough just won't hold its shape.   So why does a dough like this which is quite well developed during bulk ferment, suddenly give up during shaping.    Once you see the dough unable to hold its shape the game is up.   Nothing you do after that makes a difference - short proof, long proof - this oven protocol, that oven protocol.   It seems like the extra manipulation during shaping is absolutely critical, but I'm not sure why.    We're talking four ingredients here - flour, water, starter, salt.   The simplest ones are the hardest I guess.  

Mebake's picture
Mebake

Oh and i Second DA, on the Peanut shaped bread. that looks attractive, and genius of course.

 

varda's picture
varda

Thanks Khalid,  I wasn't sure how these would come out - essentially two boules pressed together - so was pleasantly surprised.  -Varda

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

HI Varda,

Nice to see your breads and to read about your discovery.  I have often wondered about the need to pre-shape doughs and your experience with your LS speaks to one of the benefits that pre-shaping has on a lean dough.  

I do not pre-shape on a regular basis so the purpose of it has eluded me until now but a lot of my doughs have enrichments that strengthen a dough considerably so that pre-shaping isn't necessary.  I am about to bake some different lean doughs in the coming weeks so I will now pay heed to how much they get handled and how it effects their shape thanks to you. :)

I imagine you must be feeling a nice sense of accomplishment that comes when your breads tell you the very answers you are seeking.

Take Care,

Janet

P.S.  Are you still using the steaming pan in the Cadco or is that not necessary anymore?  I ask because I have often wondered about adding a pan to mine but opt for simply depressing the steam button for a long time so that a puddle of water forms on the floor of my oven which adds moisture for the time I have my oven off at the beginning of a bake. (10 minutes)

 

varda's picture
varda

Janet, 

I know we make very different types of bread, but I can't think of one that I don't preshape.   The preshaping helps to take the ragged mess left by cutting and organize it.  Well preshaped dough makes shaping a breeze.   The added development is a must for some breads and apparently not enough for my sourdough.  

As far as the Cadco, at this point I have a thick steel sheet, a preheated iron steam pan, and the humidity feature (in my case it is an electronic setting rather than a button push.)   All of this PLUS turning off the oven are required to get lean doughs to open properly.    I also use the steam pan for most ryes and high whole grain loaves because it improves the color of the loaves considerably, but is not necessary for the scores to open.   So a wholly absurd oven protocol, and one that I hope to leave behind me before too long!  

Thanks for commenting Janet.  -Varda  

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

Hi Varda,

Good to hear from you. I experienced a similar episode wherein the loaves would just not hold shape after proofing. Like you I stood on my head and looked cross eyed at it - that didn't help either.

The epiphany occurred when I viewed the video of La boulangerie de l'écové.

The forming technique she uses is a stretch, fold and form that worked better than I could have ever hoped for. It is now my standard practice for batards and boules - modified, of course for baguettes. 

Lesson learned: Forming is extremely important.

Best,

Wild-Yeast

varda's picture
varda

WY,

Just reading that - "forming is extremely important" - makes this so much clearer in my mind.   I use the same shaping technique on all batards, and this is the only one that has failed on me.   But I have to clear out all those cobwebs from the brain.  The fact is that for this dough in particular, it doesn't seem to matter how much it is developed during bulk ferment, it just needs a stronger form of shaping, and I hope that stands up even when I have a bunch of loaves to deliver and can't afford to have them end up in the trash. 

Re the video, your link doesn't seem to work.   I did a search on La boulangerie de l'Ecove and found this https://vimeo.com/34325967   I just started watching it, and realized that I had seen it before maybe a year ago.   I stopped midstream, as I couldn't stand to see her doing all that hand mixing leaned over like that.    Just watching made my back hurt.   So I never made it to shaping.   This time I'll just have to skip over the hand mixing and cut straight to the chase.

Thanks so much for your insight!

Varda

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

Thanks for the typo spot (fixed) and you're welcome.

There's one other benefit of the l'ecove technique - it produces a most evocative swirl pattern to the crumb - reminiscent of an advertising shot that says "I am wholesome, delicious and handmade - buy me"...,

Wild-Yeast

bakingbadly's picture
bakingbadly

I can sympathize, Varda.

A month ago I had a critical issue with my seven grain breads. "Flying top." Usually a sign of underproofed dough. Despite extending the bulk ferment and/or proofing period, there was still a gaping hole in my breads. It's the starter, then, I thought. Turns out, sort of. I later found out my staff were shaping the dough oddly, incorporating an excess of flour into the dough which contributed to the gaping holes. 

It took me about two weeks of confusion and heartache to resolve the problem. Thankfully, my clients were understandable and quarrels were nonexistent.

I fear the day when I'm producing dozens of sourdough loaves, daily, and stumble into major hiccups like this. I think it's inevitable... When working with a live product, the beast can be fickle. 

Best of luck to you and your bakery, Varda. It seems we both need it. ;)

Zita

varda's picture
varda

Hey Zita, My strategy for dealing with this fickle bread is to just make other things, but it has left a bit of a hole in what I have to offer.    I think I get it finally - it's all about the shaping.   I was able to make a medium batch today and they all came out very nicely.   I'll just have to see if I can keep ramping it up. Thanks for commenting, and of course good luck to you as well.  -Varda

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

is still being made by real Artisans all you have to do is watch the video of this woman who makes bread using sourdough,without the use of machines that is baked in a WFO and is crafted to be he best that it can be....and she makes a living at it too!.  There is hope fo t he rest of us after all:-) 

Happy baking 

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

If you live in the mountains and have child labor at your disposal.

I thought the shaping was interesting, and seemed to use a lot of bench flour right before the last fold before being dropped in the basket. 

dobie's picture
dobie

Varda,

Thank you for this and all your many reports.

My question is: When you say 'as well as turning off the oven for long enough for the bread to open' (the concept of which I get), do you mean a pre-heated oven, do you leave the door open a bit to cool, or are there other possibilities? It just seems to me that if you were to turn off a pre-heated oven, it would take quite a while for the temperature to appreciably decrease. Am I missing something, or is it as simple as that?

Thanks, Dobie

varda's picture
varda

Dobie,   I have a convection oven with a very stiff wind blowing through it, and no option to turn the convection off.   There were many good reasons to get the oven, but this was not one of them.   The wind is so intense it dries out the scores before they can open properly and the bread is misformed.   So my process is load the bread into a preheated oven with a cast iron pan on the base - pour water into the pan (not too much) close the door and bake for 2 minutes - then turn off the oven for some number of minutes depending on the bread, then on again for the rest of the bake.   I do not leave the door open for it to cool.   To the contrary, this method fails for some breads because the oven cools down too much during the off period to allow them to spring.   In fact, the bread I was writing about in this post cannot be reliably baked in this oven - a conclusion I have reached several times, but now am sufficiently confident of that I don't even try it anymore.   Even super development doesn't work despite my optimism on the subject.   Hope that answers your question.

dobie's picture
dobie

Thank you Varda,

You have answered my question exactly.

So the fact that I can bake with convection fan off in my little home oven is to be used to my advantage.

What I've been doing is putting about 2 cups of hot water into the bottom part of the broiling pan (that speckled, porcelin coated steel rig that comes with most household stoves), on the bottom of the oven when I fire it up. By the time it's up to temp, it is steaming away. Within 10 minutes or so, it is dry.

I have read that steam beyond the first 5-10 minutes is detrimental to a crackling crust. What is your experience?

Thanks for your response. I hope you have found your rental and that things are progressing properly for you. I admire your bravery.

Dobie

varda's picture
varda

Hi Dobie,

The pan with water in the preheat is fine, but what you really want is a plume of steam at the beginning of the bake.   This causes the loaves to be coated (with water vapor not steam I think) which provides a protective seal which allows the bread to expand and color properly.   If the oven remains too humid for a long period, the crust gets tough which is undesirable.   So short of a steam injected oven, what you want is to create a burst of steam at the beginning using whatever tricks available.   This site is full of them.   I preheat a dry cast iron pan with the oven, load the bread, then pour some water in and close the door as fast as possible.   I also use the humidity feature of my oven which injects a steady stream of water which vaporizes as it enters the oven.   This is like your preheated pan.   I turn this off after the first couple minutes.

I have found a rental and a contractor to build it out.   The latest hoop to jump through is getting the town to issue a building permit.   They are currently holding this hostage to payment of a big sewer tax or proof that our water use won't be very big which requires a civil engineer to issue a letter (which also costs money.)   Arrrggghhh.   We'll pass this obstacle and the next one will present itself.   But onward and upward.  Thanks for asking.

Varda

dobie's picture
dobie

Thanks Varda - exactly what I wanted to know.

Glad your plan is progressing. It seems like no matter who's in charge, they always wanna charge you.

Dobie