The Fresh Loaf

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Dense crumb with sourdough bread. HELP!

abhattachar23's picture
abhattachar23

Dense crumb with sourdough bread. HELP!

Hello everyone!

I've been baking french style sourdough bread for a few months now, and I've been having some struggles getting a crumb that isn't really tight.

Here were the basic formula parameters from my last loaf:

85% KA bread flour

15% KA white whole wheat flour

75% hydration

2.2% Morton iodized salt

20% levain

Levain build:

100% white whole wheat flour

100% hydration

15% starter

12 hour maturation time

Starter build:

100% hydration

100% white whole wheat flour

Feeding recipe: 1 part starter, 2 parts WWF, 2 parts water (I used to do 1:1:1, but I decreased the amount of starter relative to the other ingredients, because the starter would smell like ethanol after 12 hours)

12 hour maturation time.

 

Process:

-Standard RT in my home in June: 76-78 def F

-Mix levain just until complete incorporation and let mature for 12 hours. (note: levain passed float test at the end of 12 hours, and did not at all smell overfermented).

-Mix levain with the rest of the ingredients and and allow a 45 minute autolyse. (note: all water used in this recipe was at RT [76 deg F], and had been allowed to sit in an open bottle for at least 24 hours in order for any chlorine to evaporate.)

-Slap and fold for 10-12 minutes (note: I was expecting the dough to start feeling smooth and slightly tacky at this point, but it didn't quite feel that way. Still, I didn't want to risk overdeveloping the gluten, so I stopped. Windowpane looked OK).

-Place dough in polypropylene tub at room temp for bulk fermentation, and do 3 folds over the course of 2 hours.

-Continue bulk fermentation at RT, until dough reaches 50% expansion by volume. (note: in reality, the dough only expanded by 30%, and wouldn't expand further. I expected that the dough would reach 50% expansion in about 2-3 hours, based on the experiences of a friend of mine who's a very good sourdough baker, but since it didn't, I gave up on the dough after about 6 hours at RT, and decided to retard the bulk until the next morning, which was a total retardation time of about 14 hours. My fridge temp is about 38 def F). (note 2: perhaps volume expansion is not the best way to assess the doneness of the bulk fermentation?)

-Remove dough from fridge and let it warm up to RT, until it reaches 60% expansion by volume. (note: again, this is based on the experiences of my friend, who believes that ~60% expansion is near optimal. After two hours on the kitchen counter, the dough had reached about 40% expansion by volume, which is as far as I let it go in actuality. It's worth noting that my friend lives in a place where it's crazy hot and humid).

-Preshape and bench rest for 20 min.

-Shape into tight boule and place in banneton for proofing. Preheat dutch oven to 500 deg F (note: after shaping, I did the finger dent test to get an idea of how long of a proof I'd be gunning for. Almost immediately, the dough seemed to be very close to the end of the proof, so I put it in the fridge for the remainder of the preheat, which was about an hour).

-Score loaf and place into dutch oven, lower temp to 475F, and steam bake for 25 minutes.

-Dry bake for another 23 minutes at 450F.

-Remove from oven and let cool for 2 hours before cutting open.

 

For a while now, I've been toying some some variant of this recipe and procedure, varying the parameters up and down, and improving my techniques. Nevertheless, I still can't manage to figure out what I am doing wrong, and neither can my friend who's very good at baking sourdough.

I'm very careful about documenting everything that I do, and I go out of my way to be very gentle with my dough (in fact far more gentle than many professional bakers in their demonstration videos). I feel like I've tried everything, but I just can't get this thing to work. I don't know if I'm doing one big thing wrong or lots of little things.

Any help that any of you could offer would be greatly appreciated. Please keep in mind that my schedule only allows me to work on bread before I go to work, dinner time or later, and on weekends before noon and after 6pm.

If you have any questions about my process, please ask, because I'd love to figure this thing out.

Best,

A

MichaelLily's picture
MichaelLily

What is the issue? Your loaf looks terrific.

Lazy Loafer's picture
Lazy Loafer

That's exactly the way some people like their sourdough, actually. So it would help us if you described what you don't like about this one and how you would like the bread to look / feel / taste instead.

abhattachar23's picture
abhattachar23

This is actually a picture of something that my buddy got recently. It's also fairly similar to what I've been seeing at some of the good artisan bakeries that I've been to.

Basically, what I'm aiming for is a larger average pore size, and a texture that isn't quite so dense and tough as what I've been getting.

eddieruko's picture
eddieruko

I can't say I see anything particular about your recipe that might throw it off. Your loaf looks tasty!

How are you storing your dough while it retards in the fridge and warms to RT? It's possible that handling the dough to preshape might deflate it a bit. Some containers are better than others at allowing a smooth transfer.

Have you considered doing a long proof in the fridge after shaping? 

 

abhattachar23's picture
abhattachar23

Hi Eddie,

Thanks for your reply!

I think there's a chance that you might be right about handling during the preshape. My method for preshaping has been similar to my method for shaping, expect I don't tighten the skin nearly as much. Perhaps the fact that I'm folding the dough to preshape it is degassing it more than I'd like.

And as far as retarding my proof, I'm a bit hesitant to try that now, because you can't really do the finger-dent test on cold dough, so I won't be able to know when it's done proofing. Is there any other way to tell how long it'll take for cold-proofed dough to finish proofing?

the_partisan's picture
the_partisan

You could try shorter bulk ferment and longer proof. Maybe 20-30% expansion in BF and then a longer proof (3-4h in room temp or 8-24h in fridge). By 20% levain do you mean in terms of flour or levain including water? 

abhattachar23's picture
abhattachar23

Thanks for your reply!

By 20% levain, I mean that I use a total of 500g of flour to make my dough, and that the total weight of levain that I use (flour and water included) is 100g.

Next time, I'll definitely try to shorten the amount of time that I bulk at RT, but as I said to Eddie, I'm not quite sure how to assess the length of time that I should be cold-proofing, since you can't perform the finger-dent test on cold dough. Is there a way around this problem?

Filomatic's picture
Filomatic

My view of this is that it's over-proofed.  Large holes but dense elsewhere.  In all other respects it looks skillfully made.  Only experience can teach you proper proofing.  Your friend is obviously a great resource, but you should consider a comprehensive book.  My favorite is Hamelman's Bread.

Some bakers here do slap and fold, but Hamelman and many other pros favor minimal mixing followed by stretch and folds in order to minimize oxidation.

abhattachar23's picture
abhattachar23

Thank you for your reply!

And yeah, I agree that there is a chance that it overproofed, since the dough was passing the finger-dent test immediately after shaping.

Also, I actually read bits of Hamelman's book, and I can see how you'd want to limit oxidation, but isn't there also a concern that you're not incorporating enough air during the kneading process if you mix minimally?

Also, when I tried mixing minimally upon the recommendation of bakers like Hamelman and Forkish, I could never get the dough to build up enough strength and smoothness during stretch and fold, so I reverted back to doing slap and fold. Granted, when I was doing this, I was doing a long, salted autolyse before adding the levain, in the style of Trevor J. Wilson. Perhaps this is an indication of what I'm doing incorrectly?

Filomatic's picture
Filomatic

Trevor Wilson does the crazy long autolyse.  I haven't done it, but who can argue with those results.  I just don't know what it's like to work with.  As to mixing, I usually use my KA and do the timings prescribed by Hamelman.  But recently I've been doing hand mixing just to learn the art and for the challenge.  I've had good results by and large.  I'm not against slap and fold, mind you.

abhattachar23's picture
abhattachar23

At any rate, my takeaway right now is this:

Bulk ferment a little bit less, don't overproof, and be gentler when preshaping. Am I thinking along the right track for my next bake?

Filomatic's picture
Filomatic

That's a decent working theory. The bulk ferment was somewhat disjointed so it's difficult to evaluate, so I'd suggest doing a warm bulk only, the timing depending on percentage of levain and eyeballing it for 30-40% expansion.

I'm not persuaded that you manhandled the shaping, but that too takes much practice. You got good oven spring from a loaf that seems overproofed, and that also suggests no significant shaping defect. 

Looking forward to your next loaves. Happy baking. 

abhattachar23's picture
abhattachar23

I'm planning on baking a loaf thus weekend, and I was wondering.

Is there a way to determine how long to cold proof a dough?

Filomatic's picture
Filomatic

I usually cold final proof.  Some here do cold bulk, and some retard their levain.  For my cold final proof I've found it flexible, and I can get good results between overnight and 30 hours.  Occasionally it over-proofs, but I believe this usually happens when the dough was close to over-proofed at shaping anyway.  And this seems to happen when bulk fermenting at higher temps.

abhattachar23's picture
abhattachar23

I just cut open a loaf that I baked this morning.

I used roughly the same recipe parameters as I did in the OP, but this time, I upped the levain to 25% instead of 20%.

For the procedure, I kneaded for 10 minutes, and did 5 folds over the course of 4 hours of bulk fermentation. I then preshaped (more gently this time), followed by a 20 minute bench rest, and retarded for 18 hours. I steam baked at 475F and dry baked at 450F.

Here's what I got:

It's worth noting that it was 81F in my kitchen, and that at the end of the 4 hours of bulk fermentation, the dough had only expanded by about 15-20%. I'm beginning to worry that I have a weak starter, which is strange, because my starter expands by about 2.5x between the twice daily feedings I do.

Any thoughts that you guys might have?

Thanks,

A

Filomatic's picture
Filomatic

Again, looks pretty good, but still seems a bit underfermented to me.

abhattachar23's picture
abhattachar23

Yeah, I'm pretty sure my starter is not sufficiently strong. The dough isn't expanding as much as I'm expecting it to.

Also, the reason that I've been developing my gluten through kneading so much is that I can't feel my dough strengthening during the bulk fermentation. I recently read that improper strengthening during bulk fermentation can also be a sign of a weak starter, so I've started building a new starter on the side, just in case.

Does this sound reasonable?

Filomatic's picture
Filomatic

I don't know what a weak starter is. But I ensure a strong one by taking some from the fridge and doing a few builds 12 hours apart before making levain. It works every time for me.  I haven't had many problems with gluten development so I'm not the best one to advise you there.

You're doing good work, and your drive will produce even better results soon. Proper proofing is tricky at first and is sometimes elusive even with more experience. 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

10 g of starter and feed it 100g flour and 100g water?  How long at room temp (write it down) does it take to start rising and finally peak for the first time?   

After this test, immediately after the first peak when the starter starts to fall,  take 30g and add 60g water and then add enough flour for a soft dough, close to around 70% hydration.  then let it rise and peak.  

With the rest of the starter... aprox. 170g, make a loaf while watching the second feeding of the starter.  I suggest a 1,2,3 loaf or one you recently use.  Then compare them.  

Something you might want to try is cutting the dough open to look at the gas pockets forming in the dough during fermentation.  Use a sharp knife or bench knife and slice quickly thru the dough exposing the interior.  Make notes and continue  the process of checking the gas.  Just slap the cut edges back together and reshape the dough ball.   Make notes on the outside shape before cutting, sagging of "corners" poke feel smell prod then cut open.  photograph or make note of bubble sizes, dough temp, etc.  then wait an hour and do it again. Let the dough teach you what is happening inside it.