The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Ten Outstanding Questions. Class is in session!

Bigblue's picture

Ten Outstanding Questions. Class is in session!

Thanks if you can add some insight:

1. Should I pinch larger bubbles that are forming on the crust at the end of the pre-round or shape?

2. Is there a consensus, if a medium-open crumb in a whole wheat loaf is desired, is it better to retard the proof or proof fast in a warm environment so gas production outpaces gas loss?

3. Why does the NMNF starter use rye? Because of it's vigorous fermentation characteristics from the high mineral content? Because it adds flavour when baking predominantly AP or BF / white flour loaves? Is there another reason? 

4. Would the NMNF starter work well with all whole wheat?

4. I've yet to experiment in any manner with rye. Am I missing out?

5. If max oven temp before burning develops flavour in bread, should I insert loaf in a preheated DO at 500, immediately drop to 450 for 20m, then 20m at 425 uncovered?

6. Many respected bakers suggest looking for 20% dough increase during bulk. Others suggest up to 100%. What is your go to for a 75%-100% ww loaf? Please explain reasoning if your desired size increase during bulk changes with different flours and hydration. Are bakers that are going for a very open crumb using mainly white flour in their SD loaves back-end loading their ferment time with only a ~20% rise in bulk and a longer bench rest and proof to create a more open crumb? I'm thinking that high % ww loaves likely can’t support that long back-end-weighted fermentation.

7. Acidity and dough: Does refreshing the starter so it's less acidic achieve bigger alveoli development? Is it because protease has to break down some gluten bonds for an open crumb to develop and the protease enzyme is inhibited by too acidic of an environment? And because c02 production from yeast is inhibited by acetic acid? And also because acidity from a higher starter % will tighten and strengthen gluten bonds inhibiting an extensible, open crumb?

8. Or am I wrong and acid doughs tend to produce a more open crumb? Why if so?

9. Is a tender, soft on the bite crumb more likely with lower hydration or higher hydration?

10. If the crumb of the loaf is open enough for one's preferences, what are the other merits of a higher hydration formula?


Thanks again for dropping some knowledge :)

dabrownman's picture

them.  The overriding factor in the development of the NMNF was that I am lazy and wanted a starter that worked well every time, required no maintenance, was cheap - had no discards and I could keep it in the fridge forever if possible and get it off the counter

2nd in importance was that I wanted a starter that increased the LAB to yeast ratio so there was a potential for longer ferment and proof times that would allow for a more sour bread.  I find the SFSD style breads of today to be inferior to the older style SFSD of the 60's and 70's that were more sour as I remember them.  We did this using a process of building and storage of starters at temperatures that promoted LAB reproduction over yeast reproduction which increased LAB to yeast ratios that would result in longer ferment and proof times.

We wanted to use whole grains because the bran has all the good minerals and vitamins the wee beasties need to work at their best and the bran seems to act as a buffer allowing LAB to continue to reproduce at lower pH's than they normally could allowing an even higher LAB to yeast ratio as the right temperatures.

Lastly, as for the process design, higher fermentation temperature, reduced inoculum and flour size, with resulting extended fermentation time, stabilizes the microbial community in the starter - and low temperatures do the same thing.  Once you get a starter you like and have spent the time to get it just right, you don't want it to change over time.  Not adding different flours to it at room temperature in large doses at once reduces the chances that wild wee beasties will supplant the ones you have cultured and want.

Also, if you are really lazy like me, you want to not have to do anything to your starter for as long as possible so you need a starter that is vigorous and has the ability to last as long as possible in the fridge and still make a levain ready for bread in 12 hours.  Rye flour is different.  I can make a rye starter from scratch and make bread with it in 5 days every time as Peter Reinhart famously told us in his book for pumpernickel.  I have made every kind of starter I have ever heard about using every kind of flour from Witch Yeast, Detmolder, Desem, Mini Oven Brown Bag to every starter I have read about on the Internet or every bread book written from Clayton, Clavel to every current celebrity bread baker and every one I have seen on TFL and not one of them beats PR's rye for being fast, vigorous and staying power in the fridge over time.  It isn't even close.  It is not the most sour but it is a close 2nd to a whole wheat Desem.  A Desem cultured NMNF starter stored for a long time in the fridge, say 12 weeks should be more sour but I have never made one.

Any whole grain or even a extra bran one, can be made into a NMNF one that will last longer in the fridge and be useful as a base starter longer than one that isn't whole grain.  But rye NMNF outdoes them all when it comes to making a levain with it after 12 weeks or so.

Yes. if you haven't baked a good rye bread , you have missed out.   If Roquefort and Parmesan are the king of cheeses then rye is the king of breads.

I find single grain breads, even rye ones, to be less complex in taste than ones that have more than one kind of flour in them.  I find white breads of any flour are better with some whole grains or multi-grains in them.  I find single grain, high extraction flour, breads to be better than patent flour ones too.  Taste is personal and experience makes ones preferences change over time but favorites eventually emerge.  Bread is like wine in my mind.

Fine single grape wines are great and great wines of each are made all over the world but, right off the bat, a white wine will never command the price of a red.  But some people like white over red.  The best Chardonnay at 1/10 the price of a Cabernet still tastes better to them. But the best Cabernet will never command the price of a great blend of reds like a Bordeaux or a California blend of reds.  That is the way it is, developed over centuries, and that is the way it will always be - most likely.  Price in red wine has more to do with rarity and age too.  White wines don't age well and do not get better with years of age like reds.  So the age factor never really comes into play like old red wines that get better and more rare over time as people drink it.  In most places red wine is slightly more popular than white 58% to 42% in America except in Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska.   This is true for all ages groups, gender and socioeconomic groups but men do prefer reds a bit more than women.  In the summer white becomes a bit more popular in all groups too.

White wheat breads still outsell whole wheat ones by 10-15% but whole grain breads have made huge gains against white in the past decade as supposed health and fiber benefits are touted from every place possible at consumers, even if they aren't necessarily true.  So bread color popularity is the opposite of wine.   I prefer both well on the darker side because they just plain taste better to me and if they are healthier so be it and all the better.  I couldn't care less what you like nor should I, it is up to you and none of my business.  If you are happy and I am happy then both of us are better off.

Happy wine drinking while you bake!

Bigblue's picture

I learned a bunch here. Thanks, dabrownman. OK, crossing 3 and 4 and 4 (my bad) off the list. Let's hammer out the rest :)

leslieruf's picture

yes I would gently pop those big bubbles on the crust. 


ps. I maintain my bread flour starter as dabrownman does, usually refreshing once a month. I have a 2nd rye one that is not used often but just yesterday refreshed it after 2 months and it is away laughing. both live in the fridge and are only about 60-80 g in size. I build my levain using a few grams of this.  I like to have more yeasts dominating so my white starter is stored at 60-65% hydration and my levain builds go over 24 hours prior to use. now I sieve out the bran from whole grain flours and feed that during the levain build and the wee beasties love it! 


clazar123's picture

I am chasing a hint in my brain of a memory of a few paragraphs in a book. It was about how the bakers would build 1 large vat of dough and purpose it for different products by taking the dough at different stages of the bulk fermentation. The dough would have different characteristics. Was it "Inside a Jewish Bakery" by Norm Berg (rest in peace) and Stan Ginsberg? I don't know if I have my copy but perhaps Stan would reply?

Shoutout to Stan Ginsberg!

In my personal experience, I would ferment different doughs to different levels because of the qualities of the flours used. Delicate flours (spelt, some whole grain, kamut) can easily over ferment or over proof-I'm talking only minutes difference sometimes. However, often I over ferment most doughs simply because I am multitasking and not paying attention. Especially since I retired. I'm busier than ever and my bread, while delicious, has suffered. 

Keep asking questions! We all benefit!

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

1: Yes.

2: Some people want a holey bread and others aren't fussed. When it comes to retarding I'm doing it for flavour and convenience. Haven't thought about it affecting the crumb. Although baking from cold helps with oven spring.

3: Ask Dabrownman :) (and I see he's already answered).

4: You can make off shoot starters to any specification using one main seed starter.

4: YES!

5: Didn't know that oven temp affects flavour. I rather thought there was a belief it has an effect on oven spring.

6: How much to increase during the bulk ferment? I believe a crumb can tell you about the bulk ferment and whether it's been left to increase by so and so much. You want  enough strength left in the dough at the end of the final proof for a good oven spring. So I'm leaning towards the more wholegrain one has in the dough then the less one can extend the bulk ferment. Since wholegrain is less extensible than bread flour this should be taken into account.

7: or... the better rise comes from a yeast ferment rather than a bacterial one. I'm sure there's more going on though but thought I'd add that.

8: See above

9: There's a lot at play here. Generally yes. Is it high gluten or low(er) gluten as a strong gluten can make a crumb chewy.

10: I think they tend to stale less quickly.

Bigblue's picture

Thanks guys for the comments. I'm still hoping we can flesh out these remaining questions that I'd like a better understanding on: #2 #5 #6 #7 #9 #10. 

Lazy Loafer's picture
Lazy Loafer

I'm not an expert by any means, but here is my considered opinion:

5. I understand that bread gets the same effect from the Maillard Reaction as other foods do.  So if the crust is dark brown the flavour will permeate the entire loaf, even if the inside is not 'browned'. Re the oven temperature - I'm not sure how reducing the temperature over time as you describe contributes to this. I do the same reduction so that the heat is there at the beginning to make steam and get things started, then I turn it down over time (particularly when baking in cast iron pots) so that the bottom crust doesn't burn before the inside is cooked. My crusts seem to turn out nice and brown and the crumb is good, so I guess that works!

7. I'm not sure about the connection between bigger holes in the dough, and lower acidity of the starter (or with the refreshment cycle in general). I do know that a starter that has been well-fed so that it doesn't smell like vinegar but rather like sour cream or yogurt, makes for stronger dough, and stronger dough can hold the gas bubbles better. I think it's the kind of acid that's important as well (acetic versus lactic). Some bacteria produce more gas than others which will, of course, make for bigger holes as long as the gluten structure is strong enough to hold it all.

Meanwhile, sometimes I just want to bake bread that tastes good without worrying about all this. :)