The Fresh Loaf

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FWSY Walnut Levain Bread - FAIL! Help needed!

The Fermentator's picture
The Fermentator

FWSY Walnut Levain Bread - FAIL! Help needed!

Hello everybody,

my name is Nils and this is my first post. First of all, I applaud you guys for your generosity and your dedication to the craft -- and all this in such a playful and unpretentious manner. So thank you.

Okay, now, let's get into the WHEATS, as it were:

Today I tried baking Ken Forkish's "Walnut Levain Bread" for the first time and I can't say that I'm satisfied. Here's a few bullet points on what went wrong:

1.) The recipe asks for a 78% hydration, which is exactly what I did... BUT: my dough looked (and felt) a lot wetter than Forkish's doughs in his youtube videos (see my comment on European flour down at the bottom).

2.) The shaped loavs are supposed to be proofed in the fridge for 12-14 hours...BUT: after 5-6 hours my proofing baskets where already overflowing, so that I decided to bake the loaves. Also, the loaves were sticking to the proofing baskets like no tomorrow, despite my having dusted the baskets with lots of rice flower (which has worked just perfectly in the past)...needless to say: I wasn't able to get the loaves out of the baskets without severely damaging them (please see photos attached)

3.) The oven spring was next to non-existant. Frustrating.

What are your thoughts? Is it possible that the dough was overhydrated and thus lacked strength? (Ken mentions in his book that European flours tend to hold less water than American flours; in the case of French flour up to five percent less).

This was my first levain bread from FWSY, I had only tried my hands on his Saturday Breads thus far.

I don't know if it's important, but the All Purpose flour I use (Type 550 in German) has a protein content of 10,6 grams.

Any help or comments are appreciated.

Greetings from beautiful Germany,

-Nils

sayersbrock's picture
sayersbrock

Could you let us know how much you worked the dough? Did you knead it for a long time? Folds?

The Fermentator's picture
The Fermentator

Sure thing. I mixed the dough by hand via the folding and pincing method described in Ken's book; plus three subsequent folds within about an hour and a half after mixing (just a few folds each). After each round of folding I noticed that the dough likely didn't have the strength it needed (compared to my other doughs). Could it have been too wet after all? Thanks.

The Fermentator's picture
The Fermentator

Oh, and I did a thirty minute autolyse before mixing.

Lazy Loafer's picture
Lazy Loafer

First, I have reduced the hydration of many of the FWSY breads to around 72% - 75% and find it works better for me. And I use Canadian bread flour, so no problem with the strength of the flour here.

Second, many people change the duration of the bulk fermentation, the final proof or both. It's always better to watch the dough (as you did) and not the clock, but there are so many factors (such as time, temperature, humidity, flour, strength and acidity of your starter, etc.) that affect the dough it makes it difficult to analyze and decide what to change!

Given the wet, shiny appearance of your dough I'd think it was a) over-femented, b) over-worked (doesn't sound like that's the problem from your description), or c) lacking in strength. The latter could be a result of not enough gluten development, too much acidity or enzyme action or insufficient tension in shaping. I'm rambling a bit here but these are things I've gleaned (perhaps incorrectly) from reading and from my own experience.

Things to try:

  • Reduce the overall hydration a bit
  • Add more of the overall flour to the starter (so that the starter is stiffer). This should reduce the acid level in the starter and also strengthen the dough
  • Try a different method for gluten development (Rubaud method, slap & fold or similar)
  • Try spiking the dough with a tiny bit of dry yeast, or substituting a yeast poolish for the sourdough starter. If the recipe works out well for you, the problem may be with your starter

Isn't bread baking fun? :)

The Fermentator's picture
The Fermentator

Thank you so much, Lazy Loafer.

I think your observations are spot on as far as over-fermentation and hydration.

By the way, I did add some dry yeast to the dough, as is asked for in Ken's recipe (1/2 Tsp).

Next time I'll try to reduce the hydration and shorten both the bulk fermantation AND the proofing phase. That should be a good starting point.

Haven't heard of the Rubaud method, thanks for the hint, I'll be sure to check it out :-)

-Nils

WatertownNewbie's picture
WatertownNewbie

"1.) The recipe asks for a 78% hydration, which is exactly what I did... BUT: my dough looked (and felt) a lot wetter than Forkish's doughs in his youtube videos (see my comment on European flour down at the bottom)."

Several factors can come into play.  First, the flour can make a difference (as you noted).  Second, the humidity level in your kitchen can affect how much (more) water the flour can absorb.  I learned the hard way that on a dry day my flour will absorb much more water than on a humid day.  Third, it is surprisingly easy to introduce more water into the mix by simply wetting your hands (as Forkish suggests and which I do) and then mixing the dough.

"2.) The shaped loafs are supposed to be proofed in the fridge for 12-14 hours...BUT: after 5-6 hours my proofing baskets where already overflowing, so that I decided to bake the loaves. Also, the loaves were sticking to the proofing baskets like no tomorrow, despite my having dusted the baskets with lots of rice flower (which has worked just perfectly in the past)...needless to say: I wasn't able to get the loaves out of the baskets without severely damaging them (please see photos attached)"

Even more factors come into play here.  Specifically, things that can affect the bulk fermentation (which precedes the shaping and proofing).  Water temperature during the mix (did you take the temperature of the dough after the initial mixing?).  I always check the temperature of my dough after the initial mix, because that gives me a clue of what to expect during the bulk fermentation. The temperature of the kitchen is important too.  The warmer the environment, the fast the fermentation (and vice versa).  How active and vibrant your starter is can greatly affect the bulk fermentation.  If you have a really vigorous starter, the fermentation will occur more quickly than if yours is sluggish.  It sounds (and looks from the photos) as if your bulk fermentation went way too long (this is a common experience with those who follow Forkish's timelines -- "Watch the dough, not the clock!").  How warm (or cold) is your refrigerator?  If yours is much above 37 degrees (F) or about 3 degrees (C) then your dough will not retard as well as at a cooler temperature.

"3.) The oven spring was next to non-existant. Frustrating."

Over-fermented and over-proofed dough will suffer this result.

Good luck with your baking, and take heart that (likely) everyone here has experienced some setbacks.  You have come to the right place.  FWSY is one of my favorite recipe books.  (Do a search of TFL and see whether anyone else has baked the loaf.)

Keep asking questions.  Hope the above is helpful.

The Fermentator's picture
The Fermentator

This is way helpful, so thank you :-)

It really WAS pretty humid in my kitchen the other day, so judging from your experience that would have negatively impacted my flour's capacity to hold water (-> overhydration). I'm going to keep an eye on that variable in the future.

Also, both my kitchen and my fridge are a little warmer than Ken's suggestions. I have an inkling that I shouldn't follow Forkish's dough volume suggestions as slavishly. Someone suggested below that I only let the dough rise to about 1.5 times its original volume during bulk fermentation to leave some headroom, as it were. That sounds like something worth trying, escpecially since it's becoming clearer and clearer that my dough was way over-fermented.

Thanks again for your generous analysis.

-Nils

 

sayersbrock's picture
sayersbrock

My two cents is that based on your pictures the dough was not worked enough and did not come together, or the hydration was too high. 

As they said previously: many factors are involved. This is exactly why these old world methods and this community are so amazing. Do not give up and resort to quickbread or buying grocery store bread. Learn to love the process :)

Happy baking!

The Fermentator's picture
The Fermentator

Thanks a lot! Both your points are well taken. At this point I think the dough did not come together due to over-hydration. With less hydration I might be able to work it more properly and thus give it more strength.

Quickbread? Grocery store bread? Never again! Once you've tasted real bread, you can't go back, can you?! ;-)

-Nils

leslieruf's picture
leslieruf

Reduce hydration as Lazy Loafer suggests

Reduce bulk ferment - only let it go 50-70% increase in volume (dough should be easier to handle)

check the temperature of your fridge - 3-4°c is perfect or around 37-38°f 

see if you can time it so your dough has a shorter final proof - if it looks ok leave a bit longer but don’t let it go more than about 85% proof.

 the other points made are equally valid, but these ones are easy to do.

good luck and keep us posted. most of us have been there too!

Leslie

The Fermentator's picture
The Fermentator

Thanks, Leslie. I will do what you're suggesting and let the dough rise to only about 1.5 times its original volume next time. Maybe I should cut down on the dry yeast in order to secure a long enough bulk fermentation time? (From what I understand the longer the better -- without over-fermenting the dough, of course...What do you think)

-Nils

Toad.de.b's picture
Toad.de.b

...not the clock.

Nils, you've probably received all the feedback you need to get this bread right next time.  But I can't help but point out that your first picture really says it all:  the dough was catastrophically over-proofed.  My sympathies.  But that is totally understandable because...

While Ken Forkish's book has been a delight and influential (to me among many others), it is not without its faults.  Two in particular have received a lot of airplay on Fresh Loaf:

1. Mr F specifies wasteful amounts of levain, the most widespread complaint.  But running a close second, and clearly relevant here, is,

2. His recommended fermentation times can be excessively long for any kitchen except possibly one maintained at retarder temperature (low 60˚'s F).

You have fallen victim to fault #2 above.  When "following" Ken Forkish's processes, it is better to keep in mind the baker's maxim, Watch the dough, not the clock.  My rule of thumb for brotform proofing is to bake it off when the dough is at or a cm or so below - but never above - the level of the rim. 

I would focus on that single detail of your process -- one tweak at a time.  You're almost there.

Happy Baking,

Tom

The Fermentator's picture
The Fermentator

Thanks for the encouragement, Tom. Your general thoughts on Forkish's recipes are very helpful. 

As for the amount of levain wasted ("spent fuel", what the heck?!) I'm planning on only refreshing my starter to the amount that I need for any given bread. I just can't bring myself to waste that much food, especially since there doesn't seem to be a point from a perspective of craft or taste.

I guess I just have to learn to trust MY judgement more than the recipe; that seems to be the "art" part in "artisan"....Provided you know what to look out for, which I am still trying to get a grasp of. For instance, I find it difficult to tell how much bulk fermentation is enough, especially since my dough tub isn't translucent, which would make it way easier to keep track of the dough's volume. Are there any other signs to look out for in bulk fermentation? What about those bubbles on the surface, for instance?

Thanks again, and have a tasty day!

-Nils

Toad.de.b's picture
Toad.de.b

Nils,

It's all about time.  In the long term, it takes time -- years of it -- to acquire a reliable working feel for dough progress.  I've been at this earnestly (some would say obsessively) for just under a decade and I'm still guessing more often than I feel I should.  There's surely a strong 'nature' component to this nature/nurture pair - some have better innate dough management instincts than others. But as in most arts and crafts, enough nurture can compensate for a deficit of nature.

In the short term, time during a bake is the one parameter that I would encourage any novice baker to primarily focus on.  Temperature is tricky to manipulate.  We are all constrained by seasonal variation (a really long term learning challenge in baking, one that necessitates keeping detailed records - also recommended) and proofers only raise temperature, they can't lower it in an overly warm kitchen.  Sure, you can get yourself into all kinds of tangles manipulating formula components to hopefully "improve" your product.  But that's what any good cookbook, FWSY included, resolves for you up front.  Forkish's formulae have proven to be absolutely fine and even if your German bread flour isn't exactly like his American flour - it's not worth trying to "fix".  Of course your levain is going to be yours alone and different from his.  But viva la difference.

Again, time is the one parameter to concentrate on, imho.  Of course, that's easy for me to say since I'm retired and have a relatively flexible schedule.  Coming up with a "Workingman's Bread" schedule was a fun and exasperating challenge when I was working, which I assume your are (or studying).  And with regard to timing, I am referring of course to bulk fermentation and, I would say especially, the final proof.  The name says it all.  It's your bake's last chance and it's when you can often 'correct' prior shortcomings in formula or process.  Try to organize your baking schedule to allow the most flexibility for that stage in particular.  I said before that I consider a dough ready to bake when it's at or near the top of the banneton or brotform.  There's also the "poke test".  Search for that on Fresh Loaf or google it.  It's a good, but not essential, accompanying test with the dough's size in deciding when it's time to bake it off.  I confess that I've never found it particularly useful.

Knowing when bulk fermentation is complete is a challenge indeed.  Approximate doubling of volume is a good benchmark.  Looking for a few bubbles on the surface is always advisable and a sign Chad Robertson highlights in Tartine.  Then there's the "feel" of the dough that can only come from the experience gained from many many bakes.  A maturing bulk dough has an internal airyness from CO2 bubbles (Bertinet says, "Can you feel the life?") that you feel increasing with each stretch & fold, to the point that it begins to resist your efforts in the last fold or two. Somewhere along the trajectory of that growing feeling, it's time to move on to the next stage.  But learning to detect that exact moment can only come from viel experience.  A long time Fresh Loaf regular once posted that he "just knows" when the dough is ready (thanks, big help, that!).  Hopefully we'll all get to that point sooner or later.

Finally, here's an important sign of bulk fermentation progress that is not widely referenced in baking books: The buildup of internal gas due to microbial respiration, and the maturing gluten network that contains it, changes the dough's sitting geometry. But you cannot see this very clearly if you ferment in a round-bottomed bowl.  I came to appreciate it (when I began to pay attention!) when I started doing bulk fermentation in a flat-bottomed, rectangular lidded plastic container: a 5 litre sistema(c) 24x20x10cm (made in New Zealand).  At first, the newly mixed dough spreads out flat in it.  As the bulk proceeds and S&F's are done, the dough begins to display the strength to keep itself rounded up, sloping down to the bottom edges of the box.  Its increasing ability to "stand alone" has become one of my key go-to signs for tracking its progress.  After the last S&F, a 2 kg dough barely spreads out enough to touch the sides of the box.  Time to shape and retard.

omg.  It became an essay.  I must be retired.  Just keep baking and watching (and feeling) the dough.  It'll come.

Tom

The Fermentator's picture
The Fermentator

Tom, thank you so much for taking the time; there is so much food for thought in your post.

By the way, my schedule is quite flexible, too, since I'm a writer by trade, and thus work from home. That's how I got into baking bread in the first place: Finding a "hobby" (I know...) that'll get me out of my head and into working with my hands. I'm entirely useless when it comes to home improvement etc. so I got stuck with baking...and I'm loving it. So frustrating and so much fun at the same time. 

Anyways, please know that I truly appreciate your "essay". I'm sure I'm going to return to it time and again.

Happy baking,

-Nils

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

It's the recipe.

Don't get me wrong, I love a Forkish recipe. But things go wrong when you follow them exactly.

I know I've just reiterated what everyone else has said but just thought I'd chime in.

Seeing an overly fermented dough. I'm surprised you managed to get it out of the banneton.

You're also using weak flour. And a drop in hydration when using certain flours too.

The Fermentator's picture
The Fermentator

Thanks for chiming in, Lechem. 

I just ordered a different kind of AP flour with higher protein content (~12.5 grams as opposed to 10.6 grams) and likely higher overall quality. That and lower hydration plus shorter fermentation times should do the trick. I'll be sure to let you guys know next time I bake Ken's Walnut Levain Bread.

-Nils

Lazy Loafer's picture
Lazy Loafer

If you are interested in learning more about the Rubaud method, as well as a wealth of other useful tips about creating wonderful artisan bread, you should go to Breadwerx.com and download Trevor's book "Open Crumb Mastery". There is so much to learn in that inexpensive little e-book, from starter strength to developing gluten to shaping, and more. Also some of the videos on his site are useful (including the Rubaud method).

Wendy

WatertownNewbie's picture
WatertownNewbie

I strongly second the suggestion to watch Trevor Wilson's videos, and especially note how he works the dough during the initial mix.  For me that was the missing technique.  I had tried the pincer and normal kneading, but the Rubaud completed the picture.

The Fermentator's picture
The Fermentator

Awesome, I'm going to check out Trevor's stuff. Some really neat pictures on his website. Talk about open crumbs...

Thanks Wendy, and happy baking!

-Nils