The Fresh Loaf

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Problems reading my dough

floured kitchen's picture
floured kitchen

Problems reading my dough

I've been baking sourdough loaves for 4 or 5 years now but I'm still having trouble reading my dough at 2 specific points. I autolyse, add starter and salt and mix on low until the gluten seems pretty well developed. Then I turn it out into a greased bowl and do 3 or 4 sets of stretch and folds, usually just following a recipe. This is where I have my first question.

If the dough is nice and extensible and achieves windowpane, should I continue to do stretch and folds just because the recipe says so or is there something I should look for that tells me that it's time to move on to bulk fermentation?

Today I felt like I could have moved on after 2 sets of S&Fs. The dough was silky smooth and stretched out about 18" for the first couple of folds, gradually tightening up until, after 5 or 6 folds, it was nice and tight. It did relax after a few minutes though. What am I looking for here? 

My second question is about the Poke Test. My dough almost never springs back after I poke it so I am never certain whether it's finished proofing.

Today I went and did the test every 20-30 minutes, just to see if I could get a better sense of its readiness, but I never saw much change, other than a slow increase in size. Someone told me that doing S&Fs knocks enough air out of sourdough that it frequently doesn't double in size the way a yeast bread does, so I should use the poke test instead of waiting for it to double. I can't go by suggested times because almost all recipes are written by people who lives in cooler climates than me. Why isn't the poke test working for me? 

My bread always rises and the crumb is generally decent but it isn't consistently excellent. I think that my baking would really improve if I could master these two areas of uncertainty.

Suggestions would really be appreciated. 

Becky

barryvabeach's picture
barryvabeach

For me,  I would not rely on the # of S& F in the recipe, go by feel.  Sometimes, my dough seems to develop strength in a few S & F ,  other times it takes more.  When it is nice and tight and has a good appearance, stop S & F.

I can't help you on the poke test. I am not sure why the S & F would relate to the poke test, since that is usually done at the end of Final Proof, and the S & F are done during Bulk Fermentation.  My suggestion is to BF in a straight sided container.  If you consistently make the same recipe  ( meaning same amount of flour and hydration)  mix the dough, and then put it in the container, and mark the container or make a piece of paper taped to the container to show the level.  Then take the dough out and put it somewhere else for a few minutes, put the bowl on a scale, then tare, then fill with water to the line, and note that reading in grams.  Then multiply that by 50% , and add that many grams   ( so if you started at 1000 grams, add 500 grams,  and make a mark there and label it 50%, then add another 50% and label it 100%  ( Dan Ayo suggested this method a few days ago )  Now when you do bulk ferment, you will be able to judge how much it has increased in volume - and if you experiment with different percentages, and keep notes, you will see what works best for that recipe.  For final proof, the only thing that works for me is looking at the increase in volume - though that is harder to judge when shaped.  Benito likes an aliquot jar  http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/64897/aliquot-jar-determine-bulk-fermentation-rise  which can be used for BF if you don't have a straight sided container, and may also work for FP. 

floured kitchen's picture
floured kitchen

I apologize for not being clear. Deciding when to end the stretch and folds and when to end the bulk ferment are two separate questions. 

Stretch and Fold question:

I mixed up a seedy loaf today and had no problem reading it. I had only done 2 sets of S&Fs, when the dough felt ready. It had windowpane, it tightened up nicely after 4 or 5 folds and, if I remember correctly,  held its shape pretty well for 10-15 minutes before starting to relax. 

Is there any kind of a rule about how long the dough should take to relax after S&Fs when it’s ready to move on to BF? Something besides windowpane would be helpful. 

BF poke test question: 

I made a sourdough boule yesterday that I just couldn’t read. The poke test never did work and the volume didn’t seem to increase like it should have. I was afraid that it had either under or over proved. It will be interesting to see what the crumb looks like when I cut it tomorrow. This is the loaf I make most often - sometimes in a DO and sometimes in a bread pan. It almost never responds to the poke test the way it should. It’s frustrating! 

Today I made a different recipe and it was easy to read at each step. The dough felt ready after just 2 sets of S&Fs and the poke test worked just the way it’s supposed to.  

Do you know why some doughs don’t cooperate with the poke test? I just made 2 different breads and one responded properly while the other didn’t. I mixed the uncooperative dough longer than usual. Might that have had something to do with it? 

Judging dough volume:

I’ll get a 4-quart straight sided plastic container to BF in and see if that helps. Using a bowl really is too difficult. Or I’ll try the aliquot method. That sounds like a great way to judge volume. I appreciate the link. 

A question about S&Fs and BF: 

Someone told me that S&Fs degas the dough somewhat and can inhibit a complete doubling of the dough during BF. Is that true? If it is, how can you tell when it’s done proofing, especially if the poke test doesn’t work?  

Thanks for your help. 

Becky

barryvabeach's picture
barryvabeach

Becky, I am not an expert, but while it is true that S & F does degas the dough, many recipes call for a certain increase in volume, and that should be your target whether you S % F 1 x or 4 times.   As for rules about how long to wait to see if it relaxes between S & F,  I would see what the recipe calls for.  I only use 100% home milled wheat, which will probably react differently than bread flour or AP.  I normally wait 20 to 30 minutes,  but there are some recipes that call for longer times. If you are making the same recipe repeatedly, you should get a feel for what it should look and feel like after a certain time, whether that time is 20 minutes or 50 minutes. 

The poke test has never worked for me for home milled whole wheat.  Many years ago I made a sandwich loaf using BF, and the poke test worked - in a way -  The loaf had risen above the rim of the pan, and when i poked it the loaf let out a sigh and collapsed a bit.  The loaf was in fact overproofed, and the poke test was right on the money, but by that point in the process,  quite useless since I needed to know when it was ready, not when it was past ready.  I have heard others say that they can tell by the feel of the dough that it is not tight, but not so billowy that it is overproofed, though I would guess that would take a lot of practice.  I often cold ferment, and I think that presents yet another challenge since when cold it feels stiffer than when a room temp.  

floured kitchen's picture
floured kitchen

I appreciate your feedback, barryvabeach. I’ll just keep plugging away at it. My son gave tonight’s loaf 7 points out of 5, and my husband hates eating store bought bread. Even if I never become an expert, my bread still tastes good and my family loves it. I’m paying more attention to the feel of the dough and worrying less, so maybe I’m making progress. I’ve dealt with pandemic stress by baking more often and I’ve gotten more confident with my dough handling. I don’t hesitate to try new recipes and am building a repertoire of bread that we all enjoy. I still have a lot to learn though. I’ll keep working on figuring out how when to transition to the next step and, maybe, stop worrying so much about the poke test. 

I did take a pic of the crumb from tonight. It doesn’t have as big of holes as it usually does but I think it’s acceptable. I’m not sure how to tell if it was under or over proved, but the bottom doesn’t look dense, so maybe it’s okay? 

Thanks again, 

Becky

barryvabeach's picture
barryvabeach

Looks fine to me.  The Internet has been great to help many of us learn skills in new areas, though the downside is that it presents a distorted view of what a good loaf should look like, since most don't post photos of their "average" only their best .   So long as it tastes good and is not dense, it works for me. 

floured kitchen's picture
floured kitchen

Thanks. I appreciate your help.