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Italian Bread and The Bread Baker's Apprentice

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dvigs24's picture
dvigs24

Italian Bread and The Bread Baker's Apprentice

Before I ever baked a loaf of bread, I read Bread Baker's Apprentice from cover to cover. It definitely provided me a great base of knowledge with which to begin my bread baking, but after a few months and much reading on this site, and many loaves of bread, I think there are 2 main issues that might throw off the beginner trying to make lean breads. First is the description of the dough textures, just what does "tacky but not sticky" mean? It's too subjective and I think that despite the occasional warnings, the beginner's urge to add too much flour to make a dough that is easy to handle will somewhat sabotage their crumb. Second, and related to the first point, there needs to be a bit more emphasis placed on the fact that doughs with hydrations in the higher end of the range given for the recipes yield much better results. I guess everybody figures this out through trial and error, but I was a bit disappointed with my first loaves and couldn't figure out why the recipe didn't produce breads with crumbs like the ones in the picture. I guess the lesson is stick with it, get more info, and experiment. Has anybody here had similar experiences?

I tackled the Italian Bread recipe from BBA again today making some modifications of my own. Making sure to include the maximum amount of water, and adding 2 stretch and fold maneuvers to the fermentation in order to help develop the gluten and make the dough easier to handle. The results were spectacular. Some of the best Italian bread I've ever eaten (and for somebody who grew up around New Haven, CT, where there is an Italian bakery every 7 feet, that's saying something). A nice chewy crust, and a moist, tender crumb that is out of this world.

-Darron from The Teacher Learns to Cook

Italian Bread LoafItalian Bread Loaf

Italian Bread CrumbItalian Bread Crumb

Grey's picture
Grey

That is some fantastic looking bread, I've been putting it off but I'll probably be ordering the BBA sometime very soon, and maybe the Crumb and Crust book by the same author. I'll have to apply some of these tips today when I try to make some bread for Easter Dinner tonight :)

Rock's picture
Rock

Great looking bread and, I must say, also very nice pictures!

Dave 

mse1152's picture
mse1152

Did you use the option to include milk, or just water for your liquid?  That is beautiful bread!

Sue 

dvigs24's picture
dvigs24

Thanks for the compliment!  I did not include any milk, but did include 1 Tablespoon of olive oil (as per the recipe).  I made these loaves this morning for Easter dinner today and they were quite a hit.

tadmitchell's picture
tadmitchell

You make some excellent points. The natural tendency is to put too much flour. I took a class with Jeffrey Hamelman. To make a point he had us do a French bread with 78% hydration (66% is normal). To compensate we did folds like you. When we started it was like soup. After the folds, it was almost like normal dough. It made a bread with very large holes in the crumb.

Another tendancy is to not cook loaves long enough. I think people fear they're going to burn them or dry them out. If you look at a really good bread, the crust color is quite thick, up to a quarter of an inch. The crust is one of the things that gives good bread flavor. For the crust to form the moisture needs to leave the outside of the bread. Then the Maillard effect can occur. It's like roasting coffee or nuts. It brings out the flavor of the wheat. For a thicker crust, half way through baking you need to vent the oven, decrease the temperature and cook it longer. Venting the oven is as simple as opening the oven door while you rotate your loaf so it bakes evenly. The purpose is to get rid of the steam you put in there when you started so the crust can properly form. (The crust flavor is also why it's important to let bread properly cool before you eat it. During the cooling process, the flavor of the crust seeps into the bread.)

Another tendency is to overwork the dough after mixing. When you divide the dough do it lightly. Don't mold the divided piece tighthly. Fold under the edges and let it be. Let it rest before you form the dough so it's easy to work with. When you form the loaf, the less you touch the dough and the more lightly you touch it the better. You know what they say about bakers being good lovers. When you see videos it looks like they're using a lot of effort, but it's very gentle work. Try not to pop the bubbles. Everytime you pop a bubble it makes it more and more like American pan bread.

Finally, I'm not sure about the advice to use high gluten bread flours. The flour they use is Europe is weaker than American flour. I prefer using an unbleached all-purpose flour and then taking the time to develop the gluten properly though mixing, folds, preferments and time. I find the stronger flours make the bread tough, not light and crispy.

Happy baking. Your bread looks great!

dvigs24's picture
dvigs24

When cooking breads for longer periods to develop crust, have you ever had any issues with the bottoms of your breads burning on your stone?  That's usually my main concern if I leave them in too long.  I don't really want to move my stone any higher up in my oven (away from the heating element) because it would make it much to difficult to maneuver the bread on the stone, and be quite close to the top of the oven.  Might starting from a cold oven help?  Have you ever tried this technique?

tadmitchell's picture
tadmitchell

Burning the bread on the stone could be a problem. Based on your picture, I bet you'll be fine with a longer bake at a lower temperature. If you have a problem, I would either move the stone up a rack or reduce your cooking temperatures. Do not start with a cold stone. You need a stone that's been preheated for 30-60 minutes or you'll never get enough oven spring.

I usually bake with two stones with convection on. Half way through the bake, I move the bottom loaves to the top stone (and vice versa), rotate them and reduce the temperature. Convection for the second half of the bake is a great way to help the crust form too. It's not the greatest for the first half, but since I've got two stones I have to use it.

AbbyL's picture
AbbyL

In the several months since I joined this forum, I've been wrestling with the sticky-not-tacky issue Darron raises. I started off by trying the Pain de Campagne recipe in BBA, producing sad, pale flatbreads. I tried it again yesterday with much better results, but I still haven't gotten the crumb I want. Next time I'll make the dough wetter and I'll do a couple of stretch-and-folds.

 

I've also got RBL's Bread Bible, and I've had excellent results with her Tyrolean 10-grain bread. Her instructions are very much more detailed than Reinhart's, so I think I might use Reinhart's formulas with RBL's instructions, and see how that works out.

 

AbbyL

dvigs24's picture
dvigs24

Thanks for the nice compliments!  I think it's important to encourage beginners and let them know that the directions they follow, while very well intentioned and very good in most ways, can lead them astray in some minor ways that lead to some big disappointments with the final product.  The people here at the Fresh Loaf are largely responsible for providing me with enough info to control my outcomes more precisely.  Thanks again everybody!

Darron from The Teacher Learns to Cook

subfuscpersona's picture
subfuscpersona

dvigs24 on March 23 wrote:
I think there are 2 main issues that might throw off the beginner trying to make lean breads. First is the description of the dough textures, just what does "tacky but not sticky" mean? It's too subjective...


Agree 1000% that describing dough feel is of little use to the inexperienced baker. Photo sequences or, better yet, videos, are far superior.

Here's a simple test for a beginning baker to test if your bread dough is "tacky but not sticky"...

The Press-and-Lift Dough Consistency Test is a good way to test the consistency of the final dough. Press the palm of your hand firmly on the dough then lift your hand until the dough pulls away from your palm and falls back on the board. The dough should initially stick to your hand, stretch up and then fall back, leaving a defined peak. If the peak is soft and undefined the dough is a little wet and you can knead in more flour in very small increments and test again. If the dough won't stick to your hand or doesn't stretch up very far before falling back, you've used too much flour and the dough is too dry

dvigs24's picture
dvigs24

In my admittedly short time looking around in bread books and on bread sites, I hadn't come across that particular tip. Thanks!

ehanner's picture
ehanner

Darron you have certainly done your homework well. Your breads are spectacular and your blog is one of the best I have seen. I like your style ans organization.

I think you hit the nail on the head in your assessment of proper hydration. When I started baking I read some where that you should add the minimum amount of flour and mix well, wait for 5 minutes and touch the dough with your finger. If the tackiness resembles that of a post-it, (tacky but not sticky) that's about right. If it's sticky and a chunk comes off on your finger you need to add a little more flour. The trouble with this method is that you need to wait a few minutes after you mix in the additional flour to test. It's easy to go to far and as you stated it's better if you don't.

After a few hundred loaves behind me, I know now that slack is better and have learned to stretch and fold even very slack dough until it is manageable and well developed. The Italian bread in your post is also my favorite and the In-Laws. I have come to make two large loaves that just barely fit, proofed on a sheet pan. Occasionally they will swell together as you describe but this is for family not sale and is acceptable.

If you get a good rise in the primary ferment and are gentle with shaping on parchment, try proofing only 30 minutes. Your dough will spring well and is easier to slash. Try pulling a fold in the parchment up between the proofing loaves so they don't stick together. Then just before baking flatten the paper by pulling the corners and you will have 3-4 inches gap between the loaves.

I really enjoyed your blog Darron. Good to see your work and I'm sure many of us will find your comments helpful.

Eric 

dvigs24's picture
dvigs24

Do your proofed loaves ever bump slightly when you slide the parchment off the sheet pan?  I was thinking of trying to find a larger, thinner pizza peal, this way I won't have to tilt so much to get the bread off and into the oven.

 

 

ehanner's picture
ehanner

OK, Ill tell you my worst story ever concerning loading Italian bread. Before I started baking on a sheet pan I had 2 loaves on a peel and dropped the back loaf off the stone and onto the heating elements. It was a huge mess with smoke alarms wailing an me with the front loaf still on the peel. I was able to reach back and grab the fallen loaf with a pair of tongs but what a huge mess. That's when I started using an aluminum sheet pan with parchment.

As I tried to describe in the first post. I make a folded barrier between the loaves and sprinkle corn meal on the bottom and against the fold. I don't proof these very long so when they are ready I pull the paper so the fold is gone and there is a 3-4 inch gap between the loaves and pop it in the oven. If you think the dough is to wide you may need to add a strip along each side. I don't mind them pressing against the sides of the pan but when they stick together the baking is affected. Hope this helps.

Eric

Marni's picture
Marni

Darron,

Your loaves look great. I agree with you completely about the wealth of information on these pages.  I learn something new here every day, including here today in this thread. tacky?sticky?  I know what I think it is, but I Like the clear definitions.

Thanks for sharing your blog, I think I may plan dinner from there! (I happen to like brussels sprouts too)

Marni

foolishpoolish's picture
foolishpoolish

I  think one needs to be careful that 'won't stretch far' or 'comes off in chunks' isn't related to insufficient gluten development.  I used to make this error, incorrectly compensating by adding way too much flour to the dough.  Now I give the dough a little more mixing/kneading time before I make that decision.

For what it's worth, I often mix  very wet doughs (70% plus) in a large bowl with a spatula (turning the bowl with one hand while lifting and folding with the spatula or other hand) before turning/folding on a work surface - a good indicator for me has been seeing the dough come easily away from the sides while still sticking to the bottom.  I think this is mentioned in BBA.  

 

 

AbbyL's picture
AbbyL

All, thanks so much for the photos and graphic descriptions of the distinction between sticky and tacky. As I understood the words from ordinary life, tacky and sticky always seemed pretty much synonymous to me. Now I see that my lean doughs are nowhere near hydrated enough for the crumb I'm trying to achieve.

 

Suddenly dawn breaks over Marblehead. 

 

Abby