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Sourdough experiments and a bit of confusion

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Janedo's picture
Janedo

Sourdough experiments and a bit of confusion

For the last few days I have been preparing two different sourdough breads, one is the basic recipe in Nancy Silverton's Breads from La Brea Bakery and the other one is my own concoction using the old dough technique from a piece of sourdough that a friend gave to me. It dates from 1993 and has a very disctinct, delicious aroma. Many of her friends tell her that her bread smells like "pain d'épice" which is a spice cake. I'll explain what I did and then I have some questions to ask you all.

Nancy Silverton's sourdough bread

Nancy Silverton's basic

Nancy Silverton's basic crumb

For this bread I followed the recipe. Then split the dough in half, left one to rise a few hours then baked. The other half, I rose for an hour and then placed in the fridge as directed in the recipe.

Sourdough from Laurence's "old dough"

Laurence's "old dough" bread

Laurence's "old dough" bread crumb

For this bread, the original bit of "old dough" (pure sourdough - no yeast) was about the size of a small orange. It was taken from the dough, then left to rise a little bit. It was put in a glass bowl and left in the fridge a few days. I then took it out and fed it a small bowl of flour with some water so that it became a pretty thick paste. This was left out and covered overnight. The next morning it was nice and bubbly.

In a bowl I added 600 ml of cold water (I'm worried about the rising temps here even if it just one or two degrees °C). I stirred and then added 1kg of flour (500g T110 and 500G T80). I let it knead in my mixer a few minutes and then did a 20 or so minute autolyse. Added the salt (4 tsp) and then let it knead until it was nice and soft and supple (window paned and all). It rose about 3,5 hrs. Then punched down, split in two parts, mise en couche, formed and rose again for an hour. One of the doughs was risen again about 2 hrs (can't remember) and the other one was put in the fridge with the other half of the Nancy Silverton dough.

NB I still don't have any bannetons, so I do a basic natural rise on a sheet. 

My AIM here as to see what the big fuss is about leaving the dough to develop those wonderful aromas, etc ovenight in the fridge. I have done that technique a few times now and haven't enjoyed the results at all. THIS time I really concentrated and watched to make sure there were no problems, over fermenting, etc.

Now, here are my questions:

1. I see in my books that in America, the goal is a very even, proportional bread shape with a relatively thin but crunchy crust and no "bursting". I see it in pictures too. So, does that mean that over there you don't like bursted, jagged crusts and non-uniform bread? Because people here think American bread looks pretty standard and boring. Now, is this a cultural thing do you think? Because if I understand well, the way my bread explodes and has jagged edges and super crunchy crusts... that is a BAD thing. But we love it over here. I am very interested in the cultural differences.

2. The bread that stayed in the fridge had a pretty strong sour taste. Is that the developed flavor everyone is talking about? I didn't find that crumb as nice as the bread baked the evening before which has lots of irregular holes and a nice, elastic crumb. The times I've left the bread over night, the crumb isn't as nice. I'm not quite sure what I'm missing. I'd love to know your opinions. Here's a picture:

Levain two days

It stayed in the oven a few minutes too long. 

3. I read somewhere that the varieties of flour grown over there are different than over here. It's not only what is done with the grains during milling, etc. Can that change everything SO drastically concerning taste and texture? I find it amazing and I would just love to do a huge taste test and compare.

4. Am I missing something? Doing something wrong? 

I guess the reality is that I'll probably never know. I really would like to pierce the secret of the slowing of the fermentation in cold. Why is that so wonderful? I haven't had any great results. But yesterday when my friend came by just as the bread was cooling from the oven, she thought she'd died and gone to heaven after tasting the bread. So, I am more prone to thinking "to heck with the over night fridge thing".

Any comments or ideas are most welcome! The discussion is open. 

Jane 

Comments

edh's picture
edh

I'm far from the most qualified here to answer, but that's never stopped me.

First of all, your breads are beautiful! The one made from your friend's starter made me want to reach through the monitor screen and grab it-wow!

I think the tendency towards "regularized" breads has come from the supermarkets. Over the last several years, more and more of the big chains are carrying "fresh baked artisan breads" which are usually (to varying degrees) mass-produced, parbaked loaves that the chain purchases and finishes baking instore. Most of these are certainly better than Wonderbread, but sometimes only barely. I've been in many small artisanal bakeries that produce lovely, irregular crusty creations of the sort to which I can only aspire! Still, Americans as a whole have quite a few decades of "soft and squooshy is better" to overcome.

As far as the overnight retard in the fridge, I've had the same experience, and response to it, that you have. I don't at all like sour breads, but I love the flavors that come from a natural leveaned dough, with or without commercial yeast added. On the other hand, there is something else that happens with a longer ferment, as in preferments, etc, and I haven't quite figured out what the best way is for me to take advantage of it.

As far as differences in flour go; it's way over my head! I've enjoyed reading bwraith and proth's discussions of various flours and their makeups, but I usually get a bit lost halfway into it. From what other European members have said, it does seem that there are some basic differences in the grains available on both sides of the Pond, but the implications of those differences are beyond me. So I'm looking forward to learning more about them.

As for your fourth question, with loaves like that how could you possibly be doing something wrong?!

For what it's worth, my three most dependable, and popular breads right now are Calvel's sourdough as written here by Mariana (there's a looong thread about it), Hamelman's 40% Rye, and your baguettes "Monge." All three have had to put up with my tendency to muck about with formulas but even so, produce great (not sour) results without fail.

It's great fun to read about the exploits of bakers with skills and experience like yours; keep it up!

edh

Janedo's picture
Janedo

I went and copied the recipe. No night time in the fridge, sounds good! Just worried about the builds screwing up the flavor but it'll definitely be my next experiment. I have about 2,5 kilos of bread I have to get rid of in order to start experimenting again because I just pulled two more loaves out of the oven (that makes FOUR today). It is an experiment using an over proofed dough from a couple days ago that I took a portion from and fed it like a regular starter. The bread looks nice but I haven't tasted it. The starter may have been a bit lazy.

Last Saturday my friend who gave me the starter and I went to the market because I wanted to ask the bakers who sell their organic "pain au levain" if I could visit their bakery. They said yes, but I'd have to go VERY early in the morn and they won't share their recipe. That, I really don't care about because I have enough recipes to fill up a whole room. I was just curious about the technique and to know if they always use the "old dough" method and how they build, etc. Well, we felt a bit obliged to buy a loaf of bread for the trouble even thought we had our own breads rising back at home. We bought a basic "pain de campagne" and set it on the table at lunch. My husband's reaction was "you didn't make this horrible bread!" It really was tasteless, which makes me deduce that they definitely use a firm starter and/or "old dough" method. I am into Silverton's book these days because she uses the liquid starter and I am definitely a fan of it even though I keep trying different types of starters and builds.

Thanks for the compliments. I'm glad to know that you do like "rough" bread! :-)

And speaking of formulas, what is so ironic is that it's when I try and stick to a formula to make it work that everything get mucked up. I seem to have better luck using my own formula "au pif". Translation - a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Simply because I think the outside factors, flour, weather, water, temperature play such a huge role that no recipe can possibly take in to consideration. But the learning experience is great fun.

Jane 

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hi, Jane. 

First, all those breads look wonderful to me. 

I think your observation about the difference in the aesthetics of loaf appearance here and there is correct. edh's explanation may be right on target. I don't know. I have been curious about your terrific oven spring and burst loaves. My first guess would be they are underproofed by American standards. It would help to know what criteria you use to know when a loaf is ready to bake. 

Regarding the effects of cold fermentation: I think there are two effects. One is associated with long, slow fermentation which produces more complex flavors. You could achieve the same effect other ways. For example by using a smaller proportion of levain in the dough. The second effect is associated with temperature of fermentation in producing acid. "The big deal" is the combination of slow and cold. If you don't like the result, do something different.

Regarding differences in grains: All I can say is I share your wish that we could do direct comparisons. The only alternative would be to get information from sophisticated bakers who have worked both here and in Europe. I haven't heard back from Jeff Hamelman. If I have time, I'll call King Arthur Flour again to see if he got my e-mail.

David

edh's picture
edh

Funny you should mention the multiple builds screwing up the flavor; the first time I tried that formula was a "Eureka!" moment in the house. I'd finally achieved complex flavor without sour. For a while I got a little superstitious about it, thinking I couldn't possibly get that kind of taste without multiple builds. Luckily brwaith talked me down off that branch!

I'd have to agree with you about flexible formulas; the three I listed have moved (and continue to do so) occasionally to the point of being unrecognizable from their point of origin. Not always to good effect, but always a learning experience!

Interesting to me that you prefer the liquid starter. I've gone to a firm starter mostly because they're easier for me to maintain. I had a liquid starter die of starvation when the weather warmed up, when I was first getting started, and that, combined with several inedibly sour loaves resulting from overripe starter caused me to switch. I just feed it with 125% hydration when I need a liquid one.

Pity shipping is so expensive; we could all do a trade the flours experiment!

David, when you talk to Jeff Hamelman, ask him for the recipe for hazelnut danishes they used to sell in the bakery in Brattleboro. I've never had anything like them, before or since!

edh

Janedo's picture
Janedo

Thanks for your replies because it gives me great food for thought! So, I'm deducing that a few builds from a firm starter will give a complex flavor without sour, but bread made with a liquid starter with builds or long retarding in the fridge will be sour. I suspect that the quality of flour I use (pure, organic, stone milled) is an advantage for complex flavor and so a pretty simple method starting with a fully active liquid starter probably doesn't need builds and the fridge just makes it sour. Today I did an experiment using a dough that over fermented.  I fed a portion of it about 100g of flour and 100ml water yesterday evening and let it sit out until this morning. I then made bread out of it with some T65 and T110 and the result was pretty incredible. The taste was complex, not sour, but definitely not plain. Hard to explain.

David - I think I probably do underproof a bit. I watch the dough and put it in the oven just before it starts to get slack... Actually I can't even explain... it just seems right. I don't know if it's really underproofed. The thing is that it's not in a banneton, so I don't see it rise the same way as you do maybe. I just set it on a sheet and so it spreads a bit. Then in the oven it springs up. I'm going to order some bannetons to see what difference it makes but I'm so scared of degassing the dough when I transfer the dough.

I have gone to using cold water and letting the dough rise slower in a colder environment (compaired to a bread machine warm environment).  I like the results. I think it's a good compromise. The fridge is too long, but a nice slow, cool rise but in one day, is great.

As for the flour, it isn't the shipping that bothers me as much as the american laws on that kind of stuff. They might think it's drugs!

Thanks again for your input!

Jane

 

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hi, Jane. 

I've been fermenting dough mostly in a glass, two liter measuring pitcher with a tight-fitting plastic top. It allows me to accurately measure the dough's expansion. Most recipes I use are specific about the amount of rise - usually to either 1.5 or 2 times initial volume. Recipes with multiple folds are more likely to just specify time than volume. 

I proof boules in bannetons and batards and baguettes en couche. I estimate proof by volume, but I am going to start paying more attention to the proofing loaves spring back when I press into them with a finger. (A "fully proofed" loaf should spring back very slowly and not completely. A less proofed loaf should spring back quickly, leaving only a shallow indentation.) Some recipes are specific about this; some just specify the amount of volume expansion to look for. 

Regarding how many builds you go through: My impression has been this has more to do with getting the levain activated than increasing flavor. But that may not be correct. 

I have a paper to get to the editor and 3-4 kinds of bread I want to bake this weekend, but, when I get a little free time, I'm going to look into the cost of shipping flour to Europe and any legal limitations. 

My thought is to send you some King Arthur bread flour, which, together with a very little whole rye, gives me the nicest results for Reinhart's SF Sourdough. That's a very commonly used white flour over here and would allow you to compare "apples to apples." I suspect that there is nothing quite the same as your T80 or T110 here, but that's a high priority question to which I'd like to know Hamelmn's answer. 

David

Digger57's picture
Digger57

The Great use of grains is bread making. OH YA!!

All I can say is those breads look wonderful. I hope my next batch of breads look that good and the taste is as good as your husband says. Also Happy early MOTHERS DAY! to all you nice ladies. From Digger57 Michigan

Janedo's picture
Janedo

Thanks digger57!

Wow, we'd never find a two litre pitcher here! Things are always so small. I tried finding those big tupperware flour containers here and those are non-existant  too.

I think I'll do an experiment using a tiny piece of starter and building. The Thom Leonard's country French Bread starts with 1 1/2 tbsp of firm starter, but I admit I didn't arrive at a good result after two tries. I didn't like the texture or the taste. But I think the firm starter kills a lot of the taste I like so much (maybe I'm wrong?). I'll have to think about it.

"Regarding how many builds you go through: My impression has been this has more to do with getting the levain activated than increasing flavor. But that may not be correct."

I thought it was just a flavour thing because if you use an active starter it has immediate rising power, but using smaller portions and building, you're giving the mixture time to develop and all those groovy chemical reactions to happen. Whenever I read explanations like Reinharts I understand but for the life of me can't repeat it! ha ha!

Jane 

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

"using smaller portions and building, you're giving the mixture time to develop and all those groovy chemical reactions to happen."  

 But, if you just use a small proportion of your starter in each build, you are diluting the "groovy chemicals," aren't you? Hmmm .... I guess if each build uses all of the previous build, it would work as you say. 

I recall a program Joe Ortiz did with Julia Child where he made a sourdough bread using this method, starting with a tiny amount of dough and going through 3 or 4 builds before mixing the final dough. I'll have to look up that show and see if he has a good explanation. If he does, I'll post the URL. 
 

David

Janedo's picture
Janedo

Yes, but every time you build, the wild yeast and bacteria are feeding and multiplying, so if you start with one tiny piece, give it flour and water, it will ALL become a sort of starter. Then you add more flour and water and once again there is massive multiplication. But by changing the aspect of the dough (texture, type of flour, etc) CERTAIN yeasts and bacteria will be thriving and creating particular taste. Firmer starter, as I understand and have experienced, is less "sour", hence the "pain au levain" which is much less sour as it is made with a firm starter.  And I guess that's why I haven't liked these builds very much, because either I find the bread not very tasty when it is baked on day two or way too sour after a night in the fridge (which develops the sour).

This is the way I see it, but where are the eperts that could enlighten us even more? :-) 

Jane 

edh's picture
edh

I think the multiple builds give the starter more time to develop flavor, without getting sour from the beasties being hungry. When I've tried using just one big inoculation for a quick single rise, the results were kind of dull. Using a smaller inoculation overnight is often too sour for me (except in my cold winter time kitchen, in which case it just doesn't rise).

Multiple builds, while much less convenient (an unfortunate but real consideration many days!), have unfailingly given me complex, but not sour flavors. This has proved true with multiple stiff builds, as well as on conversions to liquid starters.

edh

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

This discussion is the core of the sourdough art. I think Jane is on to something regarding the size, rate and temperature of the build. I've found that creating a large starter through multiple refrigerated builds creates an underlying sweetness in the finished bread. The sourness of the finished bread is developed by varying the hydration amount in the final dough. Higher hydration yields greater sourness while lower yields sweeter. Higher primary fermentation temperatures yield greater sourness, cooler favors sweeter.

I am speaking in broad terms here, but that's the gist of the relationships that I see emerging. Now realize that none of our starters is exactly the same and the fact that it has become adjusted to the flour and water that they're fed creating an equation of diverse complexity. Any environmental change creates stress on the system requiring time to settle out before reliable results can once more be relied upon...,

Wild-Yeast

Janedo's picture
Janedo

I try and do all my sourdoughs with cold water and let to rise in a fairly cool environment (around 19°C no higher). I really don't like sourness BUT there is a lovely sourdough taste that I aim for. The breads that have a couple build and start with a firm I find eliminate this taste that I like so much. I'm getting what I think are perfect results using a firm starter, feeding it to become fairly liquid, letting it ferment all night and then making the bread the next day with no fridge time. Fridge time for me kills everything that I like in bread, textuer and taste... so isn't that strange? But I really think the flour differences mean everything. The flour I use, stone ground, organic, never under T65, my favorite being T110, have such intense flavour.

It's still all a mystery to me but I am learning lots every day! Thanks for your input. And if you have a recipe that you'd be curois to know how it could turn out here, let me know. I'd be happy to try.

Jane