The next level
Usually I am not too much involved in the blogging world, or the blogosphere, as it seems to be called. There is a fine line between writing just for serving your own ego and writing as part of a social endeavour, the desire to contribute to the wide array of knowledge and media which is the source for all the people, including myself, in the need for advice. I always feared going too much for the former.
When I started baking a few months ago, I learned that this is a craft which is less about pure facts and information but more about feeling, instincts, checking out boundaries, trial & error. All the things involved in social relationships. Thus it seems to discuss and reflect on the craft of baking in the environment of a social community is the natural way to do it. Often I learn the most from just reading about what other people have done, about their individual success and mistakes, originating from their individual circumstances. It makes me feel getting a better sense of the thousands of individual factors you have to take into account when baking.
As I am still quite new to baking, I am far away from being experienced. Therefore I won't be able to post fancy regional recipes yet. I definitely hope to get to that point in the future, in order to give something back to the community. At this point of time, this blog will be more of a personal baking diary, which serves as tool for myself to keep track of my own progress and mistakes, but maybe there are still some people left who are less experienced than me an might take some useful information out of my posts. That would be exciting!
General progress: sharpening my senses
Although I have produced some decent loafs of bread in the past, the results are generally varying a lot. Sometimes when taking the goods out of the oven I think "Wow, I should open my own bakery!". And then the next day something more along the lines of "Ehm, I should wrap this loaf in paper so that no one ever can see it" comes to my mind. Being well aware of having not quite figured out how long I have to knead, proper shape without every second loaf becoming flat again, at which point the final proof is finished and such things, I finally decided to buy a few books as advised here. I ordered Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Baker's Apprentice, Jeffrey Hamelmanns "Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes", and "Bread Science" by Emily Buehler. The latter has arrived yesterday, so I haven't read the whole book yet (but I have a feeling that this will be my favorite and the most enlightening one), but I've already absorbed the other two.
Reading those books literally took me to a new level of bread making. When I made bread after having read them, it was the first time I really opened my eyes and tried to use my senses. It was the first time I actually started to get a feel of what I am actually doing. I learnt a lot of new concepts, like thinking about the dough having an axis, with two poles, the smooth side and the seam side, and that you should try keeping them on the positions. It feels like having progressed from step 3 of 100 to step 7 of 100 or so. Thus I am still far away to produce really good and constant results, but I have become yet again really motivated to finally get to this point.
Most recent baking experiments
dough pieces / oven spring / crust /
The Ciabatta is made from an 80 percent hydration wheat dough with a biga (30% pre-fermented flour). Since I don't have a stand mixer, I used the Richard Bertinet kneading technique (http://www.gourmet.com/magazine/video/2008/03/bertinet_sweetdough ). Unfortunetaly, I didn't knead long enough so the gluten wasn't developed enough, which I realized while doing the stretch & fold during bulk fermentation. That's probably why the dough flattened a little during the final proof, but that's okay. I am really happy with the crumb. It has an open and glassy texture, just as I expect it from Ciabatta bread. The flavour was good, too.
Still I have a problem which I still haven't figured out, which is the following: My Ciabatta loafs tend to have rather hard crusts. I believe I know why it comes out like this. When pouring the dough onto the counter, I need a lot of flour to prevent the dough from sticking. The dough has a really wet surface (probably partly because I do the stretch & fold directly in the bowl and with wet hands) which hydrates the flour and creates sort of an outer layer of fresh and unfermented dough. As I use more flour because it is absorbed into the dough over time, this layer thickens. In the oven it creates a hard crust and prevents the loaf from properly browning. Another problem arises when I turn the dough upside down on the baking stone after its final proof. On the bottom side of the dough the flour from the counter builds thick lumps (especially when you stretch or scrape the dough a little) which are often incorparated into the dough when handling it. These lumps harden in the oven as well. I'm still searching for the perfect solution to use as little flour as possible and create a nice crust. Not turning the dough upside down when going to bake helps (see this photo: http://www.abload.de/image.php?img=ciabatta5j5u1.jpg ), but then all the flour sticks to the bottom of the bread and I almost have to cut it away because it is too hard.
Well, I'll keep trying.
proofed dough pieces / right after loading into the oven /
3 minutes of baking / 8 minutes of baking / crumb /
This is a Norwich Sourdough (http://www.wildyeastblog.com/2007/07/08/my-new-favorite-sourdough/ ). I basically used Susan's recipe, but I used medium dark rye flour (Type 1150) because that was the one I had here. I used a little more sourdough (16,7% instead of 15% pre-fermented flour). I am really happy with this one. I would say, these are the best loafs I have produced so far. I've learned a lot from reading the above books and finally found out that my shaped loafs need much more than the advised 2 1/2 hours (which produced this underproofed and very dense crumb: http://www.abload.de/image.php?img=crumbkjw0.jpg ). I let them proof about 4 hours and the dough still felt very elastic (springing back when poked). This time I used the "put some dough in a glass, mark it and wait until it doubled"-test (http://www.abload.de/image.php?img=glassj7eq.jpg  ; I let it triple) which helped a lot.
Especially considering that you cannot really find high protein or malted wheat flour in German supermarkets (the usual one used for breads has 9,8% protein relative to the whole flour weight [including natural moisture], that's why most white breads that are sold in Germany have additional pure gluten in the dough) I am quite happy to have finally produced a rather "big" loaf that is holding it's shape. Maybe I will try to find some malt to produce a more reddish crust, but if I will be able to reproduce my current results I am perfectly happy for now.
News from the local baking scene
"Aldi", the most popular discounter in Germany (a supermarket that offers a limited range of products but to the cheapest prices), slowly wants to set up vending machines for baked goods. You can imagine it like this: You press some buttons on the machine and order some rolls. Then the order is sent to some people in the store who finish half-baked rolls which come from big factories (and may contain a lot of chemical additives) in their ovens. Traditional bakeries are now protesting against it by trying to make a case out of it to bring to court. The bakeries charge Aldi of falsy using the term "freshly baked" where in fact the goods aren't really freshly baked but just warmed up industrial food, kicking the traditional craft of baking with their feet and just trying to make money. One of the bakeries is "Bäckerei Huth" (http://www.baeckerei-huth.de/weitere-seiten/news.html ), which is home near the town I was born and therefore well-known by me (they have my favourite lye bretzels!). I'm eagerly waiting for which direction this whole case will be taken and keep you updated.