Hello to all you wise sages out there. Long post, but I'm really hoping you amazing bakers out there can ease my recent torment!
So I'm a complete novice when it comes to artisan/rustic breads, and have a few obstacles that for the life of me can't get past. The main goal is to achieve those explosive and beautiful oven springs that result in outrageously huge and irregular holes. I've been baking basic pan loaves for years for my family, and only recently have begun to experiment with wet doughs, and I AM OBSESSED. I've played around with different autolyzing times, bulk fermentation at room temp or cold retardation, final proofing at room temp or cold retardation, different pre-shaping/final shaping methods, etc., with various degrees of satisfaction, but never close to what I want--you know, stuff like what Trevor J Wilson and so many amazing bakers out here produce. So here go my questions, and please please help me answer all these. I would be eternally grateful!
- It seems that almost 100% of the relevant discussions involve sourdough! I don't have any experience in sourdough, but would like to eventually get there, but not before I'm 100% confident of my knowledge with wet doughs/basic artisan bread. But here's the question: must one use sourdough to create those outrageous oven spring and open/airy crumb? Can yeasted dough achieve that as well? No one ever mentions yeasted dough when talking about open crumbs and oven spring
- People seem to advise bulk fermenting and proofing times at room temp that involve hours on end. Is it because it's sourdough and the natural yeast just takes longer than instant yeast? I understand that room temperatures vary infinitely depending on what sort of climate one bakes in. But just generally, I suspect that sourdoughs take longer to rise and ferment?
- There's been plenty of talk about DDT. Is it really THAT important? If you don't pay attention to the DDT, would that render all other variables useless. Can't you manipulate other variables to achieve strong oven spring, or DDT is a necessary consideration?
- Also, seems like the vast majority of people shape and proof theirs doughs into a batard vs round boule. What's the reason behind it? Does the shape actually create bigger holes because there's less room for the dough to spread out in all directions?
- I'm very confused about whether to de-gas or not. Most comments/videos advise to handle the dough gently during pre-shaping and final shaping, and to not destroy any bubbles that have been created during bulk fermentation. But just by releasing the dough from its container necessarily causes huge deflation. And second, I see bakers slapping and stretching dough during shaping all the time. I've even seen bakers pat the dough to get rid of bubbles and advising that they will return during final proof. Even if I were to not consciously de-gas, the mere exercise of pinching the dough to stretch (for building tension) and shape a boule would involve deflation. So just HOW careful should I be during pre-shaping and final shaping? Should I de-gas a bit to create room for more gas to form during final proof, or should I completely try to avoid any disturbance to the dough whatsoever (then how the heck do you stretch/fold to shape a boule?) Currently, I either stretch and fold in a clock-wise fashion or do the stitching method by Trevor J Wilson, then flip the dough ball over and do a round or two of tightening, all the while trying as hard as possible to not disturb the integrity of the dough. The resulting ball is quite bubbly, jiggly and very delicate. So is that good, or should it feel more substantial and solid, and let the final proof do its work in re-building bubbles?
- Continuing on the topic of dough handling. What's your preferred method of tipping dough out to prevent unnecessary tears and overall damage? The Trevor J Wilson method of wetting hands then doing a letter fold then tipping the dough out? He doesn't grease his container prior to bulk fermentation. Do you grease your container before bulk fermenting? Again, I fear one of my problems is the dough handling after bulk fermentation, from releasing to pre-shaping, to final shaping. I feel and fear that too much gas has been lost during the handling.
- What are your views on underproofing? Seems like quite a few people advocate underproofing in order to achieve phenomenal oven spring. Can I get some clarity on this point? Underproof or not?
- Finally, AP or bread flour? I've read conflicting advice on this. To me, bread flour makes more sense because of the stronger gluten to hold the gas in. But someone also said the strong gluten structure prevents big bubbles from forming--like it's harder to inflate a strong and tight baloon. Thoughts?
Thank you SO SO very much for helping me with my OCD! For reference, here's my basic formula
- Biga 35% at about 70% hydration, prepared the night before and fermented in a wine cooler at 15C for about 12 hours
- Then mix in bread flour, yeast, water (final hydration, including biga = 80%, total flour used = 450g), autolyze for 30 mins at room temp at about 24C (75F) or wine fridge at 15C (59F)
- Add salt then mix with dough hook for 5 mins
- rest 5 mins, then S&F 3-4 times at half hour increments
- bulk ferment at room temp for a couple hours, or overnight retard in 10C (50C) fridge for 14 hours (I've had better results with the cold ferment)
- tip out, pre-shape, covered bench rest for 10 minutes (it's hot and humid in Hong Kong right now, so kitchen temp is about 27C (81F)
- shape then proof in banneton for about 45 mins at about 24C (75C) room temp or an hour in the wine fridge. I finger test the dough and make sure it's slightly underproofed. If the advice is to underproof, then I'm a bit lost at this stage. How underproofed should the dough be?
- Slash then bake in a 250C (482C) pre-heated dutch oven. Sometimes I mist the dutch oven, but it doesn't seem to make any difference. If anything, the bread comes out flatter when I mist, but I don't know if there a cause and effect there.
THANKS AGAIN everyone!