The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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agres

By the time I was in high school, I baked regularly - including huge challah for large Friday night gatherings at my girlfriend's house. Mixing the the dough for those huge loaves was a significant effort. Oh, I wanted a stand mixer!

My mother was a good baker.  She was cooking noon "dinner" every day for a large farm crew from the time she was a little kid (6 years old). She DID teach me the easy method to mix flour and water together without a stand mixer. (Gradually stir the water into the flour.)  However, I went off track in high school, studying recipes for breads and pastry, that my mother had never made. Many of those recipes came out of commercial kitchens or were developed by professional chefs,  and assumed a stand mixer. They added the water all at once. When you do that, an electric mixer is much easier. Chef Louis Diat and others taught me much, but they also encouraged me to abandon some smart practices.

Later,  when I worked in the kitchens, I often had to make 50  or 80 or a hundred loaves every day. We used a mixer, because at that scale, a mixer is easier. Using a mixer for bread dough became a habit, that was very hard to break. I also developed the habit of making pasta in a stand mixer and pasta roller. We always used a stand mixer, and I forgot what my mother taught me. 

Now, I have time to really think about what I am doing, and I bake bread almost every day.   I can consider the best way to make dough for the daily bread of a house.

Now, I remember what my mother taught me. I find that it really is faster and easer to mix flour and water AND DEVELOP THE GLUTEN by by gradually stirring water into the flour. I stir with one hand and pour water in with the other hand. I started doing this again  because I was working with fresh stone ground flour, for which I did not know the moisture content, so I did not know how much water to add.  So the easy thing to do was to add water until the dough had the correct consistency. I measure flour, salt, malt, oil and such, then I  gradually stir in water until I have the correct dough consistency. Such stirring is low physical effort, and it develops gluten quickly, very quickly,  The method is quicker and easier than using a stand mixer (at least for batches of dough of less than 5 kilo.)

Now, I look at commercial bakers in YouTube videos vigorously kneading their bread dough, and I think, "Hey Dude, if you just had stirred the water gradually into the flour, instead of dumping it all at once, you could have saved yourself a lot kneading." (In the videos, they are working with batches of dough no larger than what I make.)  I know the "stir the water in gradually method" works for batches of dough of less than 5 kilo of dough at a time, and 3 kilo/ hour is about what my ovens can bake. So, with 45 minutes of dough preparation the night before, I can keep my oven full all morning, and provide bread for a BIG party. I know that with this method, I can mix bread dough much faster than my ovens can bake it.  An hour of work in the morning, will produce fresh bread all afternoon.  I can mix the dough for a 600 gram loaf while our morning oatmeal cooks, and it comes out of the oven 11:30, in time for lunch at noon.  Why would I make dough any other way?

I do this for: bread, pizza, and pasta.

I have a pasta roller in the garage, but if you stir the water gradually into the flour, you can stretch the pasta dough rather like a pizza (using a rolling pin on the bench rather than tossing) to make a very thin, delicate fettuccini, or whatever.  If you want to easily make wonderful ravioli or tortellini, the path is through pasta that has been stretched, rather than rolled though a pasta machine. And, stretched pasta is the path to lasagna of wonderful delicacy.   

However, if you are making pasta, and you  just dump all the water into the flour, all at once; Oh, yes! you will want some kind of machine to mix/knead/roll your pasta, and you will have pasta with the one virtue; it is like the stuff you can buy at a good supermarket. 

 

 

 

 

 

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agres

My current daily bread is fresh ground whole wheat flour, 2% malt powder, 2% salt, a hand full of yesterday's dough, and enough water to make a firm dough.

 The night before I put the flour, malt, & salt in my plastic dough trough. I mix enough water into my old dough to make a runny mess. I make a well in the flour mix, very gradually pour in the old dough mix, as I stir the liquid, pulling in flour from the edges of the well as I stir. I pour in water with my left hand as I stir with my right to make a firm dough.

I knead a couple of minutes to make a smooth dough, without expecting much elasticity.  I cover the dough trough, and leave on the counter on the cool kitchen over night.  This is a seasonal recipe. 

In the morning, I stretch and fold, and put in a warm place 20 minutes doing 3 or 4 stretch and folds in the course of an hour.  Then, I form the loaf, cover in a banneton, and set in a warm place for the final rise as I preheat the oven with a cast iron griddle in it to 375F. When the dough is risen, I turn it on to a peel covered with parchment paper,  slash, and slide it, (on the paper) onto the hot griddle in the 375F (electric)  oven. (Putting additional water into the oven for steam would just cool the oven.) After 15 minutes I turn the heat down to 360F for 10 minutes, then down to 350F for 10 minutes,  then I shut the oven off, and let the loaf sit on the griddle in the hot oven for another 5 minutes.

I admit that there are 2 or 3 kinds of white flour in the kitchen, and that sometimes I make brioche and  baguettes (from white flour).  However,  this is bread with rich flavor, and pleasant texture that goes better with more menus and is enjoyed by more different people than other bread that I make. While, it has a pleasantly open crumb, the crumb is tight enough that it can be used for sandwiches of all kinds.

And, by starting with a 400F oven/griddle, I can bake a 2- kilo loaf that will feed a table full of folk in one bake.

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agres

I make bread almost every day. Being retired, I have  time to experiment, which I did not have when I was a chef in a commercial kitchen.  And, I do not have customers that expect consistency.  On the other hand, I have other things to do,  and seek to produce my bread expeditiously. 

There is always the yeast v. sourdough dilemma. The easy resolution is to use both! The easy path to using both is to use a bit of [yesterday's] bake as the sourdough starter for today's bake. This is a approach used by traditional European bakers. They knew what they were doing!  Reserved dough has salt it and it has lower hydration so it grows slower than most modern starters. It is good, but it is too much bother for many commercial bakers. Growing slower it will hold until tomorrow or the next day, this is a big advantage to the home baker - you do not have to bake - or feed your starter every day.  It has salt in it so you do not have to adjust the bread dough recipe for the weight of the starter.  

The old bread dough gives enough sourness to condition the dough, allow the bread the keep longer, and it makes the bread more moist without the addition of fats/oil.  it gives a rich flavor without a long bulk fermentation.  Usually, my dough save back is ~50 grams.  If I decide that my next bake will be larger, I add flour, 2% salt, and water to my reserved dough to make a dough starter of about 10% of my next bake, and I let it sit on the counter for a few hours.

I  have moved to putting 2% barley malt in my bread. It gives better crust color, faster rise,  and a nice sweetness.

These days, I add 20% strong white bread flour to some bakes.

I remain convinced that making less than 5 lb. of bread dough is faster and easier in a dough trough than with a stand mixer.

I weight the flour, yeast, and other dry ingredients into the trough, putting the salt in one corner. Yeast is usually 1% of flour weight.

I mix the old dough with most of the warm water that I think I will need.

I make a well in the flour in the trough, and slowly pour in the water mix with my left hand as I gently stir the water so it gradually pulls flour in to the pool of water in the well.  This process of stirring the water surrounded by flour seems to develop gluten easier and faster than any other method I know. The actually time is about the same as mixing in the stand mixer, but the product is better.  Ok, I know I have to stand over it, but I usually do this while breakfast is cooking.  Stirring the water into the flour is faster than breakfast,  so both can be done at the same time.

There will still be some dry flour and the salt in the corner of the dough trough. A rest allows the dough to autolyze. A few minutes later I add warm water by drips and work-in the last of the flour and the salt and knead the dough for 2 or 3 minutes.  Because the whole wheat flour has had a chance to absorb water,  I can adjust the hydration more precisely.

Then I do bulk fermentation at 90F, usually 1.5 hours; stretching / folding the dough as often as it needed or as often as I need to come to the kitchen for coffee.  Fermentation is done in the oven or in a Styrofoam "cooler" with a warm cast iron muffin pan in the bottom.

There is  pre-shape, bench rest, shape and  rise.  Bake temperature varies from 350F for loaf pans, to 375F for whole wheat French bread baked on aluminum sheet pans to  400F on a pizza stone for a 2 kilo miche of Pain de Campagne

 

 

 

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agres

As a kid, I was fascinated by dough troughs, and traditional baker’s technologies. I tried making some dough troughs out of wood, but I was never satisfied with my product. In the kitchens, I made do with stand mixers. Here, at the Tulip Patch, the mixer habit carried over, but I was still on the look out for a dough trough.

We eat a lot of fresh produce, and I bought bins to store produce at the local “cash and carry” restaurant supply outlet. It turns out that they are the “dough trough” that I have been seeking for 60 years.  Somehow they are better than the generations of mixing bowls that I have tried.

They are plastic, rectangular, with good lids, ~ 4” deep, holding ~6 liters. After a couple of dozen batches of bread in them, I find them to be faster, easier, and more convenient than either of my stand mixers. 

These days, my method/technique is to put a weighed amount of fresh ground flour in one corner of the trough, make a well in the flour, put weighed amounts of starter/yeast, and (honey, oil, other) in the well, and a weighed amount of salt in the other corner.  I add warm water to the well and stir, gently mixing flour into the slurry.  The very wet mix comes together and forms gluten rapidly. I stir and add water until I have incorporated all the flour, and salt.  I knead in the trough for a couple minutes. Between the stirring of water into the flour and the little bit of kneading, the dough will pass a window-pane test.

I let rest in a warm place (usually a Styrofoam “cooler”) for an hour, do a stretch and fold in the trough, and an hour or so later it is ready to begin shaping and forming for the final rise in banneton or pans.

I find the trough(s) to be of convenient size for batches of dough ranging from 500 gm to 2- kilo. If I must bake 4 kilo (9 lb.) of bread today, I use 2 of my produce bins as dough troughs. They are inexpensive and I use them for other things such as storing produce.  They do not overload my little kitchen scale.  I do not have to clean the mixer kettle/hook.  And, stirring water into a well in the flour develops gluten and makes a dough faster than my mixers.

At my 1-hour stretch and fold, I reserve back 100 grams of dough, that I keep in the refrigerator. That “old dough” gets added to my next batch of dough. I find this old dough method to be the easy approach to sourdough. The salt in the dough and the cold storage, means the starter will remain in good condition and quite active for a few days.  In the next bake, it provides flavor, texture, and improved keeping qualities.  I find the old dough approach to be less effort than most modern recipes for “sourdough”.

My other adaption to a plastic dough trough is use of a nylon bench knife

Let’s face it, if I want really good bead, I have to go to a bakery, or bake it myself – the bread at the grocery store is not as good as the bread at the bakery.  (I live in a place where a local grocery store gets daily deliveries from 2 of the best bakeries in the SF Bay Area – and I stand by that statement.) Therefor, I try to arrange my baking so that it takes less effort than buying the same quality and kinds of bread. I can mix dough and set it to bulk ferment while I prepare my wife’s breakfast. It can be a yeast dough for lunch or a sourdough for dinner. Yesterday’s bake was whole-wheat  focaccia for lunch and whole-wheat dinner rolls.  Today’s bake is a Korean style, whole-wheat sandwich bread.

However quick and easy it is to make bread; I will always be looking for an easier method/technique to make better bread.

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agres

I think most sourdough recipes/ methods/ techniques come from professional bakers or people writing books that are baking so much bread that they might as well be professional bakers. I am not sure these folks are writing to solve my needs. I want a nice loaf of sourdough bread every couple of days, with minimum effort.

My current solution is to take a bit (~100 grams) of the dough from my current batch of dough, and put it in a storage container in the refrigerator before setting the dough to bulk ferment.

Then, a couple of days later, I put 400 gm of flour, 8 gm salt, 4 gm yeast in to my mixing tub, make a well, where I put the dough from the frig, and pour warm water on it and mix, then knead by hand, gradually adding water until I have the right consistency. Then, I put a ball of dough in a storage container and in the frig. It has salt in it so it does not ferment too fast, and I do not have to adjust hydration.  If I am not going to bake for a while, I feed the dough with flour that contains 2% salt, water, and knead into a firm dough.

I find that I can knead a pound of dough faster than my stand mixer, and the cleanup is faster. And the hydration is more precise. Yes, it has some yeast in it, but mostly I do not care - and I can kill the yeast off to have a "pure sourdough starter" by letting the "starter" sit on the counter for a couple of hours, and then feeding it.

These days, I like the ease, flavor, and texture of the "old dough" approach

 

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agres

Ok, know your skills - bakers percentages and dough handling. Know how to prepare and use leaven.

Then, put a known amount of fresh, stone-ground flour on the bench or in your dough trough. Make a well in the center, and put the leaven in the well. With one hand pour a gentile stream of water into the well/leaven, while mixing with the other hand.  Keep pouring and mixing until all the flour is mixed into a stiff dough. Your hand will tell you when the hydration is correct. Knead for a couple of minutes. Cover and let autolyze between half an hour and 3 hours, depending on the temperature.  When it has doubled in volume, knead for 3 or 4 minutes with wet hands, and cover and let rest.  Do three stretch and  folds, adding salt (per baker's percentage) on the third stretch, then knead with wet hands until smooth, elastic, and it is no longer sticky. It needs to pass the window- pane test. do more kneading or more stretch and folds until it does pass the window-pane test. Bulk ferment, pre-shape, shape, do final rise, slash, and bake.  I bake on a stone in an electric oven.

I have put a whole lot of water in the dough. In a hot (electric) oven the water in the dough will fill the oven with steam. If I add more water to the oven, I am just cooling the oven. Why heat my oven to 450F, and then cool it to 212F by tossing in some water, or worse - tossing in ice?? No, I just heat my oven to to 400F. For a big batch of bread, I put some extra metal in the oven to provide more thermal inertia and deliver more heat to the loaves.  

With white flour or commercial whole wheat, I do baker's percentages, boom, boom, boom!  With fresh stone ground flour, I have to let the feel of the dough on my hand boss the hydration. And, I must let the dough, and let my eye boss the schedule - even when that means preheating the oven a bit early, so the oven is at the right temperature when the dough is ready to bake.

It has taken me 3-years of experimentation and milling/ baking hundreds of pounds of wheat, rye and spelt to learn how to make better breads than I could make with commercial flour.   

 

 

 

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agres

About 55 years ago, my maiden aunt, who had actually lived in Paris, gave me a copy of "Larousse Gastronomique".

Under the entry "Bread" it says:

A good quality loaf should have a pale yellow or light brown bottom crust and a golden yellow or light brown top crust, which should be thick, domed and resonant when tapped. Both crusts should adhere to the crumb and  together equal one-fifth of the weight of the loaf (the thicker the crust, the less water there is in a loaf).  If the crusts of a slice of bread are pressed together the slice should quickly regain its original shape.

The crumb should be homogenous, without any white or yellowish lumps, without gray, red or black spots; it should not stick to the fingers; holes in it should not be uneven, not too big (which is a sign of badly kneaded dough) , nor too small (which is a sign of in sufficient fermentation); the smell should be sweet, the taste clean and pleasant. . . . . .  And so forth for another 4 paragraphs.

I took all this very much to heart, and it comes back to me every time I walk into a bakery, and every time I bake.

Most professional bakers bake things that look good, regardless of how good those loaves are to eat. One exception is: 

MAISON POILÂNE.

Poilane bakes bread for eating.

As a kid I also read a lot of historical fiction. Where bread is described, it is , dark, dense, and thereby bad.  However, Poilane teaches us that bread does not have to white and fluffy, to be good.  There are many recipes around for those that would replicate the bread of Poilane.  However, they miss the essence of what makes Poilane so good.

Fresh, stone-ground flour is the critical key to bread that is as good as Poilane's . No roller milled whole wheat can approach the flavors and texture of fresh stone ground flour. Stone ground flour that has been sitting for a few days will not have the flavor of fresh milled flour. The advice to allow home milled flour to mature for 30 days is has its purpose, but making bread like Poilane is not that purpose. 

After much experimentation, I think traditional "Pain de Campaign", was very much like the bread produced by  Maison Poilane. It was based on fresh, stone-milled flour. it had flavor. Leavens similar to those used by  Maison Poilane were used. It was baked in a wood fired oven.  They had gray sea salt. And, they did not rush the process.

It was (sometimes) good bread.  As I have been baking with fresh, stone-ground flour, I have had to recalibrate, everything I have read about past cuisine and feasting.  

To replicate such bread, I have to "temper" my grain before I mill.  Thus, I am not real sure about the moisture content of my flour,  and thus baker's percentage for hydration means little. Fresh flour also changes the fermentation schedule. These changes completely upset modern bread making recipes. I have more or less reverted to Soyer's 1854 recipe for bread. In it's essence, it does not deviate from what I have read about Poilane's method and technique. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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agres

When I was in the 4th grade, my mother taught me how to make "butter horn rolls".  Later, circa 1968, when I was in high school, my father was traveling a good deal, often arriving home about 5 am. I established the routine of having fresh croissants waiting for him, then I would catch the school bus at 6 am. 

More recently, I have been exploring, "Pain de  Campagna".   In modern baking, that has become white bread with a little whole wheat added, and often made with mix of baker's yeast and little sourdough.  It is a pale imitation of the real thing.  It is like grilling a block of tofu and calling it a steak.  I like tofu!  However it is not a steak. One can make things from soybeans that are "steak like",  but tofu is not very like a steak. Modern "Pain de  Campagna" is no more like the real traditional bread than tofu is like a steak.

The problem is that stoneground whole grain flour is hard to handle in industrial scale commerce and large scale baking. It attracts vermin, and it tends to go rancid. Roller milled flour, and roller milled white flour in particular is easier to ship and store,  and thereby much cheaper.  Thus, professional bakers use roller milled white flour to reduce their costs, and increase their production. With more production, they need to advertise to sell more bread.

They tell us that we want white bread. They lobby the FDA and  the USDA to tell us we want white bread. They tell us that white bread is better.  Then, we assume that if white bread is better, we should bake white bread at home.  And, because, baking with white flour is easier, and cheaper, we bake with white flour at home.  

I have experimented with fresh ground flours on and off for 50 years.  And, I have experimented with sourdough off and on since I was a kid. There were periods where I used commercial, roller-milled "whole wheat" flour for a hundred or more in-house baked loaves per night. (Roller-milled whole wheat is not the same as fresh, stoneground whole wheat.) However, I did not really come to understand the  power of 100% fresh stoneground flour leavened with sourdough. That has only dawned on me in the last few years, as baking with all stone ground flour and all sourdough became a routine.

First, sourdough starter, made and nourished with fresh, stoneground flour over a period of months, develops a leaving power not seen in starters fed with white flour.  Starter, built with fresh stoneground flour, used with white flour will produce only "average" results.  White flour does not have the full range of nutrients that a starter built on fresh, stoneground flour expects.  

And, stoneground flour needs more leaving power than a sourdough starter fed with white flour is likely to deliver.  Breads made with fresh stone ground flour and a sourdough starter based on white flour will be no better than average.

My path to a better than average loaf that I want to eat is fresh stone ground flour leavened with a sourdough starter built with fresh stone ground flour.  I keep my starter in a 44F refrigerator, and the morning of the day before the bake, I add a couple of hundred grams of flour and enough water to make a dough just about 75% hydration (by eye), and I leave it on the counter until early evening.  Early evening, I make about a kilo of 70% hydration dough, add in the most of my starter (reserving ~ 60 gm) and let the rough dough sit for a few hours.  Late evening, I use wet hands to knead the dough, and half way though the kneading, I add a little over 2% (BP) salt, and knead to a finished dough. I let it rise overnight on the counter, shape before breakfast, and  bake about lunch time - schedule dependent on ambient temperature. (Folks made good bread centuries before central heat or air conditioning.) 

The size and  shape of the loaves does not matter - and varies with the menu, which varies with the season. Oven temperature varies with the form factor of the bread.

With good, fresh stone ground grain, a good sourdough starter, and enough time to ferment, it does not need oils or fat or dough conditioners to keep for a few days.  Bakers need to show a huge volume of bread for a low price so they need lots of air in their breads - I am not selling bread,  so I do not need a huge volume. I need just enough air in my bread, to allow it to be very pleasant to eat.  The color of the crust will depend on how hot the oven is, and whether I glaze the crust.  Mostly, that is presentation for sale - and only required for average breads.  

Great breads are ranked by taste, texture and how they complement other foods, and not how they look in the shop window.  Yes, I also was taught that "People eat with their eyes."  However, walking the streets of Europe, from bake shop to bake shop, we discovered that often the best bread in town was not the pretty bread, and the pretty  bread was rarely the best bread in town.  I do not try to bake pretty bread, I try to bake very good bread -  there is a difference.

I am convinced that my last loaf will be fresh stone ground whole grain made as a sourdough.  There is a couple of pounds of white flour in the pantry, and it will be used before it goes stale, but I do not expect to ever buy more white flour, or more baker's yeast.  On the other hand, I do need to order a new set of grindstones for the grain mill.

 

 

 

 

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agres

Modern baking with commercial cultivars of wheat, blended flours, thermostat controlled ovens, and particularly commercial yeast is predictable. Yes, it takes skill, and there is always something to learn that will make the product better, but it is predicable. 

I have been grinding my own flour for a few years now, and every time I try new kinds of grain or new blends of grain, I have increased respect for the bakers of 500 or a thousand years ago.

Our consistent grains and central heat, make sourdough maintenance and much easier and more predictable. If you were baking in a communal, wood fired oven, you needed  dough to be ready to bake at a certain time on a certain day.  Dealing with changes in sourdough growth rates as the seasons and weather changed, was a real challenge that most of us no long accept.

Even how long to fire the oven varied with the season and the weather, as the kind and moisture content of the wood varied through the year.  

The stimulus for this post is that a batch of grain that come in yesterday, has a higher moisture content than is normal for commercial grains, and thus it milled very differently from what I expected. 

On the other hand, if I had been milling with a hand powered quern, I would have noticed the high moisture content instantly and would not have been so surprised by the texture of the dough. (People that use a quern tend to have the musculature of elite athletes. Using muscle power to grind flour is HARD work.)

I am grateful at how easy it is  today to produce good bread.

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agres

I am not a purist, but still, I have always thought that pain de campagne should be 100% whole wheat, but somehow, I could not make a highly palatable pain de campagne from 100% whole wheat. There were American whole wheat breads with lots of sugar and fat.  There were German and Polish whole wheat breads well suited for a spread of herring or smoked meats with mustard. And, there were whole wheat pitas suited to support humus.  However, I wanted a bread made of 100% whole wheat, water, and salt, that was pleasant to just eat by itself, or with a glass of wine, or cup of tea.

One easy approach is a 24-hour retard. It works for sourdoughs, yeast, and breads in between. 

The method is easy. I mix fresh milled whole wheat flour, water, and a very small amount of yeast or sourdough or both to make a ~75% hydration dough, and let it  bulk ferment on the counter for a couple of hours. (If it is a yeast bread, then it gets 1/4 tsp of instant yeast per 300 grams of flour. And/or sourdough in proportion.)  After the first room temp bulk ferment, I mix in the salt at 2% bakers percentage, and the dough  gets 24- hours at 45F. During this retard, it gets 4 folds. Then, the dough gets shaped and proofed at room temperature.

Some have complained that my loaves were pale. Now, I put more sprouted wheat in the mix, and I start the bake at 400F convection. The combination yields a nice brown crust. 

It is such a nice bread for just eating that I have given away my bins of white bread flour.

 

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