A short lesson in problem solving
What happens when your must have bread fails repeatedly? Other than tears and recriminations, a lot of head scratching and experimentation. This generally leads to upping your game at all levels as you optimize each step of the process, but unfortunately the main problem can remain hidden.
This happened with my Lexington Sourdough which started out as an almost white, medium hydration sourdough and became.... This little devil had the most annoying habit of coming out absolutely beautifully for long periods of time, only to start failing alarmingly and in many ways, particularly when I made large batches of it for sale. So what to do? People must have their sourdough.
First off - I finally had to break down and put a steam pan in my Cadco oven, even though I'd been avoiding this like the plague, as it already has a handy dandy piped in vapor setting, and that SHOULD BE enough. Wasn't. Denial was getting me nowhere. So I took my cheap cast iron skillet and poured water in at the beginning of every bake, as well as turning off the oven for long enough for the bread to open. This helped. It stopped the scores hardening over and the sides splitting, and the bread giving birth to a baby bread. So all done? No way! Many more successes but still alarming failures especially when getting ready for a market where "I love sourdough, what do you mean you don't have any!"
So what did these next set of failures look like? The dough would be absolutely beautiful, shape beautifully, and then mysteriously collapse into a puddle during the proof. How could this be? So time to fiddle with the formula - raise the hydration, lower the hydration, raise percentage of whole grains, eliminate whole grains altogether. Some of these efforts created beautiful breads. But come time to scale up for a market? Same puddle bread, same failures, same walking away customers who didn't get their sourdough.
Next up - must be the dough development right? Yes right. Add stretch and folds, bulk retard, mix like hell.... Did it help? Most of the time but never for those crucial moments when you need a lot of loaves.
Then luck struck. One day, when I was making a few loaves of one of the instantiations of the elusive Lexington Sourdough, I had a bit of extra dough. I formed these into 3 pretty rolls, and sent them off to the chef at a restaurant that serves our bread. I didn't expect him to buy them as I had given him many samples of this or that, and he never added to his order. Surprise, surprise, he ordered 300 of these babies a week. Now suddenly I had to start producing these never before made rolls in quantity. And strangely this went fine. This went on for a few weeks before it occurred to me what had happened. Same dough, same oven, same everything except for size and shape. What the heck?
Thinking this over, I realized these rolls not only had the same dough development process as the bread, they also got cut up and rolled and twisted into shape. Hmmmm.
On to the bread at hand. If you take a breadsworth of dough, cut it in two and shape each half separately then your dough gets twice the workout, yes? Yes. The bread pictured at top is exactly that - an olive bread using (one of the) Lexington Sourdough base (medium hydration, 20% whole wheat, 20% prefermented white flour) No puddles either of dough or tears. Just behaved itself from start to finish. And this was at least a medium sized batch.
And for those of you who are still awake ---- Have I tried a big batch of straight up Lexington Sourdough? Haven't dared yet, but by Jove, I think I've got it.