Baguette - retard length testing
I am spinning this out of a previous thread which I was starting to take over. Apologies to Brotaniker! That thread is here:
We happened to want to embark on the exact same experiment, to the point that I saw his post after having started the bulk on my batch.
The aim - for me - was to determine the result of different lengths of cold retard. Anticipating some time not so far away when I am back at work full time, I have been trying to develop baking schedules that give me the maximum out of the timing I can accomodate, with the goal of having fresh bread ready for lunch on a Saturday/Sunday.
For 'baguettes' (demi-baguettes, long batards - whatever!) that means autolyse, mix and develop at night, then bulk until bed time and leave until some following morning. I have found that taking the dough out around 7am sets me up fairly well for bread to be cooled and ready by 12:30-1pm.
In the end, I want to be able to make a 4-loaf batch and during the week and bake half on Saturday morning and half on Sunday morning, with the Saturday bake having enough time to mature without the Sunday bake being pushed to far. I think the 32h/56h times are going to be the winners here but if there is a geniune improvement at 56h and the 80hr is not too far gone then starting one day earlier is no extra work.
Timings for the cold retard are thus:
- 1 night: 8hr
- 2 nights: 32hr
- 3 nights: 56hr
- 4 nights: 80hr
For this test, I made a standard ~900g batch @ 75% hydration and started with the 32 hour retard so rounds 2 and 3 will be at 56h and 80h respectively.
All batches at going to come to room temp in the morning for an hour or so, get a pre-shape, proof for another 1.5 hours, then final shape and ~1hr fianl proof.
Bake 1 - 32hr cold ferment.
Taste: very good
Crust: thin and crispy
Bake 2 - 56hr cold ferment.
Taste: very good - difficult to discrern much (if any) difference from the 32h bake. Perhaps a little more flavourful - my partner didn't want any until I requested help judging the outcome. The immediate follow-up: "if you have more, I wouldn't say 'no'."
Crumb: great, again. To me it was a little chewier, though that may have been down to the extra difficulty I had with shaping this one (see below) - you can see a denser spot in the top-down photo, below, that is nearly certainly due to shaping/handling issues. The verdict from my ever-reliable assistant was that it was slightly better and 'lighter'. Not sure I found it lighter but it certainly wasn't heavier or denser (shaping notwithstanding!).
Crust: thin and crispy, again, and nothing at all to complain about. The mandatory slight squeeze as I transferred it to the cooling rack brought forth the sought-for crackle. After a second (and sadly final) testing, the verdict was in: my partner is certain that this crust is better. "Easier to eat, too." Apparently.
Please excuse the poor shots - I am no photographer. For the detailed view, I deliberately chose a section with a denser-than average crumb and for the cross-section, I played with the colour temperature and brightness a little to show the gelatinisation, which I felt to be a little more pronounced in this bake than the last (though my other shots don't really show that!) Here's another shot of the cross-section which better shows the crust:
Bake 3 - 80hr cold ferment.
Taste: good; not great. Better than a single day straight dough but it didn't seem in any way better or more nuanced than the previous bake. Potentially a backwards step.
Crumb: average at best and chewier than the last baguette but this time having gone too far in that direction. That could have been due to the greater difficulty in handling and shaping and/or the degradation of the dough itself.
Crust: thin and crispy, again and still good but - I felt - not as good. That said, it was stil thin and it was still crispy so perhaps it was not the crust at fault but the firmer, chewier texture, which resulting in having to tear at the baguette a little more when trying to secure a bite.
As expected, the 32h and 56h cold retards were beneficial, with the 56 producing a slightly chewier but yet lighter crumb and the 80h was just too far and the dough had clearly tipped over into being past its best. A more competent baker could no doubt have made a better baguette from it and mitigated the problems I saw. The proof is in the eating, however, and there was no benefit in taste for the extra time.