Further down the Tartine path

For a few weeks now, I’ve re-anchored myself in bread baking. Yeah, hah, a few weeks. That’s nothing in a life. It’s the equivalent of half of one manic cycle. A pay period. The transition from full to new moon. Spring to spring tides.

Anyhow, that’s where I am. Finding familiarity doing this while much of the rest of my life bucks and flexes radically, threatening to reassemble into something less known. So it goes.

I’m about 6 loaves into the method now. Two country white and four whole wheat which in my case means a 70/30 blend of whole wheat and white flours. And, I think I’m getting somewhere with this. I understand the process and now have it down by memory. Using baking percentages makes it easier for me to keep the recipe in mind. Remember the hydration percentage, use something like 2% salt, know your flour blend and you are golden. For breads with tasty additions, just keep the percentage of those things and go from there.

This most recent round went quite smoothly. I allowed my starter a few cycles of feeding, each new feeding starting with a couple Tbsp of the old starter and running for a full 24 hours. I think this is a low inoculation method within a range of higher inoculation methods that require more frequent and larger feedings. I like the 24 hour, low feeding cycle because it prevents me from wasting flour in case I can’t bake when the starter is ready.

Last night I gave the, now leaven, the float test and it passed easily. And, at about 7PM I blended the ingredients thereby kicking off the baking cycle that took me to now, noon the following day, with fresh bread out of the oven. Here’s what the bread looks like:

A couple of country wheat boules. What you can't see is that they are a liiiiitle bit flat. Not pancakes, but a tad flat. But, I'm sure they will reveal themselves to be plenty open in structure.

A couple of country wheat boules. What you can’t see is that they are a liiiiitle bit flat. Not pancakes, but a tad flat. But, I’m sure they will reveal themselves to be plenty open in structure.

Some things I’m challenged by still:

I have difficulty getting the loaves to stand up into rounder forms. I think my dough is a little bit weak either from lower gluten content or not enough development in the turning phase of the bulk fermentation. There’s enough structure to capture the fermentation gasses and make nice texture, but not enough to really make them stand up and bloom in the oven. This could also be from a slight overfermentation in the proofing phase, or even a slightly weak starter thus requiring longer fermentation times. By smell, they seem ever so slightly over fermented with that cheesy smell from excess lactic acid formation.

Loading the loaves into the dutch oven is very difficult. The high rims make it hard to ease the loaf into the pan and also make docking the loaves very difficult. I’ve also been having trouble with the dough sticking onto the baskets despite sometimes heavy flouring. This seems to be an issue of the high hydration doughs. This time around was much better because I used more flour and the dough was better developed/stiffer. I’ve also found that even botched loading still leads to nice finished loaves. The environment of the dutch oven provides so much steam and support for the loaves that they still wind up baking nicely with only minor defects.

Loaves five and six and the baking tools.

Loaves five and six and the baking tools.

The bulk fermentation with folding process demands attendance frequently during the 3 to 4 hours and then more time to pre shape and then shape the dough. I have a lot of time for this now, but this amounts to a 5 hour stretch of time to commit to the bread. When I’m working and not wanting to be latched at home for all of that time, this is going to be challenging unless I can find a way around it. Maybe I can start bringing my doughs to work and doing the bulk fermentation there?

I’m getting better at the shaping, but still deal with sticking and awkwardness during the pre-shape and to a lesser extent during the shape. I think this will take becoming a dough scraper ninja.

The flavor is much more subtle than the Nancy Silverton way that I’d adopted into using a LOT of starter. For those breads, I was using up to 2 cups of very mature starter compared with roughly one cup (200 g) of starter for these breads. That extra starter gave the breads much more acidity and apparent flavour. In blind taste testing with family, my breads were beating some of the better breads from California artisanal bakeries. Including tartine. For flavour only. Texture was better in the other breads. I need to find the middle ground and suspect it’s a bit more starter and a slightly lower hydration.

I’m not sure how I’ll approach the baking for other shapes given that I don’t have an oblong dutch oven. I like to make small batards because they are a better size for giving away to friends. I’ll have to experiment with these and the process of baking them in an open oven maybe with a steam source?

Altogether, I’m enjoying this a lot. I’m much more excited to bake than I have been in a long time and the results are really good.

Bread Post #1

I’ve been baking naturally leavened breads for about 8 years.  I started baking bread when I was ill for a few months and wanted to spend my down time learning a new thing or two.  My sister was a baker at a well-respected bakery in Portland (http://www.grandcentralbakery.com) that arguably singlehandedly introduced artisan breads to that city soon after bringing them to Seattle.  Before I started, bread baking was a mystery to me.  It seemed fraught with variables and a fickle reliance on living organisms.  But hard things attract me, so I set out to learn how to bake when I had the time.

My first efforts were yeasted breads. Allowed to rise and be baked outside of the confines of loaf pans. These turned out good, but I know that artisan bread was based on a sour dough, so I set out making starters.  For some reason I ignored the internet and stuck with trying to propagate yeast cultures from Flieschmann’s packets.  These all died, but I would get a couple of loaves out of the starter before it became inactive.

After a couple months of this, during which I moved to Calgary, I kind of gave up.  I put my last culture in the freezer thinking it a waste to throw it away and to hold onto it for god-knows-what.  One day, absent-mindedly, I pulled the frozen mixture out of the freezer and left it on top of the fridge.  I forgot about it for a few days but one day I was working in the kitchen and I heard a “pop!” sound coming from the fridge.  I pulled down the mix and looked inside and there were bubbles in it and the smell had changed.  At the same time, I’d received the book Nancy Silverton’s Breads from the L\LaBrea Bakery: Recipes for the Connoiseur wherein I read about starter maintenance and upkeep.

Since then I’ve baked maybe 80% of the bread I’ve eaten and now bake for my roommates so am supporting 3.  Nancy Silverton’s book remains a resource.  I bake practical breads with the odd gift bread for complexity.  Mostly whole wheat, sometimes an unbleached white. Always with simple ingredients — water, flour, starter, salt. My fave is rosemary olive oil, so this gets a lot of play. Here’s the latest — a 50-50 whole wheat/white loaf. Delicious.