Saturday, September 24, 2011

Latest Bread with the Sourdough Starter

This is a version of Hamelman's Pain Rustique using a 50% poolish with a 20% SD starter and an autolyse for 20 minutes before adding in the yeast and the salt.
Note to self:  a portion of the starter was retained (55g) and 110g flour and 110g water was added.  Stick with the 20% starter next time but only use 55g flour and 55 water (to see how it affects the flavor).  Also retard the bulk fermentation in the frige overnight.


  • 600g flour
  • 414g water (69%)
  • 12g salt (2%)
  • 1.5g yeast (.25%)

I decided not to use the mixer on this one.   The initial dough (after autolyse) was very sticky.  As a result, I sprinkled flour through the stretch and folds and the final kneading.  All in all, I went by "feel"...  I added flour as I kneaded until the dough was "tacky" but not very sticky.  While the original formula is a 69% hydration, this was probably a little less.

I let the dough rise for 1.5 hours (until doubled in size).  I formed it into a tight boule and proofed it in a basket for 30 minutes.

Baked in an oven preheated to 525F for around 30 minutes (first 5 minutes steamed) then lowered the oven temp to 375F for the final 20 to 30 minutes.  Nice color, fantastic oven spring (best yet) and better crust.  The crumb, while nice and flavorful with a pleasant chewy texture, was a little dense (but then again, this was not a very high hydration dough).  It's very good but just not as tangy as my previous (un-posted) loaf.

All in all, I think I handled this particular dough better than any of the previous ones I've made (and formed it better).

Hey, looks good and tastes good so it's a success :)

click the pic to enlarge

The Sourdough Starter Lives On...

I showed my wife my starter yesterday.

Me: "This is the sourdough starter that I  made two weeks ago..."  "I've been feeding along the way..."

My wife:  "Did you give it a name?"

Me: "Uh, no... "

My wife:  "Good answer"

Photo just after feeding:

About 4 or so hours later:

Nice and bubbly:
Bread to follow :)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sourdough #4

I'm trying a different recipe that is loosely based on Hamelman's "Pain Rustique".  This one uses both a sourdough culture and commercial yeast.  I decided to go this route because, while I'm sure I can do it, the straight sourdough process just takes too much time.  Attempt #3 wasn't bad (very flavorful and tangy but not much in the way of oven spring).  This post is about #4.

For this formula, a poolish is made with 40g of WW flour, 180g of UB AP flour, 225g water and10 grams of sourdough culture.  Once mixed, it's covered and kept at room temperature overnight (approximately 12 hours).  This morning it was nice and bubbly and smelled great!

I then mixed the poolish with 80 grams of water and 225g UB AP flour for only about 2 minutes; just enough to hydrate the flour. The result is one "shaggy mess" as Hammelman puts it...  I then covered it and let it sit for about 30 minutes.  This is called the "autolyse" method.   As the hydrated flour "rests", enzymes are at work (most notably protease) breaking down the protein in the flour.  The result is a stronger gluten development and better structure without having to do a lot of kneading (which can result in oxidation causing reduced flavor and color).

After the autolyse, the salt and yeast are mixed in and a 2 minute stretch and fold is performed (see my video link page for a demonstration).  Again, there is very little work involved in the process but the results are dramatic.  This process is repeated 3 times with about a 20 to 30 minute rest in between.  After this, the dough is placed in a covered, greased bowl for bulk fermentation until it's doubled in size.  However, since I knew I wasn't going to be able to bake until late this afternoon, I decided to retard the bulk fermentation and place the dough in the refrigerator overnight.  Retarding the fermentation also helps improve the flavor complexity of the finished product.  Note:  The dough can stay refrigerated for several days so you can make up a large batch and bake fresh bread every day if you like :)

This afternoon, I let the dough warm up a bit on the counter, eventually formed it into a boule and then proofed it for 20 to 25 minutes.  This appears to be (for me) the ideal amount of time since the ambient temperature of my kitchen is pretty stable.

I scored the top and transferred the bread to my baking stone in an oven pre-heated to 550F.  Steaming took place within the first 5 minutes.  At the 15 minute mark, I lowered the oven temp to 465F and baked for an additional 15 to 20 minutes.

I didn't slash the top quite as deep as I would normally as I was afraid I'd deflate the progress made during the proofing.  Still looks OK though.  I'll probably stick with the higher temperature for a bit longer in order to get a darker crust color and a little more "crunch" to the crust.

The crumb is perfect.  Light, airy with a wonderful flavor and just a hint of a sour tang to it.  After a couple of disappointing results, I really needed this one :)  OK, time for another slice!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sourdough Bread (back to the drawing board)

I've had two attempts at a sourdough bread this week and both had disappointing results.  I can tell you that making one of these breads is no quick process.  I've seen recipes that call for bulk fermentation times of up to 15 hours and proofing times up to 7 hours.

Try #1: Looked "OK"... While the crumb was too dense, the flavor of the bread was, I thought, very good.  Very tasty with just a little bit of a sour tang to it.  The crumb felt a bit "heavy" and chewy with the first bite, but it dissolved nicely in the mouth.  I think this is what they describe as "creamy" or "gelatinous".  Not sure.  

Try #2:
I added a little commercial yeast to this one to speed up the process.  My bulk ferment and proofing times were way off (too long) and the end result was a very pale, ugly looking loaf with a very dense crumb.  

I'll try this or another recipe this week and see how it goes.  I'll have to pay particular attention to the bulk fermentation and proofing times.  

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Sourdough Excitement!

OK, maybe I need to get a life but I can't wait to make a "Pain Au Levain".  My sourdough starter looked great and I just used Reinhart's book to turn the culture into a "mother starter".  Here's how it's come about:

The culture:                            (click on the pics to enlarge them)

I then took 1 cup of the culture and added more flour and water

I let this sit to ferment at room temperature for about 4 hours or so...  I actually should have put this is a larger container because it doubled in size (and almost popped the lid off it).  

I now have a "mother starter" or "barm".  It's in the fridge at the moment and tomorrow I'll use a portion of it to make some bread.  It's a wild yeast starter, so nothing "commercial" will be used as leaven for my bread.

This is going to be a trial and error kind of thing.  While I've read quite a bit on this subject,  this starter is supposed to "mature" over time (with some careful attention given to it).  There's a lot of microbial action taking place here between yeast and bacterial growth.   How the starter is maintained and how much of it is used in a dough, so I've read, greatly impacts the flavors and acidity level of the finished product.  Again, I have no idea what I'm doing but the results I've seen so far are very positive :)

Tomorrow, I'll fill you in on the process of making bread with this stuff.  It's definitely is going to be a longer process but I'm anticipating some great finished product results in both texture and flavor.   From this point forward, no new bread recipes.  I'll stick with this one until I learn more from each result.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Sourdough Pizza

I used some of the sourdough starter to make another small batch of pizza dough.  I didn't use any yeast at all.  The dough took a little longer than usual to double in size, but it did rise!  I can't believe it worked :)

This time, I pre-heated the grill with the baking stone in it.  I popped the pizza on it and closed the cover (with all the burners on "high").  It really came out great!  The crust was really tasty and the bottom, though very thin, was nice and crunchy.  Perfect pizza.

click on the pic to enlarge it

Sourdough Starter Experiment (Update)

Looks like I'm definitely on the right track with my sourdough starter!  Here's what it looked like this morning (after 60 hours)

Very nice and frothy with a clean, sour aroma

I removed the two grapes I had in there and "fed" it with another cup of flour (AP UB white this time) and another cup of water.

I just checked on it and, in just an hour, it's looking very active.  I'll give it a couple of more hours, cover it and put it in the fridge overnight.  I'll repeat the feeding for the next 48 hours.  After that, I should be able to maintain this starter for years :)

Baker's math

 So here's the rub...  Say you find a good recipe but it uses enough flour to feed a third world nation.  What to do?  It's easy... just scale it back :)

I bought a cheap digital kitchen scale a couple of weeks ago and now do all of my measuring by weight.  I don't really think this is absolutely necessary but it does make scaling recipes easier.  There's nothing worse than trying to re-calculate cups, tablespoons or teaspoons (these are ridiculous units of measure :) ).   In my "formulas" or recipes, all of the weights of ingredients are in % of the total flour used (flour being 100%).   This  "baker's math" sounds like it will be complicated at first but it's actually very easy.

Example:  A Sourdough Pizza recipe (I'll try this next week with the SD starter I'm in the process  making).  As you can see, this uses a lot of flour; something like 5 or 6 cups I think.  Way too much...

           Ingredient                  Amount            Baker's %

  • Filtered water:               550 g               65.5%
  • Unbleached AP flour:    850 g             100.0%
  • Sea salt:                           30 g                 3.5%
  • Dry yeast:                        2.5 g                 .25%
  • Sourdough starter:          60 g                 9.0%

Look at the Baker's % column.   I want to make one pie and I'm thinking 150 grams of flour (about a cup) should do it.  To calculate the amounts of the other ingredients needed, I simply do the math based on the baker's % shown above:

Flour: 100% = 150 g
Water: 65.5% = 98.25 g (this is the hydration level)
Salt: 3.5% = 5.2 g
Starter: 9% = 13.5 g
Yeast: .25% = .375 g

The result is a smaller batch but one where each "ingredient to flour ratio" is identical to the original formula.  

If you remember the ratios, all of the amounts of ingredients can be calculated based on how much flour you are calling for.  So, if you're down to your last bit of flour and want to use it all up, doing so is a snap using Baker's Math. :)


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Whole Wheat Boule #3

 While the last two breads I made were a 62% hydration,  this 25% whole wheat dough was adapted from Hamelman's "pain rustique", a 69% hydration.  I decided to go with a higher hydration dough in order to get a more "rustic" looking crumb.  I'm just trying to work my way up to a 75% hydration level.  This is going to take some practice though as the higher hydration doughs are pretty sticky and this newbie has found them difficult to handle.  However, I'm definitely seeing some improvement in this area.

Last night, I made a poolish (a pre-ferment) with:

  • 150 grams of (red) whole wheat
  • 150 grams of AP unbleached flour
  • 300 grams of water
  • Just a pinch of yeast
I let this sit covered at room temperature for about 3 hours to ferment.  Before I went to bed, I stirred the (now almost doubled in size) poolish and put it in the refrigerator.  When I took it out this morning, it was still showing a lot of activity (looked and smelled great).  I left it covered on the stove top for a couple of hours in order to get the chill off it.  From there, the final dough was relatively easy to complete.  I mixed the poolish with the balance of the flour and water and let it rest (autolyse) for about 20 minutes .  When the autolyse was completed, I added the yeast while mixing and, after I thought the yeast had enough time to hydrate, I added the salt.

I used the C hook with the KA mixer on 4 for approximately 4-5 minutes until the dough was just slapping in the bowl and a window pane test showed there was good gluten development.  I then transferred the dough into a lightly greased bowl and did 3 sets of stretch and folds with 10 minutes rest between each set.  From there, the covered bowl was put in the oven to bulk ferment until it doubled in size (took about 90 minutes).  I formed it into a boule (for the first time, I had no problem doing this quickly / properly :) ) and placed it seam up into a covered proofing basket while I pre-heated the oven to 550F.  By the time the oven was pre-heated,  the dough appeared to be perfectly proofed (finger poke test).  I didn't even have a problem scoring the top of the boule before baking.

Note: Steaming takes place during the first 10 minutes or so of the bake.  The steam keeps the top of the bread moist so it can facilitate oven spring (without "blowing out").  This higher initial oven temperature is needed to compensate for the temperature loss caused by opening and closing the oven door during steaming...

Unlike the last two breads, I put the baking stone on the very bottom rack and the pan (for the water / steaming) above it.  I only did this because, on prior breads, the bottoms did not brown quite as much as I would have liked.  Ah, but there were consequences...  
  • #1: As I added the water to the pan,  I spilled some of it and it landed on the baking stone (good thing the stone didn't break) and on part of the bread. (no harm no foul)
  • #2: The baking stone was now WAY too hot this time and it most definitely burned the bottom of the bread a little too much (not a disaster, but something to remember for next time).
In addition to the water added to the pan in the beginning of the bake,  I also sprayed the walls of the oven twice within the first 4 minutes.  When I was done steaming, I cut the oven temp back to 465F and baked for 25 minutes.  After that, I reduced the oven temperature to 375F and let it bake for another 20 minutes.   The oven was then turned off and the bread was kept in the oven, with the door ajar, for an additional 10 minutes (to help improve the crust).

OK, here are the final results:

While higher hydration doughs kind of flatten out when they're removed from the proofing basket, I was very pleased with the oven spring I got during the first 10 minutes or so.  On the surface, the bread looks pretty good.  (at least it doesn't look like an alien :) )
(click on the pic to enlarge)

Looking at the crumb, large irregular holes are what I was aiming for but, for some reason, parts of the crumb that were still too dense.  I think that, prior to forming the boule, I should have punched the dough down more in order to redistribute the yeast and break down some of the much large pockets.  I'm not sure.  I'll have to post this on the bread forum and ask.  The bottom line is it smells and tastes great to me and I really like the texture of the crumb.

Next up will be some nice cinnamon rolls drizzled with icing :)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sourdough Starter Experiment

I've wanted to try making a sourdough bread, but to do so, I'll need to first make a sourdough "starter".  While this requires a bit of time to accomplish, the effort involved is minimal.  In a bowl I mixed:

150 grams whole wheat flour
150 grams water
about 10 (crushed) green grapes

Firstly, we need to know just what makes a sourdough bread dough "sour" or tangy.  The starter I'll be making will be the product of both bacterial and wild yeast growth in the "media" of water and flour I've mixed.  There is an incredible, symbiotic relationship between the lactobacillus bacteria (that will hopefully grow) and (wild) natural yeast.  Since the byproduct of the bacterial growth is lactic acid, the pH of the water / flour mixture will, of course, be low.  This (conveniently) prevents the growth of commercial yeast, as in active dry yeast, yet creates the perfect environment for the wanted "wild" forms of (saccharomyces) yeast.

The flavors produced through the growth of the beneficial bacteria and wild yeast depend on the environment in which it is grown.  For instance, something produced on Long Island could have a very different taste than something produced in another state or another part of the world.  The cool thing is that this starter can be kept indefinitely as long as it's "fed" periodically with more flour and hydrated with additional water.  Sourdough starters were actually kept by early settlers as they made their way westward (and Lord knows that took some time :) ).  I've read where some starters have "lived" on for over 100 years!  (Just Google San Francisco sourdough bread).  Therefore, one's starter is really the "signature" of one's bread.  Mine will either be cursive or an "X"  :)

OK, why the green grapes you ask?  There are many recipes for starters and this is just one of them.  From what I've read, the frosty white "stuff' on grapes is actually a natural yeast.  Hopefully, the grapes will help to get my starter going quickly.  Time will tell.  Success or failure will be evident in a couple of days.

Edit 9/7:  Since I'm using grapes to help make the starter, the yeast variety won't be "native".  However, as I keep this starter going, the native yeast(s?) will eventually take over...

Here's what it looked like just after mixing.  I'll leave this covered with a towel at room temperature for the next 48 hours (stirring the mixture occasionally at least twice a day).  There's the possibility of seeing some fermentation activity at the 48 hour point, but it could very well take much longer...   In case there's any doubt, I have absolutely NO idea what I'm doing :)

Edit 9/8:  It looked like I was getting some fermentation action within the first 24 hours so I tried to get the grapes out of the starter.  I then realized that I REALLY crushed the grapes instead of gently crushing them :)  Now I had to figure out a way to pick all the grape pieces out of the bowl.  I managed to strain this glop (eventually) and added another 1/4 cup of WW flour and 1/4 water.  Over the next 12 hours I saw no activity at all so I just put two (whole) grapes in the "starter".  So far, I haven't seen as much as a bubble (but that wouldn't be unusual).  Might take another day or two.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Survived 4 days without power...

Hurricane Irene did a number on Long Island and LIPA still has people without power (since last Sunday morning).  We were fortunate in that our power came back on yesterday and, as an added bonus, we even got back cable / internet late last night.

During the outage, I took the opportunity to visit our local library and was pleased to find Reinhart's, "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" and "Artisan Breads Every Day".   I've been reading the BBA.  This is an excellent book that explains everything you need to know to make some really good bread. (eventually :) )

 The Bread Baker's Apprentice"

One of the first recipes I looked at was for an "Anadama" bread; a classic bread out of Rockport Maine.  Legend has it that a fisherman's wife always made her husband porridge and molasses; something he wasn't pleased with.  Depending on who tells the story, she either left him for another man or simply wasn't home.  He found the porridge and uh, got ticked off.  He threw some flour and yeast into the corn meal and molasses porridge, popped it into the oven and said,  "Anna damn her!"  LOL  It was a hit with the locals :)

Anadama bread story

Well, this dough started out last night as a "soaker", where the corn meal (or polenta if you like) was soaked in water to soften it.  This morning, I mixed part of the flour with the yeast, water and corn meal mixture, covered it and let it pre-ferment for about an hour.  The instructions said, "or until bubbly" and mine was certainly bubbly by the time the hour was up.  Once the pre-ferment was ready, the remaining flour, salt, molasses and shortening (unsalted butter) was mixed in to form the dough.  After a couple of minutes in the mixer, the dough was still very sticky (tacky is OK but sticky isn't OK for this dough).  So, I ended up adding a couple of teaspoons of flour (little by little) to get it right.

After mixing for some time, it still didn't appear to have a very well developed gluten structure, so I decided to do some stretch and folds, rest, and S&F again.  It really is amazing how doing something so simple for a short amount of time can have such an immediate impact on the dough and it's gluten structure.  It literally changes before your eyes.   Once I was satisfied (or so this newbie thought), I put it in the oven to bulk ferment.  The instructions said 60 to 90 minutes (or until doubled in size).  I looked at mine after an hour and it was more than doubled.  (Did I leave it in too long?)

All in all, I ended up with a dough that was pretty easy to handle and form.  I can't explain it but it felt just "right".  Now, since these were going to go into 9x5 loaf pans (first time I've used loaf pans), I didn't think it was THAT important to get the forming done perfectly.  Ah, but that was a newbie error :)

Turns out the bread had a nice "oven spring" within the first 10 min or so and, it looked like I hit a home run.  However, one of the loaves basically flattened at the top and the other did so partially.  This was either due to improper forming or possibly over-proofing.  I'll have to look into it but I'm leaning toward the forming.

This is what the loaves looked like after proofing in the pans (one in stoneware, the other aluminum).  At this point I thought they looked just fine.

Here you can see how the one in the aluminum pan gained some nice height within the first 10 min of baking

But darn it, not too long after, I took a peek and found it had "collapsed" a bit.  I was pretty disappointed...   The other one in the stoneware did the same but only on one side.

Here's what the crumb looked like:

I think the unevenness of the holes in the crumb was just due to my own inexperience at working / forming the dough after bulk fermentation.  Aesthetics aside, the crumb was nice, light and chewy and had a pleasant "sweetness" to it.  I used "Grandma's Molasses" but not the light variety the recipe called for.  I guess this resulted in a "stronger" flavor of molasses, but I really liked it.  The crust (sprinkled with corn meal) had a nice crunch to it.

So, not a total failure after all.  Tastes great and I've learned that much more for the next time.  I'll look through the book, read some more, watch a couple more instructional vids online and do another bake in a day or two.  :)

UPDATE: The responses to the above post on "The Fresh Loaf" forum confirmed my initial "diagnosis" on the finished product.  The dough was most likely over-proofed on the bulk ferment and most  definitely over-proofed prior to baking.  I'm pretty certain I know what to look for now.  Unfortunately, I took the original instructions too literally.  Live and learn :)   I think I'll try this particular bread again, but cut the molasses amount in half and substitue it with some honey.