Getting it Down

I am getting the hang of making bread. This weekend I made my fourth dough, tweaked some things, figured out some places in my workflow that still need some work.

To recap, last time I made bread it was from a frozen dough that I had mixed up the weekend before. The resulting bread was unpleasing. In the bag it had an ‘odor’ that I would call unpleasant. In the mouth the taste was very tangy, but it did taste good. The bread was very dense on the bottom and very holy on the top. The crust was not brown. I have to confess that I don’t exactly know what went wrong with that dough, because the fresh dough made at the same time produced pleasing and crusty bread. I have to think that I did not fold it right, thinking that I had already done those steps, when perhaps I had not.

At any rate, this week’s differences begin with the wheat that I used, it was hard white spring wheat that I got from Walmart. I ground it and sifted the bran out like all the other times. It produces a noticeably different flour.

When I fed my starter this time I did not get any unpleasant odors. I think that I am over the phase of starter creation that involves the lactobacillus phase. Lactobacillus is a bacteria that turns cabbage into sauerkraut. It is in milk kefir. It is all over my kitchen because I make these things. It was in my starter. Lactobacillus does not live in an acid environment though, so as soon as the starter gets acid enough it will kill it, and get rid of the smell. My starter is over that phase now, and to get there you just feed more flour and keep less starter from feeding to feeding. When I made my leaven there was not a hint of stink, just smelled like good bread yeast to me. The trick, it turns out, is to use less starter and more clean flour and water when you feed, and to feed more often than once a week if you are going to leave your starter out of the refrigerator.

When my bread dough had finished its bulk fermentation phase and was ready for cutting and shaping I still did not know what I was looking for in these steps. I floured my counter and poured out the dough. I cut it in half. I rolled it around and folded it up a few times. I was hoping that the dough would keep its shape a little bit, but it just relaxed into it’s former shape right away, I could not make a ball. I then watched a youtube video that showed me what I was really looking for, what I was trying to accomplish…a picture is worth a thousand words…

Peter Reinhart is a guru of real 100% home ground whole wheat sourdough bread. The thing I was missing was the idea that you are creating an airproof barrier, and that by pinching the seams you are sealing in the air. I managed to get a dough together with all of the proper flavors and ingredients. My product was edible, but it wasn’t in the end pretty, and it wasn’t easy to handle or to cut and eat, more on that later…

Here is another video of another technique to create this air tight seal…

This was a good video in that it shows how the properly bulk fermented loaf will want to form that air tight skin. I did not do it this way this week. Next loaves will be formed in this way. I will keep making round loaves until I get them figured out. After that I will move on to the long loaves of bread but for now I am perfecting this type. There is enough to learn without complicating it.

Here is my bread just formed and put into proofing baskets.

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Looks pretty relaxed, doesn’t she? Well, she is. A bread that is this relaxed in a proofing basket sticks to the basket. I was thinking that it was a function of it’s wetness, or not enough flour on the basket. Nope, it’s just not formed properly. Now I know.

After rising for a couple of hours, this is my dough, ready for baking…

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See the large bubbles just below the surface. That is something I had never seen before in my bread, and a good sign that my starter is now at full strength. The dust all over the dough is the bran that I sifted out of my home ground flour. It does not burn.

After baking, this is my bread…see the not-burned bran adhered to the top?

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Notice that there are no proofing basket marks on this bread. That is because it stuck to the basket and twisted 180 degrees on the way to my dutch oven. The marks are on the bottom! The second loaf twisted 90 degrees and the marks are on just one side of the top of the loaf. This is all because I did not form my wet dough properly.

Here is the crumb of my latest creation, and the best one yet, despite my not quite completely understanding everything about baking a wet sourdough bread.

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The elongated shape of this bread makes it a bit hard to cut. I had to get my bench food slicer out and then I had to find a replacement fuse for it. I didn’t even know that it had a fuse, but cutting this bread actually blew my slicer fuse. It truly is hard to cut, even with a bread knife, especially when you get down to the cutting board, the bottom crust is rugged!

We have already eaten one whole loaf. It’s truly a good bread, either with butter or as the bread in a sandwich. I just don’t get my normal physical bread (carb overload) reactions when I eat this bread. I do get ‘bran’ reactions though, as this helps me cleanse the old pipes out.

This is, by far, the most ambitious do-it-yourself cooking project that  I have ever attempted, but as I learn more, I learn that its not as hard as I was lead to believe all these years. Once I found out that fermented bread is as different from processed bread as sauerkraut is to raw cabbage I knew I had to make the effort. So far I am not frustrated or disappointed. I will answer all questions, so feel free to ask in the comments or to make your own ‘ah ha’ moment comments if my story has reminded you of your story.

Happy Baking!

About dcarmack

I am an instrument technician at the electric utility servicing the Kansas City Missouri metropolitan area. I am in the IBEW, Local 412. I was trained to be a nuclear power plant operator in the USN and served on submarines. I am a Democrat, even more so than those serving in Congress or the White House.
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