Sourdough Beginner’s Tale...When last we left our hero....

Discussion in 'Bread' started by J13, Aug 4, 2019.

  1. J13

    J13 Well-Known Member

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    UPDATE: I’m sure some of you are wondering what ever happened to me and my sourdough trials. Did I ever get it right? Well....When last we left our hero, she was making saucer-shaped breads.

    I made breads through July (once, sometimes twice a week) and, between an over proofed loaf or two and one under proofed, II learned a lot. I learned that a 68% hydration bread is easier to handle than a 78%, yet still wet enough to create a moist and tasty crumb. I learned that a 12-14 hour levain (1:8:8) made the night before tends to be better at fermenting the dough than a 6 hour (1:2:2). I learned it’s easier (and equally effective “fermentation wise”) to dissolve the levain in the water, add the flour and autolyse rather than mix water/flour, autolyse, then add in the levain. I learned that I needed to use the mixing in of the salt as a time to give the dough five good minutes of folding. It’s like warming the dough up for gluten production.

    One of the best lessons I learned was to give the dough enough fermenting time. I had trouble doing this when it came to waiting for it to “double in size.” I either didn’t give it enough time, or I gave it or much time. But found it a lot easier to do if I just put more time in between stretch & folds. Like 45 minutes to an hour. Enough time to incorporate the gluten created by those turns. This finally transformed my usual, sticky-mess dough into one elastic, pillowy and hardly sticky at all. One that was a breeze to handle and shape.

    But the most important thing I learned was by chance.

    I decided to try this variation on stretch-and-folds that uses a covered casserole dish (See Chef Rachida’s Sourdough Bread video). I did my turns this way, and I liked it a lot...but my loaf still came out as saucer-shaped as all the others. :( The one difference was that her recipe made for a very small loaf. Just big enough for a sandwich for two. I sliced it horizontally to make the sandwich and found a bit in the middle underdone. Not a lot, but enough to notice if the bread were sliced this way. Had I sliced it the usual way, it would have gone undetected. (Note, I did take the bread’s temp when it came out of the oven, it was 212–no hint of that underdone spot at the exact center of the loaf).

    Which suddenly had me thinking...all this started back in May with my interest in cold oven bakes: the idea of cold oven bakes is that the heat intensives slowly, allowing the dough to rise high as possible before crusting over. If my loaves were squat...maybe they were crusting before the bread could fully rise? Maybe, in fact, most of my loaves had had this slight, underdoness in the center, hidden because of how they were sliced? Meaning the oven was too hot? The recipes I’d been using said to pre-heat to 500...but maybe I should go with recipes that said pre-heat to 450?

    I went back to my original, beginner’s sourdough recipe from Perfect Loaf (at 68* hydration rather than the troublesome 78*) and used all I’d learned to make up a loaf. Then I baked it in a pre-heated pot and oven at...450*. The results (see photo below)

    :D I will post pictures of the interior when I get around to slicing it. Here’s hoping that the inside looks as good as the outside. Either way...I think I made bread!
     

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    J13, Aug 4, 2019
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  2. J13

    J13 Well-Known Member

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    Interior of the above loaf:
     

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    J13, Aug 5, 2019
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  3. J13

    Norcalbaker59 Well-Known Member

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    Baking is incremental adjustments. It’s fine tuning until you find what you’re looking for with that particular flour, that particular type of bread, (or whatever baked good) in your kitchen. As bakers we can give advice to other bakers, and there are some absolutes in baking, but there are also many things that we have to learn because of the uniqueness of our kitchen.

    Your oven chamber is significantly smaller than a modern oven. There’s not a much air space between the walls of the oven and the Dutch oven. So heating to 500°F conducts heat more intensely in the Dutch oven in your small oven than in a modern oven where there’s more air space around the Dutch oven.

    The oven spring is three things: yeast, water evaporation, and gluten. So reducing the hydration and building more gluten in the dough has really helped.

    The loaf looks perfect. And you should be very proud of it J13!
     
    Norcalbaker59, Aug 5, 2019
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  4. J13

    J13 Well-Known Member

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    I am incredibly proud :cool: Still puffed up and striding around telling everyone "I made bread!" Like it's on par with sending someone to the moon :D I'm also more than a little amazed that every stage (not just the adjusted baking temperature) came out so right!

    Every video baker presents sourdough making like Mary Poppins snapping her fingers: "Four folds, and *snap* it's all marshmallow-y soft; tuck it up and *snap* sourdough bread." Meanwhile my dough experience kept being like something out of the Exorcist, dripping and sticking all over, baking up domed but flat :D:D:D — Maybe I should have flicked holy water at it? I was at the point where something going wrong was the norm.

    To finally have had that Mary Poppins experience where "snap" it all came together...even the scoring...:) Very happy!
     
    J13, Aug 6, 2019
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  5. J13

    Norcalbaker59 Well-Known Member

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    It was interesting reading your post because the evolution from a helplessness with your starter failures to finally thinking like a baker and analyzing what was happening in YOUR kitchen and experimenting to find solutions is the journey. We either take that path or we abandon it.

    Baking is not simple by any stretch of the imagination. Where the failures in cooking are not always obvious, in a baking their dramatic and glaring. And because of that it undermines our confidence, and it is discouraging. I believe it’s more difficult to become a baker then it is to become a chef.

    You should be proud, your loaf is beautiful. You worked hard to get there.
     
    Norcalbaker59, Aug 6, 2019
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  6. J13

    J13 Well-Known Member

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    Heh. I’m no chef, but baking is absolutely harder than almost any cooking I’ve ever done. Unlike in cooking (mostly), things in baking need to “rise” or fluff up or stay moist, or achieve a perfect crispness or flakiness. And it’s scary easy for them to not rise, or collapse or dry up. AND the baked goods have to taste good but, unlike in cooking, you can’t taste and adjust the flavor from (pretty much) beginning to end. In baking, it’s much harder to add or subtract once you’ve created a batter or dough, and once it’s in the oven, that’s it.

    Baking is so darn final. Succeed or die! :cool: Not for the faint of heart.

    Apparently respect for pastry chefs has gone up, but they used to be looked down on by the regular chefs. Like they weren’t doing anything difficult :rolleyes:
     
    J13, Aug 6, 2019
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  7. J13

    Norcalbaker59 Well-Known Member

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    Both baking and cooking are chemical reactions, but baking is done with tighter restrictions. And I like that challenge. In cooking you can make some adjustments along the way, and sometimes in the middle you can make an adjustment, not so with a Baking. In baking there’s always a point of no return. A point where all you can do is sit and wait.
     
    Norcalbaker59, Aug 7, 2019
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  8. J13

    J13 Well-Known Member

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    Speaking of which, you mentioned....
    So, now I have to ask—given that there Is this unique restriction when it comes to baking certain types of bread (like sourdough) in my oven...do I need to put limit on hydration? Originally, I lowered the hydration because I was having trouble shaping the dough, not because I had any idea of it hindering the oven spring. But now that I know it might contribute to hindering the oven spring...

    There are certainly a lot of sourdough recipes that go way higher with hydration. Do I need to avoid these because anything higher than a certain percentage can’t evaporate properly in my little oven? And if so...what might be the top percentage?

    FYI: Was doing some reading up on old stoves like mine (so called “Chambers” stoves). Apparently, they were intended to cook not only like normal ranges (turn on the heat, bake, remove, turn off the heat), but also to cook using “retrained heat.” Quoting from Wikipedia:
    Makes me really wonder what recipes there might be for baking bread in these old ovens....
     
    J13, Aug 7, 2019
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  9. J13

    Norcalbaker59 Well-Known Member

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    I can’t answer that. Your oven is insulated beyond anything on the market today. Your oven chamber is also smaller than anything on the market today. So how that effects evaporation of water in dough in a Dutch oven isn’t something anyone can answer. It’s totally unique to your kitchen. The 68% hydration loaf had incredible spring. I would see what higher hydration doughs bake like at the same oven temperature.
     
    Norcalbaker59, Aug 8, 2019
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