Tag Archives: lettercollum

Wet, wet, wet

15 Jul
This bread (baked on Friday) is, as promised, a wetter dough. I have a confession to make, however: I said I would play with one variable at a time, being all very scientific. This bread, though, differs from the last in a couple of ways: the dough was moister; the proving was time much longer (about 19 hours including the second rise); and, of course, the oven time was, necessarily, much shorter.
I did not wish for a repeat episode of the Cremation.
The thing about a longer proving time, as I’ve mentioned before, is that it works in opposition to yeast quantity and temperature. So I bunged in a mere half a teaspoon of dried yeast (need to get my hands on some active yeast at Lettercollum, a local organic food store here in Clonakilty). On top of that, I let the dough prove overnight in the fridge, much to my father’s consternation.
The second thing about the longer proving time is a more complex flavour, brought about by the development of the starches in the flour… I think. It’s a bit like sauté-ing onions. For maximum flavour, a slow, yawning sizzle that massages the flavour out of them is best. And bread, fussy and difficult as it is, needs to be spoiled and coddled in much the same way. At least, that’s the impression that yours truly, amateur baker extraordinaire, gets!
Other than that, I didn’t deviate from the previous recipe.
I’ve devoted a lot of TLC to this loaf, and I think the affection would be mutual if the bread had a frontal lobe. But, oh dear, once again trouble comes knocking on paradise’s door. You see, the compromise I made in wetting my dough (which helps with a fine, irregular crumb), was reducing surface tension. In layman’s terms, trying to get the dough to stay in a nice oval shape was a little like trying to get Flubber to stay still. My sloppy dough refused to be compliant, and, despite my best efforts, stubbornly oozed its way into a flatbread shape.
The pizza stone had turned into an effective chez longue for my lazy, lazy dough.
I remained hopeful that the hot air in the oven would give it a vertical boost. The result? Well, suffice to say that it didn’t rise as much as I’d hoped. Not that I was feeling particularly optimistic. It ended up looking like a flat bread, a lip-smacking and artisan flat bread, perhaps, but a flat bread nonetheless.
Happily it was decimated by the family – who were perhaps so relieved that it didn’t taste like cinders that they praised the flavour mightily. And, I admit, it was good, which bears testament to a nice, lethargic proof.
The crumb was pretty good too – certainly better than my last attempt: springy, more irregular and with a couple of satisfyingly gaping holes. Perhaps the lightness of the crumb had something to do with the dough being vertically challenged: the glucose bonds had less downward force to battle with. One thing I did notice was temperature’s effect on the crumb. My oven, unfortunately, heats in a non-uniform fashion, the back being hotter than the door at the front in general. This much I could gauge from the slightly charred half of my loaf.
But that same half also had a better crumb consistency. It’s obvious when I think about it, but more hot air equals a better rise in the oven.
(On a side note, the predominant oven rise takes place in the first ten or so minutes of baking – which, annoyingly, is also when the oven needs to regain heat lost through the oven door aperture. I wish there was a way of sneaking my bread in without having to open a great big door!)
As for crust, well, I think I’ve cracked it. In professional bakeries (such as the Sullivan Street Bakery in NYC, who offer an interesting “no knead” method) steam injection coupled with insanely high temperatures is common practice to achieve that no-nonsense, crunchy crust that, I suggest, makes bread sing. I just use a baking tin, heat it up to a smouldering temperature at the base of the oven, and tip in a little water. Trust me, it’s foolproof.  For further textural adventures, I sprinkled my dough with polenta (for want of semolina flour) after the second prove. That was a tip I learned at a pizza party last summer – there, the dough was rolled out using semolina flour instead of traditional plain white to prevent the dough from sticking to the counter. It really does boost the whole chewing experience.
When working the dough, I worked with sunflower oil instead of flour, not wanting to meddle too much with my moist consistency. In hindsight, perhaps it could have done with a little meddling after all, but then again, the experiment would then have been void. I think the oil may have had a part to play in the complex flavour of the loaf, too. The reason I didn’t add any lipids to the actual recipe is simply that they can interfere with the crumb. No fear, I will try a buttery loaf once I’ve found a strong foundation to work with.
Anyway, enough analysis. Here’s the basic recipe:
500g strong white flour
c. 200g wheatmeal flour
1.5 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dried yeast (from one of those 7g sachets)
hand-hot water (half boiling, half cold)
1. Sieve white flour into bowl. Combine remaining dry ingredients (including yeast).
2. Add enough water to make the dough sloppy.
3. Oil surface and hands. Knead the dough by gathering it all in hands, and rhythmically tugging at it from both sides in a cross-chest motion. Do so for about 10 mins, or until the dough is more supple and elastic.
4. Place in bowl, cover with cling film and pop in the fridge overnight. Next day, place the dough in a pan or on chosen baking surface. Shape (or try to) however you want. I warn you, this dough won’t allow you to be very adventurous in this regard.
5. Pre-heat oven to max temperature. Leave the shaped dough to double in volume.
6. Bake for half an hour.
Note: once the bread is shaped, I find it pretty awkward transferring it from one surface to another. But I like to use a hot baking stone, and since I obviously can’t let the bread go through its second prove on that (it would cook!), the risky business of moving the dough is necessary.
So I devised a little something something yesterday – I turned a baking sheet upside down, coated with oiled greaseproof paper, and slapped the dough onto that before shaping. That way I had an elevated surface (the tin) which I could carry as near as possible to the baking stone, and a means of shifting the dough slightly more effectively (the paper). It worked reasonably well, though I still have my sights on a pizza paddle.
And there we go!
As for my next loaf, I was just thinking this morning how a moist dough results in a better crumb than a dry dough. And how the first proof seems to be the most significant. Then I got to thinking about starters, about which I don’t know a huge amount. What I do know is that they’re sloppy at first, but then you add some flour to form a proper, pliable dough.
Deduced from all of this positing, I propose this as my next experiment: a wet dough (as above), allowed to prove overnight in the fridge, with flour added before shaping and the second prove. I’ll keep you posted.