Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pain a l'ancienne

That's French country bread to you and me.

I've complained in earlier posts about the texture of the bread I've been baking. It's generally been a chewy and tender, but it's not the airy texture I'm looking for. So I did some research to learn how to achieve the large irregular holes I'm after and found a few different things I can do to get an open crumb.

First is to increase the amount of water; those lovely bakery loaves in the stores generally have a hydration in the 70-something percent rage. First-and-a-half is to use a recipe that measures by weight instead of volume so I can accurate gauge my hydration levels.

Second, use a starter instead of commercial yeast. I decided to hold off on this one. I've used starters before--both home-brewed and quality mail-order versions--and they can be unpredictable. I'd rather limit my variables for now. I'll probably try to capture some local microflora eventually, but as Miami isn't known for its quality sourdough I don't have high expectations.

Third, stretch and fold the dough instead of kneading during the rise. This redistributes the yeast without getting the gluten strands all tangled up.

Fourth, add some gluten flour to increase the dough's strength so it can hold itself up better. I was planning to do that anyway.

I looked around a bit and I found this recipe interesting. If I'm going to increase my hydration I may as well push it to the limits at 80% to see what happens. I'm not sure I buy the explanation of why to keep it in the refrigerator overnight but I'm willing to play along for now.

I did modify the recipe from straight white flour. Instead I used a half cup of rye flour, a quarter cup of whole wheat, a Tablespoon of gluten flour and enough bread flour to bring the total up to 500 grams. That went into the mixer with 400 grams of ice water, 2 teaspoons of yeast and 1 Tablespoon of kosher salt. So, pretty much my usual recipe.

Once it was fully mixed I switched in the dough hook and let it go. At first the very wet dough was just shoved around a bit, but once the gluten started forming it got a bit of body for proper kneading. Pretty wet and sticky though. After ten minutes of kneading it had climbed right up the hook and it took a bit of doing to get it off and into the bucket for its rest in the refrigerator. And despite the oiling, it looked like it was grabbing onto the bucket pretty well too. Getting it out for it's fold without mangling it will be a challenge.

First thing the next morning I took it out of the refrigerator and put it in a warm spot (on top of the DVR is the warmest spot in the house. I've got no idea why that thing pumps out so much heat even when it's turned off.) to start it's rise.

A few hours later it had doubled and it was time to decant onto a very well floured plastic cutting board. It wasn't stuck quite as badly as I feared so I managed to get it out without losing more than a half cup of dough. I set aside that, plus a bit more cut off of the main mass, to add to my next batch for some extra flavor. Its reluctance to come out of the bucket stretched the dough plenty so I figured I didn't have to do any more once it was down on the work surface. I'm glad of that as I don't think it would have responded well to the attempt.

Once it was on the board I floured the top too and then used my dough scraper to flip it up and over on itself a couple times.

I was quite concerned about getting it into my dutch oven for baking so I decided to let it do its second rise in a well-oiled non-stick paella pan which I was pretty sure I could get it out of again without deflating it. To get it into the pan in the first place I had to flip over the cutting board over top and scrape the dough off and down.

I let it sit for an hour and a half and I wonder if I should have let it rise longer. I think the limit on the rise of my loaves is the drop into my deep dutch oven which bursts the more delicate bubbles, and the longer the rise the more delicate the bubbles. I'll have to brainstorm some gentler way to make that transfer.

Once the dough was in the 500 degree preheated dutch oven it immediately spread out to cover the bottom. I didn't realize until that point that I was making ciabatta. Well, not really ciabatta as there's no olive oil in it, but it was clear it was going to be flat. I probably should have tried to score the top but I don't think it would have held.

So, 30 minutes with the lid on and 20 with the lid off (at 425 degrees) and here's the result. There's a bit of rise there in the middle and it tore at the side a bit to compensate for the missing scoring. But the outside isn't the important bit, it's the crumb I'm interested in.

Not too bad! And it got better towards the center too. Definitely lighter than anything I've made before. The texture is more spongy than airy, but it's a long step in the right direction and likely as good as I'm going to get with a home oven. The crust is thin and crispy (chewy the next day). The flavor is the usual rustic sort I usually get with that much rye and whole wheat but there's a hint of sourness there so stay in the refrigerator did make some difference--very nice. I probably bring some into work so somebody other than I can appreciate it. This is fabulous sandwich bread if you don't mind cutting out a big chunk for the job. The big holes, sliced in half make perfect little bowls for dressings to puddle in. Muffeletta would be ideal but also a giant pain in the rear. I'll have to think about this.


Scott said...

Have you tried letting your dough rise on parchment paper? It can straight into the dutch oven...

Good luck!

ps: After four (or is it five?) years of CSA, we dropped this year. Even a half share was hard to get through some busier weeks and the overabundance of greens had become boring... We will miss the eggs...

billjac said...

Of course! Thanks for reminding me. Now I know why I bought that roll of parchment paper that's been sitting in my pantry unused for the last few months.