today i made three city breads in demi-spelt. white spelt, actually, which i'm excited about because y'all know that i never make white bread. the high percentage of rye contributed by both my 100% rye starter and a rather hefty levain render it less than pure, however. and man, did they turn out swell.
i futzed around with the hydration a bit because it's always nice to revisit the reality that a mere few grams more or less water in my bread makes a huge difference with crust and crumb, the ability to achieve les grignes, and the aesthetic. at the bottom of this post i included some pictures of a fourth boule that i baked (one whose quality does not warrant a formula here) where a hydration tweak and a mistimed levain made for a less desirable loaf in terms of crust texture, oven spring, the shape/aesthetic of the loaf, and the ability to hold les grignes.
i also extended my final fermentation time with these beautiful loaves. as you know, i prefer lengthy fermentation. in my opinion, breads with abbreviated fermentation times both bulk and final do not achieve noteworthy flavor, crust, or crumb texture. full gelatinization cannot be realized if you don't allow the sugars to be fully digested, and you will never achieve those satisfying little gas bubbles or a shattery crust. if you don't have time to bake bread properly, don't cut corners. just plan better next time so that every loaf that you make is a satisfying one. i don't know about you, but a less than stellar loaf makes me pretty cranky, and often sends me into a flurry of baking to rectify where i went wrong. today my loaves made me do the happy dance.
we are not inventing the wheel here. yes, it may seem as though the percentages of flour, water, starter, fermentation times may not be dramatically different from loaf to loaf, but you can make astoundingly different loaves of bread with small tweaks. if it ain't broke, don't overhaul it. and always use your last loaf as a foundation for a new one. for instance, i don't bake with whole white flour breads often, so, instead of forging a wheel from scratch, i referred to my previous formulae, and now that i am familiar with whole spelt, i entered this experiment with some understanding of how this flour behaves.
and here's a trick: when creating a new bread, start with less water than you think you might need. you cannot take away hydration once its been added and adding extraneous flour to compensate is just a bad move that never ends well. have your scale at the ready, and add water in small increments until the dough feels right. be sure to write all this down (yes, hard when hands are full of sticky dough, but you'll manage, you should manage. trust me, as you make your adjustments, all those little additions will get lost if you don't write them down pronto. i learned my lesson when i 'lost' a bread a long while back. it was, to that date, one of the best i had made, but because i didn't record all of my additional grams of water, i was not able to recreate it). remember, if a dough feels a little less hydrated than you would like it to be before autolyse, you always have the option of adding a little more water during the phase of adding salt.
spelt, as you may not know (i am talking whole spelt here) is decidedly NOT as thirsty as one would imagine. when working with whole wheat, you need to increase your hydration for optimal crust, crumb, texture, flavor. but with spelt, i have found that using restraint with hydration is key. lo, you will see below in my experiments with hydration that white spelt was just the same. it is not a flour that wants to be uber hydrated. repeat after me: high hydration is not necessarily better, and super high hydration does not make you a bread rockstar. using restraint of hand with hydration has voluminous rewards, like really pronounced scoring.
the first loaf i made came out smashingly. with 70% hydration (not including water percentage in the starter or levain; for the purist, the hydration, including levain and starter hydration would actually be 75%), the crust was uber shattery and glassy. it achieved gorgeous gas bubbles, and was just the right thickness/thinness. nothing worse than a loaf of bread with a thick, tough, leathery crust (more on this below and at least one reason why this happens). it also had that lovely 'quincy'/honey flavor indicative of fully digested sugars, flavor that can only be coaxed from the dough using a long, cold fermentation.
which brings me to the next bit. with these loaves, i futzed with final fermentation times. it was high time i pushed past my usual brick wall -- the 15-hour fermentation mark, and it worked like a charm. 17 hours and 10 minutes. yup. you heard it here first. while it was relaxin' in the fridge, conjuring up all kinds of fabulousness, i was biting my nails as the time inched up toward the 17 hour mark. turns out, this dough adored being in the fridge for that long. who knows. perhaps it was introspective and appreciated the time to ruminate.
spelt is a bit of a conundrum. you would think it might behave like wheat because it has a high gluten content, but the quality of the gluten is not that swell, so it's challenging to achieve impressive oven spring. in fact, spelt breads consistently produce breads with thicker crusts, and if you don't exhibit a little ingenuity, they can wind up tough or downright hard. i balanced this white spelt boule with bread flour.
certain brands of flour that we can get at the market (like king arthur) boast all purpose flours with a rather high protein percentage. you can use them for pretty much all of your artisan breads, and i do, because i appreciate that it makes for a tender crumb and a good, shattery crust. however, if i am making a bread using whole grains that lack the necessary gluten to create a less compact crumb and a crisper crust, i will use bread flour in conjunction with it. for example, given the lack of gluten in rye, i would definitely use bread flour instead of all purpose to compensate for the loss of structure and lightness. for this loaf, i chose bread flour to compensate for the weak gluten quality intrinsic of spelt (ps, so far i love king arthur for their bread and a/p flours, but i'm not a fan of their whole wheat. i also don't care for bob's red mill whole wheat. if you make whole wheat bread, community grains is the way to go. and for rye, i find to your health sprouted rye nonpareil).
finally, i experimented with my levain, in relation to type of flour and duration of fermentation.
and here's what. for the first three fabulous loaves i used rye flour for my levain, fermenting it for 6 hours. for the experimental loaf below i used spelt to ferment my levain and decreased fermentation time to 5 hours.
i have found that when i use rye for my levains it takes less time to ferment. for one thing, rye is reliable because there are lots of sugars for the yeasts to devour, you will never have a sluggish levain (or starter, or loaf of bread for that matter) if you use dark rye flour. rye flour levains are like speedracer levains, meaning, they do not take as long to come to fruition as a levain with, say, whole spelt or whole wheat flour. sometimes (ok, all the time) i'm too impatient for that. i have found that when i use spelt and whole wheat flours for my levains they will take a bit longer to fully realize.
it is of utmost importance, and this is not unlike every aspect of your bread making endeavor, that you don't follow the times you read in a book or on a blog. i get a number of emails about chad's country bread (i am by no means an expert on his bread), the biggest complaint is the lack of oven spring, or too-sour flavors. it's difficult to answer these questions because there are so many variables that affect bread in a given kitchen. chad has given us an outline, and in his book, encouraged us to find our own bread paths. he never said: THIS IS THE WAY IT IS FOLKS. it took chad years to 'get' his bread, and you shouldn't think, even with that bible in your hands, that it will take you any less time or effort. i think the aura of the book is important, for a baker like me anyway. i appreciate the omission of details that make bread baking more of a scientific effort than one intuitive. it's lovely to have access to information about baking bread, and there are so many books that will do that for you, but i think that it can hamper you, this stringent guideline. the most valuable thing i learned from the tartine bread book is how to 'read' my bread, how to experiment using chad's bread as a template. when i get questions about what temperature my water and dough are i always want to say 'throw out your thermometer, have a quick look at the ambient temperature, and from there, you will know where to go.
i watch my dough. touch it. poke it. i talk to it. i can tell by looking at my bread that it has a few grams too much water, if next time i might want to increase the amount of levain. with my levain i observe it (i never remove the lid from my levain as it is coming to fruition, which is why i always use a glass lid when fermenting it. something about this makes me feel, intuitively, that some of the yeasts will be lost. i don't know if it's true or not, but it's how i feel and it works for me. your levain is a much more fragile thing. it's like a newborn baby. you can poke your dough, but treat your levain with extreme care). as well, i don't do the float test with my levain. i know when it's ready by looking at it. if you listen to your bread, it will tell you what it needs and what it wants to be.
you have to learn to read your dough in relation to your environment. maybe your levain takes more or less time than mine does, whatever type of flour you use. maybe you can push a longer proof, maybe you can't. this is where i ask, is this a hobby or a pursuit? if it's a hobby, and one that you don't really want to put a lot of time into, i would say you might choose to bake breads that rely on commercial yeast. working with sourdough means a serious commitment, a marriage, if you will, to the yeasts that are thriving in that little jar on your counter. just like any marriage, it's complex, sometimes finicky, it gets better over time if you put the effort into making it so, and if you are going to experiment, you have to do it mindfully and openly. you cannot trick your bread, you cannot cut corners, and you cannot give a little and expect a lot. you have to be patient if you want to experience the beauty of it and to watch it unfold into its full potential. and the more love and attention you give it, the more graceful and beautiful the ensuing loaves will be.
as well, you have to honor your wild yeast's preferences. perhaps it doesn't like this, but loves that, and this may change with the weather or time of year. for example, i generally feed my 100% rye, 100% hydration starter once a day for four days a week and twice for the three days prior my bake. lately i've been so busy, so i've only been baking once every ten days, which means more once-a-day feedings than usual. i think last month i only baked once every other week. well, my starter didn't like this one bit. she was giving me attitude when i fed her, and so i started feeding her more. just because i was not baking as regularly did not mean that i could just feed her once a day and expect her to be happy. i learned my lesson there. once a day is fine about four days a week, but at least three days a week, she wants to be fed twice regardless if i bake or not. end. of. story.
above all, you can't get pissed when your starter is 'in a mood', and it sounds silly, but sometimes she is. the thing is, it's generally because of something you neglected that puts her there (as i just outlined above). it's ok. we all make mistakes, just be sure to make it up to her by giving her a little more love if at any point your attention has fallen short.
finally, i received a few emails from people who have experienced sluggish doughs and too sour bread. i do swear by my refrigerator for most of my fermenting. this is where the 'if it ain't broke' thing comes into play. during the 4-hour bulk ferment (and i have experimented with longer and shorter bulk ferments. if this is one nugget of wisdom you take from chad's book, it's that initial formula. the 4-hour bulk fermentation is pretty tried-and-true. across the board, with all my breads, this is the case), i do two hours at room temp (sometimes one, if it's particularly balmy that day), and the remainder is done in the fridge. of course, then the final fermentation is also done under refrigeration.
all of the big bakeries that produce amazing bread with stellar crust and unrivaled flavor use cool proofing chambers to ferment their dough. you will not find a bakery with bread sittin' out on the counters for 17 hours. it would be too warm and the yeasts would gobble up the sugars too rapidly. 17 hours on the counter = dead dough. you could ferment on the counter for less time, but then this produces a decidedly uninteresting loaf of bread. it is the long, cold fermentation that lends to: crisp crust, full gelatinization/incredible texture of crumb, and mind-boggling flavor. long cold fermentations do NOT produce sour breads. ill-timed, warm fermentations DO, even short ones, depending on your environment. you have a fridge. use it. there is no point in making bread if you need to rush or you don't have time. please do not proof your bread in the oven or in a warm spot. i just have no words for you if this has been your method and you are ending up with sour or uninteresting breads with tough, blonde crusts, and flabby, gassy dough. long. cold. slow. patient. and the best flour that you can afford. this is what makes amazing bread.
without further balderdash, here is this week's bread(s).
THE DAY BEFORE THE BAKE
make your levain:
80g starter, 160g dark rye flour (i used organic BRM), 160g h2o
mix together the above components and ferment. i began mine at 8:50 in the morning, and as anticipated, it fermented quickly. at 2:50 in the afternoon, just 6 short hours later, we were good to go.
make the dough:
500g organic KA bread flour, 500g white spelt flour (i used organic vitaspelt)
22g kosher salt
mix together the components listed above for the dough until you reach a shaggy mass. autolyse for 1 hour. after autolyse, add salt and squeeze into the dough until thoroughly incorporated. from here, your bulk fermentation begins with turns for the first 2 hours begins. here is my schedule
2:50p - 3:50p - autolyse
3:50p - salt - bulk ferment begins
3:50 - 4:20, turn at 4:20
4:20 - 4:50, turn at 4:50
4:50 - 5:20, turn at 5:20
5:30 - 5:50, turn at 5:50, pop into fridge
5:50 - 7:50, refrigerated bulk fermentation
after the first half of the bulk fermentation with turns, pop in fridge and complete the remaining 2 hours of bulk fermentation in the fridge.
after the bulk fermentation, scrape the dough onto a clean workspace that has been dusted with organic brown rice flour, divide, and form into loose rounds. rest for 10 minutes, then shape into boules. pop the boules into linen-lined bowls dusted with brown rice flour, and pop in the fridge for the 17 hour final fermentation. here was my schedule:
7:50 - 8:00, bench
8:00 - 8:10, shape, pop in fridge at 8:10.
ON BAKE DAY
one hour before you plan to bake, preheat the oven to 550, fitted with two combo cookers and a baking stone. please be sure to preheat for a full hour, it makes a dramatic difference with the crust and maximizes oven spring.
here was my schedule:
12:10, preheat oven
1:10, turn out, slash, and get the loaves into the oven
1:10 - 1:40, steam the loaves
1:40 - 2:25, bake without the lids, turning at least once during baking for even browning. total bake time was 1 hour 15 minutes
turn the dough out onto a peel with a piece of parchment. score. slide the dough into the shallow end of the combo cooker, cover with the fat end, turn the oven down to 475 and steam the loaf for 30 minutes.
for the 70% hydration loaf, follow the same timing as the loaves above, but use these quantities for flour, water, and starter. this formula makes one loaf:
make your levain:
40g 100% hydration, 100% dark rye starter, 80g dark rye flour, 80g h2o
mix this together, follow the timing directions above.
make your dough:
all of the levain
250g organic KA bread flour
250g organic vitaspelt, white spelt flour
11g kosher salt
mix this together, follow the timing directions above.
i hope your loaves come out as smashingly as mine did!
to the staff of life!
the levain probably could have used another 2 hours, at least, but again, you have learn to 'read' your levain, and using it prematurely resulted in an underdeveloped loaf that was lopsided and not very appealing. the excessive hydration, though seemingly minimal, killed any chance of les grignes. this loaf was baked after a 15 hour final ferment.
when you are working with new flour, use the guidelines for a similar bread as a template to start, show restraint of hand with hydration. and learn to read your bread all the way from starter through final ferment. with these tools, you will make consistently balanced loaves.
this post was shared on wild yeast blog's yeast spotting. yay!
to the staff of life!