Oh, and yes. I am aware that it is Tuesday. Sorry. I'm a little late. But you'll forgive me, I know.
In this post:
- Green flour: what is it?
- Freshly milled flour: to age or use fresh?
- What the chemicals in our store-bought flour mean
- Bluebird Grain Farms hard white spring wheat
- Bad news baguettes
- Introducing Michette, my newest love child
So, baguettes are a tricky thing. They take a lot of experimentation to master them. And this is why you don't see a baguette post today. Actually, I'm a few days behind on a new post because I did attempt the baguette formula (15 baguettes!) but I had trouble with it, so I decided to go back to the drawing board and come round again next week with it.
I think since I have always been less than thrilled about working with commercial yeast, the baguette appeal has been less than lustrous for me. I have admittedly approached them a little half-heartedly, if not with heels staunchly digging in the sand. Not just this week, but generally.
Like most of my baguette attempts (I've only ever had two successful attempts), this last batch was OK. But only just. We ate them, but we were not dazzled by them. The crust was too strong, as was the crumb, they took up too much time and space, and the shaping, oi. I'm not a good baguette shaper. At the end of the baguette day I felt disappointed. Alas, it has been a very long time since I had a bread mishap, so, I let this go as a much needed bread (life) experience, and instead of skirting the baguette issue, I decided to simply dig in from here on out. It is said that that the thing one holds the most aversion to is the thing that shall free him or her. Actually, I think I'm making that up, but it feels instinctual that this should be true. So, okay, I'll dig in... starting next week. In the meantime, I am tickled pink to share my new love child with you.
And you know me, I simply had to get to the bottom of it, so I phoned my friend Joe, a professional bread baker in New York, and gave him my formula from start to finish. The first thing Joe said, because he has a masters in diplomacy, was: 'I love the crumb of your new bread. It is more reminiscent of a French miche, which has a tighter crumb and lower profile.' Thus, my sweet Michette was born.
But then he got down to brass tacks. After reviewing my formula, he said that the culprit could be one or a combination of these things: overfermentation, because freshly milled flour can sometimes ferment faster than flour we get at the store, and green flour.
Wha, who, huh?
Yes. Green flour. I was as much in the dark as you, so I set out to do some serious research, and here is what I found:
Green flour, as it is called, is freshly milled flour. So, the flour that we freshly mill at home, or the flour freshly milled at a flour mill is considered green. The reason why we need to discuss this is because as home-millers, the properties of green flour seriously affect the outcome of our breads. Let me break it down simply.
When grains are freshly milled, the gluten content is immature and will behave poorly in bread baking as it is not strong enough to raise our dough properly. This is evident in poor oven spring, flat loaves, dense crumb and tough crusts. So, we must oxidize (age) our flour before its use (there is one loophole to aging, which you will discover as you read on). Oxidation of flour occurs like this: the thiol groups and sulfide bonds are proteins in flour. When flour is oxidized, meaning, when oxygen penetrates it, these two groups strategize and create disulfide bonds. It is this disulfide bonding that strengthens gluten bonds in the flour itself, which later allows gluten strands to develop favorably, thereby strengthening the dough. When flour is not properly oxidized, the disulfide bonding remains fractional, thus the gluten will not be properly developed when the dough is mixed, resulting in weak dough structure and the aforementioned issues. Granted, the flatness of my pretty Michette was not what I consider catastrophic, and the crust and crumb were simply splendid. I just knew she had more potential.
So, here's the scoop on the aging process. Commercial milling houses age their flour with various chemicals that oxidize the thiol groups of proteins in flour, namely gaseous chlorine, used primarily for cake flour, which acts as a whitening agent, and 'matures it' swiftly, meaning that it stabilizes the flour so that it behaves more consistently; and benzoyl peroxide which artificially and instantly oxidizes other white flours thus strengthening the gluten bonds and whitening it. Both of these artificial oxidizing processes speed up the disulfide bonding and result in flours that can be used immediately in bread baking so the flour mills don't have to spend money on the most costly and healthful way to age flour: time.
Unfortunately, these bleaching agents adversely affect the flavor of the flour by destroying the carotenoid pigments in it. These pigments are what cause a creamy color in unbleached flour and the smell of bread when it's baking. The more carotenoids in flour, the more flavor and nutrients there are.
Next up is ADA (azodicarbonamide), also known as 'Maturox'. This chemical oxidizes the thiol groups of proteins in flour and strengthens the dough just like the processes above, but it is a swift-acting agent, meaning that it is activated and works in the early part of dough makeup, which can wreak havoc for bakers who use slow fermentation processes, i.e., artisan bakers who use pre-ferments. While it does cause bread to achieve immense oven spring, it is best used in breads that require very short fermentation times, i.e., commercial bread making facilities would benefit from using ADA in their non-artisan breads because they don't slow-ferment their beads. Flour that has been conditioned with ADA has to be legally be labeled 'bleached'.
Finally, another way to age flour is by the addition of ascorbic acid (vitamin C). Vitamin C really tautens your dough, seriously hampering extensibility. Evidently it improves oven spring and I have read that bakers can add it to the dough later in the mixing process to this end. It doesn't seem like a positive tradeoff to me, even if it is an innocuous addition. If I have to fight with my dough, it seems like a rather unpleasant option.
OK. If you are now totally freaked out and overwhelmed about aging your flour or disenchanted by home-milling, you shouldn't be! There are two natural and easy ways to circumvent the lack of oven spring, dense crumb and tough crust using home-milled flour. One is time, the other is speed, and this is the focus of today's experiment.
So, onto that.
I set out to do an experiment with Joe's theory, beginning with the green flour issue. My adorable Michette above was used with flour that I milled one morning then used the next day, about 15 hours later. Evidently, if you mill flour and use it after 8 - 12 hours, an enzymatic situation happens which results in the flattish loaves. HOWEVER, if you mill grains and use them straight away, whatever enzymatic situation that occurs after 8 - 12 hours that causes angry loaves does not occur, and your loaves will happily achieve great oven spring.
Alternatively, if you cannot use your flour right away (within the first 8 - 12 hours of milling), you can age it simply by putting it in a paper bag for at least 3 weeks (or you can do what I did and just put it in a jar and cover the mouth of it with cheesecloth so that oxygen can enter). Oxygen will gently penetrate and 'age' your flour, and all of that disulfide bonding will successfully occur, thus resulting in strengthened dough and fabulous oven spring. I had great results by aging my flour for 3 weeks and 2 days in a wide-mouthed jar which I covered with cheesecloth.
Both of the new Michettes achieved excellent oven spring, as you can see. So, Joe was right about everything, and this is not the only time he has come to my rescue. I am so lucky to have access to a professional bread baker so that when things go awry I can get answers quickly, or be led in the right direction. There is nothing more frightening than having questions without the prospect of answers, or worse, conflicting answers that you have discovered on the internet.
Thank you Joe!
So, to sum things up here is what you want to do when working with freshly milled flour:
1) Mill and use your flour straight away, before the enzymes that wreak havoc on your loaves kick in. So, the sooner the better, but not after 12 hours, and your loaves will achieve fine oven spring (I personally would mill right before I was about to make my dough. Why wait even an hour?)
2) If you cannot use your flour right away, then age it for at least three weeks in a paper bag or a jar covered with a piece of cheese cloth to the same end.
I should also note that the original Michette was fermented for 18 hours, and with the final two, I reduced the final fermentation to 11 hours. A smart move, and Joe was right. My had original Michette overfermented. A note here. This is not true of all breads made from freshly-milled flour, but with white wheat, I have noticed that it ferments very quickly. The timing seems to be much more in the realm of my high-percentage ryes, which I ferment to about 9 hours. I would not push this loaf past an 11-hour fermentation. I have made hard red wheat breads with freshly milled flour and employed long fermentations with fine results. With white wheat, assume that it will (even commercially milled) ferment quickly. I will be experimenting with long fermentations and other grains in upcoming posts so you can have some sort of fermentation gauge for your own loaves using freshly milled grains.
Some of you have been emailing me about your flat loaves. I am hoping that perhaps this post has shed some light on this issue if you are milling your own flour.
Oh, before I get on with the formula, I wanted to talk about the wheat that I used.
For all of these loaves of bread I used 100% Bluebird Grain Farms hard white spring wheat whose plump grains smell fabulous and sweet like wet hay. It's very fresh, and you know this because when you mill it, you have to put it on a coarser setting because fresher grains are more hydrated and don't mill as well in the KoMo mill on a fine setting. Even setting it to a coarser grind, however, you end up with a very fine flour. As you can see from all three loaves, it mills up beautifully. The loaves were fantastic - mild, fruity, gorgeous tasting breads, all three with uber brittle crusts and a very moist crumb. I could not have chosen a better white wheat for my Michette. I traditionally bake rye loaves every week as my mainstay breads, and I have to admit, my 100% whole grain Michette is my new weekly bread of choice.
Have a look.
294g Bluebird Grain Farms home-milled hard white spring wheat, bolted with a fine-meshed sifter
About bolting your flour: The old-school way of making 'high-extraction' flour.
Back to the formula.
When your levain is properly fermented, dissolve it in the water and mix it together with the flours and the h2o until you reach a shaggy mass. It will look like this.