With a little extra free time this past week ahead of the holidays, I was lucky to be able to bake during the week. For the first time ever, I went ‘Full Monty’ with a full, two-loaf recipe as a means of gaining more practice in the pre-shaping and shaping arenas. After all, it’s the Holiday season so the bread will likely get eaten. Let’s dive in!
Bread flour was on the docket this week, also for the first time, as I continue to try to improve overall results. I’ll skip the juicy details on my starter this go around, but I will note that a lack of rye flour in the levain (despite being in my starter over the course of two days) resulted in a somewhat less sour taste which I’m not sure I prefer. The use of bread flour, however, did improve extensibility. While folding during bulk fermentation I noted the ease with which I was able to stretch the dough – a step in the right direction. While bulk fermentation was fairly successful (the easy part?) with temperature easily maintained in the 80F range, my pre-shaping and shaping results were again a challenge.
I was feeling pretty good heading into the pre-shape, but, man, the wetness of this dough was very challenging. A good pre-shape is supposed to result in a slightly relaxed round after having sat for 20-30 minutes; a pancake-style result is a sure sign that there was not enough tension and should be met with a second, quick pre-shape (which I did not do). I can assure you that, while my pancake looked like it may have made a good breakfast nestled under some butter and syrup, it was most definitely not a slightly relaxed round of proper tension. My technique in the final shaping ended up as what should have been my pre-shaping technique – ample flour usage for dusting and effective bench knife usage applied to create some tension and a well-formed boule. Unfortunately, while I think my final shaping technique was pretty solid, it was in the wrong shaping step!
With two loaves en route, I had an opportunity to use my two proofing baskets: one of a smaller size and with a linen liner, the other of a larger size without. Unlike my last bake, the linen-lined basket did not release the proofed loaf easily. To make matters worse, the unlined basket did an even worse job of releasing the proofed loaf. Perhaps I’ve been baking lower hydration loaves for too long as I’d expected a good release from the linen liner (as I have in the past) and hoped that all purpose flour would work for the unlined – not the case! This had an unfortunate impact on the structure of both loaves heading into the dutch oven, as you can imagine.
As has been the case, my end result was still not that bad despite continued struggles in the shaping departments. The first loaf came out looking not too bad as you can see – we won’t speak of the second loaf after the disaster that occurred with it sticking to the basket. Oven spring could still use some work, which I will partially attribute to shaping, but temperature overnight appears to have been more in the 36-37F range rather than my intended 38, so that will have had an impact on proofing as well. That said, I was much happier with the crumb of this loaf following a full hour wait post-bake as compared to what I’ve typically done – 30 minutes. What a difference that extra time makes!
In the end I suppose the song remains the same from last week. I need to continue to improve upon pre-shaping and shaping technique. I’m happy that I was able to utilize proper technique with the bench knife (even if it was for the wrong shaping), and also quite pleased with the crumb result. I may take a shot at a different recipe next week to see if a slightly lower hydration is more suitable for my skillset at present.