Back at it this past weekend looking to continue to improve upon my recent results. As I suggested in my last post, I took a shot at a slightly different recipe with a lower hydration and a more Tartine-style approach in timing, proofing, etc.
- 90% non-organic bread flour
- 10% organic freshly ground whole wheat flour sifted to remove the most coarse germ and bran granules
- 75% hydration
- Rye flour feedings for three days
- 100% whole wheat levain build the night prior
This bread is probably the best that I’ve ever baked, full stop. I don’t think anything even went slightly wrong, at least in method, with these loaves. If I had one complaint, it would be that the darker loaf had a slightly less chewy crumb than I would like, potentially as a result of a five minute longer baking time.
The pre-shape was successful without issue with a tight resulting boule and limited pancaking after resting for 35 minutes. There was also no unincorporated flour in the baked loaf – an issue that I’ve had in past bakes. Shaping was also successful with a few Tartine-style folds followed by shaping into a tight boule by ‘swirling’ the dough on the counter in an attempt to further tighten. An issue that I’ve had in the past is a poor pre-shape and shape as a result of an overly sticky dough; I’ll attribute at least a portion of the less sticky nature of this dough to a lower hydration, but I’ll attribute another part to better management of flouring surfaces as compared to prior attempts. It seems a key factor in ease of shaping is in maintaining contact with the counter with only the floured parts of the loaf. This seems obvious as I type it, but it’s not as easy at times in practice.
As a result of some necessary changes to timing (had to go to a Star Wars matinee!), I cut the proofing time on these loaves to 15-16 hours from a suggesting 16-17 hours. Despite the cut, I may have found a sweet spot in timing as this was likely the best oven spring I’ve gotten from recent attempts.
There were also a few other successes this week that contributed to some stand-out loaves. This past week I finally caved and purchased some rice flour for dusting my proofing baskets. I’ve been stubborn as $4 for a small bag of Bob’s rice flour seemed pretty aggressive (sorry Bob!), but… wow. Both boules just fell right out of the proofing baskets. Following some sticking over the past few weeks (and some sad results), I was simply impressed to see the success of the rice flour dusting.
Not to be outdone by some simple flour, my cast iron swap also made a big difference. While I’ve typically used a 5-quart dutch oven (as recommended by Ken Forkish of FWSY fame, my prior bread bible), many bread bakers seem to favour the combo cooker as recommended by the Tartine crowd. I’ve been hesitant to purchase the combo cooker as my small-ish apartment cupboards can only handle so much cast iron, but I had the bright idea to try to combine my standard cast iron frying pan with my 7-quart dutch oven. It wasn’t perfect as they don’t quite ‘snap’ together as a normal lid would, but the overlap was nearly spot on and the extra clearance as compared to the normal dutch oven made scoring far easier. To further help what has in the past been some frankly Cleveland Browns-level scoring (that’s intended to be weak, sorry Cleveland fans!), I fashioned a simple lame with a toothpick. While not visually impressive, I was able to get that curve in the razor blade which seems necessary to get an effective score.
After baking and then tasting these loaves, I couldn’t stop smiling. Without seeming too grandiose, there are times in baking and various other hobbies when you just get that feeling. Man, I feel great.