Stumbling Upon Improvements

In thinking back on factors that have had an impact on past loaves, such as the flat loaves I mentioned in my last post, I had a minor epiphany on the importance of shaping. After all, I think that in almost every attempt and post that I’ve made I have mentioned the need for better shaping or a failure associated with poor shaping. My goal then for this post was to create an experiment, sacrificing one loaf (the things I do in the pursuit of amazing bread) as the test, while maintaining my usual process for a “control” loaf.

As luck would have it, I stumbled across another factor that has likely been impacting the end result of the height of my loaves. That being the step in which I remove the boule from the proofing basket after having sat over night, followed by placing it into the dutch oven for baking. I intend to revisit the aforementioned experiment in a separate post, but, as I will show in the pictures below, my misstep in this step most definitely has an impact on the final shape of the baked loaf and so warrants its own elaboration. Besides, I realized only after having baked my first loaf that I need to correct this (and so corrected it for the second loaf), so my control did not end up reliably so.

In the build-up to my experiment, as I said, I opted to proceed as usual with what we’ll affectionately call Boule #1 (left above), shaping into a tight ball for optimal surface tension, and good oven spring. The second, Boule #2 (right above), I shaped less tightly for less-than-optimal surface tension, hoping to show the power of shaping in the final result.

Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your viewpoint, after having baked Boule #1, I realized how much the loaf slackened upon placing it into the dutch oven in the second movement; first, the loaf was removed from its basket onto the counter (in a lovely tight shape); second, the loaf was picked up and placed into the dutch oven. I mentioned in my last post that I was surprised to see how much the dough had slackened upon placing it into the dutch oven, and perhaps that was beginning of my line of thinking here. While I was baking Boule #1, I realized that the tight ball which landed on the table prior to being placed into the dutch oven was likely a better candidate for my desired shape than the slightly relaxed loaf with which I ended up.

With that, I decided that Boule #2 would get the royal treatment of simply being dropped right into the pot (fears of burning my hands aside). The beautiful thing about using rice flour in proofing baskets is especially useful here: the loaf falls slowly out of the proofing basket into the dutch oven, holding its shape much better than if I’d taken two motions instead of one.

As the pictures show below, this is where my initial experiment fell apart. My original plan was to show how much tighter in shape Boule #1 was as compared to #2, but, well…

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Boule #1: left. Boule #2: right. 

In the end, while my test did not quite work out as planned, I stumbled upon a separate change to process that I believe will improve my final results going forward. The crumb of Boule #1 was still reasonably good, but as it was slightly more flat than tall it did not end up quite as aesthetically pleasing as Boule #2.

Just for fun, crumbshot Boule #1 below. Have a good week!

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