The Wood-Fired Blog

Some Over-Hydrated (But Good Tasting) Whole Wheat Oat Bread

I took a second attempt at the “shoot from the hip” whole wheat oatmeal loaves, and learned a couple of useful lessons—or more accurately, I re-enforced a couple of lessons that I should already know. For example, in order to make my baking as accurate as I would like it to be, I need to be consistent in weighing my ingredients, and I need to learn how to manage some new ingredients.

So while my previous Whole Wheat Oat loaf was a big success, today’s bread was seriously over hydrated, and because of the way I made it, and I can’t really tell what the hydration level was. Why? Because I mixed grams and cups (again). I guess it’s time to do the math before I do this recipe again. Here’s the formula:

350 grams/70% whole wheat
150 grams/30% white whole wheat
10 grams/2% salt
5 grams/1% yeast
20 grams/4% olive oil
25 grams/5% molasses
300 grams/60% water
1 cup old fashioned oats
1 cup of boiling water

I mixed all of the flour and bread ingredients, and then separately mixed the oats and boiling water. After the oats cooled, I add them to the dough and kneaded it on KitchenAid 3 for 8 minutes. The result was a dough puddle that did not hold its shape as a dough ball. I folded it 6 times to try to give it a little structure and decided to just go ahead without adjusting the flour. What the heck.

After a one hour proof, I shaped two boules and put them in baskets to proofs — adding extra flour so they would not stick. Well, they still stuck. And they were so wet that I couldn’t even score the loaves; and I ended up using scissors.

Then, to add insult in injury, I baked the loaves on a baking sheet (forget using my pizza oven, I didn’t even use my pizza stone) in my convection oven. hahahaha.

It was interesting. The combination of the oats, the extremely moist dough and the bad baking environment created a couple of boules with a soft, almost tender crust. Almost like a quick bread—such as banana bread. Or ciabatta meets miche to create an unusual offspring.

But for what the bread lacked in good looks and crust, it somewhat made up those shortcomings with its good flavor and moist crumb. For a 100% whole wheat loaf, it was light and air, the crumb structure was good, and it was easy to enjoy. It makes great toast and in interesting bruschetta.

I’m not saying I would do it again; and I am committed to learning how to bake with oats using baker’s percentages—but it was a worthy experiment.




More on Baguettes and Hydration

Following up on my previous posting on why 80% hydration is just too high for a straight yeast baguette (and my plan on trying different hydration and dough preparation methods), today I ventured off and made a couple of simple baguettes with 70% hydration.

My plan was really simple. I made a straight-forward, room temperature dough:

500 grams of TJs AP flour
350 grams of water
5 grams of yeast
10 grams of salt

Then I did a 5 minute knead at quite a high speed (5 on KitchenAid). I was in a hurry, so I rushed it. But then I have the dough a quick six holds before heading out the door, and a second six folds after bulk fermentation. About 90 minutes.

In then shaped the baguette balls (what is the proper word for this?) following the Ciril Hitz method, and let them rest of an hour, and then I shaped the baguettes, put them in a couche and left them proof for an hour.

I know this is obvious to an experienced baker, but the difference between 70% dough and 80% (no matter how hard you try to build dough strength) is really clear. You can handle the 70% dough with very little flour, and the task of shaping the baguette balls and then shaping the baguette was much easier.

And as you would guess, I did get the oven spring and the higher, rounder, lighter loaf that I was shooting for.

Of course my baguettes are still pretty darn ugly. I am always having issues loading them into the oven, with the dough sticking to (in no particular order) the couche, the flipping board, the peel and each other. And my scoring is still awful.

But, they are closer to what I am trying to accomplish. A step in the right direction, with a good lesson learned.

One last note on baking. As I said earlier, I was in a bit of a hurry today, so I decided to bake my baguettes on a Forno Bravo pizza stone (15”x20”) in my convection oven, using a spray bottle—rather than firing my pizza oven. I preheated my oven to 475ºF, and then turned it down to 425ºF after l loaded the bread.

Here’s what is interesting. The two baguette came out completely different. The dark brown baguette was loaded a minute of two before the second (I decided to load and score the second baguette after the first was already in the oven). It started baking and the crust was already forming by the time I loaded the second baguette and started spraying water in the oven for steam. The second loaf is much more of a caramel color. It goes to show what a couple of minutes can do to change the nature of a loaf of bread.  Even more interesting, the first loaf is taller than the second.

Was it differences in dough handling? Because the first loaf was in the back of the oven facing the convection fan? Did the back of the oven maintain a more consistent temperature?

Anyway, I still feel like I am taking small steps forward most days that I bake. Being self-taught has its pluses and minuses, but for now I am enjoying the process.

Peppers Roasted Over Wood

Mark Bitman of the NY Times is one of my favorite writers on any topic, and I have enjoyed seeing his transition from being a pure food columnist as “The Minimalist”, to being a columnist in the editorial department writing about our food supply and food policy.

At the same time, he is still doing great stuff with recipes. Here is a link to today’s How to To Everything column: Great Roasted Peppers: First, Get a Pile of Wood.

Mark Bitman/NY Times

I make roasted peppers many ways: with a fork over a gas flame, as I did 44 years ago (a silly method, unless maybe you are doing only one); in an oven or gas grill (efficient, but imperfect); in a broiler (better); and over charcoal, which is the best way, unless you have (as I did last week) actual wood.

A Tuscan grill in a pizza oven is a great way to roast peppers; though I have to admit the Mr. Bitman is a much better chef than I am. I burned my peppers in our pizza oven last summer on vacation.

Water and Dough Structure

I have been experimenting with baguettes recently, including different approaches to fermentation time, better folding techniques, improved methods for loaf shaping, scoring, placement in the oven and steam.

Now I am going to start trying to hone in on the optimal hydration for my flour of choice and my oven—Trader Joe’s All Purpose Wheat flour and a Presto pizza oven.

As a general rule, wetter (higher hydration) doughs produce bread that is chewier and has a well developed, moist crumb with nice air holes. But reading various break cookbooks and web sites, there is not universal agreement on exactly what constitutes a high hydration dough, and what the proper hydration levels are for a traditional French baguette. Some experts say that 60% hydration is enough, while others will note that 60% might work in France, where the wheat is softer and has a lower gluten content and it absorbs less water, making that relatively low hydration level appropriate.

At the same time, I have been working at the other end of the spectrum—with a wetter 80% dough recipe recently, and the results have been very telling. Simply put, my baguettes are too flat. No matter how hard I try to develop the dough structure to enable my loaves to hold a round shape, and even though I am now using a couche to hold my loaves upright while they doing their final proofing (and a baguette flipping board)—my baguettes are just too flat. While the crumb is very good, I don’t like the shape. Equally, while crust is good, it veers toward chewy, rather than that light and airy crunch that I like in a baguette.

I was talking with our teenage daughter about the dynamic between water and dough strength, and we came up with an analogy of a thin water balloon with too much water—it just bulges out. Gravity tries to flatten the wetter, heavier dough, while the gluten network in the dough struggles to hold the loaf in shape. And with an 80% formula using AP flour, there just isn’t enough structure.

Put another way, 80-odd% hydration is the range typically seen in a ciabatta, a free-form Italian loaf with big holes and a chewy crust. With no hope of holding a formed loaf shape, the baker simply lays it out like a dog bone shaped puddle of dough.

So there we have it. I believe that 60% is too dry to give me the crumb development that I want, and I am convinced that I won’t be able to make the style of baguette that I want at 80%. I guess it’s time to learn what the sweet is for my conditions, my flour and my oven.

It sounds like fun.

Paella is Becoming Popular This Spring

A second article on Paella in the NY Times in one week. It makes me happy.

Paella is really picnic food, ideal for a casual gathering. The idea is to hang out, slowly preparing the ingredients and then lazily sipping a drink or two while the rice cooks. And if there are friends who want to help, all the better. Especially when it comes to fava beans. They require a little fiddling.

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Whole Wheat Oatmeal Bread

600 grams whole wheat
200 white whole wheat
200 AP flour
600 grams (60)% water
10 grams (1%) yeast
20 grams (2%) salt
40 grams olive oil
30 grams honey
2 cup old fashion oats (3-5 minute cooking)
2 cup boiling water
Pinch of salt

Please forgive my slightly funky recipe format, where I mix baker’s percentages and grams with cups—but the bread came out really well, so I will be going back and putting some structure into the recipe. For example, it will be interesting seeing how the percentages come out and what the actual dough hydration is.

Interestingly, I am not even sure how you are suppose to calculate oats as part of a baker’s percentage formula. Seeds (which do not absorb water), are not counted as part of the flour, which makes a lot of sense. But what about whole grains?

To make the bread, I added 2 cups of boiling waters and a pinch of salt to the oats and let it soak until the mixture had cooled to room temperature. Then I mixed all of the bread ingredients and added the oatmeal, and mixed it on medium speed (KitchenAid 3) for 10 minutes.

Following my improved fermentation techniques, I did a bulk fermentation, punched down the dough, and then did three or four folds and shaped a boule and let the dough rise a second time. Then I divided the dough, did a boule fold, shaped my loaves and put them into a linen lined whicker basket and a baneton.

Because the oatmeal was still warm (though not hot) when I added it to the bread, the yeast was very active and the dough expanded very aggressively. To bring it under control, I did the final proofing for the boules in the refrigerator. The oven spring was huge, and despite some pretty good scoring, the loaves exploded a little on the side.

The flavor, the texture of the crumb, the lightness of the loaves, and the moisture were all really good. All of that in a formula that is 80% whole whole wheat.

One last note. I am feeling a lot better about my oven management of the Presto oven—this is my second one, and I have just finished a complete curing (or dry out) cycle. I fired the oven for about an hour with three pieces of wood, and then let it cool down into bread baking temperatures for an hour and 45 minutes. I have also started using a garden sprayer to create steam in the oven. By opening the oven door just enough for the sprayer wand, you can create a lot of steam without a lot of effort. The oven was just right, and the top of the bread, the bottom of the bread and crumb were all ready at the same time.

Today I baked the two large boules and two baguettes, all in a single bread loading in my Presto oven. Who says you can’t bake a lot of bread in a small pizza oven. :-) It was great.

Craigslist, Profit Compression and Pizza Ovens

I’ve been thinking about the NY Times Douthat column on Facebook and commerce, and there is one thing I want to add to my posting (Physical Goods in a Virtual Era).

In his column, Douthat notes that Facebook is no General Motors, and that despite their $100B market capitalization, they don’t actually employ very many people 9 (a tiny fraction of GM’s payroll in it’s heyday). In fact, even Apple, who manufactures all of their devices in factories outside the US, has a small payroll relative to their unquestionably high revenues.

All of which leads me to Craigslist and the profit compression phenomenon. As many analysts have noted, nothing has done more to damage the traditional daily newspaper than Craigslist. By effectively replacing the daily newspaper’s expensive want ads with free or inexpensive online ads, Craigslist has destroyed the newspaper’s main source of revenue, costing the industry scores of billions of dollars. According to University of Michigan Economics Professor Marc Perry, newspaper ad revenues have fallen from a peak of over $60B, and $46B a short five years ago in 2007, to $20.7B in 2011 (the lowest level in 60 years).

Against these massive revenue loses, Craiglist itself remains a small, privately held company. It does not disclose its finances, or even it ownership structure for that matter, but most analysts estimate that it has revenues of slightly higher than $100M. The 11th most popular site in the U.S., Craigslist has only 32 employees. The mouse truly ate the elephant.

But don’t feel sorry for Jim Buckmaster, the Craigslists CEO. Various analysts estimate that the site with worth at least $1B, making Mr. Buckmaster a very wealthy man (at least on paper).

In a similar vein, product companies can compress the profits of a related market through innovation, and turn their increases in unit production into a strategic advantage. For example, as consumers buy iPhones and iPads rather than PCs, Apple benefits from economies of scale, which in part helped them to bring the iPad to market at an aggressive $499 price. Meanwhile, faced with declining PC sales, HP and Dell have been forced to lay off staff.

We are actively pursuing a profit compression as a strategy at Forno Bravo. By introducing smaller, ready-to-use ovens at lower price points than what the incumbent suppliers had been changing, and by introducing the concept of complete oven kits at aggressive prices, we have significantly lowered the Average Selling Price (ASP) for the entire industry. But as I noted in my earlier posting How Do You Price a Pizza Oven?, our unit volumes are much higher than our competitors and we are flourishing making a smaller per oven profit.

With the upcoming Presto oven, our smallest and least expensive oven yet, we are continuing to push this trend—we hope to the delight of our customers.

Salt, Pane Toscano and Pisa

I think we all know that salt is an important component of hearth bread, but if you are like me, you have never really known exactly why.

On a personal level, I have eaten a great deal of Pane Toscano, the regional bread of Tuscany that is famous, for among other things, for not using salt. The bread is dense and dry, and it does not have a developed crumb—haha, but other than that it’s great. But more on Pane Toscano in a minute.

The British Royal Society of Chemists comes to the rescue again. Here is the explanation on why salt is such an important component of hearth bread. It comes down to ions.

Salt is always added to dough – and not just for the taste. Its ions shield gluten’s charges from one another and enable the protein molecules to approach more closely, giving a stronger and more stable dough.7 Governments are often anxious to reduce salt levels in the diet, but there is a limit as to how far this can be carried with bread. In the absence of salt, dough is sticky, and the resulting bread is unpalatable. 

Ions? For that, I turn to the community at Wikipedia:

An ion is an atom or molecule in which the total number of electrons is not equal to the total number ofprotons, giving it a net positive or negative electrical charge. The name was given by physicist Michael Faraday for the substances that allow a current to pass (“go”) between electrodes in a solution, when an electric field is applied. It is the transliteration of the Greek participle ἰόν, ión, “going”.

Back to Pane Toscano. Unless you grew up eating it, I have found that most non-Tuscans don’t get Pane Toscano, and they don’t really like it. There are couple of schools of thought (well, urban legends really) as to why it doesn’t have salt. Culinary apologists remind us that it works great as bruschetta and that it is a good compliment to the salty Tuscan cured meats. Other stories explain that salt was very expensive in the medieval period, so that cutting salt out of bread was an effective cost-cutting measure, or the closely related story that salt was highly taxed, and as the locals didn’t want to pay taxes, they decided to make salt-free bread. Given the current Italian national obsession with not paying taxes (tax avoidance has been called the Italian national sport), that story might ring true.

Pane Toscano at the Coop in Florence

And my final favorite story says that because Florence is landlocked, it had to rely on its medieval rival coastal Pisa for salt, and rather than trade with the enemy, they decided to live with bad bread.

As a foreigner (stranieri) who has spent a lot of time in Tuscany, I think the best approach is to learn to love it. :-)

Physical Goods in a Virtual Era

From the NY Times, Douthat: The Facebook Illusion

As a follow on to my posting on Facebook, Free and Forno Bravo, here is a NY Times column on the Facebook IPO. I agree with Douthat that “the “new economy,” in this sense, isn’t always even a commercial economy at all. Instead, as Slate’s Matthew Yglesias has suggested, it’s a kind of hobbyist’s paradise, one that’s subsidized by surpluses from the old economy it was supposed to gradually replace.

This reminds me of something we used to say in the early days of Internet 1.0, when companies were raising and losing large amounts of money on silly ideas like, or e-commerce sites that sold physical goods for less than they paid for them in order to gain “eyeballs”. The Internet isn’t a business; it’s a channel.

This quote from the Douthat article caught my eye as relevant to Forno Bravo’s strategy. We make stuff!

It’s telling, in this regard, that the companies most often cited as digital-era successes, Apple and Amazon, both have business models that are firmly rooted in the production and delivery of nonvirtual goods. Apple’s core competency is building better and more beautiful appliances; Amazon’s is delivering everything from appliances to DVDs to diapers more swiftly and cheaply to your door.