I had an interesting encounter with the conventional electric oven in our kitchen yesterday (not one of the more interesting pizza ovens on my patio). We were doing some Sunday baking that included a loaf of banana bread, two trays of mince pies and a sheet of focaccia. Yum.
Anyway, at one point the two trays with the mince pies were assembled and ready, but the banana bread was already in the oven — so I moved the banana bread to the bottom of the oven and set both trays of pies on the racks. The oven was on convection bake at 350F deg. What’s interesting is after a couple of minutes you could smell scorching, and I quickly removed a tray of pies, and put the bread back on the rack. As the first round of pies were done, I swapped the other tray in, and everything worked out nicely.
But why did the bottom of my bread burn so quickly?
I got my infrared thermometer, and confirmed that the floor (and walls for that matter) were about 350F deg. This seems to be a case where the heat in the oven floor is conducting through the metal loaf pan faster (much faster) than the air (is the air also 350F deg?).
Time to do some research into this. It would be interesting to understand the physics of this. One last point, this does seem to confirm the recommendation that you put your pizza stone on the bottom of your oven, rather than on a rack — for more efficient heat conduction.
Here are my scorch marks. Other than, this is a really nice loaf of bread.
I have always thought of myself as a glass half full person, so in parsing my latest baguette lessons and trials, I’m going to start with the positive. As background information, I made a standard 70% dough using TJs AP flour.
On the upside:
I started my dough the night before using room temperature water and an initial knead for 10 minutes on KitchenAid at 3. The dough ball was silky and well-formed. I then popped it in the refrigerator covered with a kitchen towel overnight.
The overnight rise was good. The volume increased by more than 50%, but did not exploded, and it did not stay in a hibernating state—as is the case when I start my dough with ice water. My conclusion is that ice water baguettes probably need more than 19 hours (kneading at 10PM and baking at 5PM the next day).
I did six folds and a bulk fermentation and an second six folds. It’s easy to do, and I have mastered the wet deck and wet hands method—so I am not adding any additional flour to the dough. I created the baguette balls and let them proof on the deck, which also worked.
Overall, these are probably my best baguettes yet. They are light, crispy on the crust, the crumb is nice and developed, and they are tall. I’ve been wanting to address my low (puddle) baguette problem, and I might be there.
On the “needs improvement” list, I still have a ways to go:
While my slashing (docking or scoring—I wonder why there are so many terms for basically the same thing) is improving there were some real shortcomings in this batch.
On one baguette, my scoring did not overlap by 1/3 (as described in the Hitz scoring video, and in parts of the bread where there was not enough overlap, there is the “bulge and constraint” phenomenon that Hitz described in his video. You can see it in the photo below. The cuts are over-exploded, while the areas of bread without the overlap are very narrow. Got it. Overlap by 1/3.
On the second baguette, despite the fact that I thought I scored the loaves pretty well, and did the 1/3 overlap, the baguette steam blew out the side of the loaf—leaving the score makes relatively un-expanded. Not good. Watching the video again, I have to remember that speed is important to the scoring technique. I think I need to score fast to get a deeper cut.
While one baguette is pretty consistently formed, the second loaf is just too short and too fat. I need to think about whether this was because I simply didn’t roll that loaf properly at the final step of preparing the loaf, or whether I made another mistake earlier in the process.
And finally, after watching the Hitz video again after loading these baguettes in the oven, I can see that I need to know more air out of my baguette balls before shaping the baguettes. I need to get more skin tension during my final shaping, and that will help.
So in the end, I feel like I made a few more improvements to my technique, and definitely have a few more to go. I some ways, fixing more problems upstream (earlier in the process), makes the mistakes I make later in the process all the more glaring. I can definitely say at this point that I do not know how long it is going to take for me to get all of the bugs out of the system. Or, to be honest, if I can reach the level of skill that I would like will staying 100% self taught. It’s going to be fun finding out.
We received an email question today from a member who has bee following my bread quest who was interested in hearing more on bread baking temperature. It’s a really good topic; one that deserves a lot more attention.
One of the habits I have developed over years of wood-fired bread baking is a general (and probably misguided) disregard for oven temperature accuracy. Pizza ovens (and all wood-fired masonry ovens) are very forgiving in terms of the acceptable temperature range. The moistness in the oven chamber gives you a lot of wiggle room. So while I have some general rules ,I have never put a lot of stock into the differences between 425F and 450F in a conventional oven. And I think to become a better baker, that is something I need to develop.
So, going forward, I will start taking better notes on the oven temperature, both at the start of baking and at the finish. That will be helpful.
Here are some general rules that I try to follow:
You can start baking bread in the high 500F’s in a pizza oven. Remember to allow your oven to sufficiently cool before loading your bread; or you will burn the outside while the crumb is still doughy;
You should start baguettes first if you are baking multiple loads from a single firing (they bake more quickly and can take the higher heat);
If your oven temperature is well balanced (top and bottom) and within the general range required for bread baking you can roughly gauge whether your bread is done (or close) by the color of the crust;
Your finished bread should have an internal temperature of about 200F-205F;
If you are baking in a conventional oven, you should pre-heat your oven to 50-75F higher than your baking temperature. For baguettes, you can start baking at 500F, and then lower the temperature to 425F when you load your bread. Try 475F and 400F for a larger, whole wheat boule that requires a longer baking time;
Be sure to let your bread cool before you cut it and start eating it. The crumb needs to cool and finish baking for quite a while after you have removed the loaf from the oven;
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
I was doing research into gliadin and gluten, the two proteins that make up the wheat gluten that give bread its structure, and I came across a really interesting academic article on the science of bread from the British Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC). Really interesting stuff. I think I will refer back to the later with regard to the chemistry of gluten development, but their matter of fact description of how supermarket bread came to be so awful and so bad for you is really worth noting.
It really isn’t fermented bread; it’s whipped flour. Blah.
The traditional breadmaking process has a serious drawback. After mixing, the dough must be left to prove for at least three hours for the bubble expansion to develop the gluten. The dough is then ‘knocked back’ to remove most of the CO2 - a process usually combined with scaling (ie getting the dough into the right size chunks) and moulding to fit the tin – before being allowed to prove a second time before it goes into the oven. Although this long fermentation develops flavour, it is costly in time, with bakers having to rise early in the morning to produce fresh bread for the day. In addition, the mounds of fermenting dough take up expensive floor space and present hygiene problems. Research efforts were therefore directed to developing a ‘no time’ dough: by increasing the amount of yeast; by mixing vigorously to increase the rate of bubble formation; and by adding oxidising agents to promote disulfide bond formation.
You should read the entire article. Lots of good stuff. Here is the graphic on gluten development.
DId you know that process of carbon dioxide expanding the dough is considered part of the “mechanical” gluten development process. But for your local supermarket, it’s just too slow and too expensive. You know what they say—time is money.
In my quest to learn to make a better baguette (dare I say a good baguette?), I have been experimenting with new techniques, reading about the science, watching videos, tuning my equipment (pizza oven, etc.) and even making equipment (my baguette flipper). I have been deconstructing the process and learning how to make beyond my initial attempts, which I would characterize as follows:
1. Mix 80% room temperature water dough for 8 minutes at low speed.
2. Bulk ferment for an hour or so.
3. Shape baguettes and let them proof on the counter.
4. Transfer them into the pizza oven by hand using the back of a baking sheet.
I would say that my results have been OK, but I want more. My flavor is good, the crumb texture is OK, the crust is only so-so, and my slashing is downright awful. In my defense, my baguettes are still better than just about anything we can buy locally.
So I want more.
Plus, I have always enjoyed learning new skills—it’s what keeps a middle-aged guy going, and I think that being self-taught is the way to go.
My initial steps toward improvement were primarily at the back-end of the process. Improved baguette shaping and a better method for loading my loaves into the oven. And that has been helping. But until I improve the quality of my dough, the back-end improvements will only get me so far. GIGO. Well, not that extreme. MEMO. Mediocre In…
Today’s work is focused on the dough.
To start, I have been reading more about gluten development and working with high hydration dough. There seem to be a number of elements of dough preparation that I can easily improve, without significantly increasing the complexity or time commitment of my daily baking. In no particular order:
1. Temperature control.
I am starting to work with ice-water and overnight fermentation, rather than a short fermentation at room temperature. In today’s batch I mixed an 80% hydration dough using ice water and an overnight fermentation in the refrigerator.
2. Higher speed mixing for better gluten developement.
Wet doughs require more mixing in order to develop the gluten your bread needs for a nicely structured crumb. In my previous ice water baguette batch, I mixed the dough for about 8 minutes on a low setting at the end of the evening. It was basically undeveloped, but it was late, so I put it in the refrigerator, hoping the overnight fermentation would improve the structure. It didn’t. And the resulting baguettes were very flat and did not have very much (if any) oven spring. In this batch, I mixed the dough faster (the 4th speed) and longer—a little more than 10 minutes. I could definitely see the gluten developing and the strand in the dough becoming elongated. Over the mixing time, the dough went from batter, to a sticky mess, and actually forming a dough ball.
It formed a real dough ball by the end.
3. Folding during bulk fermentation for better dough strength.
This is another good way of helping the dough develop a strong gluten structure, without over-mixing your dough during the initial kneading. There has been a lot written recently on no-knead dough (very high hydration, un-kneaded dough left to ferment for long periods of time) and folded doughs (where lots of folding takes the place of a higher speed initial knead), and there seems to be a consensus that folding after bulk fermentation helps build gluten structure without overworking the dough to where oxygen depletes the flour.
I found a great YouTube video that demonstration high hydration dough folding. I really like the instructor’s methodical approach, and I have started incorporating this into my bread making technique. Working with very wet dough is incredibly important if you want to make the traditional light, crusty European breads, including Baguettes, ciabatta and Pugliese.
Now, if I can learn to combine my improved “front-end” techniques with the “back-end” techniques that I have been trying to master, I might get somewhere.
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