The Wood-Fired Blog

Whole Wheat Walnut Boule

60% whole wheat
20% white whole wheat
20% general purpose flour
73% hydration (going a little higher)
20 grams salt
10 grams yeast
40 grams extra virgin olive oil
30 grams honey
110 grams chopped walnuts (I will use more next time)

Mix everything in a stand mixer and knead for 10 minutes on low (the two setting on a KitchenAid mixer). Then a bulk fermentation for about an hour, until the volume roughly doubles. Then I divided the dough into two and shaped two boules. I will be posting a link to a nice video from Peter Reinhart, our very favorite bread and pizza guru, on boule shaping next.

I’m feeling a little better about my slashing technique—working on baguettes recently has definitely helped. I’ve learned a couple of important things. First, my angle was far too flat; the optimal slash angle is a steep 30%. Also, I’ve been a great deal more aggressive with my slashing motion and moving a lot faster (really getting into the slasher aspect of this. haha.

One last note on my oven. These boules were baked in my small Presto oven after I finished baking four baguettes, and before baking a fruit crumble. You can definitely bake a lot of bread and pastry from a single firing in a smaller oven. Which is great!

Ice Water, Yeast and Crumb

This is a follow-up on my earlier posting on High Hydration Dough, where I ask (and answer) the question—”do I need to proof my yeast”?, with a clear and definitive “no”.

As a little background, I mixed my flour, salt and yeast, and then added 80% ice water directly to the flour and mixed it. After a two hour bulk fermentation, I shaped my baguettes, put then on a homemade couch for final proof. Note that I did not proof my baguette dough balls before shaping my loaves.

So, did I get a pretty good crumb development, with a nice structure of crumb and holes? I think it came out pretty well. Not perfect distribution, and I still have a lot to learn, but I feel good about not proofing my yeast (for bread or pizza dough) going forward.

Handling Wet Dough and the Couche

In my previous posting, I made to notes on mixing and kneading high hydration dough (80% in this case), so I wanted to make a couple of notes on working with web dough—and point out a mistake that I made (something I know but need occasional reminding).

First, don’t over-flour your work surface, or the dough, when handling wet dough. You can add a little bit of extra virgin olive oil to your work surface to the dough from sticking, and you can put water on your hands. If you use a lot of flour you can alter your dough, by working a lot of flour into the dough later in the process (which ins’t good), and your proofed loaves can have a lot of excess flour on them, which can burn in the oven, and give your bread an almost sandy, or gritty texture on the outside.

Second, you will need a couch. From our friends at Wikipedia (wait a minutes. are we our own friends at Wikipeidia? I have contributed a number of photos there—including some up-close photos of water buffalo for mozzarella):

Alternatively, a couche or proofing cloth can be used to proof dough on or under. Couche are generally made of linen or other coarse material which the dough will not stick to and are left unwashed so as to let yeast and flour collect in them, aiding the proofing process.

I have been using tea towels (at least that’s what my English wife calls them). You can find linen tea towels that are inexpensive and work pretty well—though they aren’t perfect. A professionale couche is wider, longer, stiffer and has a looser weave pattern, so the bread is less likely to stick. Maybe I need to go shopping. I know you can get one from the wonderful people at King Arthur Flour.

Mixing High Hydration Dough

I made 80% hydration baguette’s, and was reminded just how much longer (and a little faster) you need mix the dough to build the strands of gluten and develop the bread’s structure. That statement marks roughly the end of my technical knowledge on the science of web dough—thought I want to do some more research in order to understand why this is true.

From this sequence of photos, you can see the dough go from being not much more than batter, to nice thin strands of gluten developing, to the entire mixtures pulling from the sides of the mixing bowl to shape a true dough ball with a wonderful, silky texture.

Here is the recipe:

1 kg of Trader Joe’s white all purpose flour
10 grams of yeast
20 grams of salt
800 grams of ice water

Mixing took 13-15 minutes, including 3-4 minutes in the middle with my KitchenAid stand mixer running at a high speed (4 or 5). I bulk fermented the dough for a couple of hours before pushing out all of the air bubbles and shaping baguettes.

I ended up making some nice baguettes in my Presto pizza oven.

One last note. The Forno Bravo “perfect pizza dough” by weight recipe that we use in all of our eBooks does not call for you to proof your yeast in any way—we don’t add sugar to get it started, we don’t add warm water, and we don’t mix it on the side. Modern yeast is simply good enough to work without any of these extra steps.

“Ah, but does it always work?” you might be asking be asking yourself. If fact, we get a reasonable number of questions by phone and email, asking us if that really works. The answer is a resounding yes!

Think of it this way. In this recipe, I added the yeast directly to the flour (with no sugar or honey, and no separate proofing), and then I proceeded to dump ice water on top of it. Ice water, which is pretty much the opposite of proofing the yeast in warm water. And it worked great.

So my advice is to skip the yeast proofing step, and invest that time is very accurate weighing of your ingredients. You will come out ahead on time, and your bread and pizza dough will be much better!


Slightly Over-Proofed Whole Wheat Olive Boule

My on-going bread experiments are continuing (and are a lot of fun). One thing I am enjoying about my most recent round of dedicated baking is that the family is really enjoying my whole wheat bread—rather than just tolerating it because it’s healthy. To some  degree I think that I because we have all been eating a great deal more whole wheat bread over the past few years and everyone has come to like it, and (hopefully) I am getting better at bread baking.

I tried a couple of variations on the basic whole whole wheat yeast bread that I have been using. Here is the recipes:

1 kg white whole wheat flour
10 grams yeast
20 grams of salt
4 tablespoons (I need to start converting that to grams) olive oil
40 gram of grated parmesan
110 grams of chopped Kalamata olives
71 grams (71% hydration) water

That means that I added an additional 60 grams of water for a more highly hydrated dough, along with the cheese and more olives. Overall, the bread came out pretty well, with a couple of comments. The more hydrated dough was faster to rise, so that I got my timing off.  The shaped loaves were peaking and starting to show signs of stress while I was waiting for my oven to cool. One going up and the other going dow. By the time my oven had cools to bread baking temperature, the loaves were pretty fragile, and they started to collapse a little bit when I slashed them with the razor blade. Again, they worked out nicely, but you can see the imperfection. Live and learn.

Finally, 110 grams of chopped olives was better than the handful that I used a few batches ago, but still not enough, and I could hardly tell that I had added the Parmesan. I have more to learn about cheese and bread.

10/30/60 Whole Wheat Loaves, and Some Great Bruschetta

In a way, this was a little bit like leftovers. You know how you always end up with odds and ends of flour in various bags in your cupboard. Today I mixed together three different flours to come with a nice blend of 10% whole wheat, 30% while whole wheat and 60% general purpose (not bread) flour to make a new 1kg (2.2 lb) batch of bread. Because I changed the blend of flours, I decided to stay consistent with the recipe and techniques from my previous batch of 100% white whole wheat flour.

The formula was 100 grams of whole wheat, 300 grams of white whole wheat, 600 grams of general purpose flour, along with 10 grams of yeast, 20 grams of salt, 4 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of honey.

A quick note on the honey. I am trying to find the right amount of honey to counter-balance the heavy and dry characteristics of some whole wheat loaves, without making my bread sweet in any way. My question is how much should I so that I feel the freshness and moistness, but don’t actually taste the honey. So far, 2 tablespoons in a 1kg batch seems to be working—though in this case I only had 40% whole wheat flour, so I probably could have used less.

I mixed the dough for 10 minutes in a KitchenAid mixer on level two; did a one hour bulk fermentation; punched down the dough and properly folded it and let it rise again. I then cut and shaped the two loaves and set them aside to proof in a baneton and linen lined wicker bowl. The addition of the light, white flour get the dough a definite spring. Where the whole wheat version of this recipe had barely begun to expand after 90 minutes, this recipe was bursting with life.

Also, while I am a big fan of 100% whole wheat bread, the 60% addition of white flour helped create a loaf that could be used the same way you would use a baguette, ciabatta or pugliese. Yes, this bread could be used for bruschetta!

The second experiment I wanted to try with the Presto oven was a different strategy for firing and fueling the oven. I think I am going to be baking a lot of bread this summer in my little oven, and I am thinking of ways of making the firing process easier. So today, I chopped 2-3 pieces of standard sized firewood into smaller 2-3” pieces (lots of them). Then I built a top-down fire, and then fully loaded the oven to the top with wood. My theory was that the top-down fire (larger pieces of wood on the bottom, building up to kindling at the top) would catch fire and start to fall in—to where the extra wood stacked on top would catch fire to where all of the wood in oven would combust.

To put my technique to the test, I lit the fire and only hung around long enough to be sure that it really had, in fact, caught fire. Once I was convinced that the fire was burning, I went for a run. And when I came back, all of the wood had burned and there was only a layer of burning wood coals on the cook floor. I have to say that this isn’t a perfect way of firing your oven, but in this case it was just good enough. I had stored enough heat in the oven to bake my bread. I shoveled out the coals and ashes, swabbed the deck and loaded my bread.

The loaves proofed nicely and were much larger than a pure whole wheat loaf, but there was no risk that they were ready to fall back onto themselves. All was well. I sprayed the oven a couple of times and watched the bread spring forward. The final result was a nice, light boule, with a little more character than plain “white bread”. But we ate it like white bread, making toast for boiled eggs and my favorite—bruschetta, with olive oil and porcini mushroom flavored salt.

I used an indoor cast iron grill, though it would have been even better with a grill pan in the wood oven itself. As an aside, bruschetta does not taste anything like toast from a toaster. The smokey char of a grill mixes with the olive oil and salt to make something wonderful. Not toast. :-)


Whole wheat bread with olives in the Presto Pizza Oven

Still having a great time with my Presto oven. As an update, I can confirm that I will be working with a second prototype of the Presto within a few days as the final OK before releasing it to production and making it available for sale. To quote Apple on the latest iOS 5.1.1 software update, we are working on “minor improvements and bug fixes”. haha. More seriously, we are working out the final kinks and I am getting very excited about the Presto as a product. Any my next one is going to be red!

Meanwhile, in my first gen Presto, I am continuing to bake bread and continuing to learn more and more about getting the most from a small oven. Today I made a 1kg (2.2lb) batch of whole wheat olive bread. The dough called for 1kg of white whole wheat flour, 10 grams of yeast, 20 grams of salt, 650 gram of water (65% hydration), 4 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of honey and handful of chopped green Spanish olives. Kalamata olives might have been nicer, but I didn’t have any. The olive oil and honey were a wonderful addition, bring a nice moistness to the dough and balancing the dry, nuttiness of the whole wheat flour. I also should have used more olives. Next time.

I bulk fermented the dough for about an hour, shaped my loaves and let them rise in the bantons for another 90 minutes. They were nicely proofed.

As before, I brought the oven up to temperature with about three pieces of firewood chopped into 2-3” wide pieces. The small oven really seems to like smaller pieces of wood, in part because I think there is generally less air circulation than in a larger oven. Also, as the oven only needs three pieces of wood to be nicely fired, the small pieces burn better relative to the overall size of the fire.

I took a little more time brushing and then swabbing the oven floor and letting the oven temperature moderate and regulate—though really not enough. The oven was still hotter than I would have liked, but as usual, dinner was waiting. If you have been reading for a while, you will know that I strongly recommend against cleaning your oven floor with a damp towel for pizza baking (it takes valuable heat out of the floor and the grit is good for you), but I think swabbing the oven floor with damp rag is a good thing for bread baking. Cooling the floor can be a good thing, the water puts steam and moisture in your oven, and grit just isn’t as fun in bread.

One other thing. I have a piece of pizza dough left over from a few nights ago, so I shaped that into a focaccia and put it on a half sheet pan with some olive oil. And did both loaves and the sheet pan fit nicely in the 24” wide Presto oven? Definitely!

Overall, I got a nice oven spring. I sprayed the oven three times after putting the loaves in, and I could tell right away that the spring was better. I’m not sure whether it was because my dough was better (it was), the oven had been fired a little longer, or I sprayed more water. Either way, it worked out really well.

We ate the focaccia for dinner and I’ve already been snacking on the whole wheat bread. Good thing I run.

More bread to come.

Whole Wheat Boules in a Small Pizza Oven

I am enjoying having a small oven in our side garden for the same reasons as the many people who have who have decided to buy our smaller ovens—the Primavera and Andiamo. They are easy to manage, they fire up really quickly and they are just a blast to use. Don’t let the smaller size deceive you; you can do a lot of serious pizza and bread baking in a smaller oven.

Yesterday my Presto prototype was sitting just outside our side door, calling out to me to bake something, so I decided to make bread. And after my short tangent on white whole wheat flour in my Bread in a Small Oven blog, I decided to make a couple of whole wheat boules. But as I don’t have an active sourdough culture, I didn’t have a lot of time, and I was looking for some immediate gratification, I made what is basically a bread flour yeasted dough recipe, and substituted white whole wheat flour.

I am sure there are purists somewhere turning over in their graves—and I will be the first person to admit that I was breaking a lot of rules and cutting a lot of corners, but hey, it was a lot of fun. And my bread was pretty good.

My dough recipe was 1kg of white whole wheat flour, 10 grams of yeast, 20 grams of salt and 650 grams of room temperature water. I did not proof my yeast (actually I never proof my yeast), and I did not add olive oil or honey. And because I was short on time, I skipped the bulk fermentation (yes, I know). I mixed the dough for 10 minutes on the level 2 setting on my KitchenAid mixer, and then hand kneaded the dough on the counter for a couple of minutes to try to make it more silky.

Then, rather than doing a bulk fermentation, I correctly folded and shaped two boules—making sure that I created a nice, taut skin across the top of the loaf. I sealed the seam and put one boule in a cane baneton, and the second in a linen lined basket. I cover them and let them proof for nearly two hours. You really don’t get the rise with whole wheat flour that you would see with bread flour, and they needed the time.

Continuing with my theme of being efficient, I built a nice top-down fire and got a serious fire burning in my oven. After less than an hour and 2 pieces of firewood split into smaller pieces, I left like the oven has stored enough heat to bake my bread (and time was running out), so I shoveled out all of the burning wood, coals and ash and let the oven cool for just a few minutes before I swabbed the deck with a damp towel.

Interestingly, you would normally allow a well-fired oven to cool down and evenly share its heat, but in this case I need to bake my bread before dinner. So one thing I found was that the floor of the oven was quite a bit hotter on the right side than the left—because the fire had been bigger on that side. And the bread baked differently on the two sides. I am not saying this as something I recommend, but I think it’s fun after all of these years to still be learning new things about how wood ovens behave.

I popped the bread into the oven while the dome temperature was round 600ºF, knowing that the oven would cool pretty quickly and that whole wheat loaves take longer to bake than white bread flour loaves.

And it all came out really well. The oven spring was not what I would have liked, and as usual my grigne was not very good, but overall, I am pretty satisfied. The bread itself worked really well with dinner that evening, and (as usual) for toast and sandwiches over the next day or so. The bread below is one and a half days old. Not bad.

Maybe it’s time to make that emotional commitment to maintaining a sourdough culture again. :-)