The Wood-Fired Blog

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.

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. :-)

Pain Pascale

We are lucky to live within a few miles of the Trader Joe’s in Pacific Grove, CA. I really don’t know what we would do without it, as I often (and only somewhat jokingly) think our local Supermarket (Save Mart) is out to kill its patrons with artificial additives, preservatives and partially hydrogenated oils. Our favorite markets in Florence were the Co-op on Viale Europa, which is a wonderful big box retailer featuring an on-site bakery, cheese shop, butcher, salumeria, and a great fish shop, and the Penny Market in Bagno a Ripoli, something of a European version of Trader Joe’s. Penny Market stocks only one brand of most items, if they can’t get a good deal they don’t stock it, they get great special buys, and the store is small, and stocked to the gils. You can buy a week’s worth of groceries in a couple of minutes. haha. Really, my kind of store.

One of my favorite items at Trader Joe’s is their really darn good Pain Pascale organic, whole wheat demi miche. I don’t know who bakes it for them, and how many other TJs stock the item, but if you are a TJs shopper, you should look out for it. Our store went through a period where they have it some days and not others, but for the past few months they have had it consistently. Our teenage daughter even likes it.

I’ve been lucky enough to have eaten quite a bit of Pain Poilane in Paris, and I have been into a few of their bakeries and have even been allowed to watch them work with one of their wonderful wood ovens in the basement of the bakery. So while Pain Pascale is not the same as the original—what is? I have heard stories about movie stars paying private jets to deliver Pain Poilane to movie sets. I think it might be worth it. Pain Poilane with french butter for breakfast. Ahhh.

Both loaves are a Miche. To quote Wikipedia:

Pain de campagne (“country bread” in French) is typically a large round loaf (“miche”) made from a natural leavening similar to, but not as sour as, American sourdough. Most traditional versions of this bread are made with a combination of white flour with whole wheat flour and/or rye flour, water, leavening and salt. For centuries, French villages had communal ovens where the townsfolk would bring their dough to be baked, and the miches weighed from four to as much as twelve pounds. Such large loaves would feed a family for days or weeks, until the next baking day.

I have been complaining about factory and supermarket bread for as long as I can remember—they not only taste awful and have terrible crust, they have a huge list of artificial additives.

But not Pan Pascale. Here is the list of ingredient:
Organic whole wheat flour
Filtered water
Sea salt

Enjoy! (If you can find it).