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The Wood-Fired Blog

So Many Variables in Bread Baking

Aug 22, 2012Posted by Forno Bravo

When I said that I was going to follow the same formula, but increase the water, in order to see if I could replicate (and hopefully fix) the problems that I encountered a couple of days ago with my too-dense, under-proofed, really crusty whole wheat loaves.

The good news is that I bumped the water from 78% water to 84% water, and it made a huge difference. The dough was much more lively and elastic, and if proofed better and baked better. That’s good.

The loaves had nice oven spring and they are a lot lighter than the same formula from a few days ago. One came out really nice, and the second exploded a little, which leads me to believe that my new scoring pattern might be part of the problem. More to learn there.

Having said all of this, my latest round of baking underscored for me just how many variables there are in bread baking. The idea that I would only change one variable while holding the rest constant so that I could understand the impact of that one variable just doesn’t work. The physical world and my daily schedule threw in a wide range of changes from one batch to another. For example, I started the bread later in the day, I mixed the flour and water and let it rest for 30 minutes before adding the rest of the ingredients and mixing my dough, I mixed for a shorter time period, I didn’t stretch and fold before my bulk fermentation, etc. And then there is the oven itself. It is, after all, a wood-fired pizza oven — without a digital temperature control panel. To be honest, I didn’t even check the temperature of my oven (my hand got warm at 5 Mississippi’s, which is a good guide).

So, to summarize. I think the 84% water was huge. It made all the difference in the world, and I think I have learned enough to know by feel in the future when my dough it just too dry and too tough. I also think that the other problems I encountered — including difficulty stretching and handling the dough, poor final proofing, weak oven spring, the cracked loaves, the dense crumb and the tough crust all spiraled out from that initial mistake.

But I also know there are so many variables at play that it’s going to be a fun project working out the cause and effect relationships that result from all the other variables.




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