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mamster

Making good bread

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It wasn't the first time I'd made bread, but it was the first time I'd made good bread. Recently I was asked to test a recipe for an upcoming book, for a Flute Gana-type loaf, with a poolish starter and some cornmeal in the dough. I followed the recipe, formed the loaves, baked on a stone, and out came the same disappointing bread I've always made: looked fine, perfectly edible, but bland. I was about to conclude that all the books claiming you could get good rustic bread out of a home oven were bogus.

But I was determined to give it another shot, so I turned to The Bread Baker's Apprentice. It has a Pain a l'Ancienne recipe that promises great results. It seemed too simple to work at all: it's a straight dough, with no starter or sponge (this is very uncommon in modern bread books), and after retarding overnight, you shape the loaves and pop them in the oven without even proofing. It's an extremely wet dough, and the best I could do was shape it into some flattish baguettes. The recipe does call for generating as much steam in the oven as possible, which I did by pouring hot water into a heated cast iron skillet and also using a spray bottle.

About 22 minutes later, out came some gorgeously brown, if misshapen, loaves. Somehow I forced myself to let them cool completely before diving in. I couldn't even believe what I was eating at first. Was Laurie playing a trick on me, substituting some bread from Dahlia or Grand Central? No, this was my ugly bread. The crust to crumb ration was a little high, but that's the worst thing you could possibly say about this loaf. The crust was crisp, and loaded with flavor, and I got great gelatinization through the crumb, leaving it moist with irregular holes.

If you're chary of homemade bread, like I was, try this recipe. You could mix up the dough tonight and pop it in the fridge, then bake the bread tomorrow morning. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to buy a pound of yeast.

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Sounds great, jackal. I've been wanting to experiment with sourdough, so I may well try your recipe next.

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Sounds great, jackal. I've been wanting to experiment with sourdough, so I may well try your recipe next.

I know I'll regret this, but if anyone wants sourdough starter then pm or email me with their snail mail address and, given time, I'll culture some and send it.

I find the easiest way to ship is is as a dryish dough. Crumble it into water, add an equal amout of flour and leave in a warm (85F) place until it bubbles - 8 hours or so, then refresh it a couple of times and you are away....

The history of this particular starter was that it was collected by a friend of ours some years ago in a vinyard near Sonoma, CA. Its fairly vigourous and quite mild.


Edited by jackal10 (log)

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Hey mamster, I have a tangential question for you: when I made my batch of bread, I was afraid to use a cast iron pan for steaming since I was afraid throwing the water in a hot skillet would remove the season and encourage rust, or even warp the pan. Did any of this happen to your cast iron pan?

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That is great mamster, I've made this bread several times from the Bread Baker's Apprentice book and it is fantastic. I even use a very similar recipe-with Olive Oil added and a bit less wet- to make pizza dough. Retardation does give great results.

Jackal I should be trying this recipe this week.

FM

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Nightscotsman, I warped one of my aluminum pans last time I did this, so I figured cast iron would be hardier. It didn't seem to affect the seasoning. To prevent rust, I took the pan out about halfway through baking, poured out the remaining water, and rubbed it with oil.

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The history of this particular starter was that it was collected by a friend of ours some years ago in a vinyard near Sonoma, CA.  Its fairly vigourous and quite mild.

That is very cool jackal. I have a ton of starter too, but it's not that old, and not that cool. Have you frozen yours?

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That is very cool jackal.  I have a ton of starter too, but it's not that old, and not that cool.  Have you frozen yours?

I find starter doesn't freeze well, but keeps almost indefinately in a closed jar in the fridge. I guess freezing can rupture and damage the yeast cells.

Adding packet yeast is a waste of time - the environment is so acid and the wild yeast so strong and in such abundance that the package yeast will not compete.

It separates into two layers, but they just get stirred back in. The yeast goes dormant (I think there is a technical term). Adding more food (flour) and warming up and it springs back into life, even after a year or so.

I should add a reference to Sourdoughs International an enthusiast who sells many and strange varieties. Interesting book as well.


Edited by jackal10 (log)

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I have most of my starter in the fridge, and some tests in the freezer. Just wanted to know if I should abort trial.I'll take some out eventually and feed it. Can't hurt.

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Nightscotsman, I warped one of my aluminum pans last time I did this, so I figured cast iron would be hardier.  It didn't seem to affect the seasoning.  To prevent rust, I took the pan out about halfway through baking, poured out the remaining water, and rubbed it with oil.

I have sacrificed a 1/2 sheet pan. I leave it in the oven all the time. I find that it's easier to aim for than a skillet. I also think that because of the larger surface area you generate more steam initially than with a skillet. I pour 1 cup of hot water onto the pan just after loading the loaves. This amount (from Peter Reinhart) evaporates during the first 10-12 minutes of baking. Steam hanging around after this can wreak havoc with good crust development.

Just one man's opinion.

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I agree with the pan in the oven, but load it with bricks or quarry tiles or pig iron - something that can hold the heat. Preheat as hot as it will go. Its the burst of superheated steam at the beginning you want.

I have an Aga with a cast iron oven. I throw a cup of water in after loading the loaves, and slam the door.

The steam stops after about a minute. In the big wood-fired outdoor oven, mopping the floor with a wet mop, or throwing in a cup of water has a similar effect, - the steam is over after a minute, and the surface of the dough shiny and gelatanised.


Edited by jackal10 (log)

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I agree with the pan in the oven, but load it with bricks or quarry tiles or pig iron - something that can hold the heat.

I have a HearthKit.

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You could also use a good grill pan which will have more surface space.

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Nightscotsman, I warped one of my aluminum pans last time I did this, so I figured cast iron would be hardier.  It didn't seem to affect the seasoning.  To prevent rust, I took the pan out about halfway through baking, poured out the remaining water, and rubbed it with oil.

I have sacrificed a 1/2 sheet pan. I leave it in the oven all the time. I find that it's easier to aim for than a skillet. I also think that because of the larger surface area you generate more steam initially than with a skillet. I pour 1 cup of hot water onto the pan just after loading the loaves. This amount (from Peter Reinhart) evaporates during the first 10-12 minutes of baking. Steam hanging around after this can wreak havoc with good crust development.

Just one man's opinion.

That's an excellent approach. I use an old cast iron skillet, a large (14") pizza tile, and ice cubes. Skillet in the lower shelf of the oven, tile in the middle.

The usual mix is 85% King Arthur bread flour, with the remainder divided among rye, whole wheat, spelt, bran, nuts, cereals, etc. A touch of salt or soy sauce is the remainder. The bread is lightly brushed with olive oil, and dusted with cornmeal.

I preheat the oven to 500F for 30 minutes, reduce to 400F, add the scored bread directly to the stone, toss 3-4 ice cubes onto the skillet, and the steam continues for 4-5 minutes.

Cook time is about 32 minutes, until the internal temp is 195 degrees

The usual result is a very puffy, golden brown, relatively light loaf with a very thin crust.

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I have a slightly different question. DH is getting serious about making bread. Things are coming along just fine on most fronts. Except one. When he makes ciabatta (from the Baker's Apprentice) he isn't able to get the large, irregular, lovely holes.

Any ideas to think about when trouble shooting the next time? It seems like he is following directions. He is using the poolish version.

:unsure:

Any hints will be appreciated.

kcd

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I think in Carol Field's The Italian Baker she suggests that a very wet dough is crucial to getting large holes, almost "uncomfortably" wet. So you might try more water than called for in the directions, or kneading in less flour.

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This dough needs to start out as more batter than dough. Initially it should be just about impossible to handle. Through the turning process it will eventually become marginally handleable. Use lots of bench flour, rather than adding flour to the dough. Ciabatta means slipper in Italian. It gets its name from the shape it takes on. The shape results from the inability to really shape the dough.

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I have a slightly different question.  DH is getting serious about making bread.  Things are coming along just fine on most fronts.  Except one.  When he makes ciabatta (from the Baker's Apprentice) he isn't able to get the large, irregular, lovely holes. 

Any ideas to think about when trouble shooting the next time?  It seems like he is following directions.  He is using the poolish version.

  :unsure:

Any hints will be appreciated.

kcd

wetter dough, longer fermentation time would be my suggestion. When making the same Ciabatta you are talking about I try to get it as wet as possible and still be able to handle it. Following the exact directions and fermentation times in the book might not give best results due to the fact that humidity and other conditions affect how wet you need to make your dough. Hope this helps.

FM

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Are you kneeding/mixing by hand or a mixer? Holes in the crumb are a sign of high hydration, and this is easiest (I think) with a mixer. You can also let the dough sit in the mixer for 10 - 15 minutes so it will absorb even more water, then mix again. Again, do this befor adding salt, because salt will inhibit the absorbtion.

Less flour in the dough, more on the bench and on top.

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I agree - its more a batter than a dough.

The other thing is *very* gentle handling after first rise so as not to knock out the gas.

You might find using softer flour (like ordinary cake flour) helps.

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Adding to what jackal is saying, you'll want to cut the dough into loaves to keep the air structure, and pull them gently to shape. You might want to move them onto the stone (or wherever) with a bench scraper or spatula to disturb it even less, and turn it like a pancake to cause the least distress.

Although I do have to disagree on the cake flour thing. Not enough gluten.

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Thanks guys. I had thought it might be a moisture thing. DDH was concerned about it. The first time he tried to knead it by hand. 2nd time, it was a mixer. The flavor is good. The crust is good. Just too much flour. (Right now he is using an organic, high protein flour).

I look forward to the new results this weekend. :biggrin:

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Making bread...

I've been putting ingredients in a bread machine for a couple of years now. Just this evening, i decided to play around a little bit, and after doing my standard toss ingredients in the bread machine, I started to prep some dough outside the machine. I used the bread machine recipe as my base (1 1/3 cups water, 4 cups flour, 1 tsp sugar, 1 1/2 tsp salt, 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 1/2 tsp yeast) and then adjusted for consistency and added ground pepper and dillweed. let rise for an hour. Punched down, kneaded for a couple minutes, then set on a floured baking stone in the oven at 400. I just went down to glance in the oven. It resembles nothing more than a mushroom. top crust set, then continued to rise. I wish I had a digital camera so I could post a picture. live and learn I guess, though i'm not certain what i could have done to cause this. It will be quite a novelty if i can repeat it.

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