Monday 22 October 2012

Sourdough Brown Loaf on Bricks: Part Two of the Experiment

My previous blog post documented my first affray into the world of baking on a stone. The experiment was successful in two parts.

Firstly, I tested a new method of baking. I used paving bricks as an oven stone to get more thermal mass in the oven to help keeping the temperature stable. Secondly I tested a new idea with the dough that I was using.

On both counts I learnt something.

On the subject of the oven stone, I probably had too many in the oven, thereby restricting airflow in the oven. Not good. So this time around I had just enough bricks in the oven to make a small floor for each bread pan. Instead of eight bricks, I used four. This made a huge difference in the air flow in the oven and there was a substantial flow of steam all around. I have an oven with a fan inside stirring the air around. This means that there is much less of a temperature gradient from top to bottom in the oven than without the fan. Needless to say, the bread developed a very nice crust.

The new brick layout to facilitate air flow in the oven.
I also had to make an adjustment to my baking regime in terms of baking time and the timing of when to put the loaf in the oven. For the moment, I use a thumb-suck of 15 minutes heat-up time for the oven. If it is not up to the correct temperature, the loaf will have some time for “oven spring” before the dough sets.
I also had to adjust the temperature part of the baking regime. The fan causes an even temperature throughout the oven, so one needs a lower temperature setting as a result. I now bake at a temperature of around 175ºC/350ºF, instead of 200ºC/400ºF.
Good fermentation bubbles in the starter
I also used to leave the loaves in the oven for another ten to fifteen minutes after switching off the heat. When using an oven stone or, in my case, bricks, the loaves will definitely over-bake, so be aware and take them out after the allotted cooking time.

In terms of the dough there is also some progress. The previous loaf used some milk and sugar, which was repeated here. The resulting dough seems to have smaller fermentation bubbles, giving almost a lighter character to the loaf in the end. I decided to stick with this mixture for the next few loaves.

For these loaves I used half a cup of the sourdough, one cup of rye flour, two cups of stone ground, whole wheat, brown bread flour and a cup of white bread flour for the kneading board. To this lot was added 1½ teaspoons of salt and two dessert spoons of brown sugar along with a ¼ cup of milk.

I made the starter by adding the rye flour to the quarter cup of sourdough. This was left for six hours to multiply and develop. There was good fermentation, as you can see in the picture. Next came the rest of the dry ingredients, using only half of the white bread flour, into a large mixing bowl in one fell swoop. Using a sturdy medium-sized spatula from the Le Creuset range, I mixed the dry ingredients well before adding the milk and the sourdough starter. This was mixed until the dough was too dry, then I added a little more water, about two dessert spoons' worth, still keeping the half cup of white bread flour in reserve for the kneading board.
Very good rising
The dough eventually turned into one big ball, which was then turned out onto the well floured kneading board for further manual treatment. The dough duly absorbed the rest of the white bread flour during the kneading, for which I was grateful. The mix appears to contain the correct quantities.

The dough was kneaded until it became satiny, at which stage I patted it into a flattened ball and covered it with some cooking oil. The cooking oil works well to prevent drying out during the rising phase. The dough was left overnight for twelve hours to rise. It almost tripled in volume, for which I was grateful again. It tells me that my wild yeast is healthy and lively. I then kneaded the dough back to the original volume, cut it in half, not tearing it, and then shaped it into two medium sized loaves for the baking tins. These were left for another four hours before I popped them into the pre-heated oven. The loaves were baked for forty minutes, after which I switched the heat off. This is where I think the next change in my baking regime should be to prevent over-baking. Remove the loaves from the oven immediately on completion of baking time. Turn them out of the tins onto a tray to cool. Allow cooling for at least twenty minutes. There is still some steam inside the loaves that needs to diffuse out of the loaves.

The new arrangement in the oven
My loaves had steam in them even after leaving them in the oven for another fifteen minutes after switching off the heat. That is courtesy of the little bowl of water in the bottom of the oven.

All's well that ends well and this experiment was no exception. The loaves came out better looking than the previous experiment and they had risen properly before the dough set into the crust.

Chalk up another successful baking experiment. Quite worth the effort, therapeutic to make and a joy to eat.

This post also linked to Yeastspotting! 

Authored by Johan Zietsman
Last updated on 2012-12-12

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