Wednesday, 17 October 2012

White Bread On Bricks: The Next Experiment

 In a previous blog post I related the story of the new yeast hat I captured after my return from the fort Lauderdale trip. Now it was time for another experiment.
After some deliberation and enquiries, I decided to try my hand at having an oven stone and steam in the oven. It took a while and some wide enquiries before I realised that the purpose of the stone is to add thermal mass to the oven to stabilise the temperature. This is very easy to accomplish once you explain it like that. You can use any stone or piece of of ceramic material, provided it is not glazed. And any brick will work superbly. Bricks, however, are quite thick, so they are impractical to use. But paving bricks or tiles may be thin enough. I packed myself off to the tile shop and found what I wanted, except these tiles were too thin. You need something about 15 mm thick or perhaps slightly thicker. But not 100mm like a normal brick. It will work, but you will spend half the household budget on electricity or gas to heat those.
I got myself paving bricks of around 15-20 mm thick from the local brickyard. Total price R26.00. In US dollars that is about US$ 3.00. A steal. So I was in business. A small stainless pan satisfied the requirement for a small water container for the steam part.
The next part of the experiment could proceed.
I decided on a simple white loaf with some sugar and milk added to the basic sourdough flour and salt mix. This I got from a chef acquaintance. He told me that the addition of sugar makes the end result a bit lighter. This was good, as all my loaves tend to be on the heavy side, one slice equals about three of a normal shop-bought loaf in weight.
The bread was baked at 200ºC 392ºF. Given the effect of the hot bricks, the oven was too hot and the top crust came out a bit darker than anticipated. Still, the loaves were not over-baked and the crumb is nice and soft. This is something that one can keep in mind. Having more thermal mass in the form of a baking stone in the oven means that a lower temperature is required for the same effect. A lesson learnt. This was also the first time I put the loaves into a hot oven. Until now I used to put the loaves into a cold oven, then switch on and allow 15 minutes additional baking time. Live a little, learn a little.
This time around I varied the composition of the dough as well. I added some milk to the mixture after some research on the internet and through my library of two books. The end result was quite rewarding. The steam in the oven did its trick with the forming of the crust, giving me a very nice chewy crust. The milk and sugar did their work as well, providing a nice soft crumb. The fermentation bubbles are a bit smaller than usual, but there is nothing wrong with the taste. The sourness comes through magnificently.

White Sourdough Loaf

Starter sponge

1 cup sourdough
1 cup white bread flour for the starter sponge (AP flour for my American friends)
Mix the above, add some water to get a stiff batter and leave to multiply until double or more in volume, then use in the main dough mix.

Main dough mix

2 cups white bread or AP flour
1 ½ teaspoon salt
3 dessert spoons milk
2 dessert spoons sugar. I used the slightly unrefined brown sugar.
1 cup of flour for the kneading board
½ -1 cup of tepid water. This is to get the dough knead-able.
Dollop of cooking oil


Mix the flour, sugar and salt thoroughly, then add the starter. Mix the dough properly. It will be too dry. Add some water a little at a time until the dough has the right consistency to knead. Now turn the dough out on a well floured kneading board and knead the dough until it gets satiny. Keep on kneading for another ten minutes. Add flour and water a little at a time until the cup of flour for the kneading board has been swallowed by the dough.
Pat the dough ball into a flat round shape and use the dollop of cooking oil to cover the outside of the dough. This prevents the drying out. I tried it for the first time at sea, where we do not have nice cling wrap and the such. So I covered the surface of the dough with cooking oil by wetting my hands and then patting the dough ball. You can then place the dough in the mixing basin and just cover it against other food and water splashing from other cooking and coffee-making activities.
Allow the dough to rise overnight. You will know it has risen enough when it has more than doubled in volume.
Turn the dough out on the kneading board and knead it back to the original volume. I decided to use baking tins for a change, so I had to divide the dough into three smaller balls. This you do by making a snake, then cutting the snake into the required number of pieces.
Knead each piece a bit, then pat it into the required shape. Mine then went into the baking tins. Put the dough aside and allow to rise for another two hours. You may get the oven up to temperature during this time. When everything is ready, pop the loaves into the oven on top of your oven stone. Add the pan of boiling water to the bottom of the oven. I baked this lot at 200ºC 392ºF, which is too hot. One needs a lower temperature. I was lucky not to have instant toast. Perhaps the bricks were not that hot, so the temperature was lower at the bottom than the top, which saved the day.
Whatever the case may be, this lot came out as expected from a dough mixture point of view. I shall certainly use my oven bricks from now on.
I baked these loaves for 30 minutes, after which I promptly took them out of the oven and turned them out to cool. They were still sizzling, so now I also understand the cooling process is part of the baking, so to speak. The loaves need to cool to develop texture. Luckily I had other things to do as well, so these loaves got proper cooling time. Not like those on board which were consumed as soon as they cooled sufficiently not to burn your fingers or your tongue.
This was well worth the effort.

This blog post also linked to Yeastspotting!

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

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