Knowing when to stop is critical, not only for lawyers doing cross examination, but in life and bread making. I am not good at this. I continue on long past when the work is complete - with giving my daughters some message, with my crappy art work, and with cooking vegetables. Dough has no flexibility for overdoing. With dough, there is a moment of no return; but no light flashes on to announce when that moment has arrived. So it's guesswork - sometimes educated, sometimes not. Forgiveness for oneself must be learned, fermented, as it were, because for the casual amateur baker, mistakes will happen, attempts at something or other will not turn out well, and one has to be willing to be patient with one's imperfections.
I have to learn to adjust my recipes for an 80-to-90 degree kitchen. The sponges and dough seem to rise literally twice as fast as in a winter or spring kitchen and I should be employing only half as much starter. This, of course, has yet to happen. Instead, the alarm of a sense in the middle of the night that a sponge or dough has risen sufficiently - and is on the verge of an over rise - wakes me up, sending me to the kitchen.
As it turned out, one white bread is merely one bread and does not begin to pierce the surface of possibilities. This particular white bread, speckled with bran flakes, is adjusted from Laura Chattman's book, Breadmaking: Crafting the Perfect Loaf from Crust to Crumb. I have yet to finish the book, but I will say that Chattman gives simple, comprehensible explanations and goes into depth on types of preferments, starters, and breads. She starts with basic, commercial yeast, mix-the-dough recipes and proceeds pretty far down the road. The book, however, goes far afield with flat breads and breads from several countries. I am not a big fan of the "everything bread in one book approach," but I like her accessible attitude.
This bread was made in between two crumb cakes, which my family calls my signature recipe. (They are brutally honest and do not request my pies.) So, with the distraction of the Fourth of July, family in town, and other baking, I made this bread twice. The first time, the bottom came out burned - due to an error in oven temperature - but with a good taste.
Please note that my recipe is two thirds of the original, which is almost a giant bread (or, in fancy terms, a miche.)
1.5 oz. starter
1.6 oz. water
2.4 oz. bread flour
.2 oz. rye flour
Hot kitchen: Disaster averted via refeed of sponge
This sponge is supposed to take from eight to 12 hours to fully rise. In a very warm kitchen, the timing was five and a half hours. I should have added half of the starter and I might do this on a third try. To avert disaster on the first attempt at this bread, after allowing the sponge to sit overnight for eight hours, I just added a small - proportioned - feeding, with time for the new sponge to rise. Remembering that a sponge is merely a fed starter, I took the "feeding" amount out of the later dough ingredients. This worked perfectly. [Photo of autolyse before mixing in sponge and dough ingredients.]
9 oz. water
15.6 oz. bread flour
.7 oz. wheat bran
1 tsp. salt
Autolyse and kneading
Confession that I forgot this step the first time around. The second time, I followed the recipe for a 20-minute autolyse phase, which means mixing the dough ingredients of water and flour together and leaving it alone - sans starter and before adding salt. I don't think it matters whether the wheat bran goes into the autolyse or whether it is added right after. The claim of autolyse adherents is that gluten strands are formed and less kneading is required. My sense of a good knead and what a dough's texture should be is not sufficiently developed for me to trust my thoughts on this.
After 20 minutes, mix together the autolyse and the sponge. Add salt and mix together well. Though the instructions called for 15 minutes of hand kneading and 12, if I recall, if using a machine, I kneaded for 20 minutes. I have small hands and they are not strong. [Photo of sponge on left and autolyse on right.]
Rising on and on
This bread recipe calls for four to five hours of rising, with human intervention every hour or so. I have yet to get this part right. For me, this requires diligent use of a kitchen timer and being in said kitchen.
- 1 hour rise in kitchen bowl sprayed with baking or other non-stick spray (for the second try, I used a well-floured bowl and a good spatula). Cover with plastic.
- Turn the dough by picking it up and plopping it down on one of its sides.
- 1 to 1 1/2 hours rise again in same bowl.
- Shape and let rise in a basket or bowl for two to three hours. Cover the dough with a kitchen towel or plastic. This is where I screwed up the second time and mine slightly overrose. I shaped it again, per Chattman's advice on this topic, and it rose pretty well. (This is part of the reason I refuse to draw conclusions yet about autolyse and kneading. Mine is far from a controlled experiment.)
Preheat oven to 500 degrees and reduce to 475 when placing dough in the oven - on a baking peel. I used parchment paper. For this size bread, I recommend about 42 minutes. Mine could have used a few more than the 39 minutes I tried.
The bread crackled nicely both times when it was taken out of the oven. The taste is good, though very white, which in our house is a weird experience. The bread is pretty. Did not get a huge oven spring, though I was impressed both times. Might make something like this in a no-knead version to compare.
[Note: If I make this bread a third time, this post will be significantly edited to reflect that.]