Bread - Number 39: Mistakes were made; move on
The dough for this bread went so wrong that it would not be fair to divulge the source of the recipe. At some point along the way, perhaps with the 6 a.m. weighing of the ingredients for the dough, a bad mistake was made. With complete failure staring me in the face, I decided to go by feel the rest of the way. One should not be rewarded so well for bleary-eyed mishaps. I have never seen such amazing oven spring for a majority whole-grain dough. I gasped and if it were not for the sound of football games on televisions throughout the land, the entire United States would have heard it.
The other problem was that I did this recipe in ounces instead of grams. My brain is a creature of routine and this change might have prompted the mistake(s).
Backtracking for documentation
Of course, after the first try I did not have a reliable recipe because part of doing something by feel is giving up on the diligent weighing of adding something here and there. I'll do my best to describe the process and I will attempt to recreate this bread - for purposes of having an actual recipe. On the second try, I successfully recreated my mistake and diligently weighed and documented everything added thereafter.
First, woo hoo! What a confidence booster to feel my way to a fantastic bread and one that rose so well even though it is whole grain.
A big thanks to my internal thermometer, not only for its temperature readings, but for what stuck or did not stick to the probe. It really acts like an old-fashioned cake tester. With a nice crust (okay, I have a fear of burnt crust), I thought that this bread was ready a good 15 minutes before it was anywhere close to fully baked.
Ingredients and instructions (sort of)
8 oz. water
.4 oz. starter (yes, less than half an ounce)
4 oz. spelt flour
1 oz. whole wheat flour
(Second time around I went with 5 oz. spelt flour with no change in taste.)
I mixed the sponge at night and left it for 10 hours in a kitchen I thought would be cool. Someone, maybe me, forgot to turn down the heat at bedtime and the sponge was looking a bit forlorn in the morning. The same thing happened on the second try when I left the sponge in a cool kitchen for 12 hours. No matter; decided to add a little more to the dough.
.7 oz. starter
(I added .25 oz. starter on the second try.)
12 oz. water
10 oz. spelt flour
4 oz. whole wheat flour
(On the second try I used 5 oz. whole wheat and 9 oz. spelt with no discernible difference.)
10.2 oz. bread flour
.35 oz. salt
1 tbsp olive oil or .5 oz.
First, I did a 20 minute autolyse of the dough's water and spelt and whole wheat flours. At this point, I was trying to follow the recipe, which did not call for any bread flour. Since the recipe did involve kneading, I used the autolyse phase to develop the gluten for the purpose of cutting down on the kneading.
I then mixed the autolyse with the sponge and the ingredients not yet mixed in - the salt, the extra starter and the oil. Instead of seeing a shaggy dough that resembled the photographs or that appeared to be roughly 60 percent hydration, I saw what looked like a marsh or a thick soup. Something was definitely wrong. This wet, batter-like blob could not be kneaded.
And I start throwing in extra bread flour
With the scale close at hand, I added an extra 5 ounces of bread flour. I started to knead, but as I went along I ignored the scale and I threw in more bread flour, a small handful here and there, probably another two to five ounces. I probably kneaded for 10 minutes, maybe 15. At this point, I did not believe there was going to be a decent bread, so I did whatever I felt like. On the second try, I did the same thing with the exception of having the scale close at hand and actually using it to weigh the additional flour, which amounted to a little over 10 ounces.
At two and a half hours, it seemed that the dough was fully risen, maybe a tad past its peak. On the second try, in a warm Sunday kitchen, I only let the dough sit for one and a quarter hours. I did a stretch and fold on a well-floured board, then covered the dough with plastic for 15 minutes. Due to the dough's utter shapelessness, I thought about buying a bread and put the dough in a loaf pan that had been sprayed with non-stick baking spray.
Feeling very 19th century
On the second try, during the 15 minutes I lined a small wicker basket with a kitchen towel - thickly covered on the bottom with flour. At the end of the 15 minutes, I shaped the dough, still sticky, and placed it - bottom side up - in the basket, covered with the towel and then the old piece of plastic.
Each time I left the dough for an hour and a half. It rose alright, though nothing to write home about. An hour before baking I preheated the oven to 450 degrees. The first time, I made the bread in a loaf pan and on the second try, I made a boule.
Baking and not really wondering
The first time, I put a pan on a shelf underneath the baking stone and put at least two cups of ice in. As the la cloche top would not fit over the loaf pan, I figured that this doomed bread could at least use some steam. Maybe it would not be a total failure. The second time, I used the la cloche, which has the benefit of not having to stop myself from peering into the oven. One can not peer into a dome-shaped clay thing.
Deciding to follow the recipe at least once, at 20 minutes, I reduced the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Oh my g-d, there was such incredible oven spring when I peaked. The total baking time was 42 minutes, probably increased because I checked the bread's internal temperature about every four minutes after looking at 20 minutes. The second time around, I was more relaxed and left the bread in for 45 minutes.
The bread was so good, it deserved the second try. The question being how to recreate a process that had something more akin to an I Love Lucy episode than to following a recipe. On the second try, I trusted myself more and was curious, but unattached to the outcome. I was still on cloud nine from making a bread by feel on the first go around. The bread was just as good the second time.
The moral of the story: Invest in a thermometer and get a feel for working the dough with your hands. If you are lucky, a neighbor might hear you scream woohoo!!! when you see the beautiful oven spring.