Friday, May 1, 2015

Bread Number 75: Good Beer Bread in Normal Time

This was supposed to be a do over of bread #74, but the do over crossed the line of what could conceivably be considered the same recipe. First, I ran out of spelt and did not think to replace it, instead buying other whole grain flours this week. Second, I warmed the beer before mixing it with the flour, which, by itself, would come within a do over. Third, I did not even think to add the flaxseed meal again. Then, I added an autolyse phase. Though my lines are without fixed standards and therefore arbitrary, even I had to think of this as a different bread. Still would like to go back and redo bread #74, but that will wait for at least another trip to the grocery store and probably a while until I want to make another beer bread. 

Snail's pace kind of slow
The problem I have experienced with the beer breads has been incredibly long bulk fermentation periods with amazingly slow expansion of the doughs. Two possibilities came to mind: (1) The beer's cold temperature slowed down the first rise by several hours, perhaps inhibiting the reaching of a peak rise state, and (2) maybe it wasn't the beer - maybe my starter had gotten a bit lackluster in energy.

I fed my starter last night and by this morning it seemed happy and lively. This leads me to the tentative conclusion that the problem was not with my starter. 

This time around, I warmed the beer. I took the frigid cold, full bottle of beer - Stella Artois, by the way - and put it in a pot of very warm water (did not measure the temperature, but not hot). Within a few minutes, the beer bottle was no longer cold. The bulk fermentation was still slow, possibly also due to the relatively small amount of starter I added, given the room temperatures of cool (but not cold) nights. However, the slowness of the dough expansion was not extreme this time. There was nice expansion within 24 hours, quite the contrast from the snail's pace rising of the previous beer breads.

What I put in this time
330g beer (one bottle of Stella Artois)
70g starter (100 percent hydration)
200g whole wheat flour
200g bread flour
50g cornmeal (stoneground, white)
9g salt

Autolyse before mixing dough
I combined the beer, the flours, and the cornmeal - okay, everything but the starter and the salt - and let sit for 30 minutes. I then added the starter and the salt. I added twice as much starter as in the last bread due to the spring temperatures of warm days and cool nights. No heat yet and no humidity. Still, only 70 grams of starter is not too much for nights with temperatures in the 50s, which stops dough from rising, and days reaching maybe 70 indoors, even with sunlight and heat.

After thoroughly mixing the dough (and, of course, covering it), I did three stretch and folds, each 15 minutes apart. I was cautiously optimistic because the dough had a nice feel and strengthened over the course of the three stretch and folds. By the way, I did them only 15 minutes apart because it was late. 

I let the dough rise for 21.5 hours, overnight in a very cool kitchen and then, over the course of the next day, in whatever rooms were warmest at different times, being my closet (small, walk-in, with its own heat source) and the kitchen. Frankly, I would have allowed the dough to rise for a few more hours, but it was evening already and I suspected I would not get to baking if I waited any longer. Also the spouse said he would rather eat a crappy one of my breads than anything from Au Bon Pain. You would know what he meant if you have ever eaten one of their bagels. 

My luck, thus far, being mediocre with the beer breads, I said what the heck and prepared for baking.

Baking preparation
I did a stretch and fold and let the dough rest on a well-floured cutting board for 15 minutes, covered, of course. Putting more flour on the board, I quickly shaped the dough into a boule and placed it on a well-floured kitchen towel that was lining a small wicker basket. That's a good thing to make ready during the 15-minute window.

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees so that the oven has at least an hour to heat up. Inside the oven to also preheat were the baking stone and the top of the la cloche, with its two hairline cracks up the sides. 

I did a dent test of the dough at one hour and it popped back way too quickly. At 1.25 hours, it seemed ready, or, at the least, readier. 

In the oven
Total baking time was 42 minutes, though I looked in at 35 and took the bread's temperature at 41. Nice golden and dark brown color. Nice oven spring. 

I was pleasantly surprised because I wondered whether prioritizing my personal timing needs - such as going to bed early on a Sunday evening and having time, post bread making, to read - had made for a mediocre bread. But no, my laziness was rewarded with a really good result. Very nice taste and not nearly as sour as last week's beer bread. I cannot say I actually taste the beer, though there is a different flavor that lingers at the end of a chewing a bite. That could be my imagination.

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