Friday, 15 October 2021 21:55

    A tale of three loaves

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    Bread making has been a bit of an obsession for me during this period of Covid-induced lock down. I've gone from baking one loaf at a time, to two, and now three. While I quite enjoy the fruits (and fruit loaves) of my labour, I'm often surprised how subtle shifts in process work out.

    I thought I had finished the supply of old flour we had, and since my favourite flour shop is located interstate... and is only really cost-effective when they're having a sale on, I had been buying my 10Kg bags of "White crusty baguette" flour from our local supermarket.

    It was about this time that I found a "stash" of rye flour and even rye meal hidden in the depths of the cellar (what we call the room under our stairs, where we store our produce, tea, and preserves in). So I thought we'd give that a "go" in the next bake.

    So I made three individual poolish (preferments) with a 1:1 150g of flour/water ratio, added a pinch of yeast, then left it for a day or so.

    Deviation one: Fruit toast (A Welsh-styled bread called "Bara Brith")

    I placed a ridiculous amount of dried fruit, mostly comprised of raisins, currants, cranberries, dates, sultanas, and diced dried apple pieces into a container filled with strong black tea overnight to soak. I then made my usual "Poolish" preferment (150g flour, 150g water, pinch of yeast, all combined and left overnight) for each of the three loaves.

    The next day, to each preferment, I added 280ml of warm water, and stirred it into a slurry to make mixing easier. I then added 50g of the rye, then an additional 400g of the baguette flour, added 4g of yeast, and 10g of salt to make the dough Combining it with spoons, I then "got my hands dirty" and mixed it with wet hands using a squeezing, rotating motion for 60-90 seconds.

    Side note: I added the full complement of fruit into one of the doughs at this time.

    I then left it covered for 30 mins.

    Then did a "stretch, fold, rotate 90 degrees" process about 7-10 times, and left it for another 30 mins.

    Side note: The fruit made stretching and folding such huge amounts of fruit very challenging. More often than not, the dough was not stretched the same way, usually a shorter stretch, done more often.

    I repeated the stretch and fold for each dough as necessary. I then left it for an hour.

    On a heavily floured surface (still the baguette mix) I stretched and shaped the loaves for their respective baking containers.

    Diverging paths:

    1. Dough one: cooked in a 4L cast iron pot, also known as "Dutch Oven". Also given some sesame seeds on top for a little variation.
    2. Dough two: (fruit dough): Originally intended for the Dutch oven, but was placed in the loaf pan instead, since it was ready to go.
    3. Dough three: A large baking paper lined loaf pan.

    Dough 1: Cast iron pot...

    Now it should be noted that the pot was preheated to 260oC, baked with the lid on for 30 minutes at 230oC, then baked with the lid off for 18 minutes, then cooked for another 20 minutes at 220oC completely out of the pot for even browning. Please note that I like a dark crust, so if you prefer a lighter colour, obviously you should cut that time short.

    Dough 2: Fruit dough in loaf pan.

    Without the even and embodied heating of cast iron. Heating the dough up had to be done at a slower pace. But to ensure a nice crust and some oven spring (rising) I added hot water to the baking tray as soon as the loaf was in to create steam. From there, I basically kept the whole cook at 220oC. 30 minutes with a baking tray acting as a lid on the pan. Another 10 minutes with the "lid" off. (more water added for steam) Then another full 25-30 minutes out of the pan for even browning.

    Dough 3: Loaf pan redux (or brought back),

    This was cooked pretty much identically to the fruit loaf, only that I raised the temperature slightly to 225-230oC


    The results in reverse order (the order we tried it):

    Two loaves shown
    Loaf three (foreground) had less rise and smaller holes in the crumb than expected, but it wasn't dense like many other loaves... it was... springy and quite flavourful. A surprisingly pleasant loaf just perfect for Vegemite, but Ren loved it with honey and jam. The loaf pan was a little bigger than it should have been for this amount of dough, but I couldn't find out smaller ones.



    Bara Brith, after being baked in a loaf pan
    The fruit loaf... while good, probably had too much fruit. I'll dial it back. It was an attempt to make a Welsh bread called "Barra Brith", but honestly, the tea soaked fruit was not noticeably different in flavour than if we had simply added normal dried fruit. The extra moisture from the soaked fruit made the dough a little sloppier, requiring a longer bake at a lower temperature to get the inside cooked without burning the crust. My current theory is that if I use the tea that the fruit soaked in as a replacement for some of the dough water, I might get a stronger result.


    Round boule of rustic bread
    Loaf one, the cast iron pot.. had better spring and larger holes in the crumb than loaf three... and was very pleasant, but wasn't quite as memorable as the third loaf. Perhaps because we didn't start eating it until days after baking it... but it's still better than most bread you can find in a supermarket.

    So what have I learned?

    Each of these breads were effectively based from the same fundamental dough recipe. Admittedly, some had fruit, and others had seeds added to them, two were cooked in an over-sized loaf pan, while another was cooked in a cast iron pot. Each needed the cooking process to be adjusted somewhat, and so each of these were different in flavour, structure, and feel as a result.

    Making three loaves side by side brings numerous advantages, like comparing the differences, what works, what didn't, and having a backup in the event of a charred mess, or uncooperative dough (although I've never had one that completely failed). Of course, it also helps to cater to differing tastes or situational bread requirements in the household too. :~)

    I think some of the best bakers are not necessarily commercial bakers in some patisserie or boulangerie (french for bakery). The people who take the time to get a feel for it, and do it as part of their daily routine, are... at least in some ways, just as skilled in their craft. Some of the best bread I've ever eaten were by grandmothers who couldn't ever give you a recipe, but merely do it by long-earned practice and feeling how it goes as they knead the dough. I don't think I'm anywhere near there, but I'm really enjoying what I learn from each style of bread and I think it's empowering to make your own food from scratch.

    As the old saying goes, "practice make perfect". Take care and happy baking!


    Read 131 times Last modified on Friday, 22 October 2021 22:10

    Wayward Ham

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