Bread – the yeasty kind

I make bread.

I didn’t used to, but I do now. I think I began around 2008 when I found a bread recipe that used milk as the liquid. Over the past 4 years I have expanded it from being once in a while  special occasion to it being the default bread in the house.

I think my first true understanding of bread came from reading Ruhlman‘s Ratio  – a brilliant book that truly does break down and make understandable the fundamental processes of this alchemy we call food. He delineated probably what every baker learns first at baking  school – the baker’s ratio: 5:3 flour to water. and 3:2 yeast to salt where the yeast is 5% of the water. It means 1000g flour, 600g water, 30g yeast and 20g salt. The water and yeast mixed together for the sponge, the bread and salt together, then both are added and kneaded.

I won’t go into that … but I will go into my journey to sort out the precise interplay between my oven, the yeast I use, humidity, and perhaps I should consider also the sprinkle of sugar I put into the sponge as well. My problem was that my initial rising – the bulk fermentation – was quite spectacular. over 3x the volume. But when I kneaded again, formed into loaves, and finally cooked, I was getting bricks.

An important part of the story is my stove – its very cool, and does just about everything except its own dishes. One of its features is a proofing control that keeps it at an even 110 degrees  – perfect for proofing bread, making yogourt, and anything else requiring bacterial culture growth.

I got my answer about my bricks  from D, who until recently was a baker with the STOP  –  an amazing and wonderful organization dedicated to both feeding and enabling less advantaged people to eat well and improve their lives. She suggested that the proofing control was perhaps TOO good. By the time the hour had passed the yeast had pooped itself out and was not capable of doing any more by the time the second rising and cooking came about. It sounded reasonable.

What I tried about that was reasonably successful. I reasoned that since the yeast performed spectacularly in its initial phase, I would attempt to capatialize on it by skipping the bulk ferment, shape it into loaves after kneading and put it in to rise in its loaf pans. I also reasoned that I wanted to disturb the growth as little as possible, thus I determined not to move the bread once in the oven. Also, I would need to reduce the rising time.

I should mention at this point that I am using mainly hard whole wheat bread flour, cut with all purpose flour – all organic. For yeast I am using the bulk bakers yeast from our local food co-op.

So… I put the loaves in for the first rising, in their pans, on the proofing setting, and put the timer on for 30 minutes. I also put a digital thermometer in one of the loaves as I wanted to track the dough temperature. After 37 minutes, I turned the oven on to 450 – NOT removing the loaves. After about 20 minutes, the oven reached this temp (there’s bread and a pan of water for it to heat up as well) , and the bread was at about 175. It was quite well risen, and 10 minutes later it was out. The result was quite good. Decent crumb – definitely not a brick, but it was also a little flat on top – telling me that the yeast had collapsed somewhere along the line. What was interesting here is that the rising had stopped when the loaf was still at 86 degrees – the yeast shouldn’t be killed off until after 120. In this instance it was proofing for 40 minutes.

This and other experiments currently lead me to believe that my particular yeast, in a moist 110 degree proofing oven has a ‘life span’ of about 40 minutes.

That in mind I then asked myself for today’s batch “what if I did the usual bread process (2 risings, into a really hot oven,) but still kept the total rising time to within 40 minutes or so? This I did, and the result – I would give it an 8/10. I don’t think it rose as well as it possibly could, but it was not flat on top. the crumb was fairly close, and the taste excellent.

There is more to do. Next time I am going to work more rigorously off this 40 minute hypothesis, and keep a more accurate ledger. It will mean turning on the oven as soon as the dough comes out from its prefermentation. I also would like to compare the results of these 2 ways of approaching bread

  • one rising, and cooking in an oven while its warming up
  • 2 risings, but a total maximum of 40 minutes  for all risings

I’ll do this cooking a loaf on consecutive days using each method, and comparing.

Here is the chart template I am using for all of this.

Time Action Elapsed minutes Dough temp Oven temp observations

Now as a postscript to all this  – you would think that my family might be appreciative or at least forgiving of these efforts. The jury on this is still out. Yesterday my spouse was not impressed with the state of the kitchen she came down to and my son informed me he would need to make a trip to Loblaws to purchase some sliced bread for sandwiches for work. C’est la vie!


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