Yeast connection part 2

The Yeast Connection part 2

Sept. 18-19

This blog is a continuation of the previous one exploring various aspects of yeast in its manifestations in beer and bread.

  • That beer bread where I used the last dregs of the recently bottled beer rose. It took a full 24 hours at room temperature to get itself sorted out. Its now been in the fridge for about 15 hours. I took off a little pinch to taste (heat a frying pan, a little oil, flatten the bread sample, cook, observe if it rises, eat) It also passed the stretch test 20170918_063800.jpg
  • I thought I’d like it as a boule – but realize I need a suitable rising container, so here it is in some parchment paper ready for its long fridge rise. 20170918_065555.jpg
  • The beer is now bubbling away, and the reconstituted yeast brew (right) is much more active than the basic yeast version. 20170918_094347.jpg
  • Meanwhile my apple and pear ferments are bubbling away nicely. I’m going to try a few experiments with them:
    • Cider: propagate a yeast slurry using organic apple juice in the same way I do a beer yeast refresh: (per gallon) 200g juice (hopefully at 1.035) and 20g of the yeast in the jar. Same for the pear.
    • Beer (why not?) same thing – but use my beer wort mix
    • Bread: 2 starters – Elaine at foodbod https://foodbod.wordpress.com/2017/07/26/fruit-yeast-water-bread/ suggests equal parts water and flour (which would yield a 100% hydration starter). Now this will definitely be interesting to compare with my ‘old faithful’ SD starter. Will I get hints of apple and pear? 20170919_112835.jpg

September 20

I had to bake that beer bread today. It was just going too long in the fridge. I didn’t need to do it for bread – there’s already lots – but it really had fermented enough at nearly 48 hours. It rose, and did its yeasty breadish thing, but had I done it earlier it would more have resembled a bowler hat and not a volcano. The taste however was excellent. I’m glad I added the maple syrup. There was no bitterness as I tasted in the pre rise taste, but the taste was wonderfully rich and malty. In retrospect I should have made about 1.5 x the recipe using water as additional liquid. Or indeed not. This is a bread that is no shrinking background bread. Its the star of the show. I imagine it with roast squash, your thanksgiving turkey, a rich thick soup. And of course it will ideally suit the beer you brewed from it. That said it will be a month before you drink that and the bread will be long gone. It will NOT however a light summer salad. Here is what it looks like:

20170920_085436.jpg.

It is definitely worth doing this again next time I brew. Of course one can also use this last not full bottle for other things too – like marinating your meat, maybe cooking beans. Now there’s an idea!

Sooo…. In summary… if you are a brewer who has not made bread before:

  • Weigh the beer/trub mix.
  • Divide the weight by .6 to give the amount of flour to use. You can use whatever flour you like, just understand this will really affect the taste.
  • Multiply the weight of the flour by 2%. This is the amount of salt to add.
  • Mix and knead the flour and the beer until it is all well mixed. Place in a bowl and leave for 20 minutes
  • Add the salt and knead until it is well integrated. Taste it – the hoppiness could make it too bitter. This can be countered with a sweetener of your choice (which will also aid the fermentation going forward.)
  • let rise at room temperature for about about 24 hours.
  • Stretch and fold – a kind of kneading – look it up on Youtube – and then shape to the shape you wish it to be. At this point you can add stuff – seeds, nuts, other grains, oil….. Taste it again using that ‘fry a little bit of dough’ method described above.
  • Leave it at room temperature for a few hours or stick it in the fridge for about 24 or more hours.
  • For baking – oven to 450F. Depending on how much you have, it will be anything from 30-60 minutes. But if you are a brewer you should have a digital thermometer on a long probe. Stick that in after about 25 minutes and wait until its over 190F but not over 205.
  • Let it cool for about 20 minutes.

September 22:

Check out the apple ferment! Its in its glory now!

20170922_092653[1].jpg

September 26

  • Lots has happened, including my courses, which is why I have not been great about keeping this journal up to date.
  • The brews noted above were bottled. The ‘control sample’ with regulare old Safale 04 yeast came in at 1.020, while the reconstituted yeast came in at 1.010!! Its clear to me now. I will be using active trub, strengthened with some 1.035 wort from now on.
  • On September 24, I participated in Jan and Jim’s cider making process. My first time for this. Jim and jan are wonderful people who live off grid up in the Bruce Peninsula. Ultimate DIYers, one of their annual projects is processing their apples into all sorts of things, but mainly cider. I spent the morning with some of their city millennial friends, chopping and got to see the cider press in action. Here are a couple of photos of their set up:
  • The apple chunks are first mashed in the masher, then placed in the press. A hand screw presses down the press plate squeezing the juice out. Jim notes that since none of the trees are cultivated and grafted, they are all their own individual species. I felt very honoured to take away a gallon, which I innoculated with my apple yeast, and placed in the crawl space to ferment for goodness knows how long. For the first time I made a connection between what Sandor Katz has said about apple cider – i.e. give it oxygen and time and things will happen vs. what I have found to be succesful: dropping some champaign yeast into it. I did wonder that perhaps I did not need to add my yeast – but we will see what happens. Naturally sweet, it came in at 1.043 OG. If it fermnents all the way it should produce a 4.5% hard cider.
  • On the brewing front, I finally got to try the exbeeriment I made using sourdough starter. It was excellent and I did not expect that. What I have read notes that for sour brews one needs to think of lighter brews, pilsner and wheat malts, and light hopping. In this one I made a straight up ale with 2 row malt, and northdown hops. I was truly expecting sour, but did not get it. I’ve heard that the hops tend to kill off the lactic acid bacteria so if that happened it would definitely account for the lack of sour where it was present at the point I bottled it. Between the result noted above and this, I feel that I am much more in control and comfortable with my yeast situation and beer.
  • I’ve pureed and added fresh apple juice to my apple yeast sample, and have taken some of it to make a bread starter. Haven’t tried it yet – family is not eating enough bread.
  • I also was able to get a decent DIY stirplate going. Its super basic, and needs a lot more refinement, but I was able to use it to get a yeast happening for a 2 gallon brew. Since yeast needs oxygen in order to work well, stirring it is a good way to do this. In a stir plate, a magnet is on a motor spinning around. There’s another smaller magnet in your jar of yeast. The spinning magnet causes the other magnet to spin also. The trick is that you need to start things slowly and get it at an optimum speed for a whirlpool to happen. 20170923_110355[1].jpg
  • And to finish this blogging sequence off, my 2 gallon brew (I am trying to make a Kolsh but I have substituted so much that its likely turned out to be just another pilsner.) and its buddy, the apple cider. I can hardly wait until next week to see how they turned out. If I see any fermenting action I will just leave them there. You can see that the beer is already developing a nice Kreusen. The cider may take longer.

All of this goes to show how flexible, variable, and also powerful this microscopic fungi called yeast is. Its key to a significant number of foods and drinks we not just consume, but really enjoy. If anything, I hope these 2 blogs inspires people to experiment, to ask “what if….?” set up and experiment, and have fun with it!

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The yeast connection

The Yeast Chronicles (part 1)

Or How to love your trub and find all kinds of uses for it.

A warning: This blog is a tad nerdy. It’s a journal kind of blog chronicling my thoughts and mini experiments regarding bread, beer, and what joins them at the hip, yeast.

This blog entry chronicles my thoughts around yeast and its connections to both beer and bread over the course of a week when I did not have to think about the courses I’ll be teaching shortly.. In it I am trying a variety of experiments that consider the use of the same yeast samples in both baked products and beers.

In this phase of things, I’ve been inspired/influenced by the following bloggers and resources:

Bread Cakes and Ale https://breadcakesandale.wordpress.com/2017/06/18/crumbs-brewing-and-the-bread-beer-relationship/ Lots of great info on the connection and history of beer and bread from a British perspective.

http://brulosophy.com/ this is a blog all about beer experimentation. Great ideas!

Foodbod https://foodbod.wordpress.com/2017/07/26/fruit-yeast-water-bread/ where I was inspired to try the apple fermentation

The Early English Bread Project https://earlybread.wordpress.com/

September 9th

  • Used 200g of trub made from safale 04 yeast. Treated it as ‘starter’ and added 200g water and 120g flour; let ferment for 6 hours at room temperature. This starter is to be called ‘ale starter’
  • Used 200g of this to make a 66% hydration loaf. (dark, malty taste; not bitter)

Sept 12

  • Refreshed the ale starter; let rise 6 hours room temp, made a 1700g bulk rise. The starter still has a malty taste to it though not as dark or strong as its prior version. (note to self: try either using beer to refresh or use beer as your bread liquid. ) Bulk rise left out overnight (@ 8 hours)

Sept 13

  • Baked 900g loaf from the bulk rise (made from ale starter). Both starter and dough have performed very well.Spring is good, crumb is fine. The taste is not as malty as the earlier loaf, but it has a complexity and darkness that is not present in my usual sourdough. I’m wondering if I keep refreshing it as a SD culture if the unique flavour of the yeast will endure. yeastconnection1.jpgyeastconnevtipn2.jpg
  • I refreshed equal amounts of my original starter and my ale starter. The ale starter was considerably more vigorous.
  • Can’t make up my mind on what kind of beer to brew next.
  • Hooked up a light dimmer to an old bathroom fan to develop a stirplate. I just need to figure out how to separate the fan from its metal enclosure and build a box around it.
  • Began apple and pear yeast capture: cut up each placed in 500ml jars with RO water.
  • apple pear ferment day 1.jpg

Sept 14

  • Decided to do a beer experiment with the 2 yeasts:

What I am trying to do here: That safale 04 trub starter appears to be quite strong. What I want to do in this experiment is to compare this reconditioned yeast (now in its 4th refresh) to dry safale 04 on the following parameters:

  • Strength: Does refreshing trub using bread flour contribute to a stronger yeast? Which yeast is most effective to take down a 1.070OG brew? The results will be clear – what is the FG? IN comparing this starter to my sourdough starter, it is more vigorous.
  • Taste: how different is the taste? the yeast is going to be the same. But in refreshing it 3-4 X over a week with bread flour, have LAB’s developed to sour the beer?

Methodology:

  • Make a 2 gallon brew mashed, boiled and hopped together.
  • refresh starter and brew morning prepare 20g ale starter with 200g 1.035 wort; use safale 04 dry for the other batch. Divide equally into 2 gallon jugs.

Malt:

  • 1.83kg Weyerman Pilsner (83.4%)
  • 360g Briess Carapils (16.6%)

Hops: Perle – 12.74 gOG 1.070 (came out at 1.062)

  • IBU: 20.1
  • Colour 8.1 EBC
  • Est ABV: 6.5%

Comparing the 2 starters for bread:

  • Took my 2 yeasts to see the difference in the same loaf of bread: same flour mix, same hydration, done at same time, in same banneton. Bulk rise set up around 1PM; will set up loaves tonight, bake off tomorrow AM.

2yeastsamd their doughs.jpg

Sept 15

  • The bake-off
    • The ale starter rose better – but not a huge difference
    • The crumb was similar – fairly closed. (I had used 50% durum flour)
    • The ale starter still retains a rich malty sense to it.
    • The SD starter has a definite LAB taste profile – more tangy
    • Conclusions:
      • both make excellent bread, both are very different.
      • The ale starter is more vigorous
      • Its always worth setting up an ale starter when one does a brew.
      • I’ll keep my SD starter: its been going for 3 years or more, and is likely changing as its own subspecies
    • Questions:
      • Will different brews yield different flavour profiles in bread? (They should)
      • How will the difference in the starters affect the taste in crackers? (next experiment)
      • Can I even reasonably maintain 2 starters?
      • & what happens when the apple and pear yeast captures are also part of the yeast collection?

Sept 16

It’s brew day.

  • The day started by preparing the reconstituted starter (6AM): 200g of 1.035 wort and 20g of the starter. The idea here is to use the wort to build up and strengthen the yeast. I haven’t yet developed an effective stir plate, so I whisk it often throughout the day. I’m anticipating it will be pitched this afternoon. 20170916makingstarter.jpg
  • I’ve done the mash, boiled the wort and will shortly divide the wort into 2 gallon jugs and pitch the yeasts. I used the same recipe as for my first sd brew except I’m going with Perle hops. It came in at 1.062 – a high enough OG to test how well the 2 yeasts will perform. The one with reconstituted yeast is higher as a result of the pitch being a total of 200g. 20170916ale1.jpg
  • I also made a cracker dough with the ale starter: 250g starter 250g red fife flour, 7g water, 37g oil, 12g salt, 5 g each cumin and fennel. Rolled into a ball, into fridge. Let the yeasts slowly discover their own food source while battling excess salt. I’m curious about the flavours that will come through from this yeast in these crackers.
  • Finally today, I pulled the last piece of dough from the trub dough I set up a few days ago. I added herbs – basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, garlic, pepper – and also butter. As the picture suggests the dough was rolled out, the ingredients added, and then it was rolled up and kneaded out again into a foccacia shape.20170916beerbread4.jpg

Sept 17

  • Crackers were rolled out and baked. These were used using my bread spreadsheet – a universally editable spreadsheet to be used for any bread formulations. I added fennel and cumin to this. Note the parchment paper. It works well to roll it out on parchment paper as it makes the handling a lot easier, especially as it tends to break apart when it is quite thin. The result: Interesting, though not my best cracker. The beer aspect does indeed come through, and I should have just left it like that. With the cumin and fennel, there’s just too much going on for the pallet. This is a technique that I would not do with fresh trub. The trub for this one had been refreshed 4 times with flour over the week. Using fresh trub, for the 300 or so grams of starter used in the recipe, I would probably do 3 parts water and 1 part trub: 180g water, 60g trub, 146g flour. 20170917trubcrackers2.jpg20170917trubcrackers1.jpg
  • I did one more experiment – its still happening. Yesterday I also bottled a brew – an American pale ale. At the end of the bottling I had a partly filled bottle with a fair amount of trub and beer. Since the trub is a lot of used yeast, I decided to attempt using this bottle as both the yeast and liquid in a bread. Here is how that went down: I poiured the beer into a bowl and weighed it – 300g. Then I divided this by .66 to give me the flour needed to give a 66% hydration loaf: 454g. I then multiplied this by 2% for the appropriate amount of salt (9g). Its (hopefully) rising, though I don’t know how long its all going to take.
  • Meanwhile my apple and pear ferments are bubbling away nicely.

It has been a week now of fun and experimenting. I do appreciate that the only ones left reading are those who might be interested themselves in this amusement of beer, bread and yeast. That is after all one of the prerogatives of the blogger – to be as self indulgent as they want – and I’ve definitely been that.

But wait ….. There’s more! (just kidding) But seriously, after a week of this Its time to wrap and post. I’ll likely continue a second edition next!

Sourdough Bagels

Imagine: Fresh tangy  bagels right out of the oven for breakfast. Ones made by YOU. 

Sounds great?   You can do this and it’s not that hard.

This blog tells you how – and in particular bagels of the sourdough persuasion.

There are a few sites that will teach you about making bagels, but they are usually done by professional bakers, thinking of larger scale production. They also are yeast based.

I’m a home baker, not making any more than between 4-6 at a time. This is important as I am interested in both freshness and efficiencies of both time and ingredients. And sourdough is my baking medium of choice.

This blog is  associated with some of my other blogs on sourdough:

 but bagels are a particular kind of baking process that requires a different treatment.

There is one really excellent instructional video you really ought to view before doing your own – Breadtopia’s bagel video http://breadtopia.com/how-to-make-bagels/ This one is a yeast based recipe, is considerably bigger scale, and with respect to the water in the oven, a tad complex for my liking. But its the one that made the most sense to me when I was developing my own technique.

Sourdough bagels can either take a really long time to pull together, or they can be relatively fast. The relatively fast version means that you already have a bag of dough ready to go in the fridge. The slow version means you begin with a starter, refresh, refresh again, make a bulk dough, THEN put the bagels together. I will describe both, beginning with the fast version.

The Fast Version

To do this version, you need to have at least a .5k or 1lb of sourdough bulk rise dough in the fridge.  Check out my Making sourdough easy and ‘just in time’ blog for the backgrounder on how you can set up a truly efficient sourdough regime. 

The night before  (best done when preparing dinner.)

Time : about 20 minutes

You need

  • Bulk rise dough
  • Weigh scale
  • Parchment paper
  • Plate or baking tray
  • Wet (rinsed wet) cloth
  • cornmeal
  • Dry malt extract or sugar

Instructions

  1. Check your dough’s hydration. You should already know this. Bagels require a 60% hydration. If your dough is different than that you can use my hydration change calculator to make the adjustment. If this is still a tad confusing and you just want to get on with it, bagels need a stiff dough – however you get there. 
  2. Assuming 110g or 1/4lb per bagel, take out the dough needed to make the number of bagels you want.
  3. Also add some sugar. This can be in the form of regular sugar, or dry malt extract. For these small batches I add about a tablespoon or so. The sugar encourages more yeast action in the bagels. Maple syrup or honey can also be used but if you do, you have to treat them as liquid and add flour to keep the hydration at 60%. For our small batch I would suggest 30g honey/maple syrup and 50g flour.  Knead the dough, the sugar and (if needed) extra flour or water until it is a well kneaded ball.
  4. Separate the dough into balls of dough – one per bagel. Weigh them so they are all the same weight. Vigorously knead and roll the dough as you would plasticine to make each dough ball into a long sausage shape. [photo showing the rolling and twisting] 
    Bagels can be anywhere from 100g to 150g

      Bagels can be anywhere from 100g to 150g

    Bagels rolled and twisted in a sausage shape

    Bagels rolled and twisted in a sausage shape

    bagels-6

  5. Twist the sausage shape working to stretch the gluten in the dough as much as possible. Form it into the classic bagel shape crimping the ends together.
  6. Prepare a parchment paper with a thin layer of corn flour, place the bagels on the flour, leaving lots of space between them. Cover with a damp towel and put into the fridge overnight. [photo of bagels ready for the fridge]

    Bagels ready to go in the fridge (with a wet towel of course)

    Bagels ready to go in the fridge (with a wet towel of course)

In the morning…

Time: 40 minutes in all, 10 minutes of active work

You need:

  • Cornmeal
  • Baking soda and sugar
  • Baking stone
  • Widest frying pan you have, but should be at least 2” deep
  • A slotted spoon
  • A tablespoon measure
  • Pizza peel
  • Parchment paper
  • Bagel toppings (egg wash, poppy seed, sesame seed, flax, other grains and nuts….)

bagels-12

 

Instructions

  1. Make sure you have a baking stone in the oven, more or less in the middle, and enough space below to fit the frying pan with water. Turn the stove on to 480F/250C.
  2. Using the widest frying pan you have, fill it ¾ full of water, add 1 tsp of baking powder, 1 tbs sugar (or if you have it, dry malt extract) and set to boil, lid on. Your timing on these two items depends on how fast your stove and your heating element heat up. Ideally the oven should reach 480F about the time the water is boiling on the stove. What you are trying to avoid is having the bagels ready to go into the oven before it is properly heated. 
  3. Remove the bagels from the fridge and place them next to your frying pan of boiling water. Gently make any final shape adjustments you want (bigger/smaller hole, rounder etc.) 
  4. When the water is at a rolling boil, place the bagels in it. You should be able to place between 4-6 bagels in a 12” skillet. It will initially go off the boil with the fridge cold bagels. Once it comes back to boiling, boil the bagels on one side for 30 seconds at least . Sometimes the bagels stick to the bottom  – if so gently pry them up about 10 or so seconds into this first boil. They should rise to the top once they expand and they must do this before they are turned. It’s important to note that most of their rising occurs in the boiling.  After 30 seconds, flip the bagels with the slotted spoon and continue to boil for another 30 seconds. 20161103_061600
  5. While the boiling is happening, sprinkle more cornmeal on the parchment paper (or you can use new parchment paper if you like) and prepare the toppings and a spoon.
  6. Working quickly, remove the bagels from the pan and place them on the cornmeal parchment paper.
  7. Using a spoon, sprinkle toppings as desired 20161103_061721
  8. Put the frying pan of nearly boiling water in the oven under the baking stone 20161103_061816
  9. Using a pizza peel, slide the parchment paper with the bagels into the oven [photo of bagels ready to go into the oven]
  10. Turn heat down to 450F/233C (it will likely be at that once the water and bagels have  gone in) and bake for 20 minutes. 
  11. Remove and place in a basket – parchment paper and all. 
  12. Enjoy! (and don’t forget to remove the pan from the oven too.)

20161103_064041

So that was the short version: about 20 minutes in the evening and about 45 minutes the next morning. Here’s the longer version for a 6 bagel batch. I use organic whole wheat flour for the starter and a combination of all purpose organic and red fife flour for my dough.

The LONG Version

24 hours ahead (morning)

The timings for these risings are a little shorter than what I would usually do, and the compensation is rising them in a warm location. Alternately you could do the first refresh the night before (2 nights before the bagels are made), plan on about 8 hours per rising, and in a cooler environment of 20C/68F

  1. Refresh 100g of starter with 100g water and 60g flour, and let it develop for 6  hours at a warmish room temperature around 24C/75F (e.g. 6AM-12 PM)
  2. Refresh this starter again with 250g water and 150g flour, letting it develop for 6 hours. (e.g. 12PM-5PM)
  3. Prepare a bulk dough with 120g of this starter, 360g flour, 170g water, and 8g salt.
  4. Let rise for a further 5  hours or so before proceeding to ‘the shorter version’.

The following table shows how you would manage things beginning 36 hours ahead or 24 hours ahead.

Step 20C/68F 24C/75F
  1. First refresh
10 PM (36 hours before) 6AM (24 hrs before)
2. 2nd starter refresh 6 AM (24 hours before) 12PM
3. Bulk dough 2PM 5-6PM
4. Shaping into bagels/refrigerating 8PM 10-11PM
5. Boiling 6AM 6AM

As you can see this is a day long project and a lot of attention to time, detail, and being available all to get only 6 bagels. It’s not even ideal, as it really is best to prepare the bagels around dinner time the night before. To accommodate this you would need to begin your starter refresh in the middle of the night.  That’s why I prefer to do the shorter version  – but you would need to be doing what I note in my “Making sourdough easy and ‘just in time’ “ blog.

Backwoods sourdough

Sept 10

This blog is going to be a process blog where I don’t know quite where it will end up.  I’m also going to try to do this entirely on my phone.

Here’s the story. On the last weekend in September,  I will be going on a backwoods canoe trip facilitated by my very experienced son. It’s the first time for me and likely the last as my various commitments sadly tie me down.  Needless to say I’m really looking forward to it.

Yesterday at breakfast I had run out of bread and had only a sourdough bulk rise ready to be made into a loaf.  About 4 hours away. (Proofing baking& cooling). I tore a couple of small chunks from the bulk rise, flattened them out, put a little oil in a frying pan and a couple of minutes later, fresh delicious sourdough hotcake.  My son had one too and wondered about the potential for doing this for our trip. I said ‘sure, easy’ and showed him my lump of dough. He said “Too heavy like this. Can you do it so we only bring the flour? ” I said I would work on it.

I posed the question on a couple of Facebook forums. While there was interest, no one  (so far) had tried what I am trying to do though a couple noted that this is what Klondike miners must have done so many years ago.

My vision is to get a low hydration starter going – something that can stay in a ball. At supper I would take half of it mix it with just enough flour water and salt for an overnight bulk rise; add a little flour and water to keep the starter going. Next morning flatten out the dough into buns and fry on the stove.  If there are large flat rocks I could use them.

I’m about to try it all at home first – beginning with the starter. So for 100g of starter at 166% I need 104g  of flour to make it 65%. (try my hydration change calculator) This should yield 200g of 65% starter.

Best internet discussion I’ve found so far… https://backpackinglight.com/forums/topic/87645/

And I’ll keep adding to the blog as this experiment develops.

Sept 11

Last night I prepared my initial stiff starter. (I am of course in my house experimenting with nothing on the line.) This morning I peeled off half of it, (100g)  added a pinch of salt, flattened it with my hands only and put it on a hot skillet. The remainder of the starter is back in its jar, room temperature,  to be refreshed tonight.

Hotcake in dry skillet

The dough barely rose and felt stiff. Clearly a lot of work to do.

 

Little rise. Sadly its not like the result from my big bag of dough in the fridge. Taste is ok but then again its hot. That’s the idea though- to eat it right away. I have to double check my formula as the dough felt a lot stiffer than 65%.

The crumb shot as such.

So…. a little later in the morning I decided that if I liked the dough I had in the fridge then I should use it as a starter base. So: 50g dough  (1g salt) 100g flour and 65g water. This is how it starts:

The new starter dough

Experiments like this lead to strange places. This is a “french toast fritter pancake”. Instead of soaking a bread slice in egg, egg is kneaded into raw bread dough then fried in a really light coating of oil. Next time I should let it settle / rise for a bit. I’d definitely try it again.

September 12

All is working as it should. Last evening I mixed more flour and water into my starter  (66%) and this morning tore off a chunk of it, added a pinch of salt and cooked it dry on the stove top.  My son’s analysis: “it does the job”.

Next task: scale it up so it can feed 3, but keeping the same amount of starter. What I like so far is that it’s flexible and quite predictable.  The caution: get your heat right.  Less better.

.Sept 13

First a shout out to Bud who seems to be the only FB reader to truly get what I’m doing. Thanks for all your advice!

On my jog yesterday I figured out my weight proportions: there are 3 of us which at 100g per person suggests a dough of 300g plus 100g starter. 200g flour + 130g water gives a 65% hydration dough and a little more than enough per person.  This dough is set up the night before and in the morning split 4 ways. 1 put back in the bag and 3 get a pinch of salt added and are cooked. How much easier could this truly be? Next task: figure these quantities as volumes and not weights. Also give it a final test run.

Sept 15

I tried my first effort with the volume needed for our trip.  I made 3 different sizes/thicknesses. Essentially if one is doing a thick bun it needs to proof just like a loaf of bread. Thin buns are a lot more forgiving.

The 3 bun shapes tried.

The thickest one definitely needed proofing!

Sept 29

We leave tomorrow.  I’ve been given interesting challenges here: pancakes and naan. Both feature oil or butter in the mix.

Here’s how the pancakes could work: a zip lock big  bag with the following little bags within: 100g dough and 9g skim milk powder; a second with 100g flour; a third with 1g flour, 7g sugar,  2g salt,  7g baking powder.

Night before: mix dough and flour with almost a cup of water and gently mix until everything is evenly hydrated. Next morning add the third bag,  and some oil. mix gently leave for 30 minutes. Batter should be ready.

Camping notes

September 29

The starter dough

I put up one of my big 2.8kg basic doughs.  Some of  this went into a loaf for the wonderful person taking care of things while we are away. From this dough I took off 2 pieces of  hundred grams and put them in 2  large ziplock bags.  I also made up of three other Ziploc bags each with 200 grams of whole wheat flour in 4 grams of salt. These would  be the hot cakes to be made on the trip.

Panini sandwiches

Panini sandwiches for the first day lunch had been prepared the day before and day of our trip.  I took the remaining eight to nine hundred grams of my older bulk dough from the fridge,  rolled it out and laid on slices of butter as one would do for a croissant: It was folded and rolled out several times to make a laminated dough. The final roll was approximately one quarter to three eighths inch thick. It was then cut into rectangles about 4”  wide and left them to proof for about an hour. While they were proofing,  I prepared the Panini fillings: BBQ vegetables, cold meats, pickles, brie and cheddar slices. These all went into a couple of bags for assembly early the next morning.

I BBQ’d them on a medium heat about 1-2 minutes per side until they browned and expanded.

September 30th –  we depart

Paninis

These were made for lunch on the first day.   

Before we left I did the final prep. The paninis were thick enough that they could hold together well enough to be slit open easily and filled without breaking up and without breaking the hinge at the back of side of the bread. The butter laminate and grilling method ensured that the outside would stay together and so be fully functional as a sandwich. The completed sandwiches were wrapped liberally in wax paper and labeled. (This is important for later on).

We arrived at our departure point about 12:00PM. We wanted to get going and weren’t hungry. We left the outfitters in a rented  3 person canoe around 1 o’clock and by 3 o’clock we had reached our first portage. Out came the greatly appreciated paninis. The wax paper was carefully folded and returned to the pack.

Hot Cakes number 1

I realized when we were eating the Panini’s that I had not set up the dough for the hotcakes that evening.  Standing beside the biggest beaver dam I have ever seen I mixed the hundred grams of starter dough, 200 grams of flour and salt and  then eyeballed approximately 120 grams of water from my drinking bottle. I set about massaging the dough through the plastic bag, and  realized it would be about 4 hours before I was to cook them for dinner – and they had just begun their bulk rise.  I needed to get them along quickly with their fermentation so in the bag went, under my shirt and next to my tummy for what was to be a fast rise. There they stayed  for a further three hours of travelling and a difficult portage. Once we got once we got to the campsite and began our dinner prep the first thing to do was to extract  the dough  now happily bubbling away.  This dough was divided into 4 equal pieces: 1 was put back in the ziplock bag with the next batch of flour and salt, and again the water was eyeballed. Massaged sufficiently, it was stuck it back in the food pack for consumption the next day.

I retrieved the wax paper from the paninis and use them to flatten out the dough without getting my cutting board dirty.  I put another layer of used wax paper over them to protect them from fire embers and dust. They then proofed while the  rest of our dinner –  guacamole, whitefish, roasted vegetables  and chantarelle mushrooms was being prepared. Once the fish was cooked, in went the hotcakes, soaking up the remaining lovely  oil and butter deliciousness still in the pan from the fish, chanterelles and barbecued vegetables. The result was excellent. They were hot nicely risen nicely browned and delightfully flavored with the pan drippings.  

October 1  – Hang out at the campsite day

Pancakes

it was determined on our first morning we would have pancakes with homemade jam and summer sausage for breakfast. When you think about it, pancakes are really like a super hydration bread with some oil,  sugar, and baking soda.

For the pancakes I decided to approach these separately from the sourdough hotcakes and it’s a good thing I did because I needed to get them started at the same time as the hot cake dough the night before. I calculated that enough pancake mix for the three of us with mean 100 grams of starter dough at 66% (this was the second bag of dough I had prepared)  Here is how I thought it through: 100 grams.of dough @ 66% + 67 grams of water would give me 166% hydration. 100 g  flour + 4 g salt + 166 grams of water would likewise also give me a 166% hydration dough. I’d need to add  230 grams of water to the dry flour and starter  to make it happen. But that is not all.  This pancake mix (according to my pancake calculator based on Theresa Greenaway’s sourdough pancake recipe)  would also needs 7g sugar 2g  salt, 7g baking powder, and 9 g of skim milk powder.  Putting all of this together I had 3 separate zip lock bags

  1. 100g of 66% starter in a large zip lock bag
  2. 100g whole wheat flour in a small zip lock bag
  3. 15 g flour, 7 g sugar 3g of salt, 7g baking powder and 9g skim milk powder in  small zip lock bag.
  4. At our fish dinner, bags 1 and 2 were mixed together along with 230g of water – about a cup – eyeballed!  

I wanted this to proof overnight but I did not  want to add in the baking soda, milk  powder sugar mix  and oil until shortly before cooking. My son was a little concerned about  leaving this freezer bag of yukky liquid, sincerely hoping  it would not explode in the night  while in the food bag slung up in a tree to prevent bears or other creatures getting to it. The next morning after a night of 10-degree temperatures the bag was looking the way it should:  a nicely bubbling ferment. In went the bag of remaining flour and other stuff and also added a shot of sunflower oil – pancakes do  need oil for taste, texture and to  avoid sticking.  I have to say I was apprehensive about this mix, based as it was on quite theoretical assumptions  but they turned out amazingly.

Hotcakes 2

The second batch of hotcakes was for  lunch on the second day as an accompaniment to tomato soup. Again the first thing was to extract them from the bag, divide into 4, and put one back in the bag for the next batch. This batch I felt was a little dry so I added more water before turning it out. All went well  – as it did the night before.

One problem though – after a thorough check I could not find our final bag of flour/salt! Yikes! This was going to be for breakfast the next and final morning. Was it left behind? Must have been! There are  worse things in life.

Our  starter’s final hurrah

Going into our final campfire dinner, I still had the starter. We had planned to have mac and cheese, with rehydrated dried vegetables. What I had forgotten about in making mac and cheese was that you need a roux. The only flour I had left was in that little ball of starter dough. Necessity is the mother of invention and thus I made a valiant effort to convince a little piece of my remaining starter dough that it would have to serve up its life as flour for a roux.  It worked, barely  – with deft and quick stirring, lifting it off the flame, making it as roux like as I could, working the added cheese so it did not become a gloopy stiff chunk.

October 2  – heading back

The next morning I cooked what was left of the starter dough, and it all worked out well in the end. After sausage and trail mix, our food bag nearly exhausted, and we were fuelled for the 5 hour portage and canoe back.

Some conclusions are in order

  • Having hot fresh bread on your camping trip is a wonderful thing.
  • Sourdough camping can be done fairly easily.   70 grams of flour per person per serving is required, along with the 2% salt mixed in. A  100g ball of 66% starter is all that is needed to keep it going.
  • Camp sourdough it does not take a long time but it does need planning
  • It really does need one person committed  to doing  it.
  • Keep the starter in a large sturdy freezer bag and have a couple of other bags at the ready too.  
  • The cooler the temperature  the longer you have to proof it, and   vice versa.  If you need it quickly then you need to find a warm body.
  • There are lots of variations possible from pancakes to fritters to hotcakes. They can be fried or grilled or cooked on a hot flat rock. Cook it dry or in  butter, oil or  bacon grease.
  • One objection from my son was that the extra cooking uses up more heat. In our case it wasn’t on account of the hot cakes that we consumed a lot of fuel –  I was making  cedar tea in large quantities for one of our party who was feeling a little under the weather.
  • Next time (I hope there is a next time) I probably prefer to bring a whole bag of flour and dip into it as needed. That would have saved my bacon on this trip  There is also merit to having each meal laid out with its own bag of flour with the salt pre measured.

Making sourdough easy and ‘just in time’

How to make sourdough really easy

Going back over a year now I’ve been looking for ways to tame sourdough to my own schedule. Notably I wanted to have fresh hot bread for breakfast. Since then people in my sourdough workshops proposed other challenges : to make it fit into their busy lives.
In this latter case it was reasonably easy: find cool places in your house for a longer bulk rise including the fridge. But these answers still presumed time for a starter refresh, bulk rise, shaping and proofing, and baking. Controlling for temperature this could be anywhere from a 6 to 24 or more hour cycle.
Recently I’ve been trying something new. Instead of thinking of a whole process ending up with all the dough baked at once, I’m preparing a much larger base dough, letting it rise a couple of hours on the counter then throwing it into the fridge in a large freezer bag. That

The dough bag continues  - slowly - to ferment in the fridge.

The dough bag continues – slowly – to ferment in the fridge.

done, I take only what I need when I need it. That way I get “just in time and just enough” and its always fresh.
Not only can you do this at the bulk rise stage, you can also do it with the final proofing. A shaped loaf can happily be in the fridge rising for a couple of days.
For some of you reading this may bring quiet agreement – perhaps its what you do. For others you will be asking ‘Tell me more’.

Starting off….

As always with sourdough it starts with the starter. I like to use 166% starter. I keep a 100g jar (or so) from the previous batch. It begins with the refresh: 100g starter, 100g fresh filtered water, 60g organic whole wheat flour. 8 hous later I should have 260g of starter. I refresh a second time: 260g starter, 260g water, 156g flour. Now I have about 780g of really bubbly twice refreshed starter. This is something I do when it is convenient to do, and while I have both bead in the pantry and a dough in the fridge. That said, there is some planning and anticipation needed as you want to make the bulk rise when the starter is at its most vigorous.

The bulk rise

I now make a large base bulk rise of 66% hydration: approximately 500g of starter, 1500g of flour (3x the amount – or the starter is 33%), 808g water (66% hydration when the hydration of the starter is factored in). Autolyse as usual for about 20 minutes and add 33g salt (2% when starter flour is factored in). This yields a 2.8 kilo dough. Let it rise out of the fridge until doubled, but do not let it overproof. If anything cut it short. Punch down, take off a chunk for a loaf to be baked next, pack the rest of it into a large freezer bag, seal it up and stick it in the fridge. You now have a chunk of dough that is immediately available for whatever other bread you wish to do: dinner rolls, a baguette or two, burger buns, another loaf, bagels…. The bag can be in the fridge quite happily for a number of days, but I’d want to use it up within a week. You will find it continues to very slowly ferment.

The Loaf Proofing

Although I make lots of different kinds of bread, I always like to have a regular loaf available and fresh. My family varies on how fast it is consumed – a 20-some decides he’s hungry and its all gone, while someone else decides they are going on a severe diet can mean its consumption really slows down. But at the point its needed, I don’t want to have to knead it & let it rise for an hour or two. What I do is that shortly after – or even at – the time a loaf is baked, I set up another loaf – decide on the type of loaf, the various crust toppings, the hydration – and then I wrap it in a plastic bag or a wet towel, and into the fridge it goes. Fermentation is slowed right down and its ready to be baked at the point you want it. I bake it directly from the fridge as opposed to having it warm up first. This ensues it does not get overproofed, and makes scoring a lot easier. Baking it directly from the fridge means it needs to bake longer, so if doing this is new to you, keep a thermometer in it and take notes until you get your time down.

Burger buns: it seemed that we’d be doing burgers tonight.

An example:

On Monday evening I prepared 2500g of dough. It rose overnight. Next morning I took out 900g for a pan loaf, prepared it and stuck it back in the fridge. Somewhere mid afternoon on Tuesday, I decided to make some hummus as part of dinner. I took off about 500g of my dough, rolled it out to make half a dozen pitas. They rose on some parchment paper as I prepared the rest of dinner and heated the oven. The next morning (Wednesday) I baked the loaf I had prepared. Between the loaf and the pitas, no more bread needed for a bit. On Thursday evening I thought that bagels for breakfast on Friday would be a fine breakfast, so I took about 500g of dough, added flour and a little salt, along with diastatic malt to give me a 60% bagel dough. These were shaped Thursday night, and boiled/baked on Friday morning to the surprised appreciation of the family. About this point I refreshed my starter again in preparation for the next bulk dough. On Friday evening, everyone wanted pizza so that used up the remaining 600g of my dough. During dinner clean up I set up my next bulk rise, finding a cool spot in the house to let it go until first thing next morning. As you can see its a system that enables you to not have to worry about the start to finish span of bread making, nor do you have to predict days in advance what you will be baking and when. Much of it can be done when you are doing other kitchen work you would have to do anyway.

Messing around with it a little more

You will notice above that the bagels were 60% while the bulk rise was 66%. There may indeed be other situations where you want to change the hydration (like making a high hydration chewey baguette) or have a more specific flour mix than just your basic stuff. This can be done.
Using my hydration change calculator, you can add either liquid or flour/salt to your base dough to effect this change. In the case of the bagels, I needed to add 37g of flour and .7g salt to my dough. If had wanted to make a 78% baguette, I would use the calculator to find that I need 40g of water, or whatever other liquid.
Supposing you want to add in a different kind of flour – you want a rye loaf. Here you do have to work a little harder. Lets assume my base dough is 50% white all purpose and 50% whole wheat, and its at 66% hydration, and you want the rye flour addition to be the same as the other flours (the 50% weight). Lets say that the weight of all purpose is 200g and also is the weight of the whole wheat. If you wanted an equal part of rye flour, you would then mix in 200g of rye flour, 132g of water and 4g of salt. Now however you have created a condition where unfermented flour has been added to the dough, in a significant amount. You would therefore need to let this new mix ferment for a number of hours (according to your temperature), likely then shape it, wait an hour or so and then bake it. You are in effect using your base dough as a kind of levain, and if you are venturing into this area, it does require some planning. However, if you determine that your thing is to have 2 kinds of base doughs, you could then have one dedicated to rye, or a high hydration white, or whatever you would like.

Fun stuff to do with sourdough

Fresh herbs and slices of butter leaving room to fold over the dough.

Fresh herbs and slices of butter leaving room to fold over the dough.

A couple of days ago I did my sourdough workshop. It meant I had to prepare a loaf (which was all eaten), a bulk rise, and during the workshop we put together another bulk rise. It meant I had quite a lot of doughy product to sort out after the workshop.
The loaf that had proofed overnight in the fridge after enduring about 3 hours of proofing at room temperature was predictably overproofed. I should not have slashed it. Oh well. Taste was still fine.
What I decided to do with half the dough we put together was to make a BBQ’d herbed tea biscuit (sort of) dinner flatbread.
I took about half the dough (about 400g) which had been refrigerated overnight and had risen slightly & rolled it out on a floured surface until it was about 1/2” thick.
I then went out and cut some fresh oregano, thyme, basil and chives, cut them up and spread them on the dough. Garlic and pepper too.
Next I laid the inside 70% of the surface with generous slices of unsalted butter, and folded the corners and sides over so that no butter was showing.

BBQflatbread (3)

In the middle of folding and rolling. Its important the butter does not squeeze through.

In the middle of folding and rolling. Its important the butter does not squeeze through.

Following the technique used for laminated pastries – puff pastries, croissants and the like, I folded the dough gently in 3, rolled it out gently, being sure to flour it so nothing would stick. I repeated this “fold in 3 then roll out” sequence a number of times – maybe 6-8. Anytime some butter showed up, I slapped a little flour on it.
For the final roll out I left it at approximately ½” or 1.5 cm thick in a somewhat oval shape, on parchment paper, for about an hour.
After an hour, turned on the BBQ, and once hot, I gently turned the dough off the parchment paper and onto the BBQ. I’m afraid the timings here aren’t a fine science: you want to cook it through. This amounts to 2-3 minutes on each side. What happens is the dough cooks, the butter melts and evaporates, infusing into the dough and helping it to rise, as its trapped by the flour layers around it.
It can be served either as a large flatbread, or cut into squares and served as tea biscuits.
What you get is a quite decadent buttery herby dinner flatbread. Yum!

BBQflatbread (1)

image

baguette and pitas about to be baked

The next day…..

But there was another chunk of dough as well, languishing in the fridge. What to do with it? Well I had put on chickpeas to soak – thinking humus and falafel. So what more logical than to do some pita to accompany it. Again I had about 400g of dough to play with. Not enough.
So what I did was to add some more dough – white flour: 400g flour, 240g water, 8g of salt: all ‘baker’s ratio’. I was also a little concerned that the starter would be a little old so I added a pinch – truly no more – of yeast as well. Four hours later and it was nicely risen to become little pitas and a baguette. The dough in the fridge had become a kind of mother dough. Here I wanted something like the choices I get at a sub shop. I added italian herbs, garlic and Asiago cheese on top. For the pitas I wanted fairly thick soft ones that could hold a falafel or other sandwich material.

It all worked out well. The baguette is delish as are the pitas. All this goes to show what kind of flexibility and on the spot creativity you can get with a chunk of old sourdough bulk rise.

Sourdough Bread – simple and delicious!.

Wouldn’t you love to be able to make a beautiful loaf of sourdough bread, but found the prospect  too complex, confusing and time consuming? Wouldn’t it be also great if you could integrate it seamlessly into your already busy life? This blog describes  a process for making sourdough bread that, if you follow it more or less correctly, will yield a rich, complex, nutty, flavourful sourdough each and every time. 

I’m preparing this as an online accompaniment to a sourdough bread workshop I am doing for my food coop. I’d like to see lots more people doing sourdough, and, I’m a teacher by profession. Even though I may be far from an expert on bread, I can at least teach it.

Understanding Sourdough

A basic sourdough loaf begins with 4 elements: starter, flour, water, and salt. That’s what you can see and measure. What you can’t see is the complex microbial community that also lives, grows and changes in it  – until its baked, that is.

The starter starts off as flour and water, but growing in it are important living bacteria species of probiotic  Lactobacillus as well as yeast – Saccharomyces cerevisiae. These microbes are present in the flour to begin with, but need water to activate them. The rise in the sourdough comes from the yeast producing carbon dioxide, as well as evaporating water being trapped in the loaf. Meanwhile, the lactobacillus metabolizes sugar to provide that distinct nutty/tangy flavor.

Since the yeast and bacteria are responsible for all that happens, it’s important to understand life from their point of view.  They  are very simple little one celled organisms and they don’t have a lot of needs. Their main need is food and temperature. In the case of sourdough, their food are the starches and sugars in flour but they need  water to release and activate them. The yeasts and bacteria grow best at different temperatures.  Sourdough yeasts  can grow and develop in a in a wide range of temperatures from 10C to 35C. Their optimum range is between 25-30C When they are baked, they die off after  about 45C degrees. The variety of lactobacillus bacteria present tend to prefer higher temperatures. Most people prefer room temperature as this often provides a good time window for the rising. It also gives the bacteria more time to develop, and thus a more complex, nutty flavour.

In the picture below (left) you can see the  two yeast cells on the left  budding, the one at the bottom has just separated. The picture on the right shows lactobacillus bacteria in their colony.

 Yeast reproducing Lactobacillus

Here’s a video of yeast reproducing.

We can use this information to effectively control our sourdough times, and taste.  For example if we want to have a faster rise it can go on top of the fridge, or in a slightly warmed oven.  If we want it to take longer,   – if we want our bread to rise while we’re away at work for about 9 -12 hours might be an idea to put it in the coolest spot in the basement, or the fridge.

The taste can be manipulated too: leaving it at room temperature and going easy on the refreshing will encourage the lactobaccili bacteria and give a tangier loaf. Likewise, increasing the amount of starter will achieve a similar result.

The starter

The starter is the most important key to great sourdough. Its the home to numerous micro organisms including the  yeast. Its responsible for both the rising and the taste. Through its care, you can manipulate it to achieve different results.

mixing the starter refresh

mixing the starter refresh

Starters can be made easily: 150g (approximately 1 cup) of fresh organic whole wheat flour and 250g pure water (1 cup)  mixed together, in a covered one litre glass jar will at room temperature will start bubbling in  a few days. Note that the flour weight is 60% of the water weight – or to put it the ‘baker’s way – the water is 166% of the flour. But its easier on the mental math to think of the 60% ratio.  Ideally use  organic whole wheat flour and unchlorinated unflouridated water (as these chemicals will kill them). Once it is bubbling, pour off all but 150g of it, and refresh it with 90g flour and 150g of water. Do this one more time after it bubbles up again, let it develop, then refrigerate. This stabilizes the culture and it  should be already for use at that point. Once started and maintained, you should not have to do it again.

Initially its important to see how long your refreshed starter takes to fully bloom. Put a piece of vertical tape on your jar and note the time and temperature of its rise. This will give you vital information about your starter characteristics. In my case, its 8 hours at 22C. What that means is that when I put a new loaf together, it needs to do its bulk rise and proofing all within that 8 hour window. This will assure me of a successful loaf with great oven spring. It also means that I can likely retard the rising to 9-12 hours by keeping the bulk rise conditions at a lower temperature – say 17-18C. On the other hand, the rise will be a lot faster on a humid day in summer. 

Taking care of your starter

Keep your starter in the fridge  – especially if you want sourdough to be reliable and easy to maintain. At this temperature, it remains not quite dormant yet ready for use.  If you keep your starter at room temperature it’s going to be very active until it starts dying off and you will be spending a lot of energy refreshing it. It can remain viable in your fridge for up to a couple of months. Bakers have different ways of managing their starter. Some always keep at least a cup of starter (approximately 250g) available.

I like to keep a little over 100g. When you wish to bake, you must refresh it – an equal weight of water and 60% of the starter weight in flour. With my 100g I refresh it twice: The first time, I add 100g water and 60g flour (=260g). The second time I do 260g of water and 156g of flour. This leaves me with lots of starter to put together a 2800g dough – see my Making Sourdough Easy and just in time blog 

Now consider the food for the starter and think about it from the yeast’s perspective. Let’s say we have 100 grams of starter and you feed this hundred grams of starter 50 grams of flour and 50 grams of water. From their perspective they’re going to look at that and ‘say’ “Seriously like I’m going to finish this in no time flat! I need way more!”

On the other hand if you had only 10 grams of starter and you feed it 200 grams of flour in 200 grams of water it’s going to get really excited: “Wow this is like so much food I just can’t wait to chow down and get into it and reproduce like crazy and move like crazy and make all kinds of carbon dioxide gas.” (which is responsible for the rising and the  holes in your bread).  

So the learning here is:

  • if your starter is getting a little old, use less of it, not more.
  • If your starter is getting a little old, refresh it. The ratio is as follows – by weight: 10 parts starter, 10 parts water, 6 parts flour. My usual go to is 150g starter, 150g water, 90g flour.
  • If you want to use more starter to make a tangier bread, make sure it has been well refreshed and is at its peak of bubbliness. This can be done by refreshing only some of your starter (half cup each of starter, flour and water) and using most of that for your loaf.

The whole rising cycle

This great diagram (below) from http://www.classofoods.com/page1_3.html shows the evolution of the yeast and bacteria in the bread. (You may need to click on the image to see it clearly.) Ideally, you want to do the bulk rise for most of its exponential growth phase, the final rise at nearly the end of that phase, and into the oven as it’s nearing the height of it. This is hard to do – we can’t exactly build in a scale to show how much ‘food’ is left for the yeast –  and it will take practise. If you do not let it fully develop, it is underproofed and will seem gummy. If it’s overproofed, you will not get any oven spring – that magic lifting it undergoes in the oven. It might even fall. With practice, you will get to know your starter, and your local conditions well.

yeast cycle

The lag phase is seen initially in the bulk rise: you look at it and nothing appears to have happened.

In the exponential growth phase it expands. Ideally it should be proofed and baked in this period.

If it reaches its stationary phase or beyond – too late – sorry. Its way overproofed.

Baker’s percentage and Hydration

Baker’s percentage: Usually percentages add up to 100 –  except for bread.  The weight of the flour you use is always 100%. All of the other ingredients are expressed as a percent of the weight of the flour. Thus if you have a loaf that has 1000 grams of flour and you add 20 grams of salt, the baker’s %  would be 2%.  Every single ingredient in your bread can be expressed as a Baker’s Percentage. If this 1000g loaf had 20g salt, 600g water, and 50g starter, the Baker’s Percent for the whole loaf would be 167% (100+60+2+5).

Hydration hydration is the wetness of the dough, the ratio of the flour to the water expressed as a percentage.  It’s the weight of the water divided by the weight of the flour. If you’ve got a 1000g loaf (100%) and you add 600 grams of water (600/1000) =  60% hydration. In the starter, 250g water/150g flour gives a 166% hydration.

Final bread hydration is usually anywhere between 60% to 85%. 85% gives you a very wet dough, but one in which the yeasts will appreciate the extra  water medium.  Even 1% makes difference in hydration. From this discussion it should also be clear that you need to weigh your ingredients, ideally using an accurate scale. My personal go-to ideal hydration for an everyday pan loaf is 66%.

Hydration table

Over the past couple of years my reliance on excel to make sense of the data in my world and my urge to make good bread have resulted in the development of a planning application for any yeasted bakery product. While it will make ready sense to anyone used to Google sheets or Excel, I believe it is friendly to those who are not so comfortable with it.

The worksheet has a variety of tabs along the bottom that correspond to the type of baked good you want to make. The ‘LOG’ tabs enable you to keep track of what you have done, something that is always useful until you really get the hang of it.

Its simple to use: you can only change the yellow cells. Changing these will change the formulas telling you how much flour, water and salt to add. All the other cells are locked, so you can’t destroy it accidentally.

My sense is that if this is a tool you find useful, you will probably want to  download it as an Excel file, or make your own google sheet copy. Downloading to Excel will remove all the cell protection.

Equipment

Beyond some basic kitchen gear such as mixing bowls, spoons, jars, oven mitts and of course a stove, here’s the other gear you need.

Must have’s

  • A scale: good electronic scales are widely available at hardware and kitchen stores. Make sure it can take up to 5kg. Once you start using it you will come to appreciate the consistency it gives you in your cooking.
  • A good breadpan: thick, no rust. Have at least one that is the size of a pan loaf you want to make.
  • 1L glass jar – preferably wide mouth. This is for the starter beast in your fridge.
  • pastry brush: to oil the pan, spread toppings or egg white before baking

Good to have

  • Electronic kitchen thermometer: Until you get completely used to your oven/bread/timings, you need to be sure the baked bread is at least at 190F/88C
  • Pizza stone: It means that the bottom of your pita/pizza/boule/batard hits a very hot surface when it goes in the oven ensuring more even cooking and a great crust on the bottom. The pizza stone must go in before you turn the oven on. 
  • Pizza peel: to move things on and off the pizza stone easily
  • Parchment paper: used under pitas, batards etc. makes their transfer in and out of the oven really easy. It also saves you on the cleanup.
  • Bread scraper: to help with stretch and fold, clean your surface, help your bread out of the pan
  • Water spritzer: Spritzing the loaf after its been in the oven a few minutes helps the crust get nice and crunchy.

Optional

  • Baguette couches to rise and bake baguettes
  • Other bake pan sizes
  • Proofing baskets and cloths: the bread is proofed in these and turned out onto the pizza peel
  • rising bins: These are large plastic bins many pro bakers use for bulk rising a lot of dough.
  • a lame  – an old fashioned razor blade to slash the bread. Sharp knives, serrated knives work well too.

Other foodstuff to consider:

While you can make a very simple bread with only flour, salt, water and starter, you inevitably will want to consider other additions:

  • oil to brush on the pans
  • egg white to brush on top
  • wheat germ, any kind of grain, small seed, sunflower seeds either mixed into the dough during your stretch and fold or as part of the crust
  • herbs/spices/garlic/cheese (as in making a herbed foccacia for dinner)

Doing it!

  1. Refresh the starter you need for your loaves: the amounts of water flour and original starter are built into the hydration table. Do this 6-8 hours ahead of mixing. This will assure you of a well refreshed starter.  Something important to note here is that when you pour out your refreshed starter, weigh it again. The gassing off will have reduced the weight of your starter by about 7-8%.
  2. Plan out what bread(s) you want to make using the hydration table. The same dough can be used to make several different products.
  3. If your starter is highly active and you want more of a sourdough tang, use more starter  – as little as a 3:1 ratio to the flour. If it is a little older, you may want to use less – up to 20:1. Doing this will delay the proofing time.

Mixing

  1. Thoroughly combine and mix flour, water and starter together.
  2. Wait 20 minutes. This wait period is called the autolyse. The flour is hydrated, fermentation begins, the proteins stretch out, the gluten has a chance to begin its development in the absence of salt.  
  3. Add in the salt: 2% of the weight of the flour. The salt is critical to toughen up the dough and slow down the fermentation. Use the calculator as there is also flour in the starter that needs to be taken into account. 
  4. Knead until well combined, put in a bowl with a wet cloth, noting the temperature you are rising it in.

    place back in bowl

    The beginning of the bulk rise

The Bulk Rise (AKA fermentation)

  1. Let it rise until it is almost doubled in size  – but not more. When you gently press it it should indent, not collapse, and slowly spring back. Depending on the temperature, this will take between 3 and 18 hours. At room temperature this will be between 6-9 hours.  Initially you’ll need to explore parts of your own environment to identify ideal times/locations.
  2. You can stretch and fold the dough once or twice in this period. This removes gasses from the dough, allows the yeasts and bacteria to become acquainted with other parts of the colony (and maybe more food) and helps the dough rise evenly.
  3. The dough cannot have finished its full rising at this point, otherwise it will be overproofed by the time it hits the oven.

Shaping the dough and proofing

  1. Remove it from the bowl and knead using the stretch and fold technique.
    Pull

    stretch one corner of the dough…

    and fold back to centre….

  2. Let it rest while you prepare your pan(s) (assuming you are making a couple or more bread products).
  3. If you are making more than one loaf, divide it into however many loaves/pitas/buns etc. then begin a second stretch and fold with each one that culminates in them being in their final shape. Use your scale: loaves and boules are typically 800-1000g, baguettes: 400g, buns and pitas: 100g or so.
  4. Shape your final loaves. Youtube is a great resource for observing specific techniques for specific kinds of breads: Loaf pan, boules and batards, baguettes
  5. You more than likely will want to include crust toppings. Here are some ideas:
    • Its always a good idea to brush on oil if you are using a pan.
    • a variety of grains, nuts, and seeds always go well. They also form an important layer between the bread and the pan to prevent it all sticking. 
    • working garlic, herbs and cheese into a baguette gives an excellent dinner side
    • corn flour or regular flour as a dusting on the top or bottom works well
    • White egg wash will glisten up the top
    • oil or melted butter brushed on the top browns it nicely too. 

      sesame buns on parchment paper

      sesame buns on parchment paper

  6. Slashing is critical: a thin cut on the crust allows the bread to expand well in the oven (oven spring). See either Youtube or this Food 52 entry.
  7. Use parchment paper for anything going on a pizza stone. It makes it so much easier!
  8. Let the bread(s) proof for between 1-2 hours, until they have begun to rise and will slowly spring back after being gently poked.

Baking

  1. bake your loaves using these general guidelines. Finished bread should be between 190 and 205 F:
    • for an 800g loaf – 450F/232C for 12 minutes, 425F/218C for 12 minutes, 400F/204C for 12 minutes
    • For a pan loaf cooked directly from the fridge: 450 for 15 minutes, 425 for 14 minutes, 400 for 13 minutes.
    • Pitas take about 3-4 minutes at 450F/232C, preferably on a baking stone
    • Baguettes and buns take between 12-20 minutes at 450F/232C: the bigger the loaf, the more the time.
    • Due to the fact that your oven drops 30 degrees every time you open the door, I prefer to cook my different kinds of loaves separately, though I sometimes will throw in a baguette when a pan loaf is 1/3 cooked.
  2. Remove from oven and their pans and allow them to cool for at least 30 minutes.

Fitting sourdough into your busy life

Integrating sourdough into a busy working life is perhaps the biggest barrier to starting it in the first place. It appears to be too complex, the timings do not fit in well with your wake/sleep/go to work schedule. I’d argue that this can be worked around if it is truly something you wish to do. Here are some ideas:

  • When beginning it, do your initial tries when you are not going to work. Use the hydration table log to record your changes and observations, and to get a feel for it.
  • Identify some of the following:
    • What time of day do you want it to appear out of the oven? (set this as your goal)
    • When are you not around in your house?
    • When is your usual sleep/wake cycle?
  • Keep in mind:
    • Initial mixing takes about 15 minutes over a half hour period.
    • You do not have to be around for the bulk rise
    • The final proofing will take between 2-3 hours from beginning to the end of baking, of which you will be actively attending to the bread for between 10-30 minutes depending on how much you are baking
    • Consider baking directly from the fridge. In this case the loaf has proofed for 12-24 hours in the fridge and goes directly into the oven. This will cut down on your ‘need to be around while the bread proofs’ time.
    • Think creatively of various places in your house that are either warmer or cooler, ranging from a warmed oven (heat to its lowest temperature, then turn it off) to your fridge. Even within your fridge there will be cooler and warmer areas. Basement floors can be really useful if you are in a house.
    • If you completely blow it and either under or overproof it, and you know it, pitas or pizzas are incredibly forgiving, and you will still be more than appreciated for the result.
  • Make a plan that takes into account the needs of the bread and your own time needs and commitments. Try it out, reflect – talk about it with other bakers either near you or on the forums noted below  – you will find a solution! Here is an example of this kind of plan, for someone who is around in the evening, but at work between 6:30AM and 6:00PM, and given an 8hr starter cycle (which may be different for you).
    • Upon getting home from work, refresh your starter.
    • In the evening, plan the loaf or loaves that will be cooked the following evening,
    • Before hitting the sack, mix the flour, water and refreshed starter. After 20 minutes, add salt, knead for a minute, and refrigerate with a damp cloth over it.
    • First thing in the morning, take it out, do a little bit of stretch and fold, and leave in a place that is not more than about 20C.  Go to work.
    • Return from work; stretch and fold, prepare loaf or loaves, leave them in a nice warm place (if you want hot bread with dinner) to cut down the proofing time to an hour or less. Prepare dinner, finishing with baking your bread.

Resources

I’d like to point out some really important resources: This blog and the workshop I am giving are but door openings into the magical wonderful world of sourdough. There is so much more to know, and to experiment with.

  1. The Fresh Loaf is a really thorough and comprehensive site with its own very interactive discussion forum wrapped into it.
  2. Northwest sourdough is the work of Theresa Greenaway, a West Coast sourdough expert baker. The work I am presenting to you is directly derivative of her work. In her 4 volumes on sourdough she authoritatively covers all the possible uses from breads to quickbreads and cakes. I would  strongly recommend getting all four of her books.
  3. Related to this is the  https://www.facebook.com/groups/perfectsourdough/ which has a faithful following of both expert and newbie bakers.
  4. And another facebook sourdough group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/360136781918/
  5. Wild Yeast is another baking blog focused on sourdough
  6. The Tartine Loaf is legend on the west coast and this you tube shows you how. This loaf was the focus of Michael Pollen’s AIR chapter in Cooked, also an excellent read.
  7. Bread science is expertly covered by Emily Beuhler in her book of the same name.
  8. Check out the Lactic Acid in Sourdough article for a technical but easy to read explanation of the chemistry of it all.
  9. The Clever Carrot is a blog of similar scope to this one – well described.