Saturday, December 15, 2012

Normandy Sourdough Apple Bread and Building a Sourdough Starter

This is another formula that will go down in history as one of The Bread Barron's favorite breads. This is the third time I have baked this bread. The first time was in 2011. The second time I baked it was with my friend and clinical preceptor Brett, and this, the 3rd time, I made it for a very special person who happens to be my girlfriend Kelly.

THis bread is called Normandy Sourdough Apple Bread because in France different regions are known for different ingredients. Lyons is known for onions, and Normandy is known for its apples. 

This bread is impressive for many reasons! It does not just contain apples, it contains dried apples and apple cider. By using dried apples, the apple flavor is intensified. Additionally, the drying process removes the water from the apples, which prevent the apples from sweating into the dough during the baking process. It also prevent the apples from turning an unappealing brown color. The cider also intensifies the apple flavor in this bread. Another special characteristic about this bread is the use of a stiff levain. Most of the breads that I bake tend to use a liquid levain, but I am really starting to become a fan of the stiff levain. I like the stiff levain, not just because of its flavor, but because of its contribution to gluten development at the outset of the mix. The use of a stiff levain in this dough really helps control a mix which is lengthened by the addition of dried apples towards the end. (I will talk more about this later.) Here is a cool tip: if you have apple cider which has turned or is beginning to turn, this is a great way to use it up. The tartness of this bread works well with that sweet and musty apple flavor of the turning cider.

Since I have not used a stiff levain in a while, I decided to do two things. The first was to turn my liquid levain into a stiff levain. I did this in three steps. In each step I used the following Formula:

Bakers Percent
Liquid Levain
Bread Flour

Liquid levain is hydrated at 125%, rather than the 60% used in a stiff levain. So its characteristics are quite different. It is also much more difficult to mix a stiff levain, but it is well worth it. I fed the sourdough starter that I described above, a total of three times. With each feeding, the levain's consistency became closer to the ideal 60% hydration of stiff levain. This is because liquid levain was used in the first feeding. In the second feeding, an in-between consistency levain was used and in the final feeding an almost stiff levain consistency was used.

One aspect of bread baking that I really enjoy is watching the 'development' and the actual changes that take place. Whether it is a starter, or a dough just out of the bowl, it is awesome to watch its "life cycle" as it metamorphosizes from from flour and water to bread. This is one of my favorite parts of bread baking. My friend Allison once asked me "Dave, do you find bread baking therapeutic?" My response: "No, meditative!" This is why I am such a huge fan of old bread soakers:  The finished product is used again to start another bread. Then the life cycle is complete.

The second big change I made was to build a liquid levain from scratch. I did this because I am now in Worcester, and I feel that with the New Year coming, what better time that to start a sourdough starter. When you build a sourdough starter, I find it very helpful to start with whole rye flour. I am what you would call a rye-guy! The use of rye helps because it promotes microbiological activity. I have found that many people like to start their sourdough starter with a little honey, or some grapes, or raisins, because they contain readily accessible sugars. Personally, I like to go the old fashion route and just use flour and water. It might take an extra day or two, but I am a fan of the olde-world way of doing things.

Back to the Formula:

A few weeks ago, I bought apples for 99 cents a pound and knowing that I would be making this bread for Kelly, I went ahead and dried them. I sliced and cored the apples (not removing the skin) and placed them on an un-greased sheet pan in one layer. Then I placed them in the oven at 270 degrees. I removed the pans every twenty minutes to flip the apples over. A dehydrator can also be used, but I prefer preparing them this way. It might be because it makes me part of the process. I have a scientific mind and I love the "change" aspect as I mentioned earlier. I learned an important lesson: these dried apples are not truly resistant to mold and I had to throw out one of my two bags of apples. This pained me, but I had no choice! I have no problem with bleu cheese, but blue bread...... I don't think so. You have to draw the line somewhere.

The stiff levain build is composed of 1.2 ounces of stiff levain and is hydrated at 60%, just like the starter. It is allowed to 'grow' for 12 hours. It can be salted at 1.8 percent, but who would make this bread in summer? I mean, really!

Here is the sourdough build just after mixing

And the sourdough build after 12 hours of fermentation

This bread also has a fairly simple mixing process. All of the ingredients are added with the exception of the dried apples. They are mixed on first speed for 3 minutes, and then on second speed for 3 minutes. The mixer is turned off and the dried apples are added. The mixer is placed on first speed until the apples are equally distributed throughout the dough (about one minute).

 The dough is then given one to two hours of bulk fermentation. I gave the dough a fold after one hour and then gave it an additional 30 minutes of fermentation.
After the fold

This is my very first time using "brotforms". (Nicole, my new German friend, told me that it literally means "bread mold" in German). Before I tell you about my experience using the brotforms, I want to publically thank King Arthur Flour for shipping these to me for free so that I could afford two of them. The folks at King Arthur Flour are familiar with my work, and have been so helpful and supportive of this blog! Thanks Guys! I really appreciate all of your help, support, and advice.

The Brotforms (Bill on the left and Mickey on the right)

I would be remiss if I didn't give a VERY SPECIAL thank you to my Mom, Judy. She bought these baskets for me. My parents have been so supportive of me and all of my endeavors, especially my bread baking. My mom is a real trooper. For dietary reasons, she can not even eat the bread that I bake, yet she puts up with it and supports it! Once again, Thank you Mom and Dad. 
Okay, so a brotform is typically used for proofing breads. The dough is proofed seam side up, and is then upended on a peel or oven loader. In my opinion the coolest thing about using brotforms is the spiral pattern that they leave on the dough. Since the basket is dusted in a very light coating of flour and the basket is coiled, the flour leaves a coil pattern on the bread. You can see this pattern clearly in this picture.

show pic of finished bread with flour rings

The Bakers at King Arthur, especailly Maryjane, informed me that getting the right amount of flour in the basket can be difficult to judge. I leaned on the lighter side, but still wanted the flour to be visible on the individual coils. I relied on my intuition and it came out great! I think a tiny bit less flour would be a little more visually pleasing, but I am very happy with the results! I think Kelly will be pleased to!

A closer look at the amount of flour used
When shaping this bread, I decided to make one big bread rather than two medium sized loaves. I made this decision because when I looked at the dough, it seemed that two medium loaves would be much too small for the brotforms. I decided to make one large one. My next project will be to make my Toasted Sunflower Seed Sourdough Rye in the brotforms. I can't wait to see how it will come out as two medium loaves.
I think the final bread came out os high because I over filled the brotform a bit

This is my favorite picture from this bake. The flour lines are so awesome! These baskets are going to take my rye breads to the next level!

I hope you enjoyed baking my favorite bread with me, and I hope you learned something new about bread, about me, and about the meaning of life or anything for that matter.

Here is the final product, the bread did open a lot, but I am still very pleased with this weeks creation!

Taken with my phone, I did not have my camera with me, but look at all those delicious dried apples

-DW, The Bread Barron

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