Monday, January 6, 2014

Pain Au Levain (75% Hydrated)

Have you ever just sat down and thought about why you bake bread? Is it because you want to feed others or because you want to feel closer to the earth? Is it because you want to get your hands dirty doing modest work that brings you spiritual groundedness? Is it because the smell is so damned intoxicating or just because store-bought bread stinks? Is it to hear the sound of a thick crisp crust crackling beneath the pressure of your fingers or is it so you have an excuse to shatter your oven light while you jerry-rig your oven with a burst of steam? I often think about these things! 

Baking bread is a little thing that I do and it means a whole lot in my life. It really does ground me. It anchors my week with a simple task.  It is a simple labor that brings me much satisfaction and pride. "Better bread and water than cake with trouble" -and ain't that the truth!

Here is another formula from Miscovich's book From the Wood Fired Oven. This one is very similar to my previous bread, the Pain au Levain, only this bread is hydrated at 75%. The hydration is only 6% higher, but the resulting bread is profoundly different. This is the kind of bread that you bake for the process. The autolyse, the four strong folds, the long fermentation and the long and slow proofing. The scoring! The Loading! The Steaming! The Baking! Just talking about it gets me ready for another thick slice! The taste is subtly acidic with a crunchy exterior. It has an extremely soft and tender crumb and just enough bite and flavor from the whole grain. It is a nearly perfect loaf. I know that I will be baking this bread for years to come, with many variations. This is going to be a great base formula to work off of for a high hydration. This is the kind of bread that makes you a better bread baker.

The sourdough build for this bread is rather simple. Once again it is 100% hydrated, and uses a relatively small amount of sourdough starter, 45 grams. I did notice that Jack Straw (my new starter) is staring to yield aromas that remind me of a good dry white wine. The starter is allowed to go for eight to ten hours. 

The autolyse happens next. Water is added to the sourdough build to loosen it and then all of the dough flour is added in the mixing bowl and the dough is mixed until combined (about thirty seconds). Then it is covered and allowed to mingle for about thirty minutes. The salt is then added and the bread is mixed on first speed for three minutes and then second speed for three minutes. This dough is loose and thin but there is medium gluten development as seen in this picture.

Gluten is going to be developed over the next 2 and a half hours, through the use of four very strong folds, which take place every thirty minutes for the first two hours of the bulk fermentation. This bread is then pre-shaped and then shaped into boules and placed into couch lined brotforms or bannetons. I really need to work on my shaping skills. This is one of my non self related new years resolutions. My boule making skills are sub-par, but the best thing about being bad at something is that you can grow by leaps and bounds! The best advice I ever got was "Dave, you know its just as important to get better and what you stink at as it is to become even better at what you are already the best at" 

This loaf is then proofed in covered baskets for two hours, which increased its size by about 30-35%. This bread is then loaded into a very well preheated 450 degree oven and is baked for 40 minutes. And what a holy forty minutes it is. The bread has a great oven spring, and what great coloration this loaf has. The floured surface expands and becomes a deep golden, ruddy brown color. This one is a loaf for the ages! "pain des ├óges" 

Miscovich, you have taught me more about love then you will ever know! Bake On! It works if you work it! 

I am looking forward to making Miscovich's Rosemary Loaf and Olive Loaf in the coming weeks.  Oh, one more note. I will be trying to sprout my own grain next week. This should be fun: making my own sprouted grain whole wheat and whole rye flour!

-DW, The Rye King

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