This week I’ve been working with Peter Reinhart’s Master Formula for French bread, as detailed in ‘Crust and Crumb’. I’ve stuck with the pate fermentee method, as I’d like to see whether I can improve with this one simple loaf before I move onto others.
Tues 10 May. Two more ‘batard’ shaped loaves from the dough made up on Sunday night; I’d baked one on Monday, and the second and third on Tuesday. The boule baked on Monday was much more successful – in rise and crumb – than the two subsequent loaves, which were much flatter. In retrospect, I think the dough was suffering from some overproofing, and that I might reduce the yeast if I’m aiming for Peter’s retardation of dough in the fridge.
Wed 11 May. Again, using a 50:50 pre-ferment to dough ratio, I built dough and worked through Peter’s master formula II for french bread. Once I’d done the initial bulk fermentation (the proofing of the whole mass of dough), I shaped the dough into three loaves: one boule (round) and two longer loaves. This time, because I wanted some bread for the evening meal, I just left off the overnight retardation step for the boule and let it continue rising for about 30 mins or so while I heated the oven. The result was a beautifully risen round bread with crunchy crust and creamy, airy white bread inside.(I did however forget to slash the top of the bread, so it had an uncharacteristically smooth finish; the rise/oven spring might well have been better if I’d remembered to slash!)
At the same time, though, I had a second batch: a bit of pre-ferment that wasn’t quite the full amount listed in PR’s formula. I adjusted quantities according to formula, and decided to put that lot in a bucket in the fridge to retard. This batch, though, I forgot to put salt in until the very last mixing. Still, it did go in – albeit a little later than in my previous batches.
Thursday 12 May. The weird thing was the two remaining loaves. I purposefully shaped them before leaving in the fridge overnight – because last time the dough tensed up so much after overnight retardation without pre-shaping. The loaves rose/spread (more spread than rose, actually) dramatically, but in the morning they were impossible to move – even touching the surface caused a crumpling/collapsing. I’d also unthinkingly covered them in dry rather than damp towels (or plastic), so the outside of the dough had formed a sort of skin.
According to fellow bread bakers at The Fresh Loaf (an online bread making forum), the dramatic puffy spread and collapsing form is a giveaway for overproofing. Next time, less yeast I think.
I just took the whole baking tray they were on and slid it into a hot oven for baking anyway. I ended up with something that looked like a focaccia, but with denser crumb. Bit of a fail on that attempt.
Meanwhile the bucket of batch two was still quite a happy, airy dough in the fridge. I punched it down regularly, wondering whether it would be good as a dough-to-go, or whether I’d need to recycle it as a starter. Didn’t feel like more baking after the failed wannabe foccacia loaves, so just left it.
Friday 13 May. Was about to use the bucket of Wednesday’s batch 2 as a starter, when I noticed how light and airy and happy it felt. Why not try bake it up as 2 loaves, I thought? We are (astonishingly, I know) in need of some bread for the weekend. So I turned it out, and using a technique I saw on an awesome bread video, shaped it into two boules. So far, they feel soft and light and elastic – possible success imminent. Also, they haven’t stuck to anything, so I can transfer them directly to the ceramic tiles in my oven, a trick I haven’t tried yet. Update soon!