Sourdough Home

“… no Yoga exercise, no hour of meditation … will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread.”

— M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating

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2018-01-21 Flour Mills, Storing Bread, Making Dough and more...

SO Many Questions!

Well, it's been a while, so let's talk about bread.  And dough.  And the meaning of life.  And the universe.  And EVERYTHING!  (42!)

This probably could be 3 emails, but the mood is upon me!

To start with, I'm done with the flour mill shootout.  It was lots of fun, and I'll be doing a lot more home ground breads and exotic flours from here on out.  To see my review, you might look at Grain Mills Compared;  If you're impatient and just want to see the final results, here they at Grain Mills Test Results.

I'd still like to look at the current KitchenAid mill, the MockMill KitchenAid attachment, and several other mills that we didn't see, such as the Sampo and Retsel.  We'll see if they are interested in sending me samples..

Storing bread - a recurring question I've been seeing lately is how to keep bread fresh.  I have some comments on that topic at Sourdoughhome on the page imaginatively titled, "How Do I Keep My Bread Fresh? "

Some people just obsess too much about freshness.  In France there is a large bread called a "miche" that weighs at least 1.5 kilograms and can range up to 5 kilograms (or 3 to 10 pounds).  A miche is intended to feed a family for a week.  In earlier days, families probably went through several loaves a week but even the French are eating less bread.  Getting back to my thesis, in France people discuss on which day the bread is at its best.  And many prefer it well into the week.

With sourdough the flavors change, some flavors that were in the background move to the foreground, and others recede. This happens with yeasted breads also, but not to as great an extent.  I enjoy the changes.

As far as bread lasting, there are two major enemies to bread freshness, staling and mold.  Much that we can do to prevent one will tend to cause the other.  And where you are can lead to a prevalence of one or the other.  In really humid areas like the Gulf Coast mold happens quickly.  In dryer areas, like the high mountains of Colorado, staling tends to happen.

In general, the longer it takes to make bread, the longer it will last.  Sourdough, in particular, creates many compounds to ward off the invasion of bacteria and mold.  Similarly, it creates compounds that tend to ward of staling.  In the high mountains of Colorado, our bread typically lasted 21 days before it showed signs of mold.  Breads made with poolish, about 14 days, and plain yeast breads about 7 days.  We had a few proverbial little old ladies wave their umbrellas in our faces wanting to know what we did to make our breads last so long, they knew how long bread lasted, and ours lasted too darned long!

Breads that have oil in them tend to last longer than lean breads (that is breads without added oils).

The shape of your loaf is another key factor.  Baguettes are long and skinny with a lot of surface area for the volume of bread and baguettes are famous for having a very short shelf life.  Four hours after they are purchased, French kids have sword fights with them.  A round loaf, often called a boule or roundy, has much less surface area and stales more slowly.

Loaves that are in between these extremes like sandwich loaves and batards, are also in between in terms of staling.

Refrigeration puts bread at the optimum staling temperature.   That is, bread will stale much more quickly in your fridge than on a counter.

Putting a loaf in a plastic bag will prevent mold and prevent staling, but it will lead to softening of the crust.  My usual approach is to put the bread in a plastic bag and not close it which allows it to keep breathing while still protecting it from kitchen accidents.

While we're on the topic of plastic bags, Debbie Meyer in addition to making green bags to keep fruit and vegetables fresh also  made bags to keep bread fresh.  If you can find them, they are worth purchasing.  I don't seen them on her web site lately, so I'm guessing they weren't big sellers.

A few friends swear that bread put in top of the refrigerator lasts much longer than elsewhere.  None of these friends have an explanation for this.

A number of people put the bread on a cutting board, cut side down, and then cover the bread with a damp - not wet - cloth or tea towel.  This helps keep the loaf from drying out, but it can speed mold.  Still, this has worked for me for around a week.

Once your bread goes stale you can revive it, once, by rebaking it.  A 350F/175C oven for 10 or 15 minutes will reverse staling and give you a nice fresh loaf.

And, finally, there's the freezer.  We wrap our bread well as soon as we can and put it in the freezer.  We pull out a loaf at a time.  Some people slice the bread and put the sliced bread in freezer bags, pulling out what they need, when they need it.  A few slices for toast, or a few slices to make lunch sandwiches to take to work.  It works well.

OK, so you've read all that stuff and tried to do it, and you still have stale bread.  Now whatcha gonna do?

The Italians feel bread is too precious to waste, just because it's stale is no reason to throw it away! There is SO much you can do with stale bread!  Here are just a few things:
* French Toast
* Croutons
* Zwiebak
* Bread crumbs
* Bread soup
* Use the bread crumbs to thicken soup
* Use toasted stale bread to top soup
* Bread pudding which can be sweet or savory

However, if your bread gets moldy, throw it away.  The mold goes all through your bread faster than you would believe.

Dominique wrote a sad tale... "Sourdough is heartbreaking work and I feel like I'm SO close, but even after a year of baking weekly, I haven't locked down a solid sourdough recipe.  I feel like I'm getting closer, but I don't know what I am doing wrong and I could use some expert advice.

"I work with a fully hydrated starter (1:1:1 ratio of flour, water, starter).  I feed my starter the night before I mix my bread (at least 12 hours before), so I'm working with an active starter.  I was able to get a great open crumb by adding more water to my dough (11.5 oz water, 17oz flour, 6.5 starter, .5 oz salt [added after autolyse]).  However, the dough was sticky, super wet, and incredibly difficult to work with.  It was hard to tell when it was proved sufficiently because it was so sticky to the touch; I mixed these doughs with a bread hook in the stand mixer.  When I would try to move these boules onto the baking stone, they would stick in the banneton (no matter how much flour I used) and then deflate completely on the stone.  I had open crumb, but little rise."

There are so many possible causes, I didn't really know where to start.  After a few questions, I got the feeling she was storing her starter in the fridge and not feeding it often enough before using it.  Once is not enough, at least not in my book.  "It takes a consistent process to create a consistent product." Here's what I sent her -

  • Water - we had some real issues when we moved to our current house. The water here is soft and alkaline.  Dough prefers somewhat hard and acidic water.  You might ask your local water company for whatever analysis they have.  We are currently adding about .26% of gypsum to the dough to harden and acidify it.  Gypsum (calcium sulfate) has been used as a water additive in beer making for centuries.  You can get it from home brew supply stores, and a little goes a long way.  Like 2.6 grams per thousand grams of flour.  In a recent class a student asked why her dough was such a mess compared to the other student's.  A quick question revealed she'd forgotten to add the gypsum.  She added it and the dough pulled together immediately.  You may well not need to add gypsum.  If your yeasted breads are OK, this is, more than likely, not an issue.
  • Starter... so many possibilities.  If underfed sourdough starter can have a different bacteria take over that can eat protein which weakens dough.  A lot.  How much, and how quickly, depends on how bad off your starter is.  A clue that you have this problem is the smell of the starter.  Slightly tart or acidic is good, alcohol is good.  An acetone smell (like cheap finger nail polish remover) is bad.  I've never had much luck reviving a starter in this condition and would suggest just starting over.
  • Starter strength - Mark Gunderberg recently commented on Facebook that starters that are kept at room temperature are the healthiest and produce nice sour breads.  Starters that spend their lives in the fridge are less healthy.  Starters that are kept in the fridge and are refreshed to the point where they are vibrant do well, but not as well as a full time room temperature starter. Sadly, I do that last thing.  I make a very stiff starter and then feed it up when I need it.  Let's say I need 400 grams of starter on Friday evening.
    • The last feeding will be Friday morning 200 grams of starter with 100 grams each of water and flour added
    • The previous feeding will be Thursday evening with 100 grams of starter and 50 grams each of water and flour
    • Before that, Thursday morning  50 grams of starter with 25 grams each of flour and water
    • Wednesday evening - 25 grams of starter with 12 or 13 grams each of flour and water
    • Wednesday morning - 12 grams of starter with 6 or 7 grams each of flour and water
    • Tuesday evening - 6 grams of starter with 3 grams each of flour and water
    • Tuesday morning - 3 grams of starter with 2 grams or so each of flour and water
  • This gives the starter time to revive and thrive.  I don't worry about the thicker starter's hydration because I use so little of it to start the feedup that its hydration is swamped in 2 or 3 feedings.
  • When to use the starter - I use the starter after it has peaked and begun to recede.  The top should start to sink and there should be little cracks, like dry creek beds, forming as the top recedes.
  • Dough hydration - I usually weigh in grams because it removes a source of ambiguity in that an ounce is a measure of volume as well as a measure of weight.  I am a STRONG believer in weighing all ingredients.  So, my assumption is that you are using ounces to mean a measure of weight.  Your dough hydration in that case is between 72% and 68% (for the dryer dough). That's not unreasonable, trough a bit high for a new baker.  If you are inexperienced, you might drop back to 65% hydration, around 10 ounces (280 grams) of water.
  • Salt - you are using about 2.47% salt, which is a little high, but should help the dough firm up.  I'd shoot for something closer to 2%, say around .4 oz (11.3 grams)
  • Salt, part 2, I've not found any advantage to adding salt late.
  • Autolyse - different people mean different things when they say autolyse.  Strictly speaking it is mixing flour and water and letting the enzymes in the flour start breaking the starches into sugars.  This makes the dough more manageable.  I usually use no more than 1/3 of the flour for the formula in the autolyse.  I let the autolyse age between 30 minutes and 2 hours.  After the autolyse, I add the rest of the flour, water, starter, salt and other ingredients.
  • You might try doing stretch and folds rather than using your mixer.  Here's how I do it  The stretch and folds take the place of the first rise, so once it is nicely developed, shape it, let it rise and bake it

Until next time, may your bread always rise, no matter how you ground your flour and how you handled your starter,
Mike

PS - We're still working on our schedule for the no longer so new year.  I'm about to retire and am training my successor, and we have some things we want to do after retirement.  I hope to have classes starting in March.  If you're interested in any of our classes,. please drop me a note. -M

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