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“Everyone is kneaded out of the same dough; but not baked in the same oven.”

— Yiddish Proverb

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2020-04-05 Covid-19 and Class News, Frigid and Scruffy Ride Again, and What About Pre-shaping?

Hello Bread Heads!

Covid-19 class announcement -

We can no longer smile and convince ourselves that this too shall pass quickly. It shall pass. But in it's own time. As a result, we are no longer comfortable attempting to hold hands on, in-person classes. All our classes are, for now, put on hold.

We'll send notes and refunds to people who have paid for classes. Like any Star Trek Deep Space 9 fan, we really hate violating the Ferenghi first rule of acquisition ("Once you have their money, NEVER give it back"), but fairness is also important.

We've been asked about offering online classes any number of times in the past and we've indicated we're not interested. Now we are, and we're looking into it. Our tentative idea is to mail a package to students with pre-measured and labelled ingredients to arrive a few days before class to ensure students have a known starting point and can do the needed prep work. We're looking at video companies and our class scripts. If you have any suggestions, please get in contact. If you want to be a guinea pig for a first trial run, again, let us know.

Frigid and Scruffy Ride Again!

As I am sure you remember, Scruffy is a starter that was left unloved and unfed on my counter for about 5 weeks while I was in and out of the hospital. (I'm fine now. Really.) I was curious what a serious mistreatment would do to a starter, and the bread we tried to make with it.

Frigid is my usual starter, which I keep in the fridge. I keep it at about 50% hydration and feed it for 3 days before using it.

We talked about these starters in several newsletters, "2020-02-27 Feeding The Neglected Starter" and "2020-03-04 Feeding the Neglected Starter, Part 2". After the last run, I found that the scruffy starter got stinky faster than the frigid one. This correlates with things I read as a brewer. Many home brewers cultivate and maintain their own yeast cultures. An article in Zymurgy showed that when the brewer didn't take good care of their yeast, the cells became deformed and performed poorly. The problems continued for several generations of good care.

In our Sourdough Starter Primer article on "Reviving a Starter" we talked about starters that learn to eat protein rather than carbohydrates and smell like acetone when they are not fed for a long time. I was able to rehabilitate one such starter. However, when I skipped two feedings, it again reverted to eating protein. Which meant that the starter degraded the loaves. It was .. well... annoying.

And that brings us to Scruffy and Frigid. After the last bake, documented in the 2020-03-04 newsletter, I let the starters just sit for a few days and then fed them with the "big bang" approach and then baked with them. Again, I made the same bread. the Simple Sourdough Pan Bread.. Interestingly, the loaves made with the Frigid starter looked nice, while the loaves made with the Scruffy starter shredded and poor shape.
Four loaves, two made with healthy starter, two made with scruffy starter
Sadly, I didn't take pictures of the finished loaves, but they looked a LOT like the pre-baked loaves. My conclusion is, "it takes a consistent process to make a consistent product, and for sourdough bakers that starts with a consistent starter."

What about pre-shaping?

Have you ever lost an email? Even one you saw that day? Well, there we are. Or, there I am. Sadly, I lost an email and can't even recall who sent it. No doubt I'll find it again immediately after I send this out.

My correspondent asked what pre-shaping is, and why one would do it.

Dough has a balance of elasticity and extensibility. Elasticity is the tendency to "snap back" into an earlier shape when you manipulate it. Rolling out pizza dough is a great example of this. Extensibility is the ability to stretch, or extend, dough.

So, when you shape a loaf of bread it extends. When you stop working on the dough, it snaps back from elasticity.

Pre-shaping is to shape your dough in ever more defined iterations until it is in the shape you want. For a baguette you might form the dough into a square shape. Let it rest 15 to 20 minutes. And then start shaping it into the long shape we are expecting.

The gluten molecule is much like a spring. When you work the dough, it wants to spring back. Each time you work the dough, it gets closer to where you want it to be. Jeffrey Hamelman put together a video about dividing and pre-shaping. It is worth looking at. Enjoy!

Until next time, may your dough always rise, no matter how you pre-shape it!

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