Monday, February 16, 2009

The Great Bread Experiment, Part 2

12 days ago I mixed up a batch of bread dough for the Great Bread Experiment. Today I am baking the last loaf in the batch. I had thought I might go for 14 days, but the bread was so good the dough did not last! :)

Part 1 Recap
My first couple of loaves turned out okay, but not spectacular. The flavor was pretty good, but had not yet truly developed. The consistency was that of a fine-grained loaf, not the uneven large air pockets of an artisan bread. At day five, the bread really started to show its character. The taste was still mild, but definitely more developed than the initial loaves. The consistency was heavenly. I was getting nice round loaves, with plenty of vertical rise.

Around day 10 the dough really started to thin out. As it sat in the refrigerator, the yeast started to generate alcohol. That alcohol thins the dough. The loaves are still coming out with an awesome flavor, but they have a little too much horizontal spread for my taste. I liked the tall loaves of day five better. Here's a picture of a day 12 loaf. There are no cuts in the top of this loaf. The dough was too soft to hold any!:

Part 1 Conclusions
I really enjoyed making small, fresh loaves of bread whenever I wanted them. Several evenings I made fresh bread for dinner. One morning I even made a small loaf for breakfast before work. All the fresh bread feels quite decadent! Artisan bread in particular is a wonderful bread to have fresh. It does not keep well due to the lack of oil in the recipe. By baking small loaves whenever I wanted them, I never had a lack of fresh bread, nor any stale bread hanging around.

The things I would like to change are the flavor and the consistency early in the process. I would like dough that is delicious on day one as well as day 10. I am also going to add a tiny bit more flour in the beginning. I was conservative when measuring my flour the first time, as too much flour is usually a more difficult problem that too little. I think the thinness of the dough at the end of the cycle is evidence that I need to start with a dough which is a little thicker.

Great Bread Experiment, Round 2
In Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day the authors recommend storing subsequent batches of bread in the same container. It gives the bread a jump start on developing a tangy flavor. I can't do that this time, as I used my favorite mixing bowl to store the dough these past couple of weeks. I need my mixing bowl back! What I can do is add the last handful of the current batch of dough to the next batch. This should have the same affect is storing the new dough in the same container as the last batch.

The second issue is with consistency. Bread consistency comes from gluten, the amount of gluten in the bread and how well developed it is. In most bread recipes the gluten is developed by kneading. In this recipe it develops over time in the refrigerator. It seems to me that the answer to getting the gluten to develop faster is to add some kneading. I have a bread machine which will do all the hard work of kneading for me, so it will be easy enough for me to try out. I will mix the next batch in the pan of the bread machine, then transfer it to its storage container to rise and for eventual storage.

I will post another update at the end of round 2!