How do I get big holey crumbs? How do I get a light, fluffy crumb?
How do I get a crisp crust?
How do I get a pleasant, chewy texture?
How do I get a softer crumb?
What are the general steps in baking bread?
What is autolyse?
What is folding?
What is shaping?
What is the best way to store my bread? Can I freeze it?
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Higher hydration (percentage of water in the dough) combined with a longer fermentation process allows gas to be formed, resulting in big bubbles in the dough. For instance, we use 70-75% hydration in our lievito madre breads, that go through a bulk proofing of 5 hours followed by an overnight fermentation in the fridge. Take care to maintain the bubbles during when cutting and shaping the dough. Such a dough is stickier and a little more difficult to work with, but the resulting bread is characterised by big holes, and is light and fluffy while maintaining a pleasant chewiness.
If using a combi oven, adjust the setting such that the oven is humid (about 20%) for the first half of the bake, then remove the humidity (you can also open the oven door for a second to let the steam escape). If using a conventional oven, spray water into the oven to create steam just before loading the bread.
Such a texture is obtained when a high-protein flour is used with artisan methods, ie. very little time in the mixer and more kneading by hand. The dough is creamier and more fluffy, resulting in bread with a pleasant, chewy texture. The use of lievito madre/sourdough/levain also lends an exquisite bite to the bread.
There are various ways to play around with the dough to get a softer crumb. Firstly, you can increase the hydration (percentage of water in the dough) so that more gas is developed during the fermentation process and the crumb is light and fluffier. Secondly, a mixture of low-protein with high-protein flours reduces the elasticity of the dough, resulting in a less resistant crumb. Thirdly, combining soft grains (grano tenero in Italian) with hard ones (grano duro) also softens the crumb. We speak of mixing flours, as dough with only a low-protein flour or only soft grains cannot withstand a long fermentation process, that is necessary for all the other properties of what makes good bread (taste, texture, crust, flavour).
- Add water to flour and combine till there is no more loose flour. Cover the bowl with a cloth and let the mixture rest for 20 to 30 minutes. This step is known as autolyse. If using commercial yeast, add the yeast together with the flour and water too.
- Add the wild yeast culture (lievito madre/sourdough/leavin).
- Start mixing and add in the salt. Be careful not to pour the salt directly onto pieces of wild yeast, as salt inhibits yeast activity.
- Let the dough proof in a covered container. During the first hour and a half, fold the dough every 20 minutes. Each fold gives strength to the dough, and some recipes call for more folds than others. This depends on the type of flour, the type of bread, hydration, etc. For instance, we fold our bread dough three times.
- Let the dough continue to proof in the container, until it has doubled in volume. The amount of time taken depends on the amount and type of yeast in the recipe, as well as the temperature of the environment. Our lievito madre bread dough takes about 5 hours.
- Tip out the dough onto a well-oiled table top. Using a cutter, divide the dough into as many portions as necessary. Be careful not to squash the air bubbles that have formed.
- Fold each portion of dough one last time, then start shaping. Cup your well-oiled hands around the dough and drag it across the table top towards you. Rotate the ball of dough and continue the process several times until you get a tight ball of dough.
- Place the ball(s) of dough in a covered box and refrigerate for 6 to 24 hours. The long, slow and cold fermentation allows complex flavours from the wild yeast to develop fully. You can also pop the ball of dough into a mould for specific shapes.
- Prepare a well-oiled baking tray and pre-heat the oven to the temperature indicated in the recipe.
- Transfer the proofed dough onto the tray. Press out or add other ingredients if necessary.
- Bake the bread according to the recipe.
- Let the bread cool on a cooling rack before slicing or storing.
Making bread is about forming a gluten structure that can withstand proofing. The gluten structure is developed during kneading, but kneading also oxidises the dough, making it less creamy and less tasty. By mixing (not kneading) flour and water together before adding in the other ingredients, we give the gluten web a head start without oxidising the dough. This process is known as autolyse, where the mixture of flour and water sits for 20 to 30 minutes, as simple as that. The flour is also given time to hydrate fully, so that the gluten is formed more uniformly, making the dough easier to work with.
- Add water to the flour.
- Mix by hand till there is no more loose floor.
- Cover with a cloth and let the mixture rest for 20 to 30 minutes.
Folding usually takes place in the first part of the proofing, and on the surface it may seem as though you are deflating the dough. However, the stretching of the dough gives it strength to continue holding in the gas bubbles that will form throughout the proofing.
- Wet your dominant hand and forearm.
- Reach under the dough and bravely pull up a big chunk of dough, stretching it high without breaking it off from the rest of the dough.
- Gently release the dough on top of the rest of the dough. In a sense, you fold the dough over.
- Rotate the container 90 degrees and repeat.
- Rotate the container and repeat, until you have pulled the dough four times, the the North, East, South and West directions.
Different recipes call for this folding process to be done more or less times, usually twenty minutes apart (each time consists of the four pulls – North, East, South, West).
Shaping is a process that creates surface tension so that the ball of dough remains in shape for subsequent fermentation.
- Place the portion of dough on the far end (away from you) of a well-oiled table.
- Cup well-oiled hands around the dough and decisively drag the dough towards you. You pinkies should always remain in contact with the surface of the table.
- About halfway along the table, slightly lift up your hands and use your pinkies (now not touching the surface of the table) to rotate the dough 90 degrees.
- Cup your hands around the dough and continue dragging it towards you.
- Gently bring the dough back to the far end of the table, rotate it and repeat.
- After about 5 times, the dough should resemble a ball of dough that holds its shape. It is now ready to be transferred to a container for fermentation.
Bread made with wild yeast has a longer shelf-life than bread made with commercial yeast. If you intend to consume the bread within two or three days, leave it at room temperature in a a brown bag. You can also slice up and freeze your bread, taking out the amount you need each time. You can either let it thaw to room temperature and eat it at room temperature, pop the frozen bread in the oven (humidify the oven) for a couple of minutes, or grill the frozen slices on a grill or cast-iron pan. Do not leave your bread in the fridge as it will simply dry out.