Sunday, December 11, 2011

Progress on three stage levain breads

I started my inquiry into the use of three stage levain or starter builds in my breads last week. The first bread wasn't bad but did have some unexpected results.

The first wrinkle in the progress was the slow growth of the starter. By the time I needed to have a strong starter for mixing, it was about three hours behind so I added 1/4 tsp of active dry yeast which helped bring about an adequate rise.

Another small problem was in the feel of the dough. I used molasses in this loaf and the dough lacked any elasticity. I made a loaf during the summer where I used molasses and didn't have such a problem.
As it stands right now, the fastest solution I can think of is to mix the molasses in with the water for the main dough, heat the water in the microwave oven, stir to mix the water, and let it cool down to less than 90F before mixing the dough. That's a lot of bother for one ingredient. Using honey the next time is a simple and faster alternative if I want to bake an enriched loaf.

The two loaves are a pair I baked for a pot luck Christmas party for the county Democratic Party organization. I had enough time and the experience from the first loaf to get the starter right. The left hand loaf was a French country loaf and the other was a sourdough white. I knew the crowd I was baking for and didn't want to get too far out with my breads. There are no crumb shots for these loaves.

Both loaves were satisfying efforts. The dough was easy to handle. Because I was planning on a retarded proofing, I used a three hour bulk fermentation with stretch and folds at 1 and 2 hours. Both loaves were steamed for the first fifteen minutes of the bake and had good oven spring. When I cut the loaves at the party, the crust was still crisp enough to leave lots of fragments on the cutting board. The interior crumb was nicely open and the flavor of the loaves was better than most of my efforts over the past couple of months. I have to say that there was complexity to the taste and that factor was very rewarding.

The three stage build is worthwhile IF you aren't constrained by a schedule to feed your family or for an event. My madre or seed stock starter sits in a refrigerator and may be part of my problem with the first loaf. I thought a three stage build would create a vigorous enough build that I could be baking in 24 hours or less. I've realized that if I kept my starter at room temperature and did daily replenishment I would have been just fine. That's not practical for me so I'm going back to two stage builds where I won't have to discard any of my starter.

This coming week I'll try building my starters with Heartland Mills AP and Golden Buffalo to see what happens. The GB has invigorated starters for me in the past and the AP is organic as well so I'll have to observe closely to see if there are any meaningful results. I've scaled down the Golden Raisin levain loaf formula from Hamelman's "Bread" with the goal of adapting the recipe for a cranberry bread. It could work.

We may be getting a brief break in temperatures this week which could give me enough time to work outside. Rather than raking the leaves in the yard, I'd prefer to just mulch them with the mower. I think it's too late for any more winterizing fertilizer for the grass but the chopped leaves won't hurt a thing. The shorter daylight hours have put the birds into different rhythms so I don't know if there are any new varieties out there. Almost all the migratory flocks have passed through. The rosemary plant that I brought in to winter over appears to be the victim of too much attention from us. The leaves are pale and droopy which I take to be signs that we over watered the plant.

Comments, humor, and questions are welcome.

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