Hello dear readers. As ever, things are quite busy around here. I've started making deliveries to EZ Orchards and Lifesource Natural Foods in Salem, and Sarah and Conner over at Diggin' Roots Farm are carrying my bread down at the Silverton farmer's market. The extra business is outstanding, but it's been a challenge keeping up with the production. It takes a lot of work and time to make bread by hand, and I'm hitting the point where I don't have much more spare energy or hours left to spend. Over the next month or two I'll be trying to work in a couple of assistant bakers, in an attempt to reclaim a little bit of sleep and sanity.
The packaging piece is finally all wrapped up (har har). It adds yet another laborious step, but I'm just so happy with the way it looks and functions that I'm glad to do it. The tags, designed by the very talented Glenn and Brittany Beyer, are absolutely beautiful. Swing over to one of the four (four!?!) places you can now buy a loaf and see for yourself.
Do you guys want to talk about dough? Cuz I kinda wanna talk about dough. I've had dough on my mind for the past, well, couple of years, but I've been meaning to share some thoughts with you all about it for a while now. Let's do it!
These days I tend to think about my dough in terms of two of its properties; its degree of development and its degree of fermentation. The foundation of excellent bread, I now believe, lies in optimizing these properties. As a beginner I placed a much higher emphasis on things like dough formulas and shaping techniques. I now think of those steps, while still recognizing how crucial they are to a successful bake, as tools to facilitate ideal fermentation and development.
There are a few things that stand in the way of creating a perfectly fermented and developed piece of dough every time. One: In my shop at least, mixing large batches by hand makes it incredibly challenging to reach the 'proper' level of development. Two: As one retired baker I know put it: "In the bakery, each day is hell anew." There is a certain amount of variability in using starters and pre-ferments that is very difficult to remove, changes in weather influence conditions in the shop, and changing batch size affects the way the dough responds. And Three: development and fermentation are not independent of each other. Degree of fermentation greatly affects how a dough feels and performs structurally.
Here's what I've been doing to optimize fermentation and development. To make up for my relatively poor degree of mixing I've extended the time of the bulk fermentation, and I periodically fold the dough. At the same time, I've been shortening the degree of fermentation during the bulk, and shifting more and more of it to the proofing stage. Or more explicitly: my dough increases in volume very little during its overnight bulk fermentation in the fridge. I let catch up on volume during the proof at room temp, and then I chuck it back in the fridge overnight. As my dough is relatively weak, it lacks the resilience of a thoroughly mixed dough, it doesn't hold up well to a high degree of bulk fermentation. By shaping it while its relatively under-fermented the dough seems to respond much better to proofing and springs much more beautifully in the oven. As I've been playing around further in this direction I find I'm pulling out very pretty loaves (If I may say so) with a great, mildly sour flavor. The downside- still a little denser and with a less even crumb than I'd like to see. I took some pictures along the way to today's bake, to help illustrate my meaning.
Here's the Whole Grain (27kg) and one half of the Country (21kg) in bulk. They're getting ready for their second and final fold, and they're both already at my retarding fridge temperature of 53F. They'll hang out in the fridge overnight just like this. Below, you can see the Country after it's preshape, ready to be shaped. It's a moderately wet dough at 82% hydration, and with 20% Whole Wheat and 10% Whole Rye it's a fairly light flour blend. I'll shape it, leave it at room temp for a couple of hours, and jam it back into the retarding fridge for the remainder of the proof.