I ended my last post with the word “mostly.” Meaning that my loaf “mostly” rose. Everything went according to plan until I slid the dough into the oven. Now what’s supposed to happen is that the dough rises rapidly in the hot oven, giving it that last lift and nice round top. This is not just an aesthetic – it’s the difference between airy texture and dense texture. Sadly Sourdough #1 never got it’s oven spring.
As ever, the question is why?
I have a few theories. First of all I used entirely whole wheat. I think that was overly ambitious on my part. Whole wheat is inevitably heavier than white flour and therefore rises a bit less. Secondly, I think my oven was too hot. Maybe you noticed that my crust looked a bit…um….dark? It’s basically on hairy edge of burnt. I think what happened is the crust hardened so quickly from the heat that the bread couldn’t rise any more. And also my cuts were fairly shallow – you can see from the picture that they really filled in with the wee oven spring I did get.
When I baked the next weekend I went for white flour. Or, more specifically, I went for a flour that Dan Leader (of Bread Alone fame) calls “20% bran.” Basically this means that the flour has all of the germ and 20% as much bran as a whole wheat flour has. You can’t buy this flour in the store but I easily mixed it according to Dan’s recipe: 3 cups of white flour, 3 tablespoons wheat germ, and 1 cup whole wheat flour. I also made much deeper cuts before the loaves went into the open around 1/2″ or 1″. Here is the very happy result!
This one was a joy to eat!
The other thing I did was buy some kitchen toys: a baking stone, a dough scraper, and a thermometer. My baking stone is supposed to create a better crust and better oven spring but I didn’t notice a difference. I think one of the problems is that I don’t have a peel to slide the bread onto the stone. The dough stuck to my metal baking sheet (which was doused in flour) and I may have lost some lift while struggling to transfer it to the stone. Mostly I used the dough scraper for clean up, but it’s also the perfect tool for dividing the dough into two halves. Regarding the thermometer, I’m trying to keep my rising stages at a steady 78-80 degrees. The thermometer is also useful at the end of the baking period when I measure the temperature inside the loaf – if it’s around 212 degrees I take it out of the oven, but let it cool before cutting in because the bread continues to bake even after it leaves the oven! Here’s my thermometer in action:
Despite my oven spring this loaf still had a fairly even texture. That’s fine for sandwiches but I prefer bread ripped from the loaf and doused in olive oil so my next goal is to figure out how to to create those rustic breads with large uneven airholes.