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shewhomust

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Bread of life, salt of the Earth [May. 12th, 2014|09:21 pm]
shewhomust
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The bread that I bake is different every time. I would say that I am constantly experimenting, but I know enough about the design of experiments to know that my baking process is not truly experimental. A proper experiment would permit only one variable at a time, and I don't do that. So although I have been wondering whether it makes any difference when you add the salt, or if you leave it out altogether I said that I didn't intend to test the effects of adding salt earlier, I meant it. Nonetheless, I have been gathering anecdotal data, and had better write them down before I forget them.

Main conclusion, unsurprisingly, is that it depends. The marmalade buns are fine without, but the chestnut loaf, I think, tastes better with a small amount of salt. Does it affect the rise (which was the question in the first place)? Probably not: the summer rye with salt didn't rise as extravagantly as the wholemeal walnut loaf without (oh, but the flavour of the walnut loaf suffered, I won't to that again).

All else being equal (as if!) a wetter dough seems to rise better, and I am resisting the temptation to keep on adding flour once the dough is coherent enough to handle. The oatmeal and apple bread (like oatmeal and raisin, but with snipped up dried apple instead of the raisins. It didn't really work: the apple was a bit indistinct in both texture and flavour, and the chunks made the slices fall apart) rose spectacularly, but this made the crumb so loose and open that it was very hard to slice. A month or so ago I made a sequence of loaves that were delightfully easy to slice; now I have loaves that are delightfully light. It seems to be one or the other. Anyway, I shall try reducing the proportion of oatmeal in the next loaf - though come to think of it, it's not the same brand of oatmeal, and may be more finely ground (this is what I mean about too many variables).

The loaf I am eating was probably the highest rising I have ever made, and the dough was the wettest - but not the stickiest, because once I had added a spoonful of oil, it rapidly became beautifully elastic and stretchy. The secret ingredient was a sweet potato. (I bought a pack of three, and oven-baked them in their skins. We had one each with the gammon for dinner, and the odd one went into the bread). I tried to offset this against both the liquid and the solid elements of the bread recipe, but it was pretty approximate - and not helped by running out of both spelt and wholemeal flour (in the end I made up about 4 oz of the flour with chestnut flour: the result was good, but doesn't really highlight the chestnut flour). I'd do it again - so I'd better record that I added salt, though not much, and a tablespoon of maple syrup.

It also came out of the tin with gratifying ease. What are the factors that govern this? I used to think it related to how well-done the loaf is: that it will leave the tin when it's ready, and not before. But there have been one or two loaves which were on the verge of burned - not actually burned, but crusty and dark in colour - which still required a lot of persuasion. The sweet potato loaf isn't underdone, but it has quite a soft crust, and it jumped up willingly when I shook the tin. I begin to wonder whether the secret is to use flour or equivalent on the work surface when shaping the loaf for the tin. Oiling the surface makes the dough easy to handle, and I know that oiling the tin is supposed to prevent it sticking, but it doesn't always work that way for me. Whereas shaping the oatmeal loaf on a surface sprinkled with rolled oats gives a decorative finish - and whether this is cause and effect or not, the loaf fell easily out of the tin.

These are not facts I have learned about breadmaking; they are questions I have learned I can't answer.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: rushthatspeaks
2014-05-12 09:53 pm (UTC)
I think sliceability is unrelated to lightness-- what you want for a sliceable loaf is a solid crust on the exterior so both you and the knife can get a grip, and that's totally possible with a very light bread. I usually accomplish this, when I do, by not using a loaf pan and just going for a baguette or a braid or a cottage loaf, but I have seen an anecdotal trick for how to get a firm crust on a light loaf when it is in a pan, which Mark Bittman approves so it probably works: in the last 15-20 minutes of baking, put a shallow pan with a thin layer of water in it in the bottom of the oven, and crank the heat for a couple of minutes so that you get a good burst of steam. Then finish baking as usual. I haven't tried that, but it's supposed to firm up the crust without over-browning.
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[User Picture]From: desperance
2014-05-13 12:20 am (UTC)
I do the steam-water-crust thing at the start of baking, rather than at the end: a pan with a cup of boiling water in it at the bottom of the oven, and some heavy spritzing with a water-spray around the walls while it's still very hot; everything evaporates inside the first ten or fifteen minutes, but that's enough.
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2014-05-14 10:09 am (UTC)
desperance recommends the steam-water thing, but I'm too much of a wimp to do the necessary shallow pans of boiling water thing (or maybe just too aware of my own clumsiness).

I should play with not using the loaf pan - I tend to go for very wholegrain breads, which I always associate with baking in a pan, but it's worth trying out.

And that's a good point about crust and sleceability - thanks!
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[User Picture]From: nancylebov
2014-05-12 11:57 pm (UTC)
Maybe what you're doing is exploring rather than experimentation.
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2014-05-14 10:10 am (UTC)
Oh, yes - I shall use that! Thank you.
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[User Picture]From: desperance
2014-05-13 12:25 am (UTC)
On the matter of releasing the baked loaf from the tin, oil should work (assuming a good heavyweight loaf pan) and flour should work, but never mix the twain; that way leads to glue. Me, I always use oil in a loaf pan, but actually most of my baking now is done freeform and I only ever use flour on a baking tray. And honestly, mine are so well seasoned now I don't even need that (as witness the times that I've forgotten, and the rolls just shrug and slide off anyway).

Try putting a baking tray on the oven shelf, and letting that heat up with the oven, then set your loaf tin on the tray; the quicker you cook the bottom, the less time it has to decide to stick.
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2014-05-14 10:12 am (UTC)
You may indeed assume a good heavyweight loaf pan; it came from an unimpeachable source (yup, I'm using your cast-offs).

That's a good tip about the baking tray - I wimp out of playing with boiling water, but a hot baking tray I could totally manage...
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[User Picture]From: sam_t
2014-05-13 08:15 am (UTC)
I have also found that the wetter the dough the higher the rise, and (with a breadmaker) that accidentally omitting the salt leads to too much rise and a flop before the baking part of the programme kicks in - although given that it was an accidental omission, that may not have been the only variable.

I have learned that using instant polenta underneath a wet dough leads to the bread being superglued onto the pan with a ring of burnt corn porridge...
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2014-05-14 10:14 am (UTC)
Heh. Then, even if we are working with anecdotal evidence, our anecdotes support each other - good to know.

And thanks for the warning about instant polenta (I've used corn meal with no adverse effects, but instant anything is a law unto itself).
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[User Picture]From: sam_t
2014-05-14 12:06 pm (UTC)
I was substituting for corn meal without thinking it through. It's fine for things that aren't too wet, but if you give it a chance to soak up water...
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