07 December 2009

a bit on the lazy side

For the last weeks, I've almost ritually been struggling with a bread each sunday.

It started with a harmless post on The Fresh Loaf Blog about Eric Kayser's Tourte de Meule. First it worked out nicely, then I tried to get a more open crumb with the flours available here in Germany.

From there on, things went downhill in many colourful ways.

But, after many attempts and enough (mediocre) bread to feed my neighbours, I have finally managed to stabilize one recipe that works reliably in my kitchen.

One of the things that mostly got me into trouble was my somewhat sluggish sourdough starter. Personally, I think he's a real sweetheart, bubbling and brewing, reliably awakening each time when I pull him out of his corner in the fridge. But apparently, he's a bit on the lazy side. Especially when comapared to the diligent starters of all the other (much more experienced) bakers out here on the net, he's seriously shy of work. I can hardly get the little bugger to raise my bread without some distinct shove by a spoonful of dry yeast.

But now that I know, I can always add some yeast, and for the last few times, it worked flawlessly.

My adapted 'Tourte de Meule' is a sourdough wheat bread with a distinct share of rye. I fell in love with the dark crust and the soft, moist and almost feathery crumb. The technique is untouched, and fits perfectly into my weekend schedule.
While trying the different sorts of flours available here, I figured that 'proper' wholegrain wheat flour totally kills the structure of the crumb I was trying to achieve. And I love, love, love the German type 1050 flour, which is 'dark' wheat flour. It is not quite a wholegrain flour, but flour ground longer so more parts of the shell and seed ending up in the final product, turning it distinctively darker, 'wheatier' yet still very fine.

I experimented with various combinations of flour and in the end just chucked all the complicated ratios and went for 100% type 1050 flour -  and tada! The perfect crumb, at least in my eyes.

This has swiftly become my family's favourite sandwich bread, as it is light yet intensely aromatic, with a crunchy crust. It goes perfectly with cold cuts (important in Germany) yet its airy crumb is something close to unheard of here. Try it, it might just be perfect fór you as well, too.

sourdough wheat bread
adapted from Eric Kayser's Tourte de Meule
(makes two medium loaves)

1kg wholegrain wheat flour (German type 1050)
700ml lukewarm water
30g sea salt

200g sourdough starter (100% hydration, 100% rye meal)
1 teaspoon dry yeast

The day before baking, mix the flour with the salt and water until just combined. Leave to rest for half an hour (autolyse).

Add the starter and the yeast and knead until well combined and the dough comes together, about two to three minutes.

Put in a lightly oiled container or bowl and leave to rest for 45 minutes.
As bread baking seems to become a regular part of my kitchen efforts, I have finally invested in two large plastic containers that fit into my fridge just so. They're big enough for the whole dough to fit in at once, with enough room to handle the stretch and folds inside without having to take out the dough onto my counter. A few euros that saved me a lot of cleaning duty.

Do a set of stretch and fold after the first 45 minutes, then repeat three more times after 45 minutes each to a total of four folds.

Leave to dough to rest in the fridge for 20 hours, inside a sealed container of some sort.

Immediately out of the fridge, shape into boules and leave to proof en couche for about two hours, or until the dough stops springing back after being poked.
As I said, my sourdough is rather lazy, so maybe your version will need a significantly shorter time to proof. Just listen to your dough, not to me.

Preheat the oven to 250°C.

Bake for 10 minutes with steam at 250°C, then reduce to 200°C for another 30 minute or until the crust is dark brown.

Leave to cool for 10 minutes in the switched-off oven with the door cranked open. Leave to cool on a rack, cool completely before cutting.

Freezes exellently well, is great toasted.


shiao-ping said...

My goodness, Reuben,that looks so good! And, German "dark" wheat flour sounds really interesting. Someone told me that they had the best breads in Germany, not France, when they were travelling in Europe some years ago. The colder climate gives you something that warmer and sunnier places, like Australia, don't have.
What a lovely bread!

shiao-ping said...

What a gorgeous bread, Reuben!

I notice that you are using a high percentage of salt vis-a-vis total flour. Eric Kayser's recipe has 2.3% salt, and you had 2.7%. Could that be one reason why your sourdough starter was "sluggish?" I love my bread with a more assertive salty taste, too, but I refrain from putting more than 2% salt just in case my starter has problems with it. Over time I find I end up spreading more and more butter on my bread to get the salty taste, which is really not good.

You were talking about using instant yeast when you find your sourdough starter is sluggish. I used to have to do that myself, but not any more. In fact, not at all. All my bread is now 100% sourdough. The trick for me was the realisation that, to have strong and healthy starter, I need to feed it properly and regularly. This does not mean that I cannot leave it in the fridge for a period of time when I do not feel like baking. This just mean that when I take it out of the fridge I need to feed it a higher ratio of flour vis-a-vis starter; ie. at least 4 - 5 times; and feed it at least twice before I use it. Just so that I don't end up with a gigantic amount of starter, this also means that I throw away a large portion of the starter before I feed it. Over time I have learned to NOT leave a BIG portion of starter in the fridge, because it is no good anyway.

Also, another trick I have is, no matter what hydration of starter my next bake calls for, I leave only STIFF starter in the fridge, ie, 50 - 60% hydration, so that the wild beasties have more food before their next feed.

A "sluggish" starter to me is one where there is excessive amalyse activity that there is no "structure" or strength left; it resembles a "soup" such that if you try to lift it up with a fork, you would not be able to. My experience with such starter for a bread is that it would be no good even if I spike my dough with instant yeast.

Just a few thoughts. Thank you again for posting your 100% "dark" wholewheat bread. In Australia we are not able to get many different variety of flour as you do. Someone once said that they had more wonderful breads when travelling in Germany than in France. So there you go.


Reuben Morningchilde said...

Shiao-Ping - Thanks so much for your thoughts on my starter. Most of this I have already thought of, but ie I can hardly imagine a difference of 0.3% salt can make such a difference.

But the way you train / feed your starter was really interesting. I already thought I use a little starter only to be refreshed, but I am stil far from using only 20 to 25% as a base. I'll try this and let you know if anything changes.

And starter that I couldn't even lift with a fork is what I call 'dead', not sluggish.^^

Thanks so much, this really means a lot to me.