Opening up the crumb


Combining techniques in the commercial bakery to create holes, lightness and a majestic slice

Remember: baking is not a set of separate processes, but rather one single process defined by different stages. Thus, change any part and you will cause changes in every subsequent stage, from mixing to baking. Assess each of the ideas presented below, and work out what modifications are best for you.

Stretching the dough: gently tipping the dough on to either a flour dusted or oiled surface, light pressing out and stretching the dough into a rectangle, and finally giving it a ‘book fold’ before returning it to the bowl, then repeating this every hour or so during the bulk fermentation.

Increase the dough’s water content: with a more fluid dough, it is difficult to maintain a bold, round shape during proving and baking. Some sort of dough containment, such as a cloth-lined and flour dusted basket, or a flour dusted proving board may be needed (a heavy dredge of flour on a wooden board will hinder the spread as the dough proves). Too wet a dough, and it is a problem keeping the slashes clean and open. So for sheeted doughs and flat breads this is useful.

Use a sour leaven, or old dough addition: either in place of or in addition to commercial yeast. I often rely on the combination of a small percentage of commercial yeast (0.5%) and a sour starter (naturally fermented, and used at around 30% to flour weight), as it gives both speed (a bulk fermentation of 2 –3 hours @ 22C, depending on the strength of the gluten in the flour, and a final prove of 2 ½ – 3 hours, depending on the ambient bakery temperature. And yes, I would describe this as ‘yeasted’ bread.

Extend the fermentation with as little leavening as possible: often this requires some control of the temperature, as in a retarding cabinet. I find that if the temperature is kept at around 15C – 17C, this seems to allow tighter doughs to develop a more expansive texture when mixed with a sour or combination starter.

Use a pre-ferment: I don’t know whether to thank either my US or French colleagues for this one, and the method I use depends on the mixer type that I’m using. With a fork petrin, I mix the sour leavening with the flour, mix for 1 – 2 minutes, then leave in the bowl for 20 minutes. Next I’ll add any additional yeast (if I’m using it), mix for a further 5 minutes, then add the sea-salt mixed with a little water, and mix for a further 4 minutes. I add the leavening at the beginning here because I have found it difficult to mix the dough evenly in a petrin. However, after talking with baker friends, I’d suggest that with a twin-arm or a spiral, leave the leaven out, mix the flour and water, leave for 20 minutes, then add the leaven, any additional yeast, and after a few minutes, the salt.

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