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35% whole wheat sourdough bread

To make this bread was a real pleasure. After applying this new way of preparing the bread it looked to me like I discovered a new world. It looked like the dough was talking to me. It was telling me knead me more or stretch me more. It was the first time when I simply new when to stop as the dough was indicating that one stretch or coil fold was enough. It is amazing how I simply stepped away from using an automatic mixer in order to knead the bread manually just because it gives me more indications on what to do. 
 With every bread I do I learn new things. I know now just after the first mixing if my bread will be a wow one or a mediocre one. This entire learning process it brings so much satisfaction.
Comparing to my last bread, I reduced the quantity of whole wheat flour. The reasons behind this was to reduce the amount of crumble in the final loaf. 
Although I am simply in love with this airy bread I need to recognize the single disadvantage it has, and that is when you put some butter on (due to the big holes). I eat this only sometimes but I can understand the comments of some people on this aspect. For me this is the perfect bread and I am convinced that from now on, this is my style. For butter, you need a kind of brick milk loaf. I did many in the past but they are not on my top choices.
I would like to continue to challenge myself in baking bread with different quantities of different flours. But this, it will be continued in future posts.

42% whole wheat sourdough bread

 Next step in my own challenge with bread was to make a whole wheat bread following the same method of my successful previous bread. I started from that exact recipe and change the type of flour used. I also had to adapt hydration as the needs for whole wheat flour are different. I used a bread calculator website to adjust the quantities but the same can be done of course using a simple calculator. My point was to reach a bread at around 75% hydration while using an important amount of whole wheat flour. This flour has less gluten to expand, so the expectations in terms of gas captured inside the loaf should be lower, of course comparing to the white wheat or bread flour. 
When baking, it was more suitable to me to bake this bread in the fire wood oven rather than the conventional one as I had some other baking planned the same day. With this oven the challenges are even bigger as I didn't find yet a good way to make inside that steam that is so needed during the oven spring. Nevertheless, this bread, following the same method as my previous one proved to be excellent. With experience, I noticed also that due to the high heat of the floor of the wood fired oven, the bread has the tendency to open underneath rather than on top.  The flexibility of baking bread in this kind of oven is then limited due to the lack of control of some of the factors but on the other side, it comes with an advantage, and that is the aroma of smoke coming from the burnt wood. Also, it is much more economic as with one fire I easily can cook 2-3 dishes. As a conclusion, for the aspect, maybe this bread would have had a better oven spring in a conventional oven but I cannot complain either on the result I had in the wood fired oven.
I made this recipe twice, and the first time I was tricked by the initial look of the dough and I added 100g of water more. Also, I was tricked about the weather as the room temperature was much higher than usually that day due to a heat wave. Keeping the dough outside to ferment for 5-6 hours is enough for the first fermentation, so the shape needs to be done immediately. With my first bake, I made the shape the next day as it was in the previous bread recipe but for this last bake I made the shape after finishing the coil fold sessions. This reduced the time of bulk proofing with one day. Needless to say that the first trial of the whole wheat bread was over proofed. I made the correction and this bread was perfectly proofed. 
Another trick I learnt was that the bran from the whole wheat needs more time to hidrate than the flour itself. I then sifted the flour and hydrate the bran the day before. An extra step but it worth the effort when targeting more difficult breads.

Now lets see the recipe.

Open crumb basic sourdough bread

When I started to bake bread I had no idea how much science and technique is behind. I had a simple desire like: I would like to be able to make a beautiful and tasty bread myself.  In the last 6 years of my sourdough journey I've experienced a lot of failures but I have never thrown away a bread that I did myself. Of course, I made breads spreads completely in my oven, I made dense breads, I made not so good looking breads but all of them were perfectly eatable. What I love about baking bread is that you cannot fail. You might only have disappointments or extraordinary experiences. I've leaned a lot with every single bread I made. I've learned about flours of any type, I've learned to know my sourdough, I've learned to play with the environment to target specific improvements for baking wonderful loaves.
Baking great bread comes only with a journey. I doubt that there is somebody who made such bread with his/her first try. There is a lot of science behind to understand how each variable influence what and at which step. There is a lot of physics and chemistry behind. There is also mathematics behind calculating the proportions of ingredients. Am I just speaking of just our basic daily bread? Yes, it is exactly what I am speaking about.
My experience with bread started even before Maya (this is how my sourdough is called) appeared into my life.  I was making bread in a bread machine for some years already but there was something that pushed me to step further from this. Bread made in a breadmaker  was always the same. Same shape, same taste (or tasteless), same tons of crumbs on the table. On the other side it was very practical to thrown away all ingredients and come back after 4 hours to get out my warm bread. I remember that when I first time read that the bread can take 4 hours in the bread machine to be ready I thought that it was a huuuge amount of time. Now I do breads that are spread over couple of days only to get a specific flavor.
The sourdough journey was with up and downs in terms of look but always the result was an incredible tasty bread. And I don't know how, it fit even in my crazy weekly schedule. I didn't have much time for other things, but for bread, I was always making time.
Although in the last 6 years I baked bread almost weekly, at a certain moment in time I stopped photographing them as to me they were looking all the same. Great but not wow. Now with the lock down I had a desire to upgrade to a new level, to test different variables in my bread making to achieve a better looking. I've changed recipes, I've  changed flour sources, I've read dozens of blogs and watch hundreds of hours of instructions videos to find the secrets of an open crumb bread.
I've then made a plan: stick to one recipe that you trust, stick with the same flour and try small changes. And this is exactly what I did. I've made this recipe 4 times with the same ingredients and quantities and slightly modifying other variables.
I was watching others how they were handling the dough but mine was not looking like theirs. What I was doing wrong? It was a question that troubled me for days. Could their flour have being so different than the one I had access to? How was this possible? And then again, was it me handling something wrong?
First 3 trials were almost the same.  For the last one I changed couple of things.
First it was the autolyse. I've changed the one hour autolyse (with sourdough included) to 6 hours of autolyse of just flour and water. This in fact changed everything from the start to me, because the dough was behaving in an incredibly good way. For the first time I felt that my dough was looking as it should.
The second thing I've changed was the technique in the handling of the dough. I knew well my old good style but I wanted to change to something much better. This new handling improved so much the structure of my dough.
Third thing was the scoring of the loaves. With a good bread structure you need a deep scoring. Before I was scoring superficially at let's say 0.5cm, but now I discovered that a 1 to 2 cm scoring is delivering incredible results.
Putting these 3 together I reached to an incredible bread although there were the exact same ingredients and quantities as before. OMG, what a difference. I've made a complete description of this technique bellow. Just a little disclaimer, for me these were the improvement to get a gorgeous bread, to you might be others.
For me this bread put me on another level of my journey. Discovering these secrets is like raising the experience level from amateur to profesionist. The satisfaction to bake this bread was huge. I jumped for joy like a child telling, Yesss I did it! It worked! The other members of the family were looking weird to me, wondering if I lost my minds in this lock down period. Who didn't struggled with sourdough bread could not understand this joy.
This bread is not just about having an ear on top, is also about having an airy structure inside with gorgeous bubbles. It is the success of a long experience. It is for me like to highest level of baking bread. I just knocked on the door of this level and I hope that from now one I can experience even more incredibly good looking breads.
This recipe is to be made in 3 days if you have all ingredients available. But if you are like me and you keep a small amount of sourdough in the fridge you add 3 days more to have a enough and strong starter. I picked this recipe, from a blog that I admire very much (see at the end). I picked it also because it can be done anytime in the week, it is flexible and it fits perfectly the classic schedule of daily 9 to 5 worker. Before, I had to do my bread only on weekends, but this recipe is conceived to work on it only during the evening and it is giving you quite a big interval so you can fit it into your schedule. I made an example of the schedule in order to have the bread cooked for lunch on Sunday. But if you wish to bake it for Sunday evening there is no risk to have it over proofed.


Let's see the details of my best bread ever (so far) ...

Strawberry cake

Three years ago my life changed completely. More difficult and more beautiful in the same time.

To celebrate, of course, I could only bake a cake. I should have done a big party but the current lock-down situation doesn't allow me.

This cake as the last week one (also for another celebration), I've made it in 3 days. The Dark chocolate sour cherry festive cake of last week was heavy, in the sense that you couldn't eat too much and a small portion was more than enough. This is how I arrived with some chocolate cake slices in the fridge while starting a new one. This one, had to be on the opposite side. It should have been a light one and absolutely with strawberry. At least this was the desire of my daughter.
First day was the sponge. The more sponges I do, the more experience I get and I feel quite confortable making them. This was probably the best I've done this year. A new recipe (of course customized) but a great success. Although there was no top (as I learnt how to bake a nice flat sponge cake), I had to cut a top as my kids were asking to eat it. This is a nice irony of life, but then, I better keep my kids happy than targeting for the ever best cake of my life.
The strawberry sauce was a bit of a mess. I put it then in the fridge overnight hoping that the next day I'll do something to fix it. In fact, I followed a recipe that didn't turn at all the way it was described, so I corrected it myself by adding some gelatine. This costed me the next day half an hour more rest  (per each layer) in the fridge for the strawberry layer to harden.
The white cream was the most simple to do and there I was for the decoration. A total invention on the spot. I had in mind some strawberry cakes with nice patterns but I simply followed my instinct and it turned as you can see.
Being a light cake, it was eaten in less time than the cooking one. Not so sweet and with such a spring fruity flavor inspired by strawberries. Needless to say what a perfect taste it had... you'll have to try it to be convinced.

Happy Birthday, my sweet son!

Dark chocolate sour cherry festive cake

I was having a look on different festive chocolate cake recipes when I got stuck on one that was looking incredibly nice. I had a quick look, made my inventory of ingredients and decided that that would be the one. But I didn't look carefully of the quantity of ingredients. My heart stopped for a second when I saw that in that cake, there were 1250g of sugar. No way! This is neither healthy or normal. I haven't seen a cake before with such a big amount of sugar inside. Even for such a big cake of almost 3kg, to have 1/3 of sugar was for me no option.
I then had to trust my experience in baking and I went to adapt this recipe, reducing drastically the sugar inside. The sugar in the biscuit I reduced it from 650g to 100g. Yes, more than 6 times lower. The resulting biscuit didn't taste sweet almost at all but this was mainly due to the fact the the quantity of cocoa powder was also very high. If I do this cake again, it would definitively worth trying replacing a part of the cocoa powder with flour. Nevertheless, I do not like the biscuit to be too sweet because this is mainly the role of the filling cream for a cake for me. I baked 2 pans of biscuits with the quantity made. One of them was not raising enough, probably also because the 2 pans were different and because they were baked one on top of the oven and one under. The idea was to cut each biscuit in 2 to have a 4 layers biscuit cake. Well, because one of the cake was not really raising so much I ended up with 3 layers and a half. That half was devoured immediately by my kids, even if it looked not sweet at all.
As the biscuit was prepared in the evening, I left them in the fridge over night and continued the cake the next day.
For the cream, even for a sweet one, of course 600g of sugar inside was out of question. I initially put only 100g of powdered sugar but that was not enough and after tasting it, there was place for more. I went then to 200g and that was just perfect. That would be anyway a 1/3 proportion of the quantity in the original recipe.
Decoration went straight and the cake went quickly into the fridge for the butter to get its good shape.

I chose to add something extra to the initial recipe and that was the defrosted sour cherry fruits. This was mainly because my husband loves them very much. It was not just to make him a pleasure, it was mainly because this was ment to be his birthday cake.

Happy birthday my dear husband!