Today’s Bake: Trial and Error

Gentle Readers, as I go continue on my quest to master baking bread, I can sometimes almost feel Paul Hollywood giving me that patented smirk of his:

So you are going to add ALL of that liquid, hmm?

What I’m coming to understand about baking bread is that it’s not like any other kind of a bake; there are elements inherent to bread baking that defy simply following a recipe to exacting standards.  So much of it is about the feel, instinct, and experience that comes with trial and error.

Rye Oat and Ale Bread

That being said, this week, I decided to tackle Hollywood’s Rye, Ale and Oat bread.  I wanted to try working with Rye flour, which has a totally different structure and texture than white flour.  The recipe I used called for the addition of pale ale and molasses.  The recipe called for 140 ml cool water and 250 ml pale ale (I used Yards Pale Ale) and instructed that, while all of the liquid may not be needed, because of the nature of rye flour, which absorbs more liquid, an attempt should be made to incorporate as much of the liquid as possible.

So when I made this on Saturday, I did make a concerted effort to incorporate almost all of the liquid into my dry ingredients.  Because of the rye flour, this bread calls for an initial rise of four hours, with a prove of about an hour and an half after knocking back.

The knead on this wasn’t an unmitigated disaster, but it was  a disaster:  a messy and sticky dough that never really came together despite a 15 minute knead.  Being unfamiliar with the texture of the rye flour, I wasn’t sure at all how the dough was supposed feel, but I had a feeling it was wrong because it would not form a cohesive ball.

I decided to see it through anyway, even though I suspected the dough wasn’t right. What I got was a tasty bread, with a nice chewy crust, but almost no rise; it was practically a flat bread.  The bread did expand, just outward instead of upward. It didn’t hold its shape and flattened out instead of rising.

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No rise from wet dough

So, determined to get it right, I tried it again this morning.  The recipe calls for initial incorporation of 100 ml of the water and 200 ml of the ale and to add the balance of the liquid gradually, if needed. But it also instructed to stop adding water once all of the flour had been incorporated. I added only a few more ml’s of liquid after the initial add and kneaded for 10 minutes.  This dough was still sticky, but came together nicely.

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Forming the dough into a ball was easier with this dough as there was far more structure in it.  I am far happier with today’s loaf.

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Better rise, better structure

The lesson is in trial and error and I’m no longer expecting a perfect loaf on the initial bake.  Which brings me to…

French Baguettes

I know they don’t look like French Baguettes, but they are French Baguettes.  I have not tasted them yet and await final judgment from my niece, who is the arbiter of what a true French Baguette should taste like.

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They started out as French Baguettes and ended up as bread tubes

That being said, the issue I need to work on is forming the dough.  I was not happy with the prove of these loaves, nor was I pleased with the structure after the prove or the final appearance.  I have every reason to believe that the dough was formed correctly, so this is an issue I will continue to work on.

Which brings me to….

Chocolate Cherry Loaf

I believe this is the fourth Chocolate Cherry Loaf I have made since my initial bake, and I am still not satisfied that it is perfect.  It tastes wonderful, and it’s a great snack loaf; more of a desert than a bread.

While I feel I’ve grown confident on my plaiting skills (I actually practiced with two scarves until I felt comfortable), I’m disappointed in the definition in my plaits after the prove.  Again, I feel this is something I need to work on in the knocking back stage, which is a bit trickier with this bread simply because of all of the cherries and chocolate chips inside it.

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This week, I altered the recipe a little bit by substituting about 40 ml water with juice from the cherries, and I added 2 extra grams of yeast to compensate for the heaviness of the dough. I’m pleased with the taste and the texture, but I will continue to work on the structure and appearance.  I want those well-defined plaits in my bakes.

Another Bloomer

Finally, I made another bloomer, which I’ve come to treat as my “basic bread for the week.”  It’s versatile enough to use as a sandwich bread or simply an accompaniment to dinner.  It also makes a wonderful foundation and provides a great texture for a grilled ham and cheese sandwich.

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Never fails

Anyway, this was the one loaf that did come out perfect the first time, and every time thereafter that I’ve made it, and it continues to be a standby favorite.  I feel like I can almost make this loaf in my sleep and when my other loaves fall a bit short, I at least have this loaf to point to as a success for the week.

For what it’s worth, Paul Hollywood was absolutely right about one thing: bread baking is addicting. I find myself perusing recipes in the beginning of the week for what I want to try next, and gathering my ingredients throughout the week, while planning my bakes for the weekend.  I look forward to therapeutic weekends in my kitchen, just engaging in what is almost pure creation.

I’m bringing my finished loaves over to a family dinner tonight.

I’ll let you all know if my niece approves of the French Baguettes.

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