This is only my second real attempt at making one of Reinhart's breads, from his book 'Whole Grain Breads'. It is basically the same recipe as my first attempt, a 100% Whole Wheat Sandwich bread only this time I'm going to be making the commercial yeast version, and leave aside my wild starters. This will give me a chance to see how the dough is supposed to feel, according to his suggested schedules. Last time, when I made it with my sourdough starter, I had long waiting times, and I'm not sure if one of my pre-ferments actually rose properly.
Once again, this recipe takes two days to make. Luckily, I'm working my way through some old everyday bread, so I don't have to worry about running out while I make this bread.
Day 1: Mixing the Soaker and the Biga
Here is the mise en place shot. Note that this time, the Soaker ingredients are on the left, the Biga ingredients are on the right. I have followed my own advice from the first try, and doubled the recipe. When you do this, you begin to notice that the quantities are a lot closer to those given in the 5min/day recipes. I have stated elsewhere (on other web sites that I frequent) that when you get to the stage that you can refrigerate the two pre-ferments, there is really not much actual difference between Reinhart's methods and those of the 5min/day authors, except for the kneading, shaping, proofing and baking! What I mean by that is, Reinhart's methods go into a lot of detail, and he examines every minute factor, and you learn an awful lot. But in the end, all you are doing is mixing up some dough, putting it together, shaping it and baking it, and if you get good at it, in theory it should get to the point where it is as simple and fast as the 5min/day breads are.
But one thing I noticed, by measuring by volume is that when you double the recipes, the strange measurements Reinhard gives for kitchen volumes begin to make sense. I don't think that he ever meant for anyone to make these loaves one loaf at a time, they way they are presented in the book. If you are going to make one, you might as well make two, or three, or four, for all the extra work it is.
The biggest difference between the 'wild yeast starter' version I did before, and the 'biga' method with commercial yeast that I am doing today is that this time you have to refrigerate the biga immediately for (at least) 8 hours. There is no additional time on the counter for the biga to double or rise. You knead it for those 5-6 minutes, as per the instructions, and then forget about it in the fridge. It doesn't take all that much work or preparation. I put the biga in the bigger container, thinking that it might double or more while fermenting in the refrigerator. But it doesn't require that much room. It doesn't expand much in the fridge.
While surfing around, not needing to do anything else today in preparation for the bread, I found a TED video of Reinhart speaking on his whole grain techniques. Reinhart as a teacher puts a great deal of emphasis on mise en place. For home bakers who are perhaps distracted by so many other things (as I am, for example, with work), and for those who are not his daily students who have to show up every day to his kitchen for a certain amount of face-to-face teachings, there is something else that I find is even more important. What is more difficult to organize is not things in space, but things in time. I don't know much French, and I'm only going to embarrass myself by trying, but perhaps what we need is mise en heure. Or better yet, since we are trying to produce something, this is a production, a process, maybe we can borrow that phrase from theatre: mise en scène.
Reinhart actually gets into this, when he suggests that the refrigeration steps are designed to allow the baker to manipulate time and ingredients. Somehow, everything has to come together to make bread. To do this, you have to get organized. Sure, gather your ingredients and tools and have them ready. Know what you are going to do. But the biggest problem for me is getting everything together in a timely way. I can read a recipe a hundred times, and somehow not realize until its too late that the milk has to be scalded (and then, of course, cooled to room temperature), or that the water has to be room temperature (and not just out of the tap -- Note: I have two taps in my house, one of which dispenses water from my sandpoint, and it is filtered twice before it enters the kitchen, so I am fortunate that I don't have to buy spring water for these recipes. But this water is cold, and needs to warm to room temperature before I use it), or the pre-ferments taken from the fridge in time for them to warm up. This takes a fair amount of preparation and attention. Sure, it gets easier the more you do it, but for the first few times you try, it seems like nothing is ever going to be ready at the same time. This is the real art of baking, I think: producing something in its proper time. Maybe someday I'll get to that lofty ideal of mise en scène.
Bread Science Fiction
While the two doughs are fermenting -- with far too much time on my hands -- I jotted down a science fiction chapter of something Peter Reinhart might write in the year 2025. What will his breads be like then? If you bother to read it, remember: really, this was meant to be a spoof. It uses sarcasm. Please don't take it too seriously. I have a great respect for what Reinhart has done and continues to do. Sure, it is cruel in places. But I love Reinhart. Really.
I feel that this disclaimer is the right Don Ricklesian thing to do.
Day 2: The Final Dough & Baking
The cat got me up at 0400 to let him out, and I couldn't get back to sleep. Thinking that I wouldn't be baking until 0800 at the earliest, I left the refrigerated pre-ferment (the biga) in there until 0600. The woodfire in the next room still had a few nice coals on it, so I tossed another log on. The house hasn't been too cold overnight.
This is what it all looks like at six o'clock. You can see that it has risen a tiny bit in the fridge overnight, but nothing spectacular. The soaker has taken on a deep dark colour, and despite the fact that it has no yeast in it (other than what it might gain from the air), to me it actually looks like it has gotten fluffier. Some of the cracks have filled in as it settled. Now I just have to liquify the butter and the honey, and have everything wait until it reaches room temperature.
By eight the dough had not changed much -- no more rise. I cut it up, dusted each piece with a bit of whole wheat flour, and mixed the ingredients of the final dough. I had to dip my hands in water a couple of times, since the dough definitely gets a bit tacky as you work with it. But it is just 3-4 minutes of kneading, and then you let it sit for 5 minutes. This is the dough just before it rests:
After the resting period, you are supposed to knead it again for a mere one minute. At this point, it is supposed to pass the windowpane test. Well, come on now. Sure, I can feel the gluten strands developing in the kneaded ball. But when I go to straighten it out, to see if I can see light through the dough, the gluten strands tear far too easily. This is a common problem with whole wheat doughs, I am told. Real bakers tell me that it is due to the bran cutting into the gluten strands, so they don't develop those longish protein chains. That's why whole wheat loaves are denser. They simply do not rise like flour without bran.
You know, I hate to admit it, but when I first heard about 'The Windowpane Test' I assumed that it was a test for stickiness. I imagined that you are supposed to throw your dough against the window, and if it sticks without sliding down the glass, it is the right consistency.
This dough tears apart rather than holds together long enough to see light through it. Actually, I'd like to toss this dough out the window, at this point, because it isn't doing what I want.
So here it sits, waiting another 45-60 minutes until it rises to 1 1/2 this size.
Now, to me this doesn't look like it has risen 1 1/2 times its original size. In fact, I have even waited an extra 10 minutes. Then I just shrugged and got to shaping it. It felt like a very thick, heavy dough. Still tacky, but very dense. Smells like the buckwheat honey that I used.
I carefully followed Reinhart's book on how to shape these two loaves, but I'm obviously not that good at it yet. I think that this is where the real artisan part of breadmaking enters into it: only an artisan can manipulate dough to just the right shape and tension, so that the gluten causes the loaf to really spring upward when it hits the oven heat. This requires a feel for the dough, and practice practice practice. I'm not there yet.
I really doubted that I was going to get that panned loaf to rise 1 1/2 inches above the pan like he said it would. And I really doubted my ability to get that batard off my homemade couche without wrecking it. But I put the whole thing on a pizza peel, thinking that maybe I could slide it off somehow.
The dough rose a little bit in this proofing stage. But getting the batard off the couche was a bit tricky. I decided to lift it to the stone by sliding my scraper under one side of it. To be expected, when moving it, it sagged and deflated a little bit. I could have used a large metal pizza peel that I own (but never use anymore now that I have the wooden peel) to make the moving job easier. I'll consider this next time. Funny how Reinhart doesn't mention how he gets the proofed dough from the couche to the stone.
In the oven, the oven spring was slow, but it did happen. My pan was a bit crooked, so the rise on the panned loaf is off-kilter. Notice that, because of this, it ripped on one side. Every cut in the loaf shows the typical furriness of the bran.
Just as these were coming out of the oven, my wife asked me which honey I was using.
"The Buckwheat," I told her, "it's the only kind we have right now."
She replied, "Oh, that's the expensive honey we bought up north. We'll have to buy some crap honey for your baking."
I was dumbfounded. "Crap honey...for my crap bread?" It's true: she can't eat a lot of my bread, because I bake a lot of bricks. It makes her wary of my 'hobby'.
She laughed, but she immediately knew she had hurt my feelings. "I knew you were going to say that. I shouldn't have said that, it was mean."
For lunch she ate the last couple of slices from Reinhart's Master Formula bread I made a couple of days ago, using my sourdough starter.
"This is good bread," she said. And she was right. It still tasted fresh.
I reminded her that it is important to use good ingredients if you want good bread.
Here is the obligatory crumb shot (along with some brussel sprouts and turnips we salvaged from our spring garden). My wife likes this bread. I, however, think it is far too sweet.
Notes to Myself:
- make sure the loaf pans sit level in the oven, or the bread may rip when it has a wonky oven-spring
- be extra gentle moving proofed loaves from the couche to the hot stone. Use parchment paper if you aren't absolutely sure you can do it without distorting the loaf. Or use a large metal peel to move it.
- don't be afraid to use the extra 5-10 minutes (or more!) on your oven that Reinhard advises; with all of the opening of the oven door performed when you spritz, and when you rotate the loaves, it is going to lose some heat. Try a longer bake to see what happens.
- remember to take loaves from their pans in a timely fashion, or they may develop too much moisture on the bottoms