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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Laurel's Kitchen Loaf for Learning: Comparing whole wheat flours

Laurel's Kitchen "Learning Loaf" 
A comparison between purchased whole wheat flour, and grind-your-own whole wheat flour

Every time I have a day off and some time to bake some bread, I begin to feel like an evil scientist.  Yes, every time I bake it is an experiment.  Yes, I say 'evil scientist' because every time I begin gathering ingredients, I feel like I have to sneak around like Dr. Frankenstein digging up dead bodies.  My wife will come into the kitchen when I have lots of things strewn about and make me feel as pernicious as a vivisectionist.

Today's experiment, however, was anything but evil.  Sure, I made an awful mess, and that makes me feel evil when she gets that look on her face.  But I cleaned (most of) it up as I went.  The main object of today's experiment was to test the recipe of Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book's "Learning Loaf".  I baked 2 loaves with this recipe today, changing but one ingredient: the flour.

The first dough was made with Whole Wheat Flour freshly purchased at Arva Flour Mills.  The second dough was made with flour that was freshly ground using my Country Living Grain Mill.  The object in making these loaves side by side was not to see how the dough performed, necessarily, but to see if there was any quantitative or qualitative difference in taste between the two loaves.

The lengthly instructions for this "Learning Loaf" are the best I have ever seen.  They describe many details of the loaf's various rising stages in detail, and give reasons behind the observed phenomenon that can be expected.  No where else have I seen such rational explanations; and so, many of these steps have been omitted by me in the past.  Things like the second rise: "why bother?" has always been my motto (even when I have done it).  Now I have an understanding of why we do it, and how the gluten in the whole wheat can further develop using periods of deflation and rests.

It is a lengthy procedure, however, and I definitely spent the better part of the day following these instructions as best as I was able (and carefully documenting the loaves as I made them, with a very gooey camera).

0. Gathering the Ingredients


I measured my ingredients by grams; the Laurel's Kitchen book gives wet ingredients by ml's, which is close but not entirely the same as the weight.  My scale doesn't do half-grams.  Thus I gathered:
  • 95g Warm Water
  • 4g Yeast
  • 450g Whole Wheat Flour (or 450g whole wheat berries, which gave me 444g of whole wheat flour)
  • 6g salt (Kosher salt is bigger granules, I guess, so this was almost 2 tsp)
  • 80g cold yogurt
  • 152g hot tap water
  • 25g olive oil
  • 37g buckwheat honey
Note that 2 cups of whole wheat berries gave me 428g, which is darn close to the 450g needed in flour.  I just added a bit more to bring it up to weight, and then milled it. Milling it, I lost about 6g of weight, which is not bad, I think.

1. Preparing the Yeast

A substantial difference between the two loaves was, the second loaf (with my home-ground whole wheat, or HGWW), the yeast sat longer and was definitely more activated when I went to make the dough.

2. Mixing the Ingredients

Wet ingredients are added to dry ingredients.

3. Adjusting the Consistency

The dough is to be touched and manipulated, and the Learning Loaf has specific instructions on how the dough must feel.  Nothing will substitute for experiencing the dough.  I made no adjustments to this, my first Learning Loaf.

4. Kneading the Dough

The dough is pretty sticky, when you are kneading it.  I would sometimes dip my hands into water to keep the dough from sticking to them.  I didn't count how many times I kneaded the first dough, I just set the timer for 10 minutes.  The second dough I did count, and I kneaded 319 times in those 10 minutes -- pretty close to the number that the book suggests.  Still, I just don't get the windowpane test.  The dough always tears when you stretch it.  It never achieves a silkiness that all-purpose or bread dough will.

5. Letting it Rise: I

Once I had this first dough to the point where I could let it rise, I went back and performed the same steps for the other dough, the one with my HGWW.

HGWW Mixing: note the yeast is a lot frothier!
HGWW mixes up easier: better hydrated?
HGWW feels different, difficult to explain
HGWW starts off seemingly wetter, for kneading
HGWW still a bit sticky when 10 minutes of kneading is done, but it is tighter
HGWW at the start of the first rise

At this point, the two doughs are at roughly the same stage, and I put them both in the Excalibur Dehydrator, covered, for 1 1/2 hours at about 80 degrees F.   They rose nicely in that time, and both passed the finger-poke test.

6. Deflating

I gently deflated them and turned them once upon themselves.  Not sure if I did this part correctly: was I supposed to turn the entire dough ball over?  I just folded it, thereby stretching the deflated dough's gluten some more.

After the first rise

The finger is wetted and poked into the dough
It stays indented
So the dough is then gently deflated and folded over

HGWW passes the poke test
HGWW is gently deflated and folded upon itself

7. Letting it Rise II

This second rise is supposed to take place at twice the speed of the previous rise.  I set the timer for 45 minutes, and checked the dough in the Excalibur Dehydrator at that time.  Once again, the doughs had risen nicely, and passed the poke test.

8. Rounding

I get the impression that this stage, so vaguely similar to shaping, is often missed.  And I believe that it is not so much the tightening of the dough that is so important here, but the stretching and relaxing of the dough.  It is supposed to sit under a bowl for 10 minutes here, relaxing.  I think that I inadvertently skipped this step, or didn't allow the dough to relax quite long enough.  Oh well, I'm learning.  Next time I'll do it right.

9. Shaping

The first dough is shaped and placed in the prepared pan

The HGWW is shaped and placed into a pan

10. Proofing

This is the tricky stage where you have to preheat your oven when the dough is precisely ready to be added to the oven, and who really knows in advance when that will be?  I followed the recipe here, and set the timer to 12 minutes, preheated the oven, and then in another 13 or 14 minutes, I expected the loaves to be ready to bake.

Notice the slight difference in textures here between the loaves.  Is the one on the left overproofed?

11. Baking

For some reason, the scoring of the loaf on the left caused a terrible drag mark,
and the loaf deflated horribly.

The loaves baked up to a nice colour.  The HGWW loaf on the right had more oven spring.

12. Is it done?

Yes.  But the one on the left had to be persuaded from the tin, the HGWW loaf on the right toppled out on its own when the tray was inverted.  They both have a rich dark brown crust.

13. Looking at your loaf

The loaves were cut at breakfast the next day.  Perhaps surprisingly, the loaf on the left had an airier crumb, perhaps because it had been left about 10 minutes longer than the HGWW loaf on the right. Despite the fact that the loaf on the left looks deflated, neither one achieved any true oven spring, based on what the crumb looks like.

But what about the taste? This whole experiment was supposed to be about taste, to see whether the HGWW loaf has any appreciable difference in taste.

There are differences, but the differences are very subtle. the HGWW loaf is mildly nuttier, cleaner tasting. The crust of the loaf on the left is slightly staler: it has a denser texture, a tougher coat, an ever-so-slightly more bitter finish.

It occurs to me that bread bakers lack the distinct vocabulary of wine and beer connoisseurs. One really has to be careful when judging taste that one doesn't merely judge mouth-feel.

Overall, the loaves taste nearly the same. I do not taste rancidity in either loaf.

In my opinion, both of these loaves became stale very quickly.  These loaves must be eaten in 2 days, I should say.  On the third day, they were distinctly crustier throughout.

Notes to Myself
  • Don't forget to Round your loaves after the second proofing: gently tug on their surfaces to tighten them, elongate them, and then let them relax ten minutes or so under an inverted bowl BEFORE shaping them.
  • Be careful you don't overproof your loaves.
  • Make sure the yeast is frothy before you add it to the flour mixtures.
  • More thoughts later when the taste results are in.

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