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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Whole Wheat, Spelt, and Oatmeal Pickle Loaf

Whole Wheat, Spelt, and Oatmeal Pickle Loaf

Brine from homemade bread and butter pickles, newly 'emptied'
We finished off a jar of homemade "bread and butter" pickles, and I decided to use the leftover juice in a bread.  I'd made bread with dill pickle juice in the past (e.g. here), so I suspected it would work.  Still, I had no idea whether it would taste okay.

Sometimes experiments work out.  With no apparent reason other than it seemed like I should be using them, now, I selected some spelt and some oatmeal to accompany my whole wheat flour.

Here is the baker's percentage of this loaf:
  • 80% whole wheat flour
  • 20% whole spelt flour
  • 5% oatmeal
  • 5% wheat germ
  • 20% sourdough starter
  • 1.5% sea salt
  • 23% old pickle juice from a jar of sweet pickles
  • 75% water

Whoa.  What's that Hydration?
Let's stop a moment and discuss the hydration of this dough.  I knew that by adding oatmeal, even this 50g per 1000g of whole wheat flour, would soak up some of the water.  So my original intention was to have the hydration about 80%: I would, if I started at 75%, be able to add another 5% of water with the salt, as per the Tartine method.  However, I was also adding 23% pickle juice to the mixture.  Now this 230g of juice was not all liquid.  There were some particles floating in it: some mustard seed, some pickled onion slivers, a few chunks of the pickled cukes themselves.  And the juice contained a bit of vinegar, a bit of sugar, a bit of ginger and salt and whatever else the recipe called for.

I asked my wife for a copy of the pickle recipe, so I could post it here.  She could not find the actual recipe she used, in her canning "filing system" -- an old canning book, cover falling off, filled with lots of pieces of paper from other sources.  We found several recipes for bread and butter pickles, just not the one she used.

Anyway, the point is, if you add the water and the juice together, you get a whopping 98% hydration -- although that is not strictly true, since the juice contains bits of other things.

Mixing it
Still, when mixing it together, it was extremely wet, especially at first.  I was sorely tempted to add some more flour, but I persevered with the folds and turns Q30 minutes in the bowl, and after about 3 1/2 hours, the dough could actually be lifted without dripping through the fingers (as long as you were quick).  And the gluten was developing, and not just a sloppy mess.

In the beginning of those folds and turns, I assumed that I would eventually just solve the problem of its sloppiness by simply turning the dough into a pan.  But by the time I finished the bulk fermentation and gentle mixing stage, I decided to try some freestanding loaves.

Baking it
And they turned out fine.  I gently turned them onto a pizza peel and set them on hot stones with steam in the oven.  There was an edge of one bread that dripped down between the tiles I had in the oven, but the crust formed before it could drip too far.  The only result of this was, the one bread was a bit misshapen.  These loaves had nice oven spring, rising appreciably.

This bread sagged a bit, and the crust formed around where it dripped off the side of the pizza stone.

Eating it
Now bread and butter pickles are a sweet pickle, so there is quite a bit of sugar in the brine.  And this bread was sweet.  Too sweet for my taste, of course.  But my wife liked it, especially for lunch.  Lots of flavour.  But not a breakfast bread, for sure.

Notes to Myself
  • Homemade pickle juice shouldn't be just tossed away.  You can use it in a bread any time.
  • Why did this bread hold together, at that level of wetness?  Why did it have such good oven spring, despite the sagginess of the dough, the sloppiness of the extra hydration?  My best guess is that the sugar in the brine was tasty to the yeast, who ate enough of it so that they put out a lot of extra gas.  This is fairly evenly distributed throughout the crumb, though, so you don't see a lot of irregular and overly large bubbles.  The expanding gas kept the shape of the loaf, even as the dough was sagging.  

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