All grains contain peptides that mimic morphine or endogenous opioid substances. This is where I deal with my latest loaf craving. Get your bread-based exorphin fix here.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Up the Hydration! Bread and Slavery to Bread

Because of my good luck with the pickle bread, I began to wonder if I could just get the hydration of regular loaves up a bit.  Maybe I could nudge the hydration higher in an everyday, 100% whole wheat loaf, or in an everyday, 20% rye and whole wheat bread.  My theory: the dough, although gloppy in the beginning, should begin to firm up later in the bulk fermentation, when the water is properly incorporated into the gluten structure.

So one morning, after working a couple of nights, I made myself a dough that was well hydrated.  I started with 80%, and took it to 85% with the addition of salt.

The whole wheat bread:

  • 100% ww flour
  • 20% sourdough starter
  • 5% wheat germ
  • 2% salt
  • 85% water

The rye bread:

  • 80% ww flour
  • 20% rye flour
  • 20% sourdough starter
  • 5% wheat germ
  • 2% salt
  • 80% water

The only way this is going to work, I thought to myself, is if I am diligent with the Q30 minute folds and turns, during the 4 hours of bulk fermentation.  The problem with this was, I had just worked all night, and was exhausted.  I set my alarm for q30 minutes, and dozed in between the times when I had to stretch the dough.  Each fold only took a couple of minutes, and then I dozed again.  

"You are a slave to your bread," my wife said, as she watched me wake up and stumble once more to the kitchen.  

The dough remained kind of slippery throughout the turns, and did not become effervescent like some dough does, as the gluten develops and properly traps the gasses from the yeasts and Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB).

Once I had my dough in a basket to proof, I set my alarm for 3 1/2 hours, and then fell asleep again.

It turned out that this was perhaps a bit too long.  When I awoke, the dough may have been overproofed by about an hour.  The gluten that I had laboured to develop with all those turns had turned flaccid and sloppy again by the proteolysis.  

The Whole Wheat Bread at 85% hydration

The Partial-Rye Loaf, at 80% hydration

Note how you can even see how the crust has started to thicken as it stales

The bread did not have a good rise, and sagged when it hit the stone.  It still tasted okay, but it wasn't as good as the pickle juice bread.  In terms of loaf volume, these loaves were a flop.

Most disconcerting: these loaves staled quite rapidly.  I fasted the next day, so it was 2 days before I cracked open the rye loaf.  But it was staling before I even sliced into it.  What was going on here?  Did the extra hydration cause it to stale faster?  Or did the too long proofing cause the staling process to take over sooner?  

There are many mysteries in bread that I cannot unravel.  

On Slavery to Bread
It is rather disconcerting to be told you are a slave to something you love.  Like the adolescent who has fallen in love for the first time, and feels wonderful until he is told by his best friend that he has changed, he is 'pussy whipped.'  That is not something one wants to hear.  So being told that I am a slave to my bread made me stop and try to think this through.

Bob Dylan wrote the banal truism, "You're going to have to serve somebody."   And I think of that sometimes, when I'm making my bread.  Does my bread serve me, or do I serve it?  Should I serve my bread to others?  What would it serve if I were to write my ideas about my bread and give it to the world?  Who am I serving by blogging this?

Today I finished reading Benjamin Lorr's book "Hell-Bent: obsession, pain and the search for something like transcendence in competitive yoga." (2012).  Although I've never done Bikram hot yoga, I love this book, which can alternatively make me belly-laugh out loud, make me weep with its stories of outrageous human frailty or endurance, and make me think deeply.  I could quote many parts of this book that I have enjoyed.  But I stop here, merely to recount a line of wisdom, without the context, from Lorr's depiction of 83-year old hot yoga teacher Emmy, who says, "Do not allow yourself to be held hostage by anything you don't need.  Let it go."

It sounds so simple.  Could it really be that easy?

What enslaves us?  Who or what holds us hostage?  What ideas and expectations do we have that keep us from being free?  Is it the idea that I "need" bread -- good, whole grain, fresh-baked, "my" bread -- that holds me hostage?

I thought I bake bread because it sustains me, both through the food, and through the questions I ask of it.  Every loaf that moves from my hands to my mouth, and yes, through my bowels, is a moment that I try to attend to.  When I write about it, my thoughts might be as simple as my relationship to my food or as grandiose as our human connection to the universe.  Often my bread fails spectacularly -- like Lorr's yoga, when it is least expected and one thinks one is in peak form -- and I am similarly humbled.

If I didn't want to attend to my bread the way I have been, I could stop and just buy a loaf from the store, or make some more recipes from 'Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.'  It was chancing upon that book that gave me my start, after all, in the months and years before this blog.  For better or worse, I have moved away from those kind of loaves, and baking consumes far more than 5 minutes a day, for me.  Perhaps that might mean I am enslaved to bread.  If that is so, I am whipped because making bread, experimenting with bread, thinking about bread, sustains me in ways I am only beginning to suspect.  I still can't help but love it.

I sometimes wonder where this blog is leading me.  What the next bread will be.  Will there be something to say about it?  Or am I finished with blogging, and bread making, forever?  I tell myself I can walk away at any time.

But every junkie tells the same lie to themselves.

Or maybe the simple truth is, I do need bread.  If that is true, using Emmy's advice, I ought never to let it go.  Slavery can only be resolved if you can easily answer the question, "do I need this?"  By what criteria does one determine what one needs?

Not so simple, without all the facts.  And finding out all the facts about bread is a lifetime of study.

And that equates, at least in some people's minds, to a kind of slavery.

Notes to Myself
  • I will have to go with my "best guess" as to why this loaf failed: I believe that the sourdough starter was slightly past its prime when I used it, meaning there were too many yeast and LAB metabolites in the dough that cause the protein to break down. This, plus the slightly longer-than-necessary proofing time caused the gluten structure to break down, not only causing the sagging of the loaf and the poor oven spring, but also leading to faster staling.
  • Try the same dough with water that you did with the pickle juice: i.e. 80% ww flour, 20% spelt flour and 5% oatmeal.
  • What do I need, in bread?

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