Merry Christmas! + Breadventures

 Carmen's Bread Project, or how about "Breadventures"?! I'm trying to make that happen. Almost a year after I stumbled upon Tartine's bread video, I was finally ready to commit and make my own bread! What was supposed to be a summer project turned into me getting an "apprentice job" at a bakery. So my actual breadventures began 3 weeks ago (I've been keeping a pretty detailed log...all or nothing right?! My childhood journals aren't even this detailed or frequently logged. Then again, what would my recounts be about? "Saw a squirrel chase another squirrel today", "Marcus was being weird and followed me from one play station to the next" <- story="" true="">

Before we move on, Merry Christmas / Happy holidays! A few days ago, the Greater Toronto Area was "graced" with freezing rain. Thanks to that, we had beautiful scenes everywhere you look but because of the downed lines, over 300 000 Torontonians lost power. Most have regained power after over 60 hours of being plunged into the dark and cold. Gotta thank the utility company workers who've been working tirelessly! :D If you know people who are still without power and you do, invite them over if you haven't done so already. Give the gift of warmth and hot showers. Our house has been blessed with only a short blackout so we're open doors right now to all friends and fam!

When it comes to bread, I can't say no, to good bread at least. Armed with practical experience and more confidence thanks to everyone at work mentoring the eager beaver, I set out to make my own Tartine bread. This will be a somewhat brief recount from CULTURE to my FIRST LOAF. When it comes to baking bread, it's as much a science as it is intuition. You prepare for failure but with practice, you develop "baker's intuition", and you learn how your starter acts and what works for you. It can be very personal. :)

Day 0-2 Building your culture: I patiently waited, hoping that the basement kitchen has sufficient wild yeast to develop a culture. By the morning of Day 2, there were some bubbles, it was smelling pretty funky (which is okay! If a crust developed, peel it back and you should be greeted by an acidic and sour smell. That's fine, it's what you want!). But the bubbles prove that there's activity and it rose a bit too! 

Day 3-9 Feedings: Feeding my culture which has now become my starter! Here's where I got a little confused. Following the book, you're supposed to discard starter until you have 20% and feed with equal parts water and 50/50 (to prep for the whole breadmaking process, you make a mixture of 50% white bread flour and 50% whole wheat bread flour). I wasn't sure if the flour AND water were suppose to make up the remaining 80% or 80% flour and water respectively. Now I'm confusing you too, sorry. Either way, according to Chad Robertson's detailed instructions, once your starter rises and falls predictably, you can begin to bake. And by day 9, the starter was...punctual?

Day 10 TEST BAKE #1: I'd been regularly feeding my starter in the morning (as advised) before I leave for school and by Day 9, it seemed to be doing its thing so that night, before going to bed, I put about 1/2 tbsp of the mature stater into another jar, and fed that to make my levain. I didn't fully discard the rest of the mature starter because it hadn't fully matured yet (it could still develop more strength) and this was more of a test bake to reassure myself that I wasn't feeding a dead starter :(

Seeing as it takes around 9 hours from passing the float test to arriving as a hopefully fragrant and beautifully crusted, singing loaf on your dinner table, the entire day was needed for this test bake

Float Test: to check for your levain's readiness to proceed to the next step, take a teaspoon of levain and drop into a bowl of slightly cooler than room temperature water. If it floats, it's ready! :D If not. BOO. It need more time to ferment (give it an hour or two). I'll be frank, I didn't feel like filling an entire bowl of water for this...think about it, what other "natural" bowl of cool water ALWAYS exists in your house?! Yes, I'm talking about the toilet....with untainted water. Saves time and money!

Form dough: So now that my levain #1 was ready, time to add the dough ingredients. As a test bake, I only used half of the Country Loaf recipe in order to yield one loaf.

Rest: After combining the ingredients, you let the dough rest for 30 minutes so that the dough can rehydrate and relax. This is crucial! DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP! Allow the dough to work for you ;) Which reminds me of a friend who guest coached us one time, "let the dragonboat do its work." Same concept. Sorta.

Bulk Fermentation & Turns: This is the first of two fermentation stages. Bulk fermentation begins after you've incorporated the last of the water and salt, and transferred the dough to a thick plastic container (I used translucent Cambro containers since you can see the dough, there's measurement markings, and it's thick enough to insulate/retain the heat while not being affected by the acidity). This also counts as Turn #1.

Bulk fermentation lasts 2-3 hours, and you make turns every 30 minutes for the first 2 hours. Yep, read the 30 pages or so detailing go from culture to loaf at least a dozen times as I prepped for my test bake (I'm still having a hard time embracing failure) that I have most of it memorized.

After the dough's gone from raggedy and sorta rough to smooth, airy with a 30% increase in volume, it's ready for the next stage! During this whole time, you want a warm environment to continue and promote fermentation (24-26C).

Initial Shaping: This is where you begin to form the rough shape of the loaf. Pour/release dough onto an unfloured surface, lightly flour the top of the dough. Using a bench scraper, turn dough over so that the floured side is on the bottom folded the unfloured side onto itself, and forming a rough boule, you build tension and trap air bubbles, all of which will give the resulting loaf the desired structure.

Final Shaping: After a 25-minute bench rest (again, just as imperative to do like when I first assembled the dough) where the dough relaxes and oozes a bit, you shape it again--using the bench scraper to turn and tuck the boule. It gets inverted into a banneton basket (you can substitute with a basket lined with a kitchen towel) that's been lightly floured with a 50/50 mix of rice flour and wheat flour. I only had rice flour on hand and I haven't had any problems.
During the bench rest, the dough relaxes a bit. This elasticity allows for final shaping without breaking. :)

Final Rise: Cover and leave the dough to undergo its final rise/fermentation (3-4 hours). I wonder when you know it's ready to bake? I judged it by eye and did a crude "poke test" to see the resilience of the dough. Not very scientific but I'll attribute this to the "baker's feel" part of breadmaking. ;D

BAKE! Finally, after hours of rising, fermentation, shaping and rest, HEAT. The time of active work is quite minimal, it's mostly a game of patience. I've read a lot of methods for bread baking at home which call for making sufficient steam to give your dough that wet heat for its initial rise in the oven. The one that stood out most, Thomas Keller / Sebastien Rouxel's method of spraying a heated hotel pan with chain and rocks in it. The chains and rocks retain heat and you can achieve the steam effect as you would in professional ovens that can inject steam. Chances of me being allowed to do that, nil. Chad Robertson has this wicked method (that's kinda traditional in a way) of using a Dutch combo cooker (picked one up from Bass Pro Shops for $60). It's essentially two cast iron pans that, when turn over on top one another, can serve as pan and lid to each other. It achieves the two things you want: "a sealed moist chamber and strong radiant heat." 

This turned out to be longer than I thought but I'm hoping that this will give you a better idea about how breadmaking using wild yeasts works. And how easy it really is!! So back to the preheating oven. Both shallow and deep pan go into the oven (set to preheat to 500F). Flour the top of the loaf and invert onto the shallow pan (be careful, it's insanely hot!) once it has preheated for about 20 minutes. Using the edge of a razor blade, score a square at a low angle--this will translate into ears that cut! Beautiful but legit, they're sharp. I've knicked my knuckles a couple of times.

Quickly return to the oven, top with the deep pan, and immediately lower the temperature to 450F (I forgot to do that during my second bake so don't repeat my mistake!) and bake 20 minutes. Afterwards, remove top pan, notice how the loaf looks a bit shiny and has risen quite a bit. The next 20-25 minutes serve to complete the baking and to achieve that beautiful deep caramelization of the crust.

Carefully remove pan from the oven, and place loaf on its side to cool. Put your ear to the bread, it'll sing to you as it cools and contracts. Allowing it to cool a few hours will ensure it's shelf life for a week but at this point, you've waited long enough! And who can say no to fresh bread? Like I said, not me! And let me tell you, there's nothing like eating super fresh bread that you made with your own two hands.

It's quite clear that the crumb isn't ideal but that's what's practice is for! ;D Got a couple of loaves in their final rise stage right now.

Let the BREADVENTURES continue!! da-da-da-da!! Please comment below to share your fresh bread / pain au levain experiences! :D I'd love to read about them, maybe start a dialogue.