Sunday, April 22, 2012

Troubleshooting dough hydration: A trick "à la Gérard"


Update: If you are planning to make the Levain de campagne Bread from How to make bread by Emmanuel Hadjiandreou (the bread I am talking about below), please note that there is indeed a typo in the recipe and that the amount of water should be more or less 300 g and not 150 g. This was confirmed to me today by the author himself.

Spring break brought us a passel of kids and grandkids and made for an extremely lively ten days in our household. Anyone who has had the good fortune of living in close quarters with five-and-a half-year old twins and their even younger first cousins will probably agree that the experience isn't exactly conducive to meditation, reading and gourmet cooking.
By popular (and youthful) request, macaroni and cheese have been seen in my kitchen this week with unprecedented frequency while greens were the object of much suspicion and arduous negotiation. Asparagus and broccoli prevailed. Spinach was voted down. Frozen peas passed muster. Usually beloved, avocado was categorically rejected. Fruit was regarded with a marked lack of enthusiasm in its original form except for bananas, apples and mangos (save for one kid who expressed total revulsion at the sight of sliced mango in his fruit salad) but was widely appreciated in disguise (notably in the shape of the blackberry frozen yogurt I made from the berries we picked last summer).
A large part of the family went back home today. A second installment (grown-ups only) is expected tomorrow. In-between I found myself in the mood for a baking Sunday.
Since I am still exploring Hadjiandreou's book, I decided to make the miche Emmanuel Hadjiandreou calls his "Levain de campagne" Bread (shown on the cover) for which he won a Great Taste Award. The recipe calls for 150 g of mature white starter (at 100% hydration) and 150 g of water (as indicated above, the water amount is incorrect as printed in the book. It should be 300 g)  as well as for 250 g of all-purpose flour (he actually recommends strong/bread flour but then he bakes in the UK where flours are different from ours), 150 g of whole wheat flour and 50 g of dark rye flour. So far so good. 
Cruising along  after weighing everything, I was feeling quite happy (the fragrance of the levain will do that to you!)  when I hit a snag. Hadjiandreou says to "mix until [the dough] comes together. The mixture will be a bit soft, but don't despair and don't be tempted to add more flour". I certainly wasn't! Far from being alarmingly soft, my dough was as stiff as could be. I wet my hands, I added a few spoonfuls of water, then a few more. It still didn't look good. I set the dough to rest for ten minutes prior to the first stretch and fold, hoping that it would have relaxed, but no such luck. I tried adding more water but it made matters worse: the dough showed signs of breaking apart.
That's when I remembered a trick Gérard Rubaud showed me last fall. He said it is never too late to add water to a dough and he proved his point by hydrating a dough that had just finished fermenting and successfully making a whole batch of baguettes with it. 
This above video was done for demonstration purposes only: the dough was already fine as it was. But Gérard does use this trick to troubleshoot production situations:  he says that each time he gets a new delivery of all-purpose flour, he has to recalculate the percentage of water and sometimes he's off in his calculations for the first batch and doesn't know it until after the autolyse is over. If he has used too much water, it is simple enough to add more flour but if he hasn't used enough, it is much trickier. In his experience, it is way easier to add water (up to 2% of the flour weight) at the end of the first fermentation than at the end of the autolyse.
The dough that was slowly taking shape in my bowl had none of the silkiness and pillowiness (is there such a word?) of Gérard's. It was still rather stiff and forbidding and didn't look like it would take kindly to a bath "à la Gérard". Still it could clearly use some water, so I gave it a shower instead (using a spray bottle) and that's clearly what it was waiting for.
After each stretch and fold episode (and there were a total of six at ten minute-intervals), I sprayed it thoroughly with warm water and covered it again with an inverted bowl. It absorbed the water while resting and became progressively more flexible. It was still a very different dough from Gérard's but then Gérard's contained mostly white flour while this one contained close to 80% whole grains.
I am sure the crumb won't sport big holes (Hadjiandreou's doesn't) but will it be dense or not? In other words, should I have sprayed more? Or less? That's what I am hoping to learn from the experience... Don't you love the everlasting challenges of breadbaking?
I wrote to Emmanuel Hadjiandreou to make sure the recipe is correct. The dough seemed way too dry, even accounting for the differences in flour, climate, etc., for the prescribed amounts of flour and water to yield the soft dough pictured (and described) in the book. I will let you know what I hear back, if anything.

21 comments:

  1. OH, this is a great post! I love the fact I can adjust the water AFTER the firs fermentation, as I ran into this type of stiff dough before and was left with a bread that was so-so, with too tight a crumb

    I will be paying attention to see if you heard back from Emmanuel - I actually got the book a few days ago, and thought it is spectacular! I almost made a bread this past weekend, but had to give up, my life is a complete chaos at the moment... (sigh)

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    1. Hi Sally, just heard back from Emmanuel: there is indeed a mistake in the recipe. The amount of water should be more or less 300 g (not 150 g). I will edit the post accordingly.

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  2. This is most useful to know! Thank you.

    I had always suspected that flour would take different amounts of water but thought it had to do with the humidity on the particular day. It didn't occur to me that it might be for a whole bag of flour.

    Now I can't wait to have too dry a dough so that I can add water after the dough has fermented!

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    1. Hello Elizabeth, I too found it hard to believe that flour consistency could be so problematic, even when the flour comes from a large distributor, but apparently it is rather the rule than the exception. When I took classes at the San Francisco Baking Institute, we were taught to always reserve some water (about 10% of the total amount) and add it (or not) towards the end of the mixing to achieve the desired dough consistency. But I had never seen it added to fermented dough before Gérard showed me...

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  3. I recently bought this too but I have only made the hot cross buns so far. Someone commented ont post that they had made the buns using the cups translation and they too had found the dough dry. I had no diificulties with that, but I used the gram notations. Did you use grams or cups? If it was the cups maybe that was why? just speculation on my part of course... joanna

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    1. Hi Joanna, yes, I can see that using volume instead of weight could lead to problems. But I always weigh all my ingredients... Being from France where we don't use cups or tablespoons, I have never taken to measuring by volume.

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  4. Just reread your post and I see you used grams, I will give it ag go with my English flour and see what happens. Bur i did like that video, thst is a very useful tip !

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    1. Hi Joanna,
      Just heard back from Emmanuel. There is indeed a mistake in the recipe. It should read more or less 300 g of water (not 150 g). Hopefully you haven't started on the dough yet and will be able to make that bread with the correct hydration. Let me know how it comes out!

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    2. You know what! I just mixed it and am going to dash into the ktichen and add more water xxxxx thanks

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    3. I am on tenterhooks! Did the bread work out?

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  5. To add water after fermentation is new to me, too. Thank you for sharing the video!
    When I calculate the hydration of the recipe you mention I come to an hydration of about 42%! I'm sure its a typo in the book.

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    1. And you are right, Stefanie! It should read 300 g of water (more or less). If I were not so mathematically challenged that I avoid calculating anything, I would have picked it up before starting on the recipe!

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    2. Hi MC,
      You write the instructions as "The recipe calls for an equal amount (150 g) of mature white starter (at 100% hydration) and water"
      So, does that mean 300g starter, as well as 300g H2O?

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    3. Sorry for the confusion. The recipe now calls for 150 g levain and 300 g water. I will adjust my post accordingly.

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  6. Hi again,
    Just got my book. This is the same way I learned to make bread. I started with fresh yeast & hand kneading. I have switched to some machine mixing, due to arthritis, & instant yeast.
    MC, I know you have some mixing issues. How did you mix this bread?
    Do you know which yeast you will chose?
    Back to reading..
    ML

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  7. Hi again, ml,
    Congratulations on getting the book! You have a lot of happy baking ahead of you...
    To answer your questions, I don't bake very often with commercial yeast but when I do, I use instant, not fresh (way easier as I always have some on hand). Mostly though I bake naturally leavened breads (I always have a lot of levain which I hate to see go to waste or remain idle, I usually like the taste better and last but not least, the resulting bread keeps much longer).
    I do have to watch my wrist. I mixed this bread exactly as suggested by the author (stretch and fold every 10 minutes). It wasn't painful or difficult because the amount of dough was so small. If I had to double or triple the amount, I would probably use my electric mixer. Although for someone with no hand issues, it is truly a pleasure to mix and knead by hand when using the fold method. It requires very little effort.

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  8. Me again :)
    Still reading while I ready my starter.
    My bakers brain is scrunching a bit.
    No bakers %, no autolyse, salt added in 1st phase, no S & F, yikes!
    MC,
    What do you think of the results? You have a huge repertoire of complicated breads that you have made, is it the simplicity of this book that you like?

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    1. Hi ml, no % or autolyse, that's right but lots of stretch and fold. The whole book is based on S&F actually. What I like about it is the fact that it takes you back to the basics. If you are a beginner, you'll soon be making breads you never thought you could make at home. If you are an advanced baker, then you can adapt to your level of skills. If you'd rather do the autolyse, go for it! I know I will for some of these breads. But the beginner doesn't really have to...

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  9. Hi MC,
    I took these little S&F as the mixing, which is how I was taught to hand mix. But mixing is usually followed by more S & F, more or less every 30-60 minutes. Am I misunderstanding this part?

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  10. My take on it is that you do as many S&F as needed. The recipes I have made so far from the book call for 5 or 6 and that seeemed to be fine. I would do more if the gluten needed to be reinforced further but so far it hasn't. In my experience using the book so far and apart from the Levain de Campagne bread for which the recipe is wrong, doughs have developed beautifully. My guess is that the author is shooting for an average situation using the quantities of ingredients that he indicates. On a very humid day or with very different flours you might need one or two more. A beginner might not know that and I agree that it might have been clearly indicated. My guess is that Hadjiandreou opted to keep it simple and not confusing the issues by reviewing all possible situations. Sorry it doesn't seem to work for you...

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