Unlike many of the classes and demos at the Grain Gathering, the whole-grain for the home baker workshop took place in the lobby kitchen of WSU Extension, a place well-suited for a demo but hardly the perfect stage for a dance. Yet a choreographed performance is what Josey and Jonathan opened with, arguing that were no better introduction to the five golden principles of whole-grain baking than the W.W.W. S. B. pas de deux.
Keep in mind the dancing bakers when you bake at home and you’ll get a loaf that tastes good, looks beautiful, nourishes the body and consists of sustainable ingredients :
- Whole grain
- Wild yeast
- Wet dough
- Slow fermentation
- Bold bake
According to the two Js, baking is a subtle thing; the more you do it, the more fulfilling and interesting it becomes. “Even when we practice a lot, it is hard to get exactly the loaf we dream of but it isn’t hard to make a very good loaf of bread.”
- Josey Baker started baking in his San Francisco Mission apartment about five years ago when a friend gave him a sourdough starter. Two and a half years later, he opened his own bakery, The Mill. Today he works with a team of ten people and bakes about 350 loaves a day. He is also the author of Josey Baker Bread: Get Baking – Make Awesome Bread – Share the Loaves, a book for novice bakers. Cool writing (surfer dude style), great recipes and lots of useful tips. A great learning tool!
- Jonathan Bethony is the resident baker at the Bread Lab in Mt Vernon, Washington. He too started as a home baker. He later attended the Professional Training Program at the San Francisco Baking Institute. After graduating he baked with local and legendary bakers in the Bay Area and was introduced by Craig Ponsford to the latest and greatest trends in whole-grain milling and baking. Today he is at the forefront of research and testing and continues to bake with the stars. What a job!
Note: Josey kindly gave me permission to quote directly from his blog for more details about the W.W.W. S. B. principles. What isn’t in green and between quotation marks comes from my notes. Thank you, Josey!
“i’m definitely not tied to all breads being all whole grain (there’s a different bread for every occasion, and many of our breads are 50% whole grain), but the more bread i make, the more bread that i eat, the more i am drawn to breads that are mostly whole grain. i find these breads both more interesting to make, and more interesting to eat. we’ve been working with a bunch of different grains lately (einkorn, rye, spelt, khorasan, corn, oats, buckwheat, a bunch of different wheats such as Sonora, Cabernet, Cristalo, Bolero, Merica, etc) and i’ve been elated by how much i’ve grown as a baker, and all of the flavors, textures and aromas we’re getting. and we’re just scratching the surface. we’ve got a stone mill in the bakery so that we can control the granulation and then use the flour immediately in whatever fashion we dream up – mixing it directly into dough, or soaking it overnight, or toasting it and mixing with boiling water, or cooking it into a porridge… new possibilities present themselves everyday.”
Camas Country Mill whole wheat flour
Milling is a subtle process which Josey learned from Dave Miller. Whole-grain flour has the potential for more flavor and aroma. At the bakery, he has baked loaves with flours milled at different dates: all flours performed almost exactly the same but the aromas were much stronger with the freshly milled flours (they drop after two days). He buys Sonora grain at $1.20 lb. Buying the flour would be more affordable. But the quality wouldn’t be the same.
“a sourdough starter is a magical little beast. it’s a combination of flour and water, along with wild yeast and bacteria that are naturally found on flour and in the environment. starters can be tricky to work with, as you need to constantly monitor their development and characteristics in order to make the bread you’re after. in order to keep your sourdough starter alive, you have to “feed” it regularly with flour and water, and by doing this you can coax the wild yeast and bacteria into the proportions that are good for bread baking. most bread is made with yeast that’s made in a factory, and this yeast is created in order to make bread rise quickly and dependably. but it wasn’t always this way – the first breads ever were most definitely “sourdough” – made with a mixture of flour and water that was allowed to ferment by the power of the wild yeast that was lucky enough to find its way into the mixture. the best breads that i’ve ever had have been made using a sourdough culture. if used properly, a sourdough culture yields bread that tastes better, lasts longer, and is healthier for you.”
A sourdough starter is very easy to keep alive: leave behind a spoonful, mix in half-a-cup of water, half-a-cup of flour and leave it alone. The starter Josey and Joanathan are using for the demo has sat at room temperature for 16 hours. It has a strong funky aroma.
- A levain is a sourdough preferment.
- Josey’s levain is at 100% hydration.
- Take ripe starter, mix in mix in half-a-cup of water and half-a-cup of flour and leave it sit for 8 to 12 hours. It will show visible signs of activity but it will be very young.
- When taking the starter straight out of the fridge, it is safer to do two feedings.
- If you keep your starter out on the counter, feed it everyday.
- Take some of the levain (size of a big orange), fold in some water at 75 or 80°F to break it up, add whole wheat flour and salt
- Percentage of levain in final dough: for most whole-wheat doughs, between 8 and 10% by flour weight is good. For rye breads, 30 to 40% levain is what works best (the dough needs to be way more prefermented because you need much more acidity in rye doughs).
- If you want to cut down on bulk fermentation, adding more preferment is the way to go. That’s where a skilled baker can make bread work into his or her schedule.
- You can do an autolyse (they always do at the bakery). It helps minimize oxidation by reducing dough manipulation. To do an autolyse, mix flour and water. No salt. Reserve some of the water. Let sit a while. The autolyse can be done overnight. (Beginning home bakers can skip this step if they find it confusing).
- Twenty minutes after mixing by hand, dip your hands in water and stretch and fold inside the bowl. Rotate the bowl and do it again. Make sure you go all around. Repeat twice at 20-minute intervals.
- At this stage you can also stick the dough in the fridge overnight.
“it’s a lot easier to end up with moist bread if you start out with moist dough. why don’t more people put more water in their bread doughs? because it makes for a dough that is very sticky and tricky to handle, and well, that’s a pain in the ass now isn’t it? this is especially true if machines are dividing the dough, or shaping it into loaves. only the sensitive human hand can handle dough like this, and even then, it takes hundreds, thousands of loaves to get the hang of shaping “high hydration” dough consistently. most breads out there have 60-70g of water for every 100g of flour. our breads have between 75-125g of water for every 100g of flour, and this totally depends on the particular flour of a given bread. we aim for a dough that is fully hydrated and yields a bread that has a moist and supple crumb.”
Fully hydrating the flour is the goal: not using much water makes the dough easier to handle but it doesn’t make for good bread. You have to try and find for yourself how much water to use. At the bakery, they hydrate the Sonora flour at 110%. They started off hydrating the einkorn at 85% but it was too much. They now hydrate it at 75%. Hydration varies for every gain. Trial and error is key!
- A wet dough is going to be tricky and sticky, difficult to work with. A very wet dough wants to spread out. Sometimes it needs the support of a pan.
- If using heavily chlorinated water, let the water sit a bit before mixing so that the chlorine has a chance to evaporate.
“good things take time, didn’t your gramma teach you that? the flavors and textures of a long-fermented loaf are just flat out better than those of a short-fermented one. the life cycle for most of our breads goes something like this: our sourdough culture hangs out for 20-24 hours before being mixed into dough, our dough relaxes for 3-4 hours before being shaped into loaves, our loaves chill out for 14-18 hours before being baked into bread. so our bread dough has matured over a couple of days before it’s baked into bread, which gives the yeast and bacteria of our sourdough culture time to perform their magic: producing the perfect mix of acid, alcohol and gas to make good bread.”
With rye bread you can go faster (there is more preferment in the dough). All other breads at the ferment for a total of 36 to 48 hours (most of that time in the fridge): at the bakery, they don’t use a starter but old dough kept in the fridge for 24 hours.
- With commercial yeast, it is even more important to slow down the fermentation: use a tiny pinch of yeast and let the dough sit at room temperature
- Rye flour has a higher enzymatic activity: if you add 5 to 10% of rye to your dough, it speeds up things.
- It is best for the home baker to bake in a Dutch oven
- Pre-heat the Dutch oven at 475°F for 45 minutes
- Slash the loaf
- Bake for 20 min with the lid on. If you leave the lid on for too long, you won’t get the same color and crust and the crust might be leathery.
- Bake uncovered for another 25 minutes. Check the bread and if not dark enough, give it another few minutes.
- The best spot in the oven is usually the middle.
- Go nice and gentle on the shaping (go for air-shaping if there is no space to work).
- Let the bulk-fermented dough sit 20 to 30 minutes at room temperature. If cold, let it rest one hour.
- Lightly flour the top of the dough so that it isn’t sticky and dust the bench (at the bakery, Josey uses only water on the bench because the dough is a really nice mixture of flour and water and all that flour has fermented and he doesn’t want unfermented flour in his dough.)
- Flip the dough upside down. Gently grab the side nearest to you, lift the dough off the table. You are not pulling, just lengthening. Put it back on the table and fold the dough in your hands two-thirds of the way up the loaf. Grab the top, stretch it upward and fold it about two thirds down the loaf.
- Rotate 90° and fold the dough down half-way, then fold it half-way again.
- Seal with the heel of your hands.
- Flour the basket. If the basket isn’t lined, dredge the bread in rice flour.
- At this point, you can stick the bread in the fridge after one hour and let it sit there for 6 hours, then bake it straight out of the fridge.
- If you don’t need to use the fridge, let it rest about 3 hours at room temperature.
- If the dough is over-hydrated or over-fermented, then slashing is challenging. It feels violent. You have to commit to it. If not, you are not going to get the loaf’s full potential.
That’s it, readers! The two Js didn’t give out any formula. They know that as long as we bake WHOLE, WILD, WET, SLOW and BOLD, we’ll end up with good bread.