Monday, September 6, 2010

Toward a Lighter, More Airy Bread

I did a little baking over this Labor Day weekend, while Mrs. PolyKahr was away, and the grand kids were out camping with their parents.  I discovered something, and did a little experimenting.  I told you about my bread baking passion here.

The recipe I use for my sourdough bread was developed using King Arthur bread flour.  It calls for 6 cups of flour and 2 cups of water total.  The numbers above include the starter and the flour and water added to the recipe to obtain total hydration.  The starter itself is a 100% hydration starter.

So, 6 cups flour x 4.25 oz/cup = 25.5 oz flour.  2 cups water x 8 oz/cup gives 16 oz water.  Hydration, therefore is 62.75%  That is in line with most recipes which call for around 63% hydration.  I however, was using Gold Medal bread flour.  I find Gold Medal to be consistent, and at nearly half the price of King Arthur, it is hard to justify spending the extra dough (pun intended.)  How good can flour be, after all?Anyway, I discovered that Gold Medal has a density of 5.25 oz/cup, a full oz more per cup than King Arthur.  Could this difference make a huge difference in the bread?  Read on.

Using the same calculations as above, I find that I have been baking the bread with a hydration of 50.80%.  In order to have the same hydration as called for in the recipe, I would have to put in a total of 19.75 oz of water.  When I take away the 4 oz used in the starter, that leaves 15.75 oz or 1.97 cups.  Let's just call it 2 cups (as opposed to 1 1/2 cups in the recipe.  Remember that 1/2 cup is already in the starter.)

Well, I wasn't willing to go for broke, but I did add 2 oz water to the recipe.  The results were amazing.  The crumb is much lighter, with bigger holes.  The crust is much crustier.  All together, the bread is better.

And of course, I have learned a lot about flour that I did not know before.  So, for example, in my grand mother's (may she rest in peace) recipe for fruit cake, knowing what kind of flour she actually used becomes critical if I am to reproduce the flavor and the feel for my Dad.  Last year I used Gold Medal all purpose, but I have a feeling that she might have used Martha White.  I need to investigate the density of Martha White flour next.

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