WARNING: the beginning of this email contains some serious bread nerding. Skip to below the red line if you don't care.
I collapsed my rye again on Tuesday. This is a persistent problem, even after years of practicing, tweaking, coddling, and begging the bread to stay solid. It's frustrating and humbling to fail so often at something I've worked at so diligently, but I'm comforted by the knowledge that my misery has company.
We had a long conversation, a series of conversations, really, at the Grain Gathering this summer about rye collapse, and many professional bakers more experienced than I admitted to encountering it on occasion. Even the bakers whose bread never fell had no definite answers as to why it sometimes happens to the rest of us. Out of that discussion came three main hypotheses:
1. The rye bread is weakened by over-proofing (it ferments for too long, or at too high a temperature), and collapses.
2. The rye bread is weakened by over-hydration (too wet dough), and collapses.
3. The rye bread suffers The Dreaded Starch Attack (1) in the oven, weakens, and collapses.
The last is the most chemically interesting, and was a favorite hypothesis, if for no other reason than that we've all read about it and it means we can blame our starters (2). The story goes like this: amylase enzymes are more abundant and active in rye than in wheat. This is a problem, because amylase enzymes break starch down into sugar. Starch is the scaffolding of bread. When too much of the starch becomes sugar, the bread looses its structure and becomes a sticky mess (collapse!). Luckily, acid inhibits enzyme activity, and we have the perfect acid producing tool: lactobacillic fermentation, aka sourdough. Therefore, to counter The Dreaded Starch Attack, you need to ferment your rye bread for longer, at a lower temperature, to sufficiently acidify the dough.
Anyways, I've made my rye doughs more acidic while shortening the final proof and lowering the hydration. Still, the bread sometimes collapses. Why? No one, it seems, knows. And so I keep practicing, tweaking, coddling, and begging.
(1) It's never just referred to as a starch attack, it's always The Dreaded Starch Attack. Even when speaking, you must capitalize every word.
(2) English, unlike German (and possibly French?), has no technical sourdough terminology. Starter = sourdough culture = mother = levain. Or sometimes they're all used to mean different things, but I think of them as interchangeable unless otherwise specified.
My market lineup this week is an fall celebration. A Plum Anise Torte (I'm going to keep making this one till I run out of plums) and some little Apple & Quince Cakes, Smoky Vollkornbrot, and a Breakfast Porridge bread (fermented steel cut oats, apples, raisins, and cinnamon!). Also Mountain Rye, Red & White, and the usual pastries.
See you soon!
I woke this morning in the dark to the sound of rain outside and Do You Realize? inside my head. I had a ceramics teacher in high school who I remember playing nothing but The Flaming Lips and Queen for the four years I spent in her classroom. Maybe there were occasional forays into the Talking Heads, but in my memory the studio is a weird, welcoming basement sanctuary, with Jodie in her thrift store clothes and striped stockings like some funky, alien teacher species, the comforting brrrr of the wheels, grey rain outside the windows, clay centered and smooth under my hands, and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots on the stereo. Such is the memory-rousing power of The Flaming Lips.
And with that entirely irrelevant digression over, let me tell you about what I'm bringing to market today. I've been gleaning (not really stealing, and sometimes, as when the trees are obviously on private property and not forgotten at the edge of a development, or leaning gnarled and unharvested into an alley, I even get permission!) a wonderful bounty of plums, pears, and apples. This week I've put them to use in one bread--Cinnamon Apple--and a few fall-flavored pastries: Plum & Anise Torte, Apple Cake (in that order; this beast is more apple than cake), and some little Poached Pear Tarte Tatin. Also Rosemary Polenta, Red & White, and Mountain Rye breads.
Available for Wednesday preorder: Rosemary Sea Salt, Apple Cinnamon, and Mountain Rye bread, Royal Granola (I'm out today), and Brown Butter Shortbread by the half dozen.
Time to climb into my rain gear and pedal off down the hill.
See you soon!
The oven is the bottleneck of my baking schedule. One oven for rye bread, wheat bread, pastry, granola. I can fit in three shelves for a bread bake, or five for a pastry bake, which perhaps, compared to your home oven, sounds like a lot, but in fact means that unless I have everything lined up just so it's a true clusterfuck. Last night was a clusterfuck, and I paid for it in sleep, but as a result of my poor scheduling, I ended up with unusually handsome bread.
If you've only ever baked standard white bread, or no bread at all, you may not yet have had the pleasure of meeting a high hydration dough. They're delicate and smooth and lovely, the only way to make delicious whole grain breads (in my biased opinion), and fussy. They tear and sag under the weight of their water. If you're not careful, they sag right into each other when you load them into the oven, and then you have a bunch of kissing flatbreads with no kick (1).
In the normal course of things, I'm trying to move all the parts of the bake day along as efficiently as possible. The breads are shaped and risen, and then, while the oven preheats, get a brief retard (2) to give them a little more structural integrity. But last night, due to the above mentioned clusterfuck, I was almost six hours late turning up the oven, while I juggled the pastries and did who knows what else, so by the time the bread went in, it was cold all the way through. The results were everything I hoped for but never thought I'd find in this sad excuse for a bread oven.
Baking digression complete. On the menu: Red & White, Mountain Rye, Sunflower Rye, Wild & Seedy, two truly delicious kuchens (plum anise & pear), apple pie twists, and the usual cookies, etc.
Also: I'll be baking SMOKY VOLLKORNBROT, ROSEMARY SEA SALT, and Mountain Rye for my wholesale next Wednesday. If you miss your smoky or rosemary bread (I'm not sure when either will make it back onto the Saturday menu), or just need to restock midweek, I'm taking orders for pickup anytime Wednesday.
Off to market.
See you soon.
(1) When bread dough first hits the heat of the oven the yeast moves into high gear, respiring lots of CO2, and that gas and the gas already trapped in the dough expand, so that for a brief window before the crust hardens, the bread rises quickly. That's the kick, or the oven spring.
(2) Retarding is cooling down the dough to slow the fermentation. It has all sorts of benefits, but the one I'm most interested in is structural: the cold dough stiffens, and the cold gas trapped inside contracts, so that when you load the loaves into the oven they hardly flinch.
We fell off the end of summer this week. It was the rain, of course, that tipped us over, though we've been edging towards fall for weeks, the days growing shorter, the light cooler, and the drought dropped leaves drifting yellow across the streets. But I wasn't paying attention because every day was sunshine and running shorts, until the rain came.
This is my favorite time of year, cool, but not yet swallowed by grey skies, the smell of wet leaves and earth, the dizzying abundance of apples, pears, and Italian plums, the clouds catching on the hill tops and fog pooling in the hollows.
It's also perfect bread weather (see above), and the pastry possibilities with all this fall fruit! Oh my. This week on the menu: Red & White, Mountain Rye, Sunflower Rye, and Wild & Seedy. On the pastry side I have the last Peach Galettes of the year, along with a few Black & Raspberry Galettes, and, most exciting of all, an Italian Plum & Anise Torte.
See you soon!