This was a week of near disasters. I mix my bread doughs very wet, which gives me better crumb and keeping quality, but leaves little room for error. The smart thing to do, especially when working with potentially inconsistent flours from small farms and a small mill, is to hold back a portion of the water in the initial mix and add it in later after seeing how the dough comes together. That way, if the flour has changed for any reason--harvest conditions, starch damage, milling consistency--you're not caught out with a bowl of dough soup. It's much easier to add in water than it is to add flour.
But I've gotten lazy. The flour has been consistent all year, and so I add all the water at the beginning, knowing that even the wettest dough will come together over the hours of fermentation and folding*. And then this Tuesday, the doughs didn't come together. I waited, and folded, and waited some more, and still the dough sat there, slack and unresponsive.
It turns out that, unbeknownst to me, this has been an exceptionally bad year for the Washington wheat harvest, and I was working with my first bags of 2016 grain. There are ways to compensate, somewhat, for weak flour: mixing stiffer/drier dough, baking loaves in pans rather than freestanding on the hearth, perhaps slowing fermentation to give the gluten more time to develop. I will be trying all of them in the coming weeks. I've tried a few of them already for today's bread. If I do my job well, you may not even notice the difference.
Coming to market this week, along with the Red & White, will be Oat & Honey, Smoky Vollkornbrot, and Mountain Rye bread. Also the usual small pastries, French Apple Cake, one last celebratory round of Election Cake (have you mailed in your ballot yet? Do it!), and the first Seriously Gingerbread of the season. Instead of my usual stout, this week's gingerbread is made with a smoky porter. Delicious!
I'll be inside the pavilion from now until the end of the year, right across from the info booth.
See you soon!
*Stretching and folding dough is the gentle, low-tech alternative to thrashing it around in a mixer, or breaking your back trying to emulate a mixer by hand kneading. All three are ways to develop dough strength.
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