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!