This is a little how I feel about bread baking. The more experienced I become, the more I realise there are still millions of options as to how to create a loaf of bread that you are happy with. I think that’s the ultimate goal, finding a method and a recipe that gives you what you are happy with. Once you know the basics you can experiment with flours, different levels of hydration (how much water) so that the dough is more dense or has a more open crumb, add extras such as seeds, nuts, fruits, chocolate, spices, colours, it goes on and on. Of course the journey to get to find a loaf you are happy with can be a very long one indeed.
For our day-to-day bread, I am happy with a dough made from about 30%rye, 70% bread flour, 72% water, 20% starter and 2% salt. This is loosely based on Chad Robertson’s Tartine County Loaf and I’ve been really happy with it.
I have been reading a lot about the virtues of ‘extended autolyse’ recently. This is a method where the flour and water (or a fair portion of it) are mixed together before the starter and salt are added. This mix sits for a few hours which allows the flour to take up the water really well and gets the gluten developing really well. It is purported that it can really help with ‘heavier’ doughs that are a high or total percentage of whole wheat flours. I tried this method when making these loaves today. Flour and water were mixed together at about 6.00pm, I did a few stretch and folds before leaving the mix on the bench overnight. In the morning I added the starter, then 1/2 an hour later the salt and did hourly S&Folds over the next 5 hours. Bulk ferment for about 3 hours then divided, preshaped, rested for 20 minutes before final shaping and into the bannetons. These two loaves were left out to proof for 2 hours before baking and another loaf has gone into the fridge for overnight proofing.
The results were great, excellent crumb, smells delicious and they feel really light and airy. I’ll be interested to see how the one in the fridge shapes up tomorrow.