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All About Wheat, Flour and Baking with Heirloom Flours.

Updated: Oct 29, 2023

This article explores wheat, what it is and it gives some background at how to get the best performance with softer flours.

 

The first thing to understand about flour is that in the late 1960's there was a massive baking upheaval with rapidly expanding Corporate Mills and Bakeries putting a lot of small mills and bakeries out of business. The bread on our tables changed beyond recognition and these companies poured huge sums into bread research.

 

Allied to this were intense wheat breeding programs taking place across the globe. The aim was to produce higher gluten wheats with larger yields and which were suitable for machine processing in the new high speed bakeries. This was driven in part by statistics which showed that the rapid global population growth was headed to outstrip the amount of wheat grown. This intense period of development became known as the 'Green Revolution'.

 

Most countries have sophisticated millers who use considerable science and technology to test and blend the wheats which they mill to make reliable products with consistent performance. The exceptions are some of the smaller mills who might choose to mill local grains. They too might blend different wheats to get a good product, but often their selling point is that the wheat is locally grown, or organic and the quality of the flour can fluctuate depending on the growing season.

 

The new commodity wheats were not selected for flavour and indeed their flavour was markedly inferior to the old heirloom wheats. This didn't matter to these modern bakeries as most of their breads were white and it is the bran and the germ which carries most of the wheat’s natural flavours. These modern wheats are referred to as commodity wheats. The older varieties are referred to as heirloom wheats. Historically heirloom wheats too were selected for performance by farmers and wheat breeders and we now have thousands of these varieties being held in the global seedbanks. Accessible on request.

 

There is quite a difference between baking with Heirloom and Commodity Wheats. Commodity wheats are just about everything on the supermarket shelves. if it's not marked Heirloom or referenced as being a particular old variety of wheat it will be a commodity wheat. Heirloom wheats have weaker gluten than modern varieties and so getting a light loaf means making some adjustments to the baking process.

 

UK, German, Italian and French grown commodity wheats tend to be softer than those wheats grown in prime continental wheat areas such the American Wheat Belt, Canada, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, the Russian steppes and Ukraine. This is due to the greater levels of heat and sunshine which the wheat receives in these areas.

 


Protein in Wheat - Glutenin and Gliadin

Many home bakers look at the side of the flour packet to see how much protein is in the flour. The assumption is the higher the protein percentage the stronger the flour. This is not always the case. Glutenin and Gliadin are the two main protein groups in flour. Together they make up the total protein percentage. Glutenin gives the bread dough elasticity. Just like an elastic band that tries to spring back to its original length. This gives the dough the quality of being elastic, it resists stretching. It helps the dough keep its shape.


Gliadin on the other hand is extensible this means stretchable. It does not cause the dough to spring back, but allows it to stretch out without breaking. This is also a desirable feature in dough. For a dough to be easy to work it needs some extensibility, but it also needs the elasticity to hold its shape. So it is not a case of how much protein, but the balance between the two.


Together the Glutenin and Gliadin form gluten which when developed into a gluten structure traps the CO2 causing the loaf to rise. During baking the starch gelatinises and gives structure to the loaf. This process continues after the loaf is removed from the oven, as the bread cools. For this reason the cooling period after baking is crucial. If the bread is cut too soon the steam escapes and the process is halted. A gummy bread will likely be the result.

 

Heirloom wheats tend to have a higher ratio of gliadin to glutenin at about half and half. Commodity wheats are generally about two thirds glutenin and one third gliadin. Millers and bakers refer to protein quality. Two flours with the same protein level can have very different protein quality. This might be a difference in the ratio of Glutenin to Gliadin, but it also encompasses the quality of those two protein groups and their ability to make strong gluten. Most modern mills expend considerable effort blending and testing their flours to make a final product that meets the specification for the baking which it is intended. For industrial baking the dough needs to be quite extensible to run through the machines. For home baking a freeform loaf (any loaf not supported by a tin or mould) we need a more elastic dough.

 

Gluten Development

The purpose of kneading, or stretching and folding in all its different forms is to develop a gluten network. From here on in I will use the term kneading to encompass, machine mixing, fist pushing (eastern Europe and the Caucasus, China and the Far East), palm pushing, coil folding, slap and fold, the Ribaud method, stretch and fold and lamination. They are all functionally the same in terms of gluten development.


When the gluten molecules first form they begin to join up into a network. These initial bonds are weak. Kneading, in all it's forms, breaks these bonds which allows much stronger molecular bonds to form. These are sulphur-sulphur bonds. When gluten first forms the molecule chains are tightly coiled. Kneading stretches these out into a gluten network which is able to trap the CO2 gas produced by the yeast. No Knead bread is a catch phrase which got out of control. Most no-knead breads have at least two sessions of stretching and folding. They are indeed kneaded.


Because of the variations in the quality of the glutenin and gliadin in a particular flour a 12% protein flour might actually be more elastic, e.g., stronger than a 13% protein flour. Some countries use a measure called the W factor and print this on the side of the flour packet. This is a measure of the strength of the gluten a flour can form. Until that is made available to us on the flour packet the only way to know about the quality of a flour is to bake with it. For those wanting to know more about flour quality this is a good overview. https://www.theartisan.net/flour_criteria_judging.htm

 

Stronger is not always better. Modern bread flours can be very strong indeed. Slightly softer flours often confer a softer mouthfeel and a less rubbery bite. For this reason Millers in the U.S. have a grade of flour called All Purpose flour which is ideal for most bread making. Many bakers recommend mixing Strong Bread Flour and a Pastry flour at a ratio of half and half to get an approximation of this. I prefer 2/3 strong bread flour (13%) to 1/3 a softer flour.


Many American Artisan Bakers are of the opinion that a good quality all-purpose flour is the best choice for most breads with the baker only using the stronger bread flours when the type of loaf demands it. I have seen this opinion quite frequently over the years from the bakers with small bakeries. Traditional T55 and T65 French flours for French breads are rather soft as well compared to modern Strong Bread Flour. So too are the Italian Tipo 00 Flours. All Purpose fours will bake all of these specialist breads.

 

Modern wheat types and breeding

Modern wheat strains weaken with constant sowing and harvesting. As they weaken they become more prone to disease and in particular to Rusts. For this reason the breeders work constantly to develop new strains. Currently Mulika is a popular farmers and millers choice in the UK. A few years back it was Paragon that was most often sown here for bread. The same process is going on all over the world. It is a constant race for improvement and resistance to disease.

 

There are many varieties grown each with its own profile of resistance to different diseases, climate preferences and expected cropping levels. Each producing different levels protein and different protein characteristic. An enormous amount of science and constant monitoring goes on from the purchase of the seed, how best to grow it to its milling characteristics. Our problem as home bakers is that the core focus is mainly that of producing flour suitable for running through industrial baking machinery. Not for either flavour, or for home baking. Fortunately, millers supplying smaller packets of flour to us home bakers mitigate this by blending different flours in order to produce something which works for us. The whole farming and milling industry is spectacularly technical and competent.

 

Wheat breeders are having a bit of a panic at the moment. Again last year (2022) something in the order of 25% of the wheat growing areas in the U.S. and Canada were facing a severe drought, and consequent crop loss. This year both India and China, two of the three largest wheat growers worldwide, have had severe crop damage from droughts and floods. Wheat on the open market was selling for double the price it was two years ago. On the other hand two major growers, Argentina and Australia have greatly increased their output.


Wheat breeders have realised that the modern shallow rooted wheats are far from drought resistant. Also, the genome they are breeding from has become too narrow to breed outwards in the directions they need to go.

 

Two amazing things have recently happened. Firstly, a massive international collaborative effort resulted in the wheat genome being mapped. It is five times the size of the human genome. Modern wheat is Triticum Aestivum. At some point in history Triticum and the genus Aegilops (goatgrass) crossed to give us modern wheat. Whilst studying the genome researchers realised that only one specific goat grass was involved out of the many hundreds of different varieties growing wild across the world. The wheat we now grow comes from an accidental cross in some unknown small area at some point in history. There are a number of wheat breading stations now growing many different varieties of goat grass from across the world. Different ones grow in arid climes, cold climes, hot climes and in soggy ground. They plan to re-cross Triticum with different goat grasses to get distinctly different wheat varieties that will better accommodate different growing conditions. They are also planning to grow varieties with deeper root structures which will reduce their dependence on agrochemical fertilisers and be more drought resistant. Lastly there are some wheat breeding stations that are trying to select new varieties which have more flavour, just as the heirloom varieties have.

 

Heirloom Wheat Types and farming methods

The heirloom wheat world is taking a different tack. Traditionally, which means a couple of thousand years of farming up into the 18th Century wheat was grown in landraces. A landrace is a mixture of different wheat varieties and they often included other grains too. They were all sown together in the field. If the weather was particularly cold in a given year, or particularly wet, one or other of the varieties would still thrive. This method of agriculture has its own built in robustness against the vagaries of the climate and weather. This also meant that the varieties in different parts of Britain, and Europe self-selected for being suitable to the local soil and climate. Older wheat varieties are also more deeply rooted than modern varieties and so they can get nutrients from poorer soils. A typical mixed farm of grains and animals, could keep the land fertile enough just by using animal manure and crop rotation. The old varieties won't tolerate the high level of chemically produced nitrogen fertilisers and they have yields of about two thirds that of modern farming and varieties. On the other hand high yield modern varieties, with their shallow roots are heavily dependent on chemical fertilisers and they are not at all resistant to drought.

 

Some farmers and breeders in America and Europe are recreating the lost landraces from seedbanks. In America Sonora, Turkey Red and others can again be bought. Here in the UK we have the Norse Beremeal (Barley) and a landrace of Rye which was recovered in Norway and it's now grown here. We also have Balcaskie, a particularly flavourful landrace grown on Balcaskie Farm and sold by Scotland the Bread. My favourite YQ was developed by Wakelyns Farm where the Farmer, also a Professor specialised in wheat breeding, crossed a few hundred different varieties of wheat to build the landrace of over a hundred different varieties. In addition, there are many other heritage wheat varieties grown by specialist farmers. Most of them are available online. Italy is also continuing to grow it's old varieties of Faro, Durum and Spelt as well as Heirloom Wheats.

 

There are a number of other heritage non wheat grains available too. Generally these are referred to as Ancient Grains. Their use stretches back to neolithic times. They are more difficult to bake with because of their weak gluten, but they do have plenty of flavour. These include Einkorn, Spelt, Emmer and Faro from Italy, also Rivet. Each has been the mainstay of people’s diets in different regions at different historical times.

 

Einkorn, meaning 'First Wheat' is not a true wheat. It is one of the precursors of Triticum Aestivum. It would not be my first choice for baking because of its weak gluten, but it does have a tremendous flavour. It is the wheat that the neolithic peoples in the fertile crescent used to gather wild and eventually they learned to domesticate it.

 

Spelt is a different grass altogether. Studying the genes researchers have now found that that the grass crosses that make up spelt seem to be varied. The crossing of slightly different grasses took place in different parts of the world at about the same time. Modern spelt is mostly a highly bred, higher yield, commodity grain and it is not an original variety. It's still spelt though and it is well worth using in bread baking. The original varieties are still grown and they can often be found online. Spelt was the grain favoured by the Roman Army as they went on their sightseeing tours all over Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. A snippet that might be interesting to some? A Roman Army punishment for minor infractions was to be put on Barley Bread rations instead of Spelt Bread. I am no lover of Barley bread and I sympathise with those who suffered that punishment.

 

Emmer was one of the first cereals to be domesticated in the old world. It was cultivated from around 9700 BC in the Levant and subsequently in south-western Asia, northern Africa and Europe with the spread of Neolithic agriculture. This too has a tremendous flavour, but again it has poor gluten levels. I blend it with modern bread flour to make a lighter loaf. Rivet is a close relative of Emmer, it has different grass crosses and double the number of chromosomes. It appeared a little later down the timeline from Emmer. It has exceptional flavour and it is particularly good for pasta and biscuits. Rivet is tolerant of poor quality soil, damp climates and poor growing seasons. For this reason it lingered on in poor wheat climates up into the early 1900's. It too was a Roman favourite.

 

Adding some heritage flour to your dough is an easy way to get breads with tremendous flavour without loosing the lightness of the loaves to which we are now accustomed. I have written another article on how to bake with weak gluten flours. The methods used are slightly different.

 

 

Commodity Wheat

The ratio of glutenin and gliadin in commodity wheats is about two thirds glutenin and one third gliadin. It's the gluten which makes the dough firm and elastic and the gliadin makes them extensible. Heirloom wheats are more balanced with ratio being about half and half. There is a growing body of research which suggests that some gluten intolerance stems in part from these higher levels of glutenin and perhaps too from the lack of fermentation in the manufacture of commercial bread.


In the 1960's and 1970's we had what is referred to as the green revolution. Wheat breeders developed new high yield varieties and farmers switched to intensive nitrogen fertiliser use to grow them. This is not quite such a bad thing. It has meant that farming has kept the rapidly growing world population fed. However, a graph showing the increase in gluten intolerance closely matches the graph of the adoption of the new high gluten flours and of modern industrial baking. Modern industrial baking does not involve dough fermentation. Large amounts of yeasts are used. These yeasts are also selected to produce carbon dioxide more rapidly. The dough is not fermented, it is inflated. I have seen a number of studies which found that a significant number of people, with mild gluten intolerance find that a properly fermented sourdough bread doesn't give them intolerance symptoms. This is the point where I have to say, consult your doctor first. I recently read a Bakers Journal article which listed those chemical compounds added to the dough in commercial baking and what each of them did. It went on to say that fermenting the dough did all of these things naturally. Time is money in the commercial baking world. Home bakers can use slow fermentation to produce excellent breads with none of the 'functional additives' used in commercial baking. To this end Home Bakers do well when they keep their yeast dosages low. Higher dosages do not allow time for fermentation to take place. That might sound odd, but fermentation also involves a number of enzymatic processes which are slow compared to the yeasts CO2 production. These enzymatic processes also produce a lot of flavour compounds which impart flavour to the bread.

 

Dough Hydration Levels

Different wheat flours absorb different quantities of water. Generally speaking the more water in a dough, the lighter the bread will be. This sounds counter intuitive. The more water in the dough the less stiff it becomes. This enables better co2 inflation by the yeast.


Increasing the hydration beyond the point where the gluten structure's strength can support the weight of water will lead the dough to collapse. Hydration is measured as the percentage of water in a dough. That is it's the amount of water, by weight, as a percentage of the total weight of flour in the recipe. This way of working is called Bakers Percent. It is coverred in another article.

 

Most of the heritage flours I get in the UK won't tolerate more than 60% hydration for a free form loaf and about 65% for a tin, or pan baked loaf. When I bake with a new flour, I always start with 60%-65% hydration for a heritage wheat and 70% for a commodity wheat. I mix the flour water and leaven and let the dough stand for 20 - 30 minutes to allow the dough to hydrate. Then if it feels too stiff, I add a little more water, 5% at a time until the dough is of a good dough consistency I then make a note of the hydration for future use.


There are three good ways, that I know of, to add more water to a dough. One is to use a mixer with a beater not a dough hook. Add the water a dribble at a time whilst mixing on the slowest speed. Another is to stretch it out into a sheet on the work top. The extra water can then be sprinkled over it and the dough sheet folded up on itself. Lastly there is the method which is universal all over the globe. It is to get your hands in and squidge the dough between your fingers until the water is incorporated. The distribution does not have to be perfect the water will move through the dough distributing itself during the bulk fermentation. I keep a baking log and make a note of the different hydration levels for each flour.

 

When baking a loaf in a tin, or pan, I add about 5% more water to the hydration than that which I would have used for a freeform loaf. The loaf tin will give the needed support and a lighter bread will be had by doing this.

 

Many home bakers are encouraged to think that the large holes found in "Artisan Bread" come from very high hydration. Actually, they come from a number of things. Essentially the dough needs to be weakened. Higher hydration does this and so does extended proofing time. With extended proofing the enzymes in the flour break some of the bonds in the gluten network making it weaker. The easiest way of doing this is by placing the dough to proof overnight in the fridge in a banneton or similar container, covered to stop the dough drying out. Extended fermentation times and practices, like overnight retarding in the fridge, also allow more flavour to develop. Bread is a fermented product and accelerated fermentation does not allow the flavours to develop so well. If the hydration is moderate large holes are not formed, but the subsequent crumb is more open and the bread has a higher volume. Shaping the dough also has an effect on the crumb. Heavy shaping with patting down and firm folding to degas the dough a little makes for finer, more even, bubble formation during proofing. Lighter shaping with less degassing will produce a bread with larger bubbles of a more uneven size.

 

Hydration: The myth of bran and protein water absorption.

I still see articles saying that when wholemeal, wholegrain, flours are used the amount of water used should be increased because the bran in the flour requires more water. This is a piece of legacy information which no longer applies.

In the 1970's home bakers learned to add more water to their doughs in order to get lighter breads. Before that time bakers most often used water at about 55%-60% of the flour weight. I have run tests where I sieved the bran from the flour and then hydrated it. Bran absorbs about 70% of its weight in water. So yes, in the old days the baker would have to increase the amount of water if using wholemeal flour, but if we are hydrating the dough to 70% - 75% the bran will get it's 70% anyway and no extra water needs to be added.

 

Wheat protein absorbs a lot of water. So when I switch to a stronger, higher protein flour I know to add a little more water and if switching to a lower protein flour, I reduce the water. Again, estimating the water needed on the low side and then add ing more water fter the initial dough has hydrated for twenty minutes will always find the hydration sweet spot. It is far more difficult to add flour to a dough which is too wet as the new flour needs some twenty minute to hydrate before the baker can see the result. Because our flours vary recipes can only be a guideline when it comes to hydration. Your flour might be quite different from the recipe writers flour.  


How much water to add to a particular flour? - Two Stage Hydration Method A.K.A. Bassinage

When we use someone else's recipe we assume that there are no typos and that the flour they are using requires much the same hydration as our own flour. Sadly typos are all too common even in some of the top baking books and flours vary considerably.

For these reasons being able to find the right hydration level for a dough is a very useful skill.


There are two things to consider here. Firstly the rate of gluten development and secondly the hydration of the dough.


Typically 55% water is considered to be the minimum amount of water to fully hydrate a flour. The lower the amount of water added the faster the gluten network will develop. For this reason Artisan Bakers often apply the Two Stage Hydration method in order to develop the gluten quickly at the beginning. They first mix the dough with a lower amount of water. There then follows an autolysis (autolease in French) period when the gluten begins to form. They then add more water to bring the dough up to the full required hydration level and the dough is then mixed in a mixer to almost fully develop the gluten network. This allows them to reduce the harmful mixer time and to shorten the bulk fermentation time to a mere 15 minutes or so. The second batch of water added must never exceed 10% of the total flour weight in the recipe. We don't need to use two stage hydration for this purpose as our goal is to use long fermentation for flavour and the gluten will form over time anyway.


However, we can use this technique to finesse how much water we need to add to our dough. By guestimating the amount of water we need (I've given some guidelines below) and then reducing that by 10% we can then add more water to the dough until we have a good dough consistency.


The way to do this is to add the reduced level of water at the beginning when we incorporate the dough ingredients and then to let this stand for 15minutes to 20 minute to allow the flour to hydrate fully. We can then check the dough consistency and add more water, little by little until we have a dough consistency that we deem to be good. Again we should never add more than 10% water in the second stage. Doing so will reduce the quality of the final loaf crumb.


Approximate Initial Flour Hydration levels - This is necessarily a rough guide.

75% For very strong white bread flours with 14% protein or above and for doughs that will be very high hydration. e.g. 85%

70% Strong White Bread Flours 13% Protein

65% For weaker flours including flours grown in the U.K. milled in local mills and A.P. Flours of about 12% protein

60% for Heritage and Ancient Flours no matter what the protein level is.



Baking with softer flours and heirloom flours

As bakers we need to treat softer and heirloom wheats differently in order to get good loaf volume. Spelt, Khorosan (A.K.A Kamut), Einkorn and Emmer are not true wheats, but they too have weak gluten and so for our purposes the way to bake with them is the same as for heirloom wheats.

 

The first time I baked with a traditional landrace flour from the 19th century, I was shocked at the depth and intensity of the flavour. However, it took a little practice to get a really nice loaf using it.


Baking with 100% of any of these flours gives me a bread that is just too heavy for my tastes. The exception is if I bake flatter breads such as a Ciabatta shape, or traditional 'cakes' which are round and only a centimetre or two thick, about a 3/4 inch. These flatter breads don't require the gluten strength a loaf needs to support the weight of a loaf's dough above it, so they are lighter. Otherwise, I add some very strong wheat flour to increase the gluten level.

 

Pointers for baking with Heirloom Flours:

Use a lower hydration. The weaker gluten will not hold its shape with high hydrations. I generally use 65% water. (So does Richard Bertinet for his French Breads).

 

Consider using Broad Bean Four (fava bean flour if you prefer French) at 2% - 4%. Fava bean flour strengthens the gluten because it is high in Vitamin C. So too does Vitamin C at about 0.5mg per kg of flour. We are talking the tiniest amount on a knife tip here. Using both will not be advantageous and it can lead to a heavier loaf. Only so much can be done. If using either of these I generally find the dough will tolerate an extra 5% of water. This helps to get a lighter loaf.

 

Never add diastatic malt or amylase, or white flour with added amylase. The enzymes will further weaken the structure and give you a heavier loaf.

 

Heirloom flours are often higher in enzymes. Consider using a sourdough starter or a preferment that has at least stood overnight. These are more acidic and the acid will inhibit the enzymes which would have weakened the gluten if given free reign.

 

Skip autolysis. Autolysis enables better gluten development early on. But, it also weakens the gluten as it is partially digested by enzymes at the same time. We need to preserve as much of it as we can. When mixing the dough add the salt in at the beginning before allowing it to stand for twenty minutes to hydrate the flour. The salt also inhibits enzyme activity and so protects the gluten.

 

Be wary of extended cold fermentation or proofing in the fridge. Depending on the freshness of the flour it may contain high levels of active enzymes and that extended time in the fridge will give them the time they need to attack the gluten and starch structures.

 

Hydrate the dough instead of autolysing it. The flour still needs to hydrate before kneading. Trying to knead a dough before the gluten has had time to hydrate is like driving with the brakes on. Add the leaven and the salt to the flour and water and mix them. Do not add any fat at this stage as this will slow down the water absorption. Let it stand for 20 minutes. The salt and acidic leaven will inhibit the enzymes which would have weakened the gluten. The gluten will also develop during this time. Add fats at the end of the hydration period when the first kneading takes place.


Dr Raymond Calvel developed the idea of autolysis as a method to develop the gluten early on and so reduce the amount of high-speed kneading in commercial bakeries. High speed mixing, or the more modern intensive mixing, oxidises the dough and reduces the bread's flavour. Bakeries using autolysis (autolease in French) are trying to reduce the mixing time. Commercial bakeries aim for full gluten development by the end of mixing. This allows them to reduce bulk fermentation time to 15 minutes or less. Home bakers use the bulk fermentation to develop their glute and this allows for more flavour development too.


Autolysis was intended for white flours which are low in enzymes. Autolysis with high enzyme wholegrain flours is akin to leaving a couple of large dogs unattended in a butcher’s shop. Autolysis has no place in home baking, we do not use intensive mixing and the gluten will develop through time of it's own accord.

 

After hydration add any fats, if using and knead gently. Heavy kneading drives the sharp bran into the gluten structure where it literally cuts it up like tiny knives. The weaker gluten is more prone to 'tearing' too and gentle kneading is essential so as not to shred the gluten structure. Gentle coil folding of lift and folds are ideal. If the dough starts to show a shaggy surface then that is torn gluten. If you see this stop and let the dough relax before continuing.


Keep the kneading short and use gentle stretch and folds, or coil folding. If you like to use a mixer only use it at the beginning on the slowest speed for some thirty to sixty seconds at the most with a beater and not a dough hook. Dough hooks are not very effective in domestic mixers and small quantities of dough. Actually, 30 - 60 seconds is just about the only machine kneading ever needed in home baking, if using a beater. (See the research in 'Modernist Bread'). Artisan Bakeries knead faster and for longer as they are rushing the gluten development process to get larger amounts of dough through on schedule. The original machine kneading in bakeries was called 'Short Kneading' which was slow and short as described above. That was commonly used before the advent of the Green Revolution and high speed processing.


Do two, or if needed three, very gentle coil folds during the bulk fermentation. These and the stretching caused by the CO2 expanding the dough is all that is needed to develop the gluten and to stretch their tightly coiled structure out into sheets. Very long bulk fermentations are not advisable as the gluten is not strong enough to withstand it. I prefer to keep my dough between 24C and 26C to ensure a decent fermentation pace without rushing it. It's a case of seeing what works for your flour and dough.

 

After fermentation tip the fermented dough onto the bench gently. Shaping should be very gentle and minimal. Do not 'knock down' the dough. The aim is to deflate the dough as little as possible. I find gently pulling the dough on the worktop surface to tension it, in place of heavier shaping works well.

 

If during shaping you feel the dough is too weak to hold its shape for a freestanding loaf use a bread tin and lower the hydration by 5% next time, if you want a free form loaf.

 

With reduced shaping proofing will be shorter than usual. Watch it carefully so as not to overproof these weaker doughs. The weak dough will not tolerate over proofing. Under proofing is preferable. My last bake was proofed for one hour.

 

Bake using your usual method and temperatures. The finished loaf should have a minimum internal temperature of 94C - 96C. Use a probe thermometer for this. It is the most reliable way to check for done-ness.

 

If the crust is too thick or even bullet proof, give it a light misting of water and wrap the bread in a tea towel and place it on a cooling rack. The escaping steam will soften it. Try to get more steam into the oven next time. A cloche arrangement is the most effective way of doing this. A cloche is any covered baking container such as a Dutch Oven, or a tin, or ceramic version. A pre-heated baking tray filled with lava rocks on the bottom shelf soaked with 500ml of boiling water after the loaf goes into the oven works well enough, but a cloche is better.


Easy method: To get a lighter loaf. Mixing the wholemeal heirloom flour with strong white flour is the easy way to do this. The problem with that is that the sharp flakes of bran are still present and they will still puncture the gas containing gluten layers a little. Consider bolting the flour with a 1mm mesh sieve, or any kitchen sieve. This removes about half of the bran if it's a stone milled flour (mileage may vary). The dough can be dusted with this before baking to give a superb rough and rustic finish. However, most of the flavour in any flour, is in the bran. So by bolting it we are removing flavour.

 

An alternative to discarding the bran is to pour boiling water over it making a scald. Press the bran in a sieve to remove excess water and add it to the dough when it has cooled. Calculate the dough hydration from the flour weight excluding the weight of the bran. The bran is already hydrated with the scalding process. This method reduces the brans tendency to cut the gluten. So too does putting the bran through a coffee mill.


I have written an article on baking with weak flours where I go into more detail and cover other methods to get a fairly light bread.




163 views7 comments

7 comentários


Membro desconhecido
01 de nov. de 2023

We're printing out the entire hydration section because it's given us so many pointers to how we can improve our loaves.


One pointer we plan to follow the next time we do an all-white is testing the sweet spot for the bread flour we normally use (Bob's Red Mill) by doing the 2-step hydration you described. A friend in NY uses the same flour and gave us a guide, but I suspect the high humidity and very hard water here do make some difference.


We probably can't "reach for the max" yet - our shaping skills are so poor that we need to stick with lower-hydration doughs for now (except for the "mix and plonk" breads). Even at 65% hydration,…


Curtir

Membro desconhecido
01 de nov. de 2023

Philip is right - it will take time to digest all of this, as well as actual hands-on practice, but should be well worth the effort. Thanks, Kevin!


Fascinating about the landrace revival - must read up more.

Curtir

Membro desconhecido
07 de out. de 2023

This is quite the article, Kevin and not one than can be read only once.. 💯

Curtir

Membro desconhecido
12 de ago. de 2023

Thanks Kevin, a very interesting and informative article. Ill need to check with the local library to see if they have any of the books and authors you mentioned.

Curtir
Membro desconhecido
12 de ago. de 2023
Respondendo a

Thanks. Glad it was helpful.

👍

Curtir

Membro desconhecido
08 de ago. de 2023

How very interesting, I have learned a lot!!!

Curtir
Membro desconhecido
09 de ago. de 2023
Respondendo a

Thank you.

I'm glad it was of interest. 😊

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