My Sourdough Bread Visual Observation

Earlier I mentioned that I took copious notes and that my “Pencil” (or computer) was My Most Important Baking Implement.

My baking notes cover three basic areas: recipes, methods and results. My intent is to connect the outcomes (results) to what I did upstream in my bakes (recipe and method). Understanding how variables in the recipe or method (or both) impact results are helping me develop more consistency in my results. They also are helping me improve the quality of what I’m attempting to bake.

In my “quest for sourdough bread and pastry perfection” I’m looking to achieve both overall improvement and consistency in my results.

Here is what I’m looking at visually when trying to evaluate my sourdough bread bakes. Each of these elements points to some variable or process upstream. Understanding how to control and manipulate them helps me to achieve a much more consistent end-product.

On the exterior of the loaves I look at Shape, Texture, Color and Bloom (or Oven-Spring). On the interior I look at the Crumb.

SHAPE – I look at the overall shape. Is it symmetrical? Does it have a good dome or is it squat? These all give me clues about the gluten strength, whether I under/over-proved the dough, how well I did on shaping and creating strength and structure to the loaf. I’m also comparing it to my other bakes. Does it look like other bakes I did if I followed the same recipe and method?

TEXTURE – For the texture I look at the dimpling (helped by having a cold dough from the fridge directly to the Dutch Oven), Scoring, Ear and overall Bloom. These aspects tell me about my baking temperatures and timing. They also indicate moisture content in the Dutch Oven. The Ear and Bloom (primarily) and the decorative scoring (secondarily) tell me about the quality of the proving and whether it was under/over-proved.

COLOR – Tells me about my bake temperatures and timing. Early on I had really dark bottoms. I saw that another baker that I follow on Instagram @yamtolan was pulling his loaves from his Dutch Ovens and putting them on a cold baking stone for his final “lid off” portion of his bakes. I asked him about it and he told me he had had a similar issue to what I was currently experiencing. He suggested I should give the cold stone approach a a try. I did. It works!

BLOOM / SPRING – The Bloom or “Oven Spring” is a very strong indication of my proving effectiveness. It also tells me about the strength of my gluten structure as well as how effective and consistent I am with my slashing / scoring technique.

Not scoring effectively can mean “blow-outs” on the bottom of the loaf because I didn’t control the expansion effectively by my slash. If I score directly and not at a shallow angle with my lame my ear can be not as well-pronounced.

CRUMB – When looking at the crumb I’m looking for the bubble / pocket sizes, crust depth/texture and the expansion patterns. These tell me a lot about my proving, shaping technique and about the overall strength of my gluten development.

Over proved dough would have really large pockets right underneath the surface of the crust. The gluten wouldn’t have been strong enough to contain it.. You can see in the photo below that my crust “locked” before the loaf could fully expand. The holes are very small / condensed in the area between the two yellow lines. That area is a bit more moist than the other parts of the loaf cross-section.

These are the things that I focus on and take notes on when I bake. I use them as clues to help me analyze what I’m doing with my bakes and help point to where I might improve my recipe and/or method.

Paying attention to these aspects have helped me become much more consistent baker over time.

If this was helpful please comment or drop me a line! Bake On!

Published by Jim Hayden

Enterprise Transformation Consultant by day; Baker by night! Learning all the time! Iterative and incremental improvement always!

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