Sourdough Croissants

Well … my writing has been on a hiatus; however, my baking hasn’t been.

Lots of bread, croissants and biscotti baked for family and friends.

Now I’m trying to get back to experimenting and looking to see how I can leverage time and temperature as variables.

From my reading I’m thinking that I may be under-proving my croissants. Going for 3 hours today at about 72°F

After proving and about to get egg washed

I’m also only baking one tray at a time. Think dropping ice cubes into a drink. I preheated my oven 25° hotter than normal and reset to allow for temp drop when I loaded the tray. I’m doing one tray at a time to lessen the amount that needs to come to baking temps (tray + croissants).

First tray out of oven
Nice bake on bottom. Not burned.
Not the honeycomb lamination I desire (yet)
Didn’t last long though!

Creating a Sourdough Starter (Part 2)

I am (finally) going to continue my thread on creating a sourdough starter. Happy to actually do this given that 10 days ago I totaled my motorcycle on a winding rode in western Georgia. God’s grace alone that I “walked away” and am not in the ICU or the morgue!

Where I left off I had mixed the diced apple with the flour and water and left it to ferment.

Here is what happened with the jar over the next 48 hours or so…

At this point I decided to take about a half of the starter (300g) and add the same amount of flour and water to it. This is a 1:1:1 ratio. I felt it OK to do this type of feeding since it looked to be so active.

As you can see from the photos the mason jar I was using got filled with almost completely. There would be no place for the starter to expand. Therefore, after feeding I discarded half of it. I wasn’t quite sure how it would work out….

Well… I needn’t have been worried. My starter grew just fine!

I did the above at 5pm and by 10pm this is what my starter was looking like.

As you can see at this point my starter is very active and doubled in just 5 hours. I put the glove on the top to tell me how active the CO2 production happens to be. My starter will “wave” at me if it is going strong! Ha!

It was at this point that I transitioned this starter into a regular feeding schedule (which was then interrupted by my motorcycle accident).

Glad to be alive! Glad to be able to continue to bake and share what I’m learning with others….

Creating a Sourdough Starter (Part 1)

I’ve had a number of folks ask “How do you create a sourdough starter?” I thought it might be fun to create a new starter and document the process. You can follow along with this thread and start your own if you so desire. There are many ways to create a sourdough starter….this is one way.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED TO START

  • 250g Strong (Bread) flour
  • Organic Apple – Grated with skin avoiding the core
  • 180ml/g Water

METHOD

  1. Weigh out the flour
  2. Grate the apple avoiding the core. I used an organic apple to avoid all the “additives” (pesticides et al) that are present in non-organic fruit
  3. Add the water and mix the dough together thoroughly.
  4. Transfer to a closed container marking where the dough is at this moment (See pic at beginning of this post.)
  5. Now we wait for 3 days to allow the mixture to begin to ferment!

It is just that simple. Now to let nature do it’s thing….

My Baking Implements

Previously I posted about my “Most Important Baking Implement“. I had someone ask me the other day “What’s a Dutch Oven?”. That made me think that maybe it would be helpful for me to write a post about what my other baking implements happen to be.

This post will list my baking implements. I won’t expect it to be an exhaustive list nor will it be in any particular order other than my stream of thought at the moment.

Here goes….

Dutch Ovens – Dutch ovens are what I bake most of my sourdough breads in. I preheat them in my oven and bake my breads in them with “Lids On” for a period of time and with “Lids Off” (or out of the oven entirely to finish the bake. The utility of the dutch oven is that it provides more closed environment which can trap moisture escaping from the bread. This mimics the steam-injection in high-end / commercial ovens and helps keep the crust moist to allow a full “bloom” on the bread before the crust “locks”.

I’ve both ceramic and cast-iron Lodge Dutch Ovens. The cast iron one can be flipped either way. Recently I splurged and bought myself a #ChallengerBreadPan from www.challengerbreadware.com

Scales – I measure by weight rather than volume. In other words, my recipes use the gram weight of the ingredients rather than the volume. I rarely use measuring cups or spoons anymore. “Baker’s Percentages” are much easier when you’re using the metric system rather Cups, Tablespoons or Ounces. I have now started to write the gram weight on the underside of bowls I use frequently. The things I consider important on the scale are a) whether it will handle the weight I’m trying to measure and b) can I see the display when I’ve a bowl on it!

Bannetons – These are the cane baskets (with or without linen inserts) that I use to prove the bread after I’ve shaped the bread and will bake it the next day. I shape the bread and put them into the fridge overnight before I bake them the next day. Bannetons come in all shapes and sizes. Round ones for “Boules” and oblong ones for “Batards”. Dusting the linen with flour helps the dough to not stick to the banneton. They will get “seasoned” with this flour. They will pull some of the moisture out of the surface of the dough and make a skin as the dough rises in the basket. It is this skin that gets slashed to create room for the bread to bloom.

Lame – The Lame is what I use to slash the bread. It is what creates the expansion joint where the bread can bloom or expand in the first 10-12 minutes. How deep and at what angle the slash is can have a lot to do with how well the “ear” forms on a loaf.

Bread / Serrated Knives – These are what I used to cut my bread. Sawing through the crust or a croissant is much easier with a serrated knife than a straight blade.

Graduated Cylinder / Measuring Cup – OK. I misspoke. I do use a measuring cup at times. One milliliter (1ml) of water equals 1 gram (1gm) if you remember your high school science. I do use this…. but mostly I use my scale(s).

Small Glass Bowls – I use these to hold various ingredients that I measure out before I begin mixing etc. I will “tare out” (zero) the scale before adding the ingredients to the bowls. In this picture you see a bowl that I’ve added the 18g of Sea Salt to and a bit of water for bread dough that I’m mixing.

“Shower Caps” (Disposable Picnic Covers) – OK. They’re NOT shower caps…just what I call them. I put them over bowls and bannetons at times to keep a skin from forming on dough as I leave it to prove or bulk-ferment in the fridge. You can see one sitting in one of the bannetons above. These are cheap and come in various sizes. I find them very useful.

Proving Box – I’ve found that my proving box is VERY handy. I can set it at a defined temperature and prove all sorts of dough, my levain. Mine folds down and stores really great. It is from Brod and Taylor. The picture below is of me using it to prove some Sourdough Pullman Loaves. I prove them in the drawer for 5 hours at 80oF.

Proving Bags – These are big bags that I can prove items on my baking trays. For instance, I will put croissants in these bags and prove them for 3 hours before I bake the croissants. My bags are clear so I can see how things are progressing.

Pullman Pans and Parchment Paper – Pullman pans are what I used to bake sandwich bread. They come without lids (what you see) or with slide on lids. The ones with lids make the square sandwich bread. Parchment paper I used to line my pans to help ease the bread out after it has baked. I also use parchment paper to lower loaves into my Dutch ovens. The pic below shows both the Pullman pans and parchment paper.

Mixer with Spiral Bread Hook – I make extensive use of my KitchenAid Mixer and its spiral bread hook. I like to mix and knead bread by hand; however, I’ve found that I get great results using my mixer and this type of hook. Hard to believe I’ve had this mixer for 35+ years and its still going as strong as ever!

Bench / Dough Scrapers – I’ve various scrapers that I use when making dough, pasta etc. They’re handy for getting dough out of bowls, shaping and cutting dough, scraping counters etc.

Rolling Pins – It goes without saying that you knead (pardon the pun) rolling pins. My current favorite is my white marble rolling pin. Croissant dough doesn’t stick to it as easily. I also like its “heft”. There are all sizes and styles of rolling pins. Some have thickness guides. Others have handles. It’s really your preference as to what you use.

There are LOTS of other implements I use. For now THIS will have to do. My wife was looking at me funny as I was writing this and running down to the kitchen to take yet another photo. She asked if I was trying to document everything in the kitchen….. I responded “No” (I’m not sure if she believes me).

Regardless, I hope that this gives you a sense of what implements I use to bake. They are simply the tools I have at my disposal. I’m trying as best I can to use them and be consistent in my bakes.

If you have any special implements you use please feel free to comment and share them with me. I like to learn!

“Expected” (Anticipated?) Results

It is amazing how one little change can yield a different result.

As you may be aware, on my last Sourdough Batard bake I decided to throw a couple ice cubes into my Dutch Ovens to “aid” in the steaming of my crust.

That choice DID NOT yield the results I expected. You can see what I mean at my previous post Unexpected Results.

This time I didn’t add any ice cubes and kept every other factor the same (recipe, method, timing etc).

SOURDOUGH BATARD

I still intend to do a dedicated experiment under a bit more intentional and controlled circumstances to see if that impact was causal or simply correlated.

The fact that the blooming and ear were more pronounced was satisfying… more in line with my desired, and “expected” (anticipated?) results.

Onward and upward. I’ll just keep learning…..

Unexpected Results

On my last post I described how I take copious notes and document so that I can learn.

Well…. Here’s an example of what I mean.

Same Recipe and Method. Same Dutch Ovens. Same temps and timing. The ONLY change is that I threw in a couple ice cubes into the Dutch Oven as I started the bake.

Wow! Not what I anticipated (or desired)! Might need to try a deliberate experiment to see if this is actually the case or possibly something else (that escapes me at the moment).

In this first set of comparisons you can see from the the end that I had very little blooming. There is ~80% less “garage door” lifting from my score and little, if any, “ear” on the top edge.

VIEW FROM END: W/O ICE CUBES (LEFT). W/ ICE CUBES (RIGHT)

From this angle looking directly at the side of the loaf you can clearly see the impact of the lack of blooming. No “garage door” and no “ear” development. Notice that the ends slope down significantly on the right loaf (less bloom) than on the loaf without the addition of ice cubes on the left side.

VIEW FROM SIDE: W/O ICE CUBES (LEFT). W/ ICE CUBES (RIGHT)

From the top you can see the comparison on the shape, scoring (expanded more on the right side), crust color/blistering etc.

VIEW FROM TOP: W/O ICE CUBES (LEFT). W/ ICE CUBES (RIGHT)

Well. I’ll have to compare the crumb. Based on the bloom I expect the crumb to be tighter and more moist.

I’ll have to compare the weight of the loaves to what I normally have. I expect that they will be slightly heavier due to less moisture escaping. Normally I loose about 100g of water weight as I bake.

UPDATE: I compared the weight of the loaves and they were not significantly off my normal post-bake weights….maybe 2-3 grams heavier than normal.

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!

Basic Sourdough

Here is the basic recipe and method that I’ve developed to this point. It started out as a derivative of Paul Hollywood’s recipe for Basic Sourdough in his book How To Bake.

INGREDIENTS

  • Bread Flour 750g (I use #KingArthurBreadCompany, Sir Lancelot 14.2% Protein)
  • Water, Filtered 440ml
  • Levain, 500g, 100% Hydration
  • Sea Salt, 18g

The above makes two ~840g loaves prior to baking. The pre-baked Baker’s Percentage (Bakers%) of Flour, Water, Salt (including the Levain) is 100/69 /1.8

METHOD

This method will describe the process that I’d follow weekly when I was traveling extensively prior to COVID-19. I would typically arrive home about 9:30pm every Thursday and I would start the process then to be baking sourdough loaves on Sunday.

Day 1 (Evening) – Refresh Starter

I do this typically around 9:45pm to 10:00pm. See my post Feeding Cold Starter for a description of what I do to refresh my starter.

Day 2 (Morning) – Prepare the Levain

The next morning prepare the levain by taking 100g of the newly-refreshed sourdough starter and add to it 200ml/g water and 200g of bread flour (Need 500g levain for this recipe). This preparation is a 1:2:2 ratio of levain/water/flour. Cover and leave to ferment at room temperature (74oF) for 4 – 5 hours.

Day 2 (Mid-Day) – Begin Mixing / Kneading the Dough

Initial Mixing and Autolyse: Sometime mid-day begin mixing the dough. Try to begin mixing the dough an hour before you intend to add the levain. First, weigh out 750g of bread flour, 440ml filtered water and 18g of sea salt. Add a splash of the water to the salt (1-2T). Note: I use a #KitchenAid mixer with a spiral bread hook to mix/knead my dough. Slowly add the water to the flour with the mixer on slow speed (first or second notch). Adding the water slowly allows it to incorporate. After all the water is added bump up the speed another notch or two and continue to mix until a ball is formed and the dough has pulled away from the side of the mixing bowl. Normally this is about 5-6 minutes total time mixing/kneading. Pull out the dough hook. Form the dough into a nice ball at the bottom of the bowl. Cover the bowl and let autolyse for an hour.

Adding the Levain: After an hour add the fermented levain to the autolysed flour. By this time the levain is very active, pillowy and smells awesome! If you watch it you can see the CO2 bubbles popping on the surface. Using a spatula or scraper add the levain to the bowl. It will be very sticky and hard to get out fully. Try wetting your spatula to help you scrape out the levain without it sticking too much. Mix/knead the levain into the dough for another 4-6 minutes. The dough will have a nice consistency and you’ll begin to recognize when it has been mixed enough. Remove the dough hook (use a scraper or spatula to get as much of the sticky dough off as possible). Cover and let rest for another 30 minutes.

Adding the Salt: After 30 minutes add the salt and remaining 1-2T of water to the dough. I typically will swirl the salt in the water and just dump it onto the dough in the bowl. With water-moistened hands hand-knead the salt into the dough opening and closing your fingers with a twisting motion of your hand. It’s similar to grabbing the top of a jar and closing the lid motion. This pulls the dough away from the side of the mixing bowl. Reattach the dough hook and mix again for another 3-4 minutes.

Begin Bulk Proving: Immediately after this transfer the dough to a lightly-oiled tub using a plastic bread scraper. Cover the bowl with a clean, moist dish towel (prevents a skin from forming on the dough) and transfer it to the fridge to sit for 24+ hours.

Day 3 (Typically after dinner) – Weigh/Divide, Pre-Shape, Bench-Rest and Final Shaping

Sometime mid-evening take the dough out of the fridge. It will have grown a little bit depending on the temperature of the fridge. This dough is intended to make two loaves so first weigh it out and split it. NOTE: I have the gram weights of my bowls annotated on their underside using a Sharpie. This allows me to weigh the bowl with the dough inside and, by subtracting the gram weight of the bowl, have the the total gram weight of the dough. Dividing by 2 tells me what weight I need to create loaves that are equal in weight.

Dividing the Dough / Pre-Shaping and Bench Rest: Weigh and divide the dough into two loaves. Shape it into rounds on the counter top using a bench scraper and your hands. Cover with the moist towel for about an hour and let the dough come up in temperature and relax.

Final Shaping and Transferring to Bannetons: After the dough has had a chance to warm and relax do the final shaping of the dough. Transfer your shaped loaves to a well-floured banneton seam-side facing up. Place your bannetons back in the fridge. Cover them with the moist towel to prevent a skin from forming on the underside of the loaves. Leave in the fridge for 12 hours or so. More to come in a later post on how to shape your loaves.

Day 4 – Bake the Bread!

After 12 hours in the fridge the loaves should be ready to bake. An hour or so prior to baking place your Dutch ovens into the oven to preheat at 420oF Convection (around 445oF Conventional). Once the ovens are preheated, remove the loaves from the fridge. Turn out each onto a piece of parchment paper, score with a lame or serrated knife and carefully place into the Dutch Ovens so as not to burn yourself. Cover and return the heated Dutch Ovens to the oven to bake for 35 minutes lids covered. After 35 minutes remove the lids and bake uncovered for an additional 5-10 minutes to your preferred level of crust darkness. Once complete, remove your baked loaves and allow to fully cool on a rack. Internal temperature of your loaves should be >200oF and tapping on the bottom should be “hollow” sounding. If you listen closely you should hear the crust “talking to you” as it crackles while it cools. Enjoy!

NOTE: Before using the remove from the Dutch Oven method I was finding that my loaves were darker on the bottom than I preferred. I’ve now started removing the loaves from the Dutch Ovens once the lid-on baking has completed. I put them on a cold, heavy pizza stone to complete the bake (removing the hot Dutch Ovens at the same time). My heavy pizza stone insulates the very bottom of the loaf and keeps it from getting too dark. I have yet to have this stone crack from putting in the heated oven while cold over the past 6 months.

Sourdough Croissant Experiment

As you’re aware I’m on the quest for Sourdough Bread, Croissant and Pastry Perfection. I am on the path, farther than I was when I started….but nowhere near where I’d like to be!

But it’s a journey and NOT a destination.

I decided on this last batch to test a couple hypothesis:

  1. I have too much straight dough in my batch and not enough butter contact
  2. There are too many layers (if that were even possible)
  3. The dough is too warm when I bake

To test the first hypothesis I decided to trim my dough as I folded rather than my trim at the very end before cutting and rolling my croissants.

RESULT: I lost about 25% of my overall yield. Instead of getting 12 croissants I ended up with 9! Ouch! That said, I did bake the trimmings. Not as satisfying as a croissant!

What I’m going to try next time: Slice the folded dough edges and not “trim it off”. I’m going to try to expose the layers and allow the butter to move all the way to the edge.

To test the second hypothesis I decided to fold less by doing only two “letter” folds.

My method to this point has started with two butter layers when I added the butter block into the dough. In essence, the butter rectangle was 2/3 of the dough rectangle at the beginning. I’d then do three “Letter” folds. That would be 2 x 3 x 3 x 3 = 54 layers. Sometimes I did and initial “Book” fold so it was 2 x 4 x 3 x 3 = 72 layers. This time it was going to be 2 x 3 x 3 = 18 layers.

RESULT: Better lamination / separation on my cross-cut was much better. Much clearer separation of the layers than on a previous batch.

I liked the direction this path is taking me. Next time I’m going for 12 layers. I’ ll start with a single block of butter inside the dough, perform a “Book” fold and then a “Letter” fold (e.g. 1 x 4 x 3 = 12 layers).

Thirdly, I thought that the lack of separation may also have been because my butter was too warm (I baked immediately after my proofing). I thought I would prove first THEN put into the fridge overnight and bake the already proven croissants!

RESULT: Butter all OVER the pan. Took waaaaaaay too long to bake resulting in my bottoms being done before the tops. Additionally, the insides was “doughy” and moist (see pic above).

What I learned is that I will NOT be doing that in the future! The croissants were too cold and it was hard for them to get baked all the way through. Next time I’m going to roll the croissants and place into the fridge overnight. I’ll THEN take them out and prove them for about 2.5-3 hours at room temperature, add an egg wash and then bake.

OVERALL RESULT: I was able to test my hypothesis and learn. I’ve a direction for where I want to go next. I’m further down the path than I was at the start. Success!

Oh… and they are STILL delicious! The one in the cross-cut pictures above fueled this post!

Feeding Cold Starter

Before COVID-19 I traveled extensively for my job and wasn’t in a position to feed my starter every day. I came across #BakeWithJack and started watching his videos on bread making. Episode 71: SOURDOUGH – The Scrapings Method, No Waste, No Discard describe a method that I’ve been using (modified) since.

The method involves leaving a remnant of starter in the fridge and feeding it the night before you want to bake. His method leave as little as 25g of starter in the pot. If he needs 150g of starter for his recipe the next day he simply adds a 1:1 ratio of water and flour to the pot (e.g. 75g of water and 75g of flour for 150g total needed for the recipe).

I do a similar thing. Where I differ is that I tend to have a little more in my jar and do discard some each time.

My method is to take my jar out of the fridge and add a 1:2:2 mixture into my new jar. That is, 50g of starter, 100g of filtered water and 100g of my 50/50 starter feeder. I then cover this with a moist paper towel and let sit overnight. NOTE: In a previous post I mentioned that I keep a jar of 50% Whole Wheat flour and 50% Bread flour mixed that I use to feed my starter.)

The next day I will take about 100g of this “happy” starter and use it to make my levain. Normally I’m baking about two loaves on the weekend. I need 500g of levain for that recipe and build it using a 1:2:2 ratio (e.g. 100g of the starter plus 200ml/g water and 200g of bread flour used in the recipe).

My starter is now 3+ years old and gives me consistent results. Hope this helps! If you’ve a different method I’d be happy to hear what you’re doing! Send me a comment!