Folding the Dough: Video

Folding the dough (also called turning, stretch-and-fold, or punch-and-fold) during the first fermentation helps to develop the gluten and increase the strength of the dough. This means that the dough can be worked less during mixing; this is beneficial because excessive mixing can oxidize the dough, which detracts from flavor and crumb color.
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Gluten Development (with Windowpane Photos)

I took (actually, my husband T took, while I “windowpaned”) some photos of the stages of gluten development. I hope someone will find these useful. Most of the breads I make call for the gluten to be developed to a medium stage.

Gluten development is tested with the “windowpane test.” Pinch off about two tablespoons of dough and try to stretch it into a thin membrane (windowpane).

If you can do so without tearing, but the membrane is mostly opaque, you have barely developed gluten.

If you can stretch a paper-thin, very translucent windowpane, the gluten is fully developed.

A medium level is in between these two extremes: the windowpane is translucent with some opaque areas.

The progression from minimally to fully developed gluten:

Low gluten development Medium gluten development High gluten development

Why Worry About Water (Nifty Calculator Included)

water.jpgI know what you’re thinking: Can she really have written this much about water, the most boring of bread ingredients? This girl really needs to find something to do.

But wait: water’s function is much more interesting than simply that of the matchmaker that brings flour, yeast, and salt together. The quality of my bread really improved once I learned how to adjust the amount and temperature of the water to control some characteristics of the dough.
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No Steam vs. SteamSteam is important during the initial phase of baking most hearth breads. It facilitates oven-spring by preventing the crust from setting too rapidly, and enhances crust color. Breads baked without steam can taste fine, but the crust is likely to be a dull, pale grayish color rather than the rich brown most of us are after. Ready for a photo quiz? Hint: the top thing is not a peanut on steroids.

I have spent way more time than I should have scouring books and online articles and discussion groups looking for the perfect way to introduce steam to my baking loaves. I’ve spent hours and hours, and more than a little money, trying just about everything. But in the end, it’s come down to two methods that work for me.
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