I love baking all kinds of bread, but a basic sourdough loaf is an essential staple at our house. Good with everything from blue cheese to blueberry jam, and quite possibly even better unadorned, we always feel something is missing if there isn’t a loaf resting on the cutting board, ready for a quick snack or a hearty sandwich.
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.
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:
What a bunch of terrific breads! Zorra of kochtopf hosted breadbakingday #01, themed “bread with herbs.” It was a great success, with 33 baker/bloggers from 13 countries showcasing creations using more than a dozen different herbs – perfect for summer baking. I can’t wait to start trying some of these breads. Thanks to Zorra for hosting this!
I 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.
Steam 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.