In a previous post (Musings on Mixing…), I described what I believe to be a fundamental difference between bread baking at the commercial scale and bread baking at the much smaller scale of the home baker. At the commercial scale, spiral and oblique dough mixers are quite efficient at incorporating air into the dough during mixing, making overoxidation of the dough a real concern for the professional baker. For the home baker, however, the opposite concern comes into play. Conventional tabletop stand mixers are relatively inefficient at mixing dough. Therefore, the home baker has to look for ways to increase air incorporation during mixing. I concluded in the previous post that the only way for the home baker to do this effectively was through hand mixing.
Hand mixing, whether it be by a slap and fold technique like the one shown here or by just a series of folds during the first fermentation, can produce a nicely developed dough which yields a loaf having the desired open crumb with many large air cells (alveoli). However, it is a technique not without its own challenges. If performed improperly, hand mixing can lead to a loaf with large alveoli embedded within an otherwise doughy mass. The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that there must be an easy way to use a conventional home stand mixer to produce a dough that would rival the quality of a professional, spiral-mixed dough.
Before I delve into the details of the technique I’ve devised, I think it important to understand the process by which the crumb of a bread is established. During dough fermentation, yeast cells produce and excrete alcohol and carbon dioxide as metabolic by-products. The yeast do not release the carbon dioxide as bubbles but instead, carbon dioxide molecules diffuse through the yeast’s cell membrane into the surrounding water. This process continues until the water reaches its saturation point, a point where it can no longer hold any more carbon dioxide. At this point, small air bubbles already present in the dough as a result of the mixing process act as nucleation sites, and begin accepting the dissolved carbon dioxide into their interiors, expanding in the process. As these bubbles grow larger, some begin to cluster and then coalesce, producing a wide distribution of different sized bubbles throughout the dough. It is this matrix of varying-sized bubbles that ultimately sets upon baking to become the crumb.
With this as a backdrop, it became logical to infer that the more small bubbles there were to act as nucleation sites, the greater was the potential for the formation of the wide open crumb structure for which artisan bakers strive. Increasing the small bubble population was attempted using a two-step flour incorporation technique. Using this double flour addition technique, just enough flour is first added to a water and levain slurry to achieve a loose batter consistency. This batter is then mixed using a tabletop stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, until the mixture becomes aerated. Finally, the remainder of the flour is added and the dough is mixed with a regular dough hook (or spiral hook, if your mixer comes equipped with one), just until all the flour is incorporated. After a brief autolyse period, the mixing is completed as usual. This procedure resulted in a soft, smooth and silky dough with a wonderful elasticity/extensibility profile.
Pain au Levain using Double Flour Addition
- 680 g King Arthur Organic Select Artisan Flour
- 90 g King Arthur Whole Wheat Flour
- 455 g Water
- 15 g Salt
- 300 g Levain (mature sourdough culture, 100% hydration)
The organic white and whole wheat flours were first combined in a large mixing bowl. The water and levain were then added to the bowl of a stand mixer and were mixed on the lowest speed, using the whisk attachment, just until the levain became evenly dispersed in the water, about 1 minute. Just enough of the flour mixture (~75 g) was then added to produce a loose batter and the mixer speed was then increased to speed 3. Whisking was continued until the mixture became well aerated, about 3 minutes. The whisk attachment was then exchanged for a spiral dough hook and after the remaining flour mixture was added, the dough was mixed at the lowest speed until all the ingredients were incorporated, about 2 minutes. The bowl was then covered with plastic wrap and allowed to rest for an autolyse period of 30 minutes.
After this time, the salt was added and the dough was mixed on speed 3 using the spiral dough hook for 6 minutes. The dough was then placed in a lightly oiled container, covered, and allowed to ferment for two hours. No folding was necessary during this first fermentation.
After the two hour first fermentation, the dough was divided into two, 1 1/2 lb. pieces and each piece was lightly rounded. After resting under a plastic sheet for 15 minutes, the pieces were shaped into boulots, placed in rice flour-coated brotformen, covered with Saran Quick Covers and allowed a second fermentation of 3 hours. After the second fermentation, the boulots were inverted onto a peel, scored, loaded into the oven and then baked at 425°F for 40 minutes with steam applied for the first 15 minutes (scoring and steaming video can be found here). The resulting loaves exhibited the desired distribution of large, medium and small alveoli and a translucent alveolar wall structure.