Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Freckles and Ears!

Pain au levain, with a nice "ear"

Pain au levain

Sourdough boule detail. Nice "freckles"

I don't know the official word for freckles. It's just what I call the little spots or mottling that was on every piece of sourdough bread, but for some reason did not happen on my bread. Now it seems that the reason was more the result of shaping technique than anything else. The upper surface of the loaf has to be stretched during shaping - but this also has to do with the wetness of the dough and the amount of gluten developed.

Ears, on the other hand, are where the crust rises up in the oven after scoring. Since they're out in the open with swirling hot air around them, they crisp up nicely and caramelize, adding more flavor to the bread.

These loaves use 100% sourdough starter, with no commercial yeast. They have a long fermentation time (pétrissage lente), about 24 hours between primary fermentation, shaping and proofing. During this time, the bread develops a lot of flavor, and the crumb is a nice tan color instead of white or cream.

I'm baking with a tiny electric convection oven. It does a decent job on bread since it's small and the steam from the bottom pan can fill the oven. The crust is crunchy and well caramelized, the crumb complex and interesting.

Considering the typically boring excuses for "European Style" bread at the local supermarkets, I really wonder if they know what they're doing. After all, they are supposed to have real, professional bread ovens (I imagine deck ovens with steam injection, but this probably varies from store to store). I remember buying really excellent bread at some stores when they first opened, but the quality has faded to a pale shadow of its former self. Did some maître boulanger come in, get them started, then leave? How do they decide who to hire for bread making duties? I almost hesitate to ask.

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