A Little Experiment

“Keep you overheads low and your values high”.

Yes, I had a bath again this morning, and, while soaking in the hot water, these words of wisdom came to me. Must do it more often.

But high values don’t necessarily mean complicated methods and for my own survival as a microbaker I have tried to simplify down to the essentials necessary to produce good bread. Apart from which this blog is dedicated to TBoB – Taking the Bollocks out of Baking.

It was more important when I was knocking out about eight doughs and at least three bread weights two days at a time but by and large my doughs need to follow the same method – evening mix, overnight chilled fermentation, a rolling programme of 3.5 hour proves the next morning, 50 minute bakes ten loaves at a time.

This week I had an excellent student, Nick Boggon who started his Hitchin Bakehouse a few weeks back. Like everyone else starting out he is trying to find his own system of fitting in full-time employment with part-time bakery. Anyway, microbakery students have the option of scaling up one of their recipes for my customers. Nick brought up his Hitchin Sourdough. I already have my Mick’s Classic Sourdough so I imaginatively renamed his Nick’s Classic Sourdough for the event.

The problem was his recipe called for an overnight ferment, a morning mix of the remaining flour and water, half an hour of autolysis, a mixing together of the component ingredients, about an hour of fermentation followed by a couple of hours prove. No way was I going to do the main mix on bake day so I suggested an experiment; I would adapt his recipe to my method for the main bake and he would do a single loaf by his method and we would compare outcomes.

My view is that if you have a properly fermented starter and a long, cool fermentation of the dough you will produce a sufficiently good flavour in the final loaf without the need for all these tweaks and embellishments.

There wasn’t any cleverness in adapting the recipe, I just deducted sufficient flour and water from the final dough weight to make a starter at about 30%.
nicks classic 001 smallSo, on the left is a loaf that Nick had baked about a week previously, in the middle is the loaf we baked using Nick’s method and on the right my method. It’s not really fair to include Nick’s old loaf because it was baked it totally different conditions – his starter, Shipton’s flours (white 65%, wholemeal 6%, light rye 29%) baked in his smart Rofco stone-decked oven. Obviously since it was baked there had been a lot of water loss but it was still very edible and the flavour had really developed.

There was very little discernible difference between the other two (Doves flour baked in my Blue Seal Turbofan convection oven) in terms of flavour, volume and crust. Mine looks a bit bigger but that’s more to do with the shape of the loaves (batards) and where they were sliced.

In which case you have to wonder if it’s worth using the more complex methods.

Dough Autolysis: Autolysis is the slow speed premixing of the flour and water in a recipe followed by a rest period. This method was developed by Professor Raymond Calvel in the 1970s. He says this improves the links between starch, gluten and water and improves the dough’s extensibility. It reduces mixing time, helps with moulding, produces bread with greater volume, better cell structure and a more supple crumb. “The Taste of Bread” Raymond Calvel
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6 thoughts on “A Little Experiment

  1. Dear Mick,
    Could you please elaborate on your bake schedule that you describe a bit in paragraph four? In particular I was wondering how long it takes from starting with cold dough in the morning to the end of the first bake?
    PS Love the TBoB concept

  2. Well, Charles, you obviously need copies of my books (and never forget this is how I earn my pennies). But between you and me, the dough comes out of the fridge, gets scaled and shaped (20 mins?), proves 3.5 hours, is baked for 50 mins. But that’s what paragraph four says – was there something else you were unclear about?

    Best wishes


  3. Thanks Mick,
    Yes I am going to purchase your book because I would like to branch out into sourdough and have only used regular yeast to date. I bake for a farmers market here in western Canada and need the loaves ready for 9:30 am, if the process takes too long I’m hooped even if I start at 3 am – hence the questions.
    I was confused by the eight doughs and three weights but realize you typically have eight types of dough and three weights to scale. Is the 3.5 hours only required for the first batch, fresh from the fridge – with subsequent batches taking less time as the are warming while you work?
    Thanks again,

  4. Hi Charles

    Yes the different doughs and weights just relate to the different breads I used to bake each week (pain de campagne, wholemeal, 5 seed, ect) and the UK standard weights (400g, 800g, 2K) so just ignore that. And I needed my bread ready for evening collection so my routine was refresh starter a.m., mix doughs early evening, bulk fermentation in the fridge overnight, shape, prove, bake starting at 5.00 a.m. next day.

    My oven capacity is 10 large loaves and each bake time is 50 minutes so, out of bed 5.00 a.m., first 10 loaves scaled, shaped and in the baskets by about 5.45 a.m., 3.5 hour prove, first bake about 9.15 a.m. Second 10 loaves need to be in baskets about 50 minutes after the first and the process is repeated until all the dough is used up.

    I leave the doughs in the fridge until they are required because I’m working to my oven capacity so there’d be no point in having them prove faster because there wouldn’t be any oven space when they were ready.

    You’d have to work out the best routine for you to have the bread ready for morning. Very roughly speaking, at room temperature, you need two four hour periods one for bulk fermentation and one for the prove. Either of these can be retarded by cooling so you could prove the doughs in baskets or tins overnight and bake in the morning, the problem being the amount of space individual loaves take up in the fridge.

    On the other hand, most sourdough breads baked in the evening would be perfectly acceptable for sale the next morning.

    You’ll have to do a bit of experimenting.

    Best wishes


    1. Dear Mick,
      Thanks for the detailed schedule, looks like I’ll be baking in the evening of the day before selling. Looking forward to reading your book and TBoB,
      Best wishes,

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