Big adventure with Peter Reinhart

In a few more minutes I’ll find out the results of this experiment, where I violated the principle of making too many changes in one trial, but I thought I’d go for the home run on my first at-bat. In short I’m attempting to make Peter Reinhart’s Transitional Multigrain Hearth Bread (from Whole Grain Breads, p. 161). And here’s the result:


But I wasn’t going to just follow the recipe exactly or do this as a loaf bread as I’ve done with the previous Reinhart attempts. What I’m sorta trying to do is attempt to duplicate Whole Food’s Seeduction Bread which I just recently bought and loved. While I found a Copykat recipe I wanted the more complete set of instructions that Reinhart gives and then I can adapt to the Copykat recipe.

In general I’ve now done two shapes of breads: a) the Jim Lahey pot or baker style (where the covered container and high moisture of the dough provides steam, or, b) loaf pan breads (where steam doesn’t matter). [I did try the conventional “french bread”, with the metal pans and spritzing the oven, but that was over a year ago]. This time I wanted to do the “hearth” method instead and form batards.

Now I’ve read about (with some pictorial guides) the shaping process but never tried it and this dough was probably not the place to start (not very soft and pliable). So a little too many new things. In Emily Buehler’s Bread Science, (fortunately there is an except online that contains the batard shaping instructions, but I found this after already trying) the process she describes is even more complicated than Reinhart. So fat chance if I’m going to get this even close to right on my first try, but as per the photo at least it doesn’t look too bad.

As to the recipe itself I was seduced by trying to more closely emulate Whole Foods Seeduction, so naturally I had to use my sourdough culture (refreshed last night), plus add an extra ingredient (molasses, and agave as replacement for the honey, since I liked the slight sweetness in the Seeduction).

Reinhart’s recipes involve a “soaker” (no yeast) and a biga (tiny amount of cultured yeast). The soaker I did per the recipe, but for the biga I used 1/3c of my sourdough culture and then tried to adjust the flour and water amounts in the biga (more by guess than anything really precise). But I know my culture is very slow, so rather than immediately putting in the fridge I left the biga out several hours at room temperature. I was surprised how much it had risen (too much, the purpose of the biga is enzymatic activity, not really a rise). So into the fridge it went. But on my first try of any of Reinhart’s Whole Grain breads he says to bring the biga out for two hours to reach room temperature and that produces a noticeable rise also. I didn’t want two rises, so I made the final dough shortly after taking the biga out of the fridge.

Now the soaker, this morning, was pure glue. It’s made from just about everything: a) whole wheat flour, b) oat flakes, c) oat bran, d) rye flour, and, e) corn meal (not to mention also flax seeds). The idea behind the soaker is to thorough hydrate these ingredients and get enzymatic activity going to break down some of the starches to sugars. He doesn’t mention the effect that this also creates nearly solid glob.

So into the mixer trying to get some elasticity into the soaker, then add the chunks of biga. Oh great, both are so dense and dry I have a hardly mixed thick interwoven strands of each. So with frequently wetted hands (I really believe, despite this being my first try the dough needed more water) I massaged (more than “kneaded”) into finally it appeared the soaker and biga were mixed. So now I could add all the seeds, molasses, salt, additional cultured yeast, and try to get that glob to mix. Again awful dry so I worked more water in before adding the final bit of whole wheat flour. With all those adjustments (and thus who knows how much over-kneading) I finally had a dough, ready for its first rise (given I used steel bowl, no idea if it was the expected 1-1/2 times, but I definitely got some, but not huge rise, presumably entirely from the cultured yeast (my sourdough yeast isn’t vigorous enough to compete).

Then came the batard shaping. Oh yeah, be gentle, don’t release all the gas. Pinch together the seams. Roll smoothly into a cylinder. Taper the ends. Well sorta, all but as to the gentle, nope, so bye-bye to most of the gas. Second rise in my couchette (still too new to pleat very well, but got it to work). Not too bad, sorta looked like batards after another hour.

Meanwhile setup for hearth baking, initially at 500F. In went my wonderful sheet pan. Oh great, adding the water, warp-city. Hey, I’m a metallurgist (by education, not trade) so I should have known better and used some crappy sheet pan rather than my prized old Chicago Steel. And guess what, one cup is not enough, boiled the pan dry, by the turn at 20 minutes and quickly added more water.

So who knows what I’ve got. Too many variables. Too many new techniques. This was way too ambitious. Will the bread be sludge? – dense and soggy. I know it’s also a bit over-cooked from the instant read thermometer so will it be so crunchy it’s a tooth breaker.

We’ll see and I’ll add comment after trying.

But all this indicates to me there are some many steps in this that tons of practice is required for each one. I should bake every day. Isolate just one process (say, shaping) and find the ideal conditions for practice. Find some people to give away the experiments because I mostly can’t eat this stuff any more (just samples). I can definitely see years to master this, plus I need to keep even more logs and records until I finally get it figured out, plus once I do, then keep doing the process frequently enough to stay in practice (with the Lahey stirato I’ve done that frequently enough to be relatively good at it, but I still get variations, sometimes without any idea why, so after probably 20 of those loaves I’d say I’m getting close to the amateur status (typical 80-20 rule, can master 80% of the process in 20% of the time, so 4X more years of practice to get the last 20% right).


About dmill96

old fat (but now getting trim and fit) guy, who used to create software in Silicon Valley (almost before it was called that), who used to go backpacking and bicycling and cross-country skiing and now geodashes, drives AWD in Wyoming, takes pictures, and writes long blog posts and does xizquvjyk.
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