Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Baking bread in a wood-fired oven, Round Two

This past Sunday I was down at the Alder Wood Bistro again, having fun baking more bread. This time I had four batches going: A naturally leavened multigrain bread, sourdough, onion rye and Montreal-style bagels. The only other time I had tried to make a naturally leavened bread (no yeast added), it didn't turn out well. This time, I had actually planned to make this batch a yeast bread (although I was using a starter left over from the previous week's bread), but (oops) I forgot to add the yeast. I realized it at about 4:00 AM, when I got up to mix the dough from the leaven that had been fermenting since Saturday morning. I decided to just do the best I could with it and see what happened.

Well, surprisingly to me at least, it turned out great! Although it never did look as if it rose much in the proofing baskets, I thought it looked good when I slashed it just before putting it in the oven. When I checked on it 30 minutes later, I was amazed to see how much it had risen, and it was coloring nicely. 10 minutes later it was out of the oven.

 Naturally leavened multigrain hearth bread; oh boy!

As soon as the multigrain  and sourdough loaves were in the proofing baskets, I mixed up a batch of dough for the Montreal bagels, and the rye dough. After working pretty hard for the first 45 minutes or so, I now had at least a couple of hours to kill while things were proofing and rising.

After the bagel dough had risen for 2 hours, I shaped the bagels. Then into the boiling pot they went, a few at a time, for a minute and a half. Then they drained briefly on a clean towel before being dredged on both sides with sesame seeds. Montreal-style bagels are traditionally baked in a wood-fired oven; the Bistro's oven was about 530F when the bagels went in. Naturally, being much smaller than a loaf of bread, I was nervous about over baking them, but I needn't have worried. They actually took about 20 minutes, not much less than what it takes in the gas oven I use at home. This is one bread item for which we're willing to disregard the rule of waiting until it cools to eat it; we were both pretty hungry by that time, too, and David had thoughtfully brought along some butter and cream cheese.

Montreal-style bagels just out of the wood-fired oven.

By the time I was done baking the bagels, it was time to load in the sourdough and multigrain loaves. Next I shaped the onion rye loaves; I had carmelized the onions while the dough was rising. The two loaves went into the oven about 15 minutes after the others, and while I had the oven door open I shifted around some of the other loaves; some seemed to be browning a little faster than others. I'm getting used to figuring out where to put the loaves in the oven, depending on their size.  I'm actually a bit surprised at how easily I'm learning to use this wonderful oven.

It was really hard to wait for over an hour to cut into one of the multigrain loaves, and I was anxious to see what the crumb looked like. I had used the same formula that I had the previous Sunday, but I adjusted the hydration level to 70% (it was 65% last week), as we both felt that in the center of the loaf, the crumb was a little on the dry side. (I've just recently learned a formula called the "baker's percentage," which is a means to calculate how much water and flour you need to get a dough of a particular hydration level; I'm so happy I finally got my mind around this one.) I could see right away that it was a big improvement; the crumb was uniformly moist and tender inside a delicious, crisp crust. Once again, I felt thankful that I have been keeping good records of every batch of bread I've made, so I will be able to duplicate this result.

Interior of naturally leavened multigrain bread.

The really difficult thing with this baking is that I want to make a lot of bread at a time (it's a big oven, and I'm having a lot of fun). What to do with all this bread? Hmmm. I feel a taste-testing party coming on...

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