Prework bake

It’s been just over a year since I started baking bread and I’ve almost certainly baked more in the last month than I had in the previous twelve. There are two reasons that I’ve been doing so much more recently.

The first, I have documented in my previous post. It is that I am noticing tangible improvements in the bread that I am making. Spurred on predominantly by my reading of Tartine Bread, my loaves are closer to where I want them to be, and the best way to improve is to bake again.

The second reason is probably more significant. It is that I have been adapting recipes to suit my schedule. I mostly work 9 till 5, Monday to Friday and although good bread does not require much hands on time, it requires moments of attention at often inconvenient intervals.

Because of this restriction, I used to only bake on weekends. Recently I’ve been working with the following schedule:

Tuesday Evening:

Feed starter as normal. 100g of strong white flour and 100g water at 35-40 degrees). - my flat sits at around 15 degrees in the winter so I’ve been using particularly warm water in order to get good activity.

Wednesday Morning:

Prepare levain. 150g of strong white flour, 50g whole wheat flour and 200g of water at 26-32 degrees.

Wednesday 5pm:

Mix 900g strong white flour, 100g whole wheat flour and 700g water at 26-34 degrees. I place this in the oven (turned off) to autolyse next to a jug of water as hot as my tap will go - roughly 45 degrees. This is done to keep the dough much warmer than my kitchen will allow. I aim for the inside of the oven to be about 28 degrees.

At this point, I check my levain for bubbles and growth. If it is not showing many bubbles on the surface, then I place it in the oven beside the mixed dough in order to accelerate activity.

Wednesday 6pm:

Add 50g of warm water, 180g of the levain and 20g salt to the mixed dough. Mix well by hand and place back in the turned off oven.

Wednesday 6:30pm:

Wet your hand and stretch one side out and over itself. Repeat for each side of the dough.

Thursday 7:00pm:

Repeat stretching and folding.

Thursday 7:30pm:

Repeat stretching and folding.

Thursday 8:00pm:

Repeat stretching and folding.

Thursday 10pm:

Tip dough out onto the counter and preshape using a dough knife and light dusting of flour where necessary.

Thursday 11pm:

Final shaping loaves and placing into bread baskets. Place the baskets in the fridge. Either bake the next morning before work (requires preheating the oven around 6am) or leave in the fridge till after work and bake when you get in.

I’ve done this routine several times over the last few weeks and always enjoyed the end product. Some days when I’m going out in the evening, I’ll use my mixer to thoroughly mix the dough for 10-15 minutes after the autolyse in order to accelerate gluten growth. I’m hoping that this can be used somewhat as a substitute for multiple sets of stretching and folding. However, I’ve not experimented much in comparing methods. No matter what, the end result is still bread.