I never seem to be able to get my loaves of bread to reach the heights I aspire to. I see photos of towering loaves cresting voluptuously out of bread pans. Mine peek their tops over the edge, yet seem to shrink down a bit while baking. I don’t get ‘oven spring’, I get ‘oven shrink’.
This may attributable to a couple of things:
- My oven may not be hot enough.
It’s an old, apartment grade gas range which works but takes a while to heat up. A new oven is planned, but it goes along with the kitchen remodel that we need to save up money and energy to complete.
- I may not be kneading the dough long enough to properly form the gluten.
Peter Reinhart’s “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” has been a valuable resource for creating better bread. I’m learning to trust my limited experience and not to follow the recipe to the letter. The dough speaks to you, letting you know what it needs. To develop this relationship with the dough, you need to touch it. I do most of my mixing in my trusty KitchenAid stand mixer, Stella. She’s not only beautiful but a work-horse. However, I now stop the mixer during the knead to see how the dough feels. I’m even attempting the “window pane test” to see if the gluten is properly formed.
Yesterday, I experimented a bit with a potato sandwich bread I’ve been making. I substituted some ingredients and added one large egg. I also kneaded the dough longer than I normally do because my dough failed the window pane test. Once it got close, I scraped the dough out onto a floured board and hand kneaded until it passed.
The dough rose nicely and was supple to to the touch. After the first rise, I separated the dough into two pieces and formed boules. I let the dough rest for 20 minutes and then formed the dough into loaves.
I preheated the oven for 30 minutes to make sure it was hot enough when the dough was ready. I have made the mistake of waiting too long and having the dough over-rise during the second rise. This almost always guarantees a fall.
The dough rose nicely but did take an extra 10 minutes. I didn’t rush it but kept an eye on the dough using the technique where you push lightly on the dough. If it springs back quickly, it’s ready.
I was pleasantly surprised that this time I got oven spring and then some. My loaves crested mightily and did not fall. Nor did the crust wrinkle while cooling. This may have been the egg white wash I employed or that I let the loaves cool for 10 minutes in the oven with the heat turned off and the door ajar. (A tip I read in the King Arthur Baker’s Companion.)
Success at last.