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Dough needs a rest

When handling dough in bread making, it is a distinct advantage to allow the dough to rest during the process. This allows the gluten/gliadin to relax and easily reform itself into the long protein chains which are the superstructure of the finished loaf. It is possible to achieve greater volume and lightness by resting the dough at the right times. Doughs made from white flour require more resting than wholemeal doughs, as the wholemeal is always fermenting faster and the presence of bran particles reduces the strength of the dough by slicing through the gluten superstructure.

Proof of the pudding:

This was admirably demonstrated to me by my friend and master baker, Ken Hercott. We were both working in a groovy bakery in the UK, and Ken was becoming increasingly frustrated as the Spelt crusty bread we were making from “light” spelt flour just didn’t reach its full potential. It was quite a good bread, developed by a French baker, but could have been better. We set about to improve it and decided to photograph so we could clearly demonstrate the results. It was Ken`s turn to run the shift, the French baker being away that day. He didn’t alter any parameters at all but simply rested the loaf between turns. After its initial bulk proof and the loaf was scaled, normal procedure was to round it (somewhat violently!) and place it directly in the banneton for a final rise before baking. Ken decided to round all the scaled loaves, more gently, and then set all the loaves aside for a 15 minute rest, well- covered to preserve temperature and to prevent a skin from forming on the dough.

Covering dough:

This is my idiosyncracy and I insist all doughs are well covered by cotton cloth or canvas, and then a plastic sheet. This precludes the formation of a crust which will then damage the dough and crust structure as it is re-kneaded back into the loaf for a final rounding. It is a major fault of some of the really fashionable artisan breads that this skinning is allowed and the end result is a crust with many fine bubbles evident on the surface. This is anathema to an old –time baker who would go to any lengths to prevent this bubbly crust from forming. Strangely as proper techniques of bread baking have disappeared and the wheel is re-invented, the subtleties of the craft are in some cases lost. This bubbly crust is now flaunted by some of the new artisans as a cool and desireable finish. Im always horrified and its what a skilled baker would have sneered at as “poor technique”.

The results:

Given the 15 minute rest, the gluten in the spelt loaves had relaxed and the spirallic structure created by rounding had consolidated itself. We then gently re-rounded the loaves, applying just enough tension to encourage the chains to re-integrate and consolidate even further and for the external skin to be nicely tight and supportive. The loaves were then placed in the banneton for a final rise. The results were a surprise to me. I expected some improvement in size, but not this much, as the loaves were noticeably bigger and had a completeness about them. We saved a loaf from the previous bake and were surprised even more when we compared them. It was hard to believe they were the same loaf, so increased in volume was the new loaf…with exactly the same ingredients and weight. The photographs were clear as well, and the internal structure was much improved with a lively alveolation, and of course the bread was lighter to eat as the gluten had been given a chance to mellow, which it had clearly done, but still remained strong. The loaf was considerably improved by the application of the master ingredient in bread baking…time, and by the application of true craft knowledge and attenion to detail.