A Lesson on Steaming

I’ve learned that it is very dry at this altitude. My hands are constantly chapped, the cuticles catching on everything I touch and pulling painfully. I guzzle down water, glass after glass. I apply chapstick in copious amounts. But, in addition, I’ve also discovered this with my last loaf of bread. I stuck the loaf in the oven, poured probably a half-cup of water into a pan at the bottom of the oven, and then let the yeast do their magic. I came back after 15 minutes, expecting to see a blossomed loaf, the result of the fervent activity of the yeast before their hot and steamy death, but instead saw a pitifully flat-looking loaf that had already developed a stiff crust. I had thrown this recipe together as a whimsical experiment, so I figured that this recipe was just a failure and this loaf wasn’t going to be an all-star. I went off to do other things for the remainder of the bake time and when I came back I found a loaf with a protruding, lobate anomaly. It looked almost like a stuck-out tongue, the loaf mocking me for some oversight or misstep.

I pondered this for a while and finally reasoned that I had inadequately steamed my loaf. The crust had set up before the yeast completed their final bloom and fruitful release of carbon dioxide. This inhibited a well-developed oven spring and caused the expanding gas to ultimately escape through a weak spot in the crust, creating a domed structure instead of allowing the loaf to open naturally along the scoring pattern. Next time I will spray the loaf’s top surface and steam the oven generously. You can always remove the steaming pan during the bake and allow the oven to dry out, but you can’t rehydrate an already set crust. Inadequate steaming is a problem for various reasons. Firstly, and most obviously, your loaf will likely be misshapen. Secondly, and more importantly, the crumb will be affected. It will most likely be denser because the loaf in the oven lacked the ability for large holes to develop due to the constraining crust.

As for my misshapen loaf, I sort of enjoy the character it has being lopsided. Unfortunately, however, the crumb was affected. It was dense in most areas, except in the one lobe where it was allowed to expand. The flavor was excellent, however. The nutty rye flour was complimented well by the acidic, tart flavors of the sourdough and white wine. I am excited to try this recipe again, but next prepared with these new thoughts on steaming.

Light Rye with White Wine

Yield: ~1 kg

210 g whole rye flour
200 g white wine

10-12 hours before preparing the final dough, combine the whole rye flour and the white wine until the flour is thoroughly hydrated. Let sit at room temperature.

Final Dough:
300 g all-purpose flour
150 g water
All of soaker
180 g ripe 100% hydration sourdough starter
12 g salt

Mix the all-purpose flour, water, wine-rye mixture, and starter until just combined. Let the dough rest (autolyse for 30 mintues).

Add the salt and knead the dough until a medium level of gluten development is reached.

Transfer the dough to an oiled container. Ferment at room temperature for 2.5 hours, with folds at 50 and 100 minutes.

Preshape the dough into a loosely formed ball. (You can also divide the dough into two smaller 500 g loaves, if desired.) Let rest for 15 minutes. Shape the dough into a boule and place seam-side-up in a floured banneton or linen-lined bowl.

Slip the loaf in its proofing containers into a large plastic bag or cover with plastic wrap. Proof at room temperature for 2-2.5 hours. Or proof for 1-1.5 hours at room temperature, then refrigerated for 2-18 hours. Then bake the loaf directly out of the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven with a baking stone and steam pan to 475 F.

Once the loaf is scored and in the oven, turn the heat down to 450 F. Bake the loaf for 15-20 minutes with steam and another 30-35 without steam. Turn off the oven, crack the door, and leave the loaf in for another 10 minutes.

Remove loaf from oven. Allow the loaf to cool completely on a wire rack before eating it.

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