Joe is about as nice a guy as I've ever come across in this life. He lives upstairs from us and there is always wonderful laughter coming down from him and his roommate Marika. Joe has worked at Le Pain Quotidien as a baker and instructor the past few years and he's soon starting as a baking instructor at the International Culinary Center. Joe has been incredibly generous with his bread knowledge, and I owe a lot of success to him. He's the one who suggested the Josey Baker Bread book. One time he came downstairs and helped me shape some loaves, which made a huge difference. And he's a master of dropping subtle hints. He's letting me discover things on my own, but just casually nudging me in the right direction.
One of those hints came a few weeks ago after I had posted about my second home-milled loaf. What had happened was I made my first couple loaves of home-milled sourdough with wheat berries from Palouse, from Washington state. They were the tallest, best shaped loaves I had made, and it was super exciting. I had only ordered a small bag of those berries, but I had also ordered a big bag of berries from Great River, from Wisconsin. These were the same basic variety of wheat - hard red spring, but I wasn't getting the same rise or structure out of this flour. I was experimenting with the fineness of the flour, thinking that could be what was making the difference. I mentioned this in that blog post, and Joe subtly mentioned that I shouldn't discount the difference in the brands of wheat. He probably knew outright that that was making the difference, but he let me go on experimenting with my grinds. So after a few weeks of getting the same results with the Great River wheat, regardless of the grind, I ordered some more Palouse berries. And wallah! The tall loaves are back! Joe was right.
Now, it being the same variety of wheat, I have to wonder what is actually causing the flour to act differently. The flour I made from the Great River berries, whether it was fine or course, created a sticky dough. It was hard to shape because it would stick to my hands like nobody's business. I felt like half the loaf was wasted on my stupid hands. And these loaves just wouldn't stand as tall. The flour I made from Palouse was super easy to work with. It practically shaped it self. There are so many factors that could cause these difference - I imagine growing location, growing conditions, harvest time, storage conditions, age, could all have an effect. With my level of experience I cannot say that the Great River wheat is poor quality and that the Palouse is good quality. All I can say is that the Palouse is working much better for the way I'm baking bread. Perhaps a more experienced baker would know how to adjust things to make the Great River work better. But I must say I am enjoying the heck out of this problem solving, experimenting adventure.
My first loaves with the Palouse berries were made with a course grind flour, because I didn't really know my grinder yet. They turned out awesome, but I wondered if a finer grind would create more air in the crumb. The next loaves I made were of a finer grind, but with the Great River berries. (I had run out of the Palouse). I then did a medium grind and then a course grind with the Great River and it didn't really change the loaves. These were good tasty loaves with nice crumb, but they weren't so tall and they didn't have those big sexy ears like the Palouse loaves. How I longed for the tall, big - eared loaf.
Well, it's back! The crumb is different. It is spongier and softer. There's plenty of air, but smaller air bubbles. I did a course grind again, just to see if I could recreate the first Palouse loaves again - to make sure it wasn't a fluke, or some other factor that I was overlooking. Science! I will do the same experimenting with the grind for the next loaves. Whether it makes a difference or not, I will then begin on the final step in my original bread mission, sprouting the wheat berries and making sprouted flour. Who knows what trouble that will get me into!
Thanks for reading. Here are some photos of all the stuff I just wrote about. All these loaves are 100% Whole Wheat Sourdough, no yeast. A big thanks to Joe Bowie Jr. for being my subtle-mannered bread guru!
Here are a couple shots of the bread make from the Great River wheat berries:
Note be larger air bubbles. Dang, that is a pretty nice looking loaf.
And here is the bread made from the Palouse wheat berries: So round!
For some reason, Minnie is always around when the bread comes out of the oven,
and when we slice it...