Do the Thermo-Dance
A time has come that my hunt for better brread coming out of the kitchen oven will take paths bordering on professionalism. Employing techniques formerly thought of being only useful to the pro baker, is no longer a luxury for me but just the next step forward. Yes, yes, and let it be known that I will no longer accept the ridiculously unprecise ‘warm water’ in bread recipes!
Well. Of course, that is perfectly acceptable in any baking book, but it is important to note that adjusting and monitoring dough temperature is a powerful (and standard) tool for bakers who wish to reach the best quality of their bread and maintain it. Why?
-Dough temperature relates to proofing times. A baker who keeps the doughs at a certain temperature, can expect them to ferment at the same speed, given the same ambient temperature. A sound prediction what is going to happen makes timing effective and the following actions more efficient.
-There is an ideal dough temperature for every dough. Is it too cold, it will be sluggish, is it too warm, it will also be rendered unresponsive, even before the yeast cells die. Somewhere in the middle is perfect. (The axes in the diagram from a former post could just as well be labelled ‘dough temperature’ (x-axis) and ‘volume’ (y-axis). A curve of this shape is a fundamental thing in nature because many processes – biological, psychological, economical, whatever – have a saturation point, a point of doom. If an average person drinks a small glass of red wine each day, her health points will go up, but if she drinks more than that health goes down again. Etc. etc.)
Taking temperatures with an analogue meat thermometer can be tricky though. In the picture at the top a couple of fallacies are illustrated already:
-Thermometer is sticking halfway out of the substance, we want to take the temperature of; here: flour. Even under the surface of the mass of flour the probe is not enclosed totally by it. Reading will be inaccurate.
-Photo’s perspective on the thermometer is not parallax-free. Temperature shown by ‘naive’ reading: ~24.8°C, but actual temperature shown on the thermometer: 22°C
Solution? Hm. Switch to a more precise, preferably digital, thermometer might be an option. But then the fun can begin. Look for temperatures around 25°C, more precisely, taking into account the ingredients:
i) Cool doughs (22°C – 25°C): 100% wheat or spelt
ii) Moderately warm doughs (25°C – 27°C): More than 20% and less than 50% rye
iii) Warm doughs (27°C – 30°C): More than 50% rye
iv) Very warm doughs (30°C – 32°C): Rye meal breads
To obtain the desired temperature, the handy formula
2 x T_d - T_f = T_w
can be used, where
T_d = Desired dough temperature
T_f = Temperature of the flour in = Ambient temperature if storing the flour away from cool or hot spots
T_w = Temperature of the liquid to add
(All temperatures in °C. Temperature is an ‘intensive’ property, i.e. not additive, this formula is only an approximation. Simple sums or subtractions of temperatures are usually rather useless, unless you’re changing the scale from °C to Kelvin for example)
Example: We’re making a dough with 40% rye flour. Desired temperature: 27°C. Ambient temperature is 21°C. So the temperature of the water should be 2 x 27°C – 21°C = 33°C. If we’re using a pre-ferment like rye sourdough, minor adjustments may be needed.
Breads made with the best temperatures will follow. I am expecting better results. Plus, fiddling around with a thermometer adds another shade of comical value to the home-baking effort, it becomes a waltz around the bowl of dough.