Tips on baking bread (wheat)
These are tips to improve the quality of home-baked bread, I hope.
I have found these tips to be true for breads made with at least 70% wheat flour. Rye is a different story. So is spelt.
1. Baking loaves of bread at 240°C in a conventional fan oven is usually too hot. The wind of hot air dries out the crumb quickly and irregularly. Starting at 220°C is not only sufficient, but helpful, then lowering it to about 190°C halfway into the total baking time, sounds like a good idea to me.
2. Good aeration of bread has not so much to do with chemistry, but with physics. Improving the aeration of bread has not so much to do with using starters, but with the manual conditioning of the dough.
3. Inclusion of yeasted starters tend to result in a more uniform but very light crumb. Inclusion of sourdough starters results in large irregularly sized holes in an otherwise tight crumb, should the water content of the dough not be excessively high.
4. For rolls, baguettes, ciabatta-style breads or, generally, smaller pieces of dough, I find that letting them rise on a towel dusted with rye flour and then turning them over before the bake gives them a superior crust which does not look pale. Toasted rye flour also tastes better than toasted wheat flour.
5. For white rolls, a small amount of fat and / or milk seems to hasten fermentation, improve crust color and give an aroma commonly associated with rolls, which is slightly sweet.
6. For unsweetened rolls without fat, if a thin and crackling crust is desired, bake at an initial temperature of 250°C or as high as the oven goes. Turn down the oven after 5 minutes or so to 200°C. Try to get as much steam into the oven as possible. I spray the oven also during the baking of rolls until the bitter end. (Probably useless as general rule, cf. a thread in the forum at www.danlepard.com).
7. Extending the final rise with the dough almost on the brink of collapse is a trade-off between less vigorous oven spring and very good crust color and flavor.
8. A leaven that is kept at 7°C needs to be refreshed only once a week, if at least half of it is replaced during the refreshment. I keep only a small amount of leaven (300g) and the day before baking make an overnight starter by taking 1 tsp of leaven and add 100g flour and 100g water to get a starter of about 200g.
9. So called “retarded” rise of dough in the fridge overnight gives a tough but flexible crust. It might be described as “leathery”. The bread takes on color in the oven quicker too.
10. It seems that baguettes are a good reference for judging a baker’s skill.
DISCLAIMER: “Who are you to tell us about bread making?”, you ask. It’s what I, and I only for now, have found. It is not based on academic knowledge either.