Conditioning, Shaping Dough & Baking Process

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This dough should be wet. Gluten will not yet be developed and the whole grain flour will soak in a LOT of water, so aim for something that looks like this picture or wetter to start with. Throughout this process, you can add water (just by pouring some on top of the dough as it sits) or decrease the wetness by removing the covering and letting some evaporate. When you begin, the gluten will not have much development (doesn’t hold together smoothly when stretched, but breaks apart)

” This dough should be wet. Gluten will not yet be developed and the whole grain flour will soak in a LOT of water, so aim for something that looks like this picture or wetter to start with…”

Place dough in a non-metal bowl (metal can react to acidity) and cover with a damp towel or loose lid. *Also a word of caution: we had our plastic dough container in the oven when someone inadvertently turned it on to pre-heat for baking, but forgot the dough was in there… The plastic melted ALL over our pizza steel and baking racks before we smelled it. Took FOREVER to get it off! We now have a system with a hot pink envelope taped over the timer area when we are using the oven to proof. So far so good! But you may want to use a glass or ceramic container just to be safe.

Turn your oven on the proof setting. If you don’t have a proof setting, turn your oven on bake, set a 1 min timer and then turn it off again (be SURE to turn it OFF). Place the bowl of dough on a rack in the oven to warm and rest.

PROCESS

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PROCESS

Time/ Temp Immediate Use Process Refrigerating Dough for Later Use
Rest until doubled Stretch Dough (in thirds both ways- like, take the lump, pull one side, flop it 1/3 of the way over, then take the other side, flop it over too. Then take the long ends and do the same. The procedure is not important- just provide the dough with some stretching.) Stretch Dough (in thirds both ways)
Rest until doubled Stretch Dough (in thirds both ways) Stretch Dough (in thirds both ways)
Rest until doubled Cut in pieces and shape for whatever you are making – focaccia and pizza don’t need extra shaping, you can just create your forms right away and bake. For breads you will want to fold each in thirds, shape and place on prepared oven peel or put in shaping baskets, bowls, etc. and cover. Saran wrap individual pieces and put in fridge for later use.
*Remove desired amount of dough from refrigerator, bring to room temp, shape into loaf and finish just as the other loaves.
Shaped loaves rest and rise till almost doubled *Uncover 10 min before you want to slash loaves to get a bit of a “skin” on the dough (it’s very wet). Slash loaves and preheat oven with Pizza Steel to 550 or as hot as yours will go.  
Bake at 550º on Steel or Stone Breads 15 min, Pizza 8 min, Focaccia 6 min  

A hot oven temp with the 1/4″ Pizza Steel

Creates the BEST baking environment for breads, pizzas, focaccia, etc. Like in a wood-fired oven the high heat is what helps create more lift to the breads with an excellent crust, perfectly browned surface and finished interior. The lower the temp and the slower the baking, the more difficult the process becomes. Some ovens only go to 525. Try to get the most heat possible and wait for the steel to absorb it. If you use a stone to bake on, your cooking times will be slightly longer. When the bread is tapped and has a hollow sound, the interior is done. (Troubleshooting: if you remove the breads and find that they are slightly under cooked, you can always slice them when cooled and fry with butter or as “french toast”. Also, if you used only sourdough as leaven, you can eat “as is”, since it’s perfectly edible RAW!).

**Truthfully, the steel is really the SECRET INGREDIENT in successful home baking and nothing will bake as you need it to without it. I was hesitant to buy one at first because everyone talks about baking stones as the “real thing” and from what I read, they said that pizzas would bake great on a steel but breads would burn. OH CONTRAIRE! It’s worth the expense.

SHAPING LOAVES

This subject is deep and wide. A quick internet search will find you knee deep in creativity. You can start with a simple fold in thirds, then round the shape pushing the dough around the edges toward the bottom, finished with a pinch. Get a bowl or proofing basket. Dust the surface well with rice flour first (helps prevent sticking), then regular flour and put the round into the basket for it’s last proofing. If you want to use seeds, brush the bowl with olive oil, sprinkle seeds generously and turn the dough into it to rise. (Consider using scissors to score a dough with large seeds since the surface will be hard to drag a knife through).

PROOFING

*The actual proofing times depend on how warm or cool the dough is and how active the starter is. It’s important to let the dough go until it’s “almost doubled” in size. Of course, you can still salvage it if you let it go too long and it over-proofs (we’ve had many a great flatbread this way), and even if it’s under proofed and makes a heavy brick… it still works sliced thin for sandwiches or spreads. With practice your loaves will get better and better!

How do you know when it’s proofed? Proofing is when the dough has trapped so much air from the yeast fermentation that it has stretched the gluten to it’s maximum. It needs to be strong enough to hold the bubbles, but relaxed enough to have room left to expand. So if you poke into the dough about 1/2” with your finger and the indentation bounces right back, it has LOTS of stretch left and hasn’t really been expanded much (under proofed). If the indentation stays completely indented, the gluten strands that you pushed in were actually stretched to their max already, and when you pushed them in they gave out and don’t have any elasticity left to bounce back at all (over proofed). If the indentation fills back in slowly, then most of the gluten strands still have elasticity and did not get broken which means they are holding the gases and still have some expansion left to create “oven spring” when you bake them (perfectly proofed). At this point, you are ready to slash your loaves and bake!

SLASHING LOAVES

If you uncover the loaves for a couple of minutes before slashing, the outsides won’t be so sticky and dusting them with flour not only makes slashing easier, but creates a beautiful contrast on the finished bread. Slashing is actually a serious art and simply… takes practice. Use a clean, SHARP blade or serrated knife. Start with a simple design… draw it on paper first. I wipe my blade between my fingers to remove dough if need be (obviously… it’s SHARP, so be sensible!). It also works well to wet the knife with water between cuts or apply oil to make scoring smoother. Slashing quickly and deep while holding the blade at an angle is the best start. Hold the dough steady with your free hand (not too close to the blade) to minimize movement of the loaf. Experiment with long, deep lines and series of shorter, parallel surface cuts. Aim for 1/4” – 1” deep, depending on the effect you are looking for.

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Kristie Harper

Permaculture Designer, Artist, Follower of Jesus, Mother of 8 🙂 Founder of Regeneration Nation

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