When exactly does bulk fermentation begin in Hamelman's Bread?
Dear fellow bakers,
I have been studying the sourdough formulas in Jeffrey Hamelman's book, Bread, 2nd edition. On page 13 he discusses bulk fermentation, he says it begins as soon as the mixing is over. Looking at his formulas, in some of them he includes the levain right at the beginning and puts the dough away for an autolyse of 20-60 minutes, and then finishes the mix by adding the salt and mixing the dough for a few more minutes until desired gluten development is achieved. In these formulas the dough can ferment for as long as 60 minutes during the autolyse before finishing the mix because the levain was added at the beginning. In other formulas, he holds the levain back during the 20-60-minute autolyse, then finishes the mix by adding the levain and the salt. In this case, the fermentation starts exactly when mixing is finished because the levain was added at the end. Yet, all his formulas that don't include commercial yeast call for 2 and a half hours of bulk fermentation, regardless of whether or not the levain was added at the beginning or at the end of the mixing. If bulk fermentation starts when the dough is finished mixing, it means that in the formulas where the levain is added at the beginning the dough can ferment 60 minutes longer than in the other formulas because fermentation is already taking place during the 60-minute autolyse. So, if I observe the two and a half hours of bulk fermentation, starting from the point of finishing the mix, the dough that already had the levain added at the beginning will actually receive 3 and a half hours of bulk fermentation because of the autolyse period prior to mixing, during which the dough is already fermenting.
So, I guess my question is: when exactly does bulk fermentation begin in Mr. Hamelman's formulas? When I add the levain, or when I finish the final mix? This is not entirely clear to me and therefore I am not quite sure when to apply the prescribed folds and when to end the bulk fermentation, if I want to strictly follow the formulas.
Bulk fermentation begins when all the ingredients listed in the final dough are mixed to moderate gluten development.
Thank you gavinc. That makes sense. I guess then it doesn't matter if the dough is already fermenting during the autolyse phase.
You wrote "if I want to strictly follow the formulas." If you wander around this site you will find various reminders of the old adage to watch the dough and not the clock. Time periods are guides, but not written in stone. The temperature of the dough, temperature of the kitchen, and several other factors can impact the amount of time dough needs for a proper bulk fermentation as well as final proofing. Be wary of trying to follow any time references in recipes strictly.
Thank you, your suggestion makes total sense, and that's how I have been baking in the past few years. I have learned to watch the dough and not the clock. However, I am trying to dial in certain formulas, my goal now is to have consistent results using more or less consistent times. I think if one manages to keep all variables under control, most importantly temperature, then one could get consistently good results using more or less the same timings for bulk fermentation and final proof. After all, that's how bakeries that make sourdough can operate, they have a baking schedule that they follow. I figure that if I always feed my starter the same way, at the same temperature, with the same flour, and always keep temperatures during dough fermentation, I could probably get consistent results with consistent times. That is not to say that one should stop watching the dough, but keeping everything under control could minimize time fluctuations.
Everything you say is true regarding the quest for consistency, but be flexible for the things you cannot control. I have baked Hamelman's Vermont Sourdough with Increased Whole Grain more than any other bread (a bit over a hundred times). In the winter my kitchen ranges between 69F and 72F whereas in the summer it will be 74F to 78F. In the winter the humidity is low, and in the summer it is higher. All of this affects how dough behaves. I generally use the temperature of the water to achieve a dough target temperature, but that dough temperature can range from 71F to 79F regardless of the season.
For each type of bread that I bake I keep an Excel spreadsheet with notes from each bake. One of the things I track each time is the temperature of the kitchen and of the dough immediately after adding the final ingredients. From my notes I can pretty well predict how long the bulk fermentation is going to take given a certain kitchen temp and dough temp. That is a guide, however, and ultimately I use my experience with the dough to decide when to move on to the next step, such as dumping the dough onto the counter for pre-shaping. Nonetheless, it usually turns out that my estimate after the initial mixing is pretty close to what occurs.
My loaves are fairly consistent, and part of that consistency comes from having the flexibility to adjust as needed to fit the current conditions. You are taking the right approach (in my view) in striving for consistency. Just be sure to include flexibility in your process.
Thank you Ted. I agree with you, one still needs to be flexible even when following a baking schedule. My wording was a little bit exaggerated when I said to follow "strictly" the formulas. My goal is to be able to predict fermentation times, so I can rely on a more or less consistent schedule. I have been working on Hamelman's Vermont Sourdough with Whole Wheat, and trying to dial that in. The reason for my initial question was that I really didn't know when bulk fermentation started in his formulas until it was pointed out to me that it starts when the final mix is completed. I have always thought that fermentation starts when the levain is added to the dough, so I thought that was the beginning of the bulk fermentation. According to his formula the autolyse can be as long as 60 minutes, and the levain is in the dough during that time. If I wrongly assume that bulk fermentation starts when the levain is added, I could cut off bulk fermentation time 60 minutes early because I assume that the autolyse is already part of the bulk fermentation. That one hour can make a huge difference in the degree of fermentation, that's why I needed someone to clarify that for me.
Keeping a spreadsheet is very good, indeed. I have been doing something similar as I keep notes of my bakes, and I also write down temperatures.
If you read the recipe for Hamelman's Vermont Sourdough, you will see that he has a 75-minute period before the one stretch-and-fold and then another 75 minutes before the pre-shaping. From experience, I have found it best to go 90 minutes before the stretch-and-fold. Also, the next period ranges anywhere from 3 to 4 more hours (depending largely on the temperatures of the dough and the kitchen). Those are adjustments that I made based on various bakes.
Hamelman's book is geared for the commercial baker, who will be mixing large batches of dough. My sense is that a 20kg batch of dough will ferment faster than my 2kg batch of dough simply because there is more surface area for my dough to cool a bit after the initial mix. In any event, my time frames seem to work, and that is what counts the most.