Even so, I always wanted to take a closer look at the bread I was baking and solve some of the problems I – and other home bakers – had in the past. Most important among these is the dough’s slackness and its tendency to spread out in a pancake-like loaf that bakes flat and tight, if only lightly mistreated.
It all has to do with elasticity and stretchability. Elasticity is the ability of a dough to spring back like a rubber band when stretched. Extensibility is the downside: the ability of a dough to stretch without snapping back or tearing. Finding the right balance between these two is the trick.
For example, pizza dough needs high extensibility to stretch a ball of dough into a thin, crispy crust that retains enough structure to withstand wet, heavy toppings. That same stretchiness in a rustic boule or bâtard can result in dough that lacks the texture to hold its shape. On the other hand, too much elasticity and you get a dense crumb structure.
A couple of things helped me achieve this balance.
Mr. Migoya suggested that a small amount of acid could improve gluten bond formation; In side-by-side tests, a drop or two of vinegar or lemon juice made a noticeable difference in dough strength.
Virtually every baker I’ve spoken to suggested adding folding and stretching steps, and in my own tests, I found that Mr. Migoya recommended pulling and pulling the dough about every half hour for the first two to three hours To give wrinkles The long rest worked best. The more tugs and folds you make, the more structure the dough will have, resulting in greater elasticity and a denser, more compact crumb. (On a tip from Mr. Reinhart, I dip my hands in water before handling the dough. This is a far more effective way of keeping your hands clean than flour.) Then the dough can rest on the counter until it is shaped. and is ready to test – at least a couple of hours, but until overnight is fine. Or, even easier, put it in the refrigerator overnight or up to three nights before proofing. (A longer break in the refrigerator will taste better than a short break at room temperature.)
One last shaping section before proofing and baking is enough to give the dough the structure that I like. The goal is to create a membrane that gently wraps around the dough, much like fresh mozzarella or burrata has taut skin that extends around a softer, less textured interior. Some bakers use a plastic or metal scraper to shape the dough into its final shape. Mr Migoya recommends a flexible metal spatula that you would use to fill a wall. I find it easiest to work manually: I keep my fingers together and use the edges of my palms to tuck the skin under the ball and smooth the top effectively. As with all the steps here, the less you handle the batter, the better. 15 to 30 seconds of shaping is a reasonable goal.
It’s important to note that there is no such thing as a “right” crumb structure, although strangers on social media will lead you to believe. The current pandemic-inspired craze for high-hydration sourdough breads with a large structure with open holes is perfect for catching bags of jam or soft butter. But try making a grilled cheese sandwich on top of holey bread and watch the cheese ooze out. Then you will find the value in breads with a tighter crumb structure. Knowing that adding extra stretches and creases will create a tighter crumb, then you can tweak your technique to suit your own tastes.