Feb 27 2018

Pan Loaf Experimentation

Pan Loaf Attempt 1

Justin thoughtfully bought two Pullman pans and a copy of the new Meyers Bakery cookbook for my January birthday. Before Hugh, I would have curled up on the couch with my new cookbook, read it cover to cover, and bookmarked recipes. I may have added in a bit of internet research to complement whatever recipe or technique I read about, and then a few weeks later, I’d finally have felt mentally ready to get started.

Today’s reality is that I flipped through the new baking book sporadically, a page here over breakfast, a stolen moment while Hugh was otherwise occupied, a hurried amount of research on my phone while he was napping on me. It feels more slapdash than I’m used to (I should say, than I used to be used to — I’m now very familiar with this way of life!), but on the positive end, bread gets baked with minimal amounts of procrastination. Frequently, first baking attempts aren’t incredible, whether I’ve put weeks of research into it or not. For something like baking bread, where so much learning is in the touch, the smell, and the taste, it’s best to get started and learn while doing. So, thank you Hugh: you’ve gifted me this ability to bake now and to tweak later.

A few days after my birthday, I started my overnight leaven, and the following morning mixed my dough – a sourdough / added yeast hybrid. I shy away from added yeast, not enjoying the flavor of a fast rise and missing the health benefits of a slow, natural fermentation. But in this case, I picked a hybrid dough because I wanted to narrow my playing field and consider the process more than the proof. The added yeast would allow me to mix, shape, and bake the loaves on the same day, and guarantee a faster than normal rise. Ultimately, I will bake pure sourdough pan loaves, but first things first!

Having very little experience with yeasted breads, I looked at the measurements and added my instant yeast, five grams in total. Yes, this seemed like a lot, but I always like to follow a recipe to the ‘t’ for the first attempt. The dough quickly expanded and bubbled, disturbingly faster than sourdough, yielding a yeasty aroma. Unlike my sourdough bread timing, I had very little idea about when the dough would be ready to be transferred to the loaf pans and had to rely on feel and intuition (which is the case with sourdough too, but sourdough timing is more forgiving).

I folded the dough seven times in the first three hours and then let it hang out in the tub. I went about my day and checked in an hour after the final turn. The dough was bubbling and large: it was time to transfer to the pullman pans! Per instructions, I didn’t shape when I transferred and just plopped the divided dough into each tin. Again, I didn’t know when these breads would be ready for the oven, but I assumed five more hours, at the earliest, and continued to go about my day. After Hugh’s nap, I desperately needed to get outside for a walk. He and I walked down to Laurelhurst Park and then Justin met us so we could drive up to north Portland for an early pizza dinner. I had told Justin I thought I’d need to preheat the oven around 5:30 for a 6:30 bake. We returned about 5:40 and the entire house smelled uncomfortably yeasty — akin to an instant yeast explosion at a bread factory. The dough had risen completely out of the tins and then fallen again. I had missed my chance to bake these, and was initially confused because given ambient temperature of the house and my own knowledge, I didn’t think my guess would have been entirely wrong.

I consulted the cookbook and as it turns out, Meyers meant five grams of fresh yeast, not five grams of instant yeast! He gives a conversion on a random page in his book (resulting in about 1.5 grams). In my quick flipping, I hadn’t seen this conversion and so I could only laugh and decide to bake the bread anyways, hoping to gain some understanding about how to bake tin loaves. I decided to bake with the lids on and without additional steam, as the book did not detail this part. I assumed that the lids could act much like a dutch oven top does when baking boules: to trap the steam in. I put the bread into a preheated 480 oven, then removed the lids after ten minutes and turned the temperature down to 450. I continued baking until the internal temperature registered at 212 (roughly twenty two more minutes). Because these loaves had so completely over fermented, they still smelled like yeast after baking. We didn’t eat them, but I did examine the shape and learned how to remove them from their pans. Unfortunately I didn’t gain much insight into steaming from the lid-on experiment, so for my second pan bake, in addition to using the correct amount of yeast, I decided to keep the lid on again for the first ten minutes without introducing additional steam into the oven.

Pan Loaves Attempt 2 and 3

The second time I baked a pan loaf, I stuck with the same Meyers’ recipe, but added the appropriate amount of yeast (read: very little) and watched the fermentation carefully. I’m a novice with added yeast breads (and would prefer to stay that way, honestly), so the speed of the fermentation and the very powerful CO2 bubbles that result slightly horrify me. But, for the sake of experimentations with pan loaves, it’s pretty neat to be able to start and bake a bread on the same day. Once the dough seemed sufficiently doubled, I scooped the two parts into two pan loaves, slid the pans into plastic bags and waited.

The house temperature was in the high 60s and the recipe predicts around a twelve hour fridge ferment, so I was expecting about a four to five hour room temperature ferment. After four hours, I preheated the oven and slid the loaves in. I was still unsure about steam versus not, as the book says nothing, and I wasn’t convinced about steam’s necessity with added yeast and pans. I elected to not steam and the results were pretty amusing. The loaves bubbled up and then collapsed into themselves, leaving the top looking like loose skin with nothing to fill it (unappetizing, I know!). Clearly I needed to steam the next round.

A few days later, I followed the same recipe to similar looking fermentation results. This time, I added steam for the first fifteen minutes of the bake, just like I do for my sourdough boules. The loaves puffed up and stayed puffy, the exterior skin hardening instead of collapsing. When I pulled them out of the oven and unleashed them from their pans, I was pleased. They were petite things, but looked as I had expected, domed on the top and a tight crumb once sliced into. They tasted sweet and unchallenging and have made good receptacles for butter. But now that I know more about pan loaves, specifically steaming, I’m ready to return to my sourdough roots. My next pan loaf will be modeled after a recipe I’ve found from a sourdough blogger, and I’ll be starting experiments with rye pan loaves. My timing on experiments depends on the other bread I’m baking and Hugh’s schedule, but suffice to say, I’m eager to get started.