Over-Thinking Bread Baking
1. Convection Mode? I use the convection mode to brown the crust at the end of the baking time, because I worry that the hot swirling air will set the exterior before the bread has had the chance to fully rise. Does using the convection mode for the entire baking time hinder the oven spring?
2. Starter Necessary? Is there a discernable difference in using a starter for a Euro-style bread if the entire batch of dough is going to spend the night in the refrigerator?
3. Whey Instead of Water? How does using the liquid that remains after turning yogurt into labnah affect bread? Better for Euro-style lean breads, or enriched American-style? I keep running across the suggestion, but I’ve wary of trying it.
4. Whole Grain Bread “Stretch” Solution? This problem is purely aesthetic, but it still makes me crazy. I make the KAF recipe from the back of its wheat germ package almost weekly (I was out of rolled oats one time and used Bob’s Red Mill 10-Grain Cereal. Really good substitute. Anyway…) No matter how careful I am or what technique I try, the exterior of the finished bread has stretch marks. I let the dough rest for 20 minutes or so just after it comes together. I’ve patted the dough into a loaf shape, and I’ve rolled it out and let it relax a bit before I’ve formed it into a loaf shape. I use the right sized pans, slash the surface of the dough, and make sure the dough is fully risen before it goes into the oven – and I use an oven thermometer. Obviously, I’m missing something….???
Voted the Best Reply!
2. No, a starter (preferment, biga, poolish) aren't "necessary," but you'll get a very different bread with any of them. That's a much longer discussion than we can have right here. Yes, the difference is discernable, but for reasons that are a bit lengthy to explain. For an excellent tutorial, I'd suggest The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. He was my breads instructor in culinary school, and sort of informally known as The Bread God. I did recipe testing for that book, and it is excellent.
3. Whey, yes by all means go right ahead and use it. Know that it's going to be a bit acidic, so for every 8 ounces that you use, also add 1/2 teaspoon baking soda to your dry ingredients.
4. Your whole grain bread sounds lovely. Whole grain breads can be a bit of a challenge in that they really need a higher hydration rate than white breads. Don't hesitate to boost the water by a couple of ounces to begin with. Are you soaking your 10-grain cereal (excellent choice, by the way) in hot water for 15 minutes, then draining it before mixing you dough? That will make a huge difference for you. It sounds like your dough is simply too firm, or "tight". The solution is a higher hydration rate. Don't be afraid if it looks sticky. The autolyse will take care of that. You're doing everything else just right. This is a simple fix, and your bread should give you the appearance and texture you're aiming for.