This post was written for Dan Lepard’s forum. I am republishing it here for those of you who don’t visit his forum as it was a lot of work and it might be of interest. The back story is that various people have consistently had problems with using Allinsons strong bread flour to make sourdough and so Gill the Painter and others, have had a go at doing comparison bakes. (Edit: Dan’s forum no longer exists) I have put more pictures here than on Dan’s forum, that’s the only difference.
The flours I had a go with were:-
Allinsons strong bread flour, Waitrose Organic strong bread flour, Waitrose’s own Leckford Estate strong bread flour and Shipton Mill’s Untreated Organic no 4. All flours bought recently with similar use by dates on their bags. The Waitrose Organic and Leckford are cheaper by a few pennies than the Allinsons. The Shipton Mill is the most expensive of the four.
I made four doughs from four different flours as similarly as I could manage. I’m very aware that it is almost impossible to be truly scientific in a home kitchen, and I wouldn’t want anyone to treat the following as anything but anecdotal! If someone wants to lend me a bigger kitchen with an oven that can take more loaves in one go than mine, I’d love to try again properly….
Each loaf consisted of:
110 gr of mature starter (13 hours old, with one refreshment) at 100% hydration using the different flours for each loaf, all starting with 10 grams of my basic white levain
160 g filtered tap water
285 g flour
7 g french sea salt
I think that is about 63% hydration. Nothing too difficult there.
Prepared starters at 10 pm. Started mixing doughs at 11 am the following day.
Weighed everything out to the nearest gram using digital scales
Rough mixed each dough by hand followed by
Three short kneads at 10 minute intervals
1/2 hour rest Fold
1 hour rest Fold
1 hour rest Fold
2 hour rest First Shape
Bench rest 20 minutes
Shape into tight boules
Place on couche cloth
Final prove 2 hrs 15 minutes
Now I hit a problem. My oven can’t actually take four boules on the kiln shelf all together. So I had a choice; either cook two boules first and then the second pair, or use my smaller top oven and cook two of the breads on a tray with no steam.
I did the latter. It was either wait half an hour and then the prove times would be different, or have different bake methods. So at this point it stops being even vaguely scientific in any shape or form, but it is still interesting for what it shows about using steam and a kiln shelf….
So two breads were cooked on the kiln shelf with steam below as usual.
Two breads were cooked in the top oven, no steam on a tray and parchment. I cooked the bottom oven breads at 230 C top/bottom heat with steam. The top oven breads at 220 C without steam on a tray. The top oven runs hotter than the bottom oven as it is smaller. If I had put the breads in at 230 C as well, they would have burnt on the bottoms. It’s happened before.
Because the Allinsons strong bread flour is the one under scrutiny, I gave it the best seat in the house; it was baked next to the Waitrose Organic own brand on the kiln shelf in the bottom oven with steam.
Thoughts on making and handling the doughs….
The Allinsons dough stayed stickier and slacker than the others, but improved enormously with folding, as they all did. I shaped the Allinsons twice to try and get a really tight boule but it still spread more than the others on the couche cloth and the dough was the flattest going into the oven. Looking at the dough closely it seemed to have tiny bran particles in it that I couldn’t see in the others. So there is some difference there. Of the four flours I tried, the Waitrose Organic seemed to have the most strength, you could see the gluten development fairly quickly in the dough , however the Shipton caught up by the end of the bulk prove. The Leckford I didn’t pay that much attention to. But it seemed happy enough.
But looking at the visual results of the bake, there is virtually no difference in the oven spring achieved by the Allinsons and the Waitrose Organic. The striking difference is between the top and bottom oven experiences. The top oven breads are not at all pretty. Their slashes haven’t opened and they have done that funny shape thing, that I associate with underproving but now I think is to do, at least in part, with baking in that particular oven, which is a microwave/combi oven.
I tracked and labelled and double checked each time I went from bowl to board, to cloth to oven and out so I am sure that the finished breads are the ones I have labelled them as. I had to concentrate much harder than usual making these.
Shaping and moving to oven
The shapes of the boules are slightly distorted depending on how they sat in the couche cloth and what happened to them moving from place to place, it was quite awkward moving them from cloth to peel. The Waitrose one got a bit squashed somewhere along the line as you can see by the way it leans to one side. Normally I would have used bread forms, but I wanted to see how the dough held up in a cloth without the support of a form.
I slashed all four loaves the same way, and brushed water into the slashes before they went into the ovens, Nils style!
The Allinsons definitely spread out more, but as you can see recovered hugely and achieved the same height as the Waitrose Organic, though the crumb does look different, larger holes, a hint of a flying crust and it doesn’t look quite as even as the others, I can see flecks of bran in there,but it certainly was no greyer than the other breads, they all had a very similar colour on cutting.
Here are the crumb shots. It was overcast this morning, otherwise I would have taken them outside, so the colours are not perfect. The crumb colour was surprisingly uniform, the Allinsons having these small particles of bran visible. I wouldn’t call any of them grey, more a warm off white/creamy yellow colour. The colour I associate with unbleached white flour in the UK.
We took centre slices out of each loaf, chopped them in two, and arranged them on saucers with labels underneath, twizzled them around and did our best to do blind tasting.
For flavour and aroma the Shipton came out tops, maybe because I am used to this flour and know it very well, so even on a blind test I can pick it out? Or maybe it simply is better?
The Allinsons came joint second with the Waitrose Organic. The Allinsons was chewier than the Waitrose Organic, and the Leckford came fourth, slightly less flavoursome, but still perfectly acceptable.
I have to say, that I don’t make a lot of pure white sourdough, I prefer my sourdoughs to have some wholegrain in them for flavour, like rye or wholewheat, so it isn’t my favourite bread anyway. I prefer breads made with milk or whey or with butter in or caraway seeds if I am going for an all-white loaf.
So what is my conclusion? It is impossible to be really scientific at home, that’s the first thing. Secondly, the bag of Allinsons flour that I used made a perfectly decent sourdough using the method and timings given above. I can’t throw any light therefore on the results that other people have had. Maybe it is the very long proves that do the dough in, or using a very high hydration, or something to do with how acidic your starters are when you add them to the dough. I pass the question on to the next baker !