Thursday, September 27, 2012

Scott Mangold: Test-Baking with Local Wheats

Related posts:
Kneading Conference West 2012
Naomi Duguid: Bread Over Time
Andrew Whitley: Bread Matters

This year as last year, it was tough to make a choice between all the workshops, lectures, roundtables and demos offered at the Kneading Conference West and on that gorgeous Saturday morning (the last morning), I would especially have loved to attend one of the events taking place in the outdoor tent area instead of hanging out in the lobby kitchen, which is where Scott was giving his demo. But local grains were calling and local grains I picked!
I am glad I did. Sott gave us useful pointers which I am happy to share here.  I took copious notes and so did my friend and fellow SHB/bread blogger breadsong who was sitting next to me. When she heard I was going to write up the class for this blog, she very kindly sent me her notes. What follows is an amalgamed summary of what we both wrote down. Thank you, breadsong!
The whole wheat Scott Mangold is currently baking with at Breadfarm, his beautiful bakery in the Skagit valley, is milled nearby at Fairhaven Organic Flour Mill but it is grown in Whatcom county. Stephen Jones, Director, WSU Research and Extension Center at Mt. Vernon, is seeking to grow locally flavorful wheat that could be used by bakers and Scott hopes to be able to make a Skagit Valley bread one day. Meanwhile he tries the flours he can put his hands on with varied results: local wheats are inherently inconsistent. Even when working with them as individual varieties, there will be variability in flour performance because of the climate and the weather.
For this morning's demo, Scott picked Camas Red Fife (12.8% protein), Renan (a standard French varietal, 12.3% protein), Hedlin Farm's Bauermeister (10% protein - last year's crop as this year's is fairly low in protein) and Red Russian (14.6% protein).

Scott describes the in-bakery test bake system that he has devised for himself: when he gets his hands on a new flour, he always begins by taking a small amount which he mixes in a straight dough, then ferments and bakes. The process never varies, which makes later comparisons much easier. He strongly recommends that we too, at home or at the bakery:
  • Take detailed notes about times, temperatures and water amounts
  • Rely on feel: as the flour absorbs the water, the dough feel may change. You may have to adjust hydration to get the consistency you are looking for (keep notes on the amount of added water)
  • Make note of the dough temperature at the end of the mixing
As bakers, we need to keep in mind that:
  • Flour is at its best within 24 hours of milling. After that, it needs at least two weeks to oxidize properly
  • When protein is concerned, quality trumps quantity: The speed of dough development correlates with the quality of the protein: glutenin provides elasticity and gliadin extensibility. Spring wheat has higher levels of protein but these proteins are organized in a less compact way. Winter wheat's dormancy period during the growing season makes for a better perfoming protein
  • The quality of the protein is what determines how long the dough needs to be mixed. When gluten develops poorly during mixing, use the stretch and fold technique
What goes on in a dough
  • Yeast consumes sugar and produces gas (the warmer the dough and/or the more leavening it contains, the faster it happens)
  • Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) produce lactic and acetic acids.  If using a pre-ferment and a long fermentation, acidity is produced even in yeasted breads. Acidity strengthens the bonds of gluten. The colder the dough, the slower the production of acidity
  • Enzymes are at work: amylase converts starch to sugar and protease weakens the gluten. Enzymatic activity is less temperature-dependent and more time-dependent
  • These three phenomena are "happening in a dance together"
  • Amylase is activated in the presence of water and breaks down complex sugars to produce simple sugars that the yeast can feed on. Amylase activity is measured by the flour's falling number  (an information which is seldom to be found on the bags of flour available to home bakers). A high falling number (ex: 400) means that the flour is a slow mover and will be good for long-fermented doughs. A low falling number (ex: 250 or less) means that amylatic activity is high. Amylase brings a nutty flavor to the bread
  • Protease's role is to denature protein: it helps increase the extensibility of the dough by softening a strong gluten. Salt is a protease inhibitor and is good for a loose dough which it helps tighten
  • Using more pre-ferment or a riper pre-ferment to boost acidity will strengthen protein bonds. You can adjust the temperature of the pre-ferment to influence the level of acidity 
  • Protease activity and amylase activity go hand in hand: they increase with time
When we use a pre-ferment, we are extending the time when the flour is wet, thus increasing enzymatic activity and acidity: we allow the amylase to break down more complex sugars into simple sugars that the yeast can feed on and the increased acidity counters the increased proteolytic activity (the weakening of the gluten by the protease)
  • Poolish (liquid pre-ferment): when it is ripe, its surface will dome and it'll be bubbly. An upward "curl" will be visible at the edges. As it continues to ripen, the surface will become concave and sink in and it will show lines. The poolish is then at its prime
  • Biga (stiff pre-ferment): use a poke test. Use it when it feels the same as a fermented dough ready to shape or bake
  • Whole-milled wheat yields a flour which contains much more active enzymes
  • Peter Reinhart's technique (epoxy method) when baking with whole wheat is to let the processes happen prior to the mixing by using a soaker
  • A soaker is basically a long autolyse: it allows for enzymatic activity in the absence of fermentation and acidity. The protease acts on the gluten and the amylase creates sugar which is not consumed by yeast since no yeast is present
  • In a nutshell, a soaker yields more sugar, uses more water and makes the dough weaker. If you suspect that the dough will be too weak, use salt in the soaker
  • Do an autolyse: the autolyse allows for full absorption of the water into the flour, facilitating the bonding of the protein molecules and the development of the gluten. It also jumpstarts enzymatic activity. At the bakery, Scott uses a modified autolyse, soaking flour and water overnight in the walk-in. Then in the morning he uses 15 or 20% of this autolyse in each mix without doing a new autolyse for each. He learned the technique from Jeff Yankellow who used it for Team USA 2000
  • Hydrate the autolyse at 70% (in regular baking, whole wheat would require a much higher hydration, maybe 85%, as it loves water)
  • Let the autolyse rest 20 minutes
  • Add yeast, disperse in the mixer and let it incorporate for a few minutes before adding the salt (salt is a tenderizer and breaks down protein)
  • Periodically evaluate the development of the dough in the mixing bowl (windowpane test)
  • If the proteins are not strong enough, you will weaken the gluten if you continue mixing. Use more folds
  • Don't mix too fast: it weakens the dough
  • Stiffer doughs generate more heat during mixing
  • Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is a strengthener for weak doughs
  • Desired dough temperature for these tests is 75°F at the end of the mixing
Fermentation and proofing
  • The more time for fermentation, the more alcohol (and flavor) is produced: flavor results from a combination of sugar and alcohol. If the yeast consumes all the sugar, you'll get a flatter-tasting loaf
Evaluating the dough
  • Scott is following the method devised by Cliff Leir of fol épi bakery in Victoria, BC, to evaluate the dough as it comes out of the mixer: he takes two ounces of each mix, forms small boules and leaves them to sit, covered, next to each other so that he can compare the rise to spread ratio of each and assess proteolytic activity (degree of gluten weakening by protease)
  • For each dough, after 30 minutes of bulk fermentation, check to see how quickly it is fermenting and how is the gluten handling the fermentation. Do a tug test: what is the dough's resistance? Test elasticity: does the dough stand up or fall back down after being tugged (standing up is a predictor of good loaf volume)? Is the dough trapping gas? Stretch another gluten window and see how the gluten is holding up/developing. A good gluten window will be hard to break at that stage
  • After 45 minutes of bulk fermentation, check the dough again: how is it inflating? Do a poke test (as you would for a proof test), does the dough push back? If the dough holds your fingerprint, it could mean that the gluten is strong enough to hold down the rise; the gas produced by the yeast is being held tightly; there will be more pressure in the loaf and smaller holes in the crumb. Does the dough feel sticky or release water?
Note: The dough may be fermenting but could be releasing gas if it is porous (it happens when gas is escaping but you don't see any holes in the surface of the dough). When it is time to shape, check to see if the dough is collapsing. If the proteins are breaking down, you will have small holes and a homogenous crumb.
Variables in fermentation and proofing
  • Rapid fermentation/slow proof: the yeast is running out of sugar. Next time, reduce the amount of leavening and use a soaker instead of a pre-ferment
  • Rapid fermentation/fast proof: enzymatic activity is high. Sometimes the dough will get wetter and softer. Next time you might want to decrease hydration. Do not use a soaker
  • Slow fermentation/slow proof: low amylase activity. Use both a pre-ferment and a soaker but decrease the amount of leavening in the pre-ferment to give yeast more time
  • Slow fermentation/fast proof: very rare. Sometimes it is a good thing, but if it isn't, just don't use that flour again
Compensating for flour deficiencies based on test results
If the flour contains a high percentage of protein, next time:
  • Do an autolyse
  • Under-mix (a web of gluten is a lot like thread count on a sheet: the less you mix, the fewer the connections between the strands)
  • Stretch and fold (more frequently)
  • Boost acidity by using a riper pre-ferment or more pre-ferment
  • Increase hydration
  • Bump up proteolytic activity by not salting the pre-ferment or soaker
If the quality of the gluten is poor, next time:
  • Reduce fermentation time
  • Increase leavening
  • Pre-ferment a greater portion of the flour
  • Bump up acidity: use pre-ferment when at or past its prime
  • Stiffen up the dough by decreasing hydration (but you'll lose some flavor)
  • Don't use a soaker
If dough is hyperactive, next time:
  • Decrease the amount of leavening in the pre-ferment
  • Decrease fermentation time
If poor rise and no color out of the oven, next  time: 
  • Give amylase more time (use a soaker)
  • Increase the quantity of pre-ferment (giving more time to amylitic activity)
  • Extend fermentation time (more folds), so that the amylase has more time to cleave the sugar off the starch
The results of the testing are mostly relevant to those of us who have access to the same flours as Scott. But just to give you an idea of the conclusions he was able to draw for himself in case he wanted to use these flours again, here is what he found:
  • Camas Red Fife: Seems fine for baking purposes. Add water. Use an unsalted soaker. Use a pre-ferment (small amount). Decrease the yeast and increase fermentation time
  • Renan: Increase hydration to make the dough softer. Increase the amount of sugar available to the yeast by using a soaker with salt and a pre-ferment
  • Hedlin Bauermeister: Slow it down by half, do more folds, bump up acidity by using a ripe pre-ferment and maybe use a soaker
  • Red Russian: Bump up acidity by using a ripe pre-ferment. Do not use a soaker
Such pointers are what we are looking to get out of these tests. Scott is encouraging: "It is a lot of information to wrap your head around but once you see the various adjustments that can be made, it is fairly straightforward."
He adds: "We have years of work ahead of us here in Western Washington. We need to find wheats that are resistant to rust while looking for flavor and long fermentations. We have a miller but no storage capacity (such as the grain elevators in the Midwest). The miller could conceivably make a blend of local wheats but his mill isn't equipped to mill white flour. Also, our customers do not buy lots of whole grain breads, so we cannot completely switch over. But we would still like to use local wheat, so we need to find a solution."
Right now grain is mostly grown here as a rotation crop and sold to Asia as pastry wheat. Farmers usually lose money on it but it is good for the soil. If they could make money on grain, they could grow more. They would make more money off of the commodity market. As for the baker,  he would get a better product than when he buys from the Midwest something that was milled last year and doesn't offer good nutrition.
There are ways to make white flour more nutritious, for instance going for a higher extraction flour. Cliff Leir (who mills his own flour) soaks the wheat for a minimum of eight to ten hours, which softens the bran. When milled, the bran pops off in big flakes which builds up in a catch sifter and the whole aleurone layer and germ make it into the white flour.

Results of the test bake


  1. Hi MC,
    You are so welcome, and thank you so much for your kind mention - I'm glad you could use the notes :^)
    You've done such a wonderful job writing about Scott's class; so generous and helpful of you to share Scott's wealth of knowledge with your readers!
    :^) breadsong

    1. Scott really did an amazing job describing the pros and cons of baking with local grains but it wasn't easy to take in all that info in a couple of hours. I am so glad we both took notes. My post wouldn't have been as detailed without you.

  2. This is a GREAT thread. Thank you.

  3. ok, it will take some time to read carefully and absorb all the information but this post... rocks!
    there is so much to learn about bread that I feel I will never grow tired of reading about it.
    thank you for sharing!

    1. Hi Barbara, I learned so much from Scott's presentation. He really did his best to cover all bases and foresee all possible scenarios. He says that once we have done this type of testing a few times, the reasoning will become second nature. I am not there yet, but like you, I don't get tired of reading and learning when bread is concerned... :)

  4. This is a must read, a must study - I agree with Italian Smorgasbord, it it the type of article that one must sit down and carefully go through.

    To make a sort of silly parallel with this, we have two undergrad students that joined our lab, and sometimes I feel almost sorry for them, having to absorb so much information to be able to do something and help us out. It is not easy, and it takes commitment and patience. I think grasping all that is involved with bread baking is not easy either. But your write up is that major step in the right direction.

    thank YOU!

    1. Hi Sally, so glad you think the info can come in handy. It is a lot to think about indeed but the good part is that we don't have to remember everything in one shot...

  5. Thankyou from me too.This is all so very important to understand and such a complex dance - makes me think we are very lucky sometimes that our bread does come out nicely and makes all those odd loaves and mysteries a bit more intelligible. I hace enjoyed your Kneading Conference posts enormously!

    1. Hi Joanna, yes, isn't it amazing we manage to get it right from time to time without even knowing why? A good thing too, otherwise we'd probably give up before we grasp how it really works... I am so happy that you enjoyed the posts about the Conference. It was a brilliant event and I am glad that it reverberated halfway across the world.

  6. hi MC
    I have nominated your blog for "the One Lovely Blog Award". Please visit for more info.
    have a nice weekend and shalom

    1. I was wondering if there was a blog award. I second your nomination, idity8.

    2. Thank you so much, idity8 and Anonymous, it is very kind of you. I must decline the honor as I don't participate in blog awards but I am truly grateful that you think highly enough of Farine to nominate it. Thanks again!

  7. This is a tremendous amount of information -- so useful to someone like me who has much to learn about the intricacies of flour and bread. Amazing, detailed resource!

    1. Hello kellypea! It is indeed. I don't think I have fully processed it myself even though I was at the demo. I bet I'll find myself going back to the post time after time...

  8. Any explanation on why the autolyse is recommended at a low hydration of 70%?

  9. Hello Anonymous, doing an autolyse is beneficial at any hydration level. As a resting period following the incorporation of water and flour (and sometimes starter or yeast but no salt), the autolyse allows the gluten to start developing on its own prior to the beginning of the mixing process. Because the gluten network has started developing, mixing time can be shortened. By shortening mixing time, you minimize oxydation which means that you get better flavor. You may also get a better crumb structure. Hope this helps!

  10. I never connected the oxidation aspect of Autolyse.. Thank you for being there and reporting on the conference..



  11. I never considered the oxidation aspect of autolyse, I've always done it, at least in my modern baking. Thank you for your reporting and the rest of your dedications..




  12. Tremendous amount of information, so useful to someone like me who has much to learn about the intricacies of flour and bread. Amazing, Thank you so much :)



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