Thursday, September 9, 2010

Water Rising for Bread Dough

The control loaf, risen normally.
In the previously mentioned book, Bread Matters, the author briefly described a method he'd found in an obscure Russian cookbook written in the late 1800s, where the dough was left to rise in a bucket of water.

I couldn't read something like that and not try it.

The theory is that the bread is ready to be baked when it is floating on top, presumably because that means there's enough air trapped in the dough.

Allegedly, if you drop a lump of dough into water, the whole loaf you have formed will be ready for the oven when the lump floats.

Before I tried this experiment, that test made sense. Now, I can see some flaws in the theory.

Andrew Whitley, the author of Bread Matters, said that he tried the method but found that handing a slippery loaf of wet bread was too annoying. That wasn't enough to deter me.

The water-risen test loaf.
One missing bit of information was the temperature of the water. Whitley said that the Russian book called for water that was the temperature of the river in summer.

I have no idea what river that was or how warm or cool it was in summer, but I went for something a little cooler than room temperature.

And there was no mention of what type of bread was being dropped into that bucket of water, but from what Whitley said, it was more of a general tip for new housewives who needed help with bread making.

With that little bit of information, I carried on with the experiment. I made a batch of my basic, everyday bread with no frills except that I substituted whey for the water because I had whey on hand from making yogurt. I let it rise once as usual. Then I divided my dough in half. The plan was that I'd use the water-rising dough as my gauge for when both loaves were ready to bake.

Plans don't always work.

Here's the half of the dough when in went into the water.
It sank right to the bottom, just like it was supposed to.

But, uh oh, it started floating almost immediately.
No one told the bread that it was supposed to stay on the bottom. 

I knew it wasn't ready for baking in just a minute or two and I thought that maybe the clue was that it should float a little higher rather than just bobbing about on the surface. It started looking lighter and floating higher, but the dry loaf wasn't ready. They were supposed to finish at the same time, so I let them go for a little while longer. The dough did float even higher, but it also flattened out quite a bit. My bobbing beach ball looked more like an island.

Here is its, floating high:

It was pretty wet and a little gooey on the bottom.

For comparison, here's the dry loaf:

But what they heck, I had them made, I figured I'd bake them both even though the wet one looked pathetic. The dough equivalent of a wet cat. The wet loaf rose in the oven better than I expected, but it was a little weird around the bottom and it stuck to the pan a bit.

Here are the two loaves, top-down:

It's not terrible, but it doesn't have the same perky roundness of the dry-risen loaf. 
Here's another view.

And last, here is a photo of the sliced loaves. They were baked side-by-side in the oven for the same amount of time. You can see how the bottom of the water-risen loaf sort of melted as it baked. The missing gaps on the bottom of the loaf are where the bread stuck to the baking pan. Parchment paper might have helped.

Volume-wise, they're probably pretty close. The water-risen one is definitely wider, but it's not as tall as the standard loaf.

Needless to say, timing the rising based on what was going on with the water-risen loaf didn't work. If I was going by look and feel, I would have left the dry one for another five or 10 minutes. And the wet one should have come out of the water sooner.

Even though this wasn't a rip-roaring success, I think it's a method that's worth investigating further. Next time, I'm going to assume that the river water is colder, and I'm going to take it out of the water when it's still a nice ball rather than gooey and melted on the bottom. I might also experiment with dryer doughs to begin with, and see if that makes any difference.

This has been submitted to YeastSpotting.


Anonymous said...

Interesting and certainly a new one on me! A little fun never hurts. You've been baking long enough to know that not ever published formula is faultless. Keep up posted.
Note: Years ago, working in a small bakery, a large batch of ordinary white bread did not rise as expected. The "Old Master" on our little crew suspected that the mix man has forgotten the yeast! (Stuff happens.) The official test was a golf ball-sized ball of suspect dough in room temp water and wait 10 minutes. If it floats, wait on the dough. If it is still on the bottom, add the missing yeast and adjust the hydration a little and return it to the mixer for a while - and be patient. It worked. The bread was a little late that day, but otherwise just fine.

Lori-Ann said...

This is very interesting. Good first experiment. I'll have to try this out myself with a few tweaks.
Thanks for the post.

The Lunds said...

A baker I am not, but am I the only one who read this to mean you leave the formed loaf on the counter to rise, then put a small ball of dough in water until it floats? When the 'tester' floats, you'll know your loaf is ready to bake? It seems your dry loaf turned out very well.

Donna Currie said...

Hi Lunds

In this test, I rose half the dough in the normal way and the other half in a large container of water right after it was formed. Strange method, but it has some promise.

dmcavanagh said...

@db- dmcavanagh here, check out Peter Reinhart's bagel recipe in the "Bread Baker's Appretice", he uses the "float" method for the proofing of his bagels. I did it the first time I used the recipe and it worked. Now I have enough faith in my dough that I no longer "float" to check fermentation.

Donna Currie said...

@dmc, I just looked it up. He does a ten-second float test to see if they're ready for the next stage, which is interesting. This dough spend the entire rise time in the water. I think this has potential, once I iron out a few kinks. It definitely changed the crust texture, and that's always worth playing with.

Jeannie said...

Very interesting experiment...but I definitely like the normal rising bread...looking forward to your next test:D

Anonymous said...

Maybe the water-bucket rise was for the first proof, not the second. Seems like the dough would have enough air in it after that first rise to make it float, which is what happened with you. The housewives might not have even had a second rise; I've seen several bread recipes that skip that step entirely. Very interesting stuff, though!

Donna Currie said...

A single rise might make sense, but it there was no doubt it was the formed loaf that went into the water. I've got a few ideas I'm working on. It I can get it right, it could be an interesting technique.

eliabe_l said...

Water-risen method is still used in Russian (and Italian) tradition of bread-making, thought I think these days it is used it more for making the very rich, brioche dough.
In Russia I know people who use it for making yeast pies. In old Italian tradition they used sometimes the same method for making a very rich Easter brioche: la colomba.
The cookbook mentioned by A. Whitley is the book written by Elena Molokhovets. It was the most famous book of the XIX century and it is still very popular. I have the modern edition of it, so I can check it if you have some question.

Donna Currie said...

eliabe, if you have access to that cookbook, I'd love to see an original recipe. Translated to English of course. If you could email it to me, that would be great. dmbcurrie at hotmail dot com

Thanks so much!

dinazad said...

I've never tried this with bread, but I do have a recipe from my (Czech) aunt for yeasted cookies (without sugar, so you can make them sweet or savoury when you bake them) which are left to rise in cold water overnight. I suspected this was akin to letting your dough rise in the fridge overnight, from "before-fridge" times....

alan d said...

in england 100 years ago it was called peggy tub bread.
a peggy tub was a manual wooden or metal washing machine..
not really a machine .

the dough was rolled into a ball and wrapped in a table cloth and placed into the tub which was filled with cold water overnight for 4-12 hours.
i think mainly as a first rise.
clearly before the fridge cool water especially in an earthen ware clay pot was a nice way to stabilise temperature.
peggy tub bread is mentioned in
English Bread and Yeast Cookery by Elizabeth David a superb book full of great historical recipes.

when you see quotes from men and women in the 17th century you soon realise that no knead type breads is nothing new or revolutionary.
all we are doing today is rediscovering lost traditions

Donna Currie said...

Alan, thanks for that info. Wrapping it in cloth sounds like it might make more sense.

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