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Old 04-08-2004, 11:02 PM   #1
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Looking for advice on conversion to sponge method.

I am used to making bread using the basic methods provided in most recipes (mix/knead, rise for 2 hours, punch down, shape, rise for 1 hour, bake) and my results have been adequate. But I have begun to hear about ways to improve the flavor and texture of my bread by using the "sponge method", which involves mixing a smaller amount of yeast with a portion of the flour, and then letting the sponge develop overnight, and then continue the process afterward. My problem is, while I comprehend the basic method, I don't know how to integrate this into my existing recipes. Say I have a run-of-the-mill challah recipe. (Active dry yeast, AP flour, honey, etc...) How do I go about making the conversion? How long should the sponge be left to rise? Should it go in the fridge, or be left at room temperature? (or should I leave it in my oven with the light on, which is what I usually do when I let my bread rise)

Also, should I use a different flour? Currently I use robin hood AP flour. Should I find a bread flour and use that? Should I use fresh yeast instead of active dry, and if so, how to convert one to the other?

Since baking is my passion and I do it for fun, not out of necessity or convenience, time and labour are no object to me; I am looking to make the absolute best bread I possibly can. My searches on google have yielded lots of general ideas, but no specifics on how to implement them in existing recipes. Any help you can provide would be very appreciated!

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Old 04-09-2004, 03:29 AM   #2
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In my readings I have not come across any set formulas for converting traditional methods to a sponge method. Maybe there is someone here who knows more.

I think a better path might be to find a good sponge recipe and tackle that first. Once you have a greater understanding of sponges, converting your existing recipes should be easier.

May I direct you to a few good books on the subject?

Cookwise : The Secrets of Cooking Revealed by Shirley Corriher

And
The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread by Peter Reinhart

Also, if you are intent on making the best bread possible, may I recommend seeking out the best flour and yeast? Once I started using commercial bread flour and yeast (purchased from a local bakery) the quality of my breads improved dramatically.
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Old 04-09-2004, 07:37 AM   #3
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You might want to check out the King Arthur flour website. It has lots of good tips and they carry a broad range of ingredients for baking.

Here on our forum, old coot and carnivore are excellent bakers with a bunch of "hands-on' knowledge.
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Old 04-09-2004, 01:04 PM   #4
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"I think a better path might be to find a good sponge recipe and tackle that first. Once you have a greater understanding of sponges, converting your existing recipes should be easier."

This is what I tried to do, but alas, sponge recipes are very scarce. On sites like Allrecipes and elsewhere on the net, almost everything is for bread machines (curse those stupid things) and the sponge recipes I have found have been for breads I am not necessarily interested in making.

"Also, if you are intent on making the best bread possible, may I recommend seeking out the best flour and yeast? Once I started using commercial bread flour and yeast (purchased from a local bakery) the quality of my breads improved dramatically."

The flour is no problem of course, but the yeasr is problematic. How can I convert active dry to fresh? Some places on the net have eve suggested that it is not possible :( As for the books, I know of their existence (I was clued into the idea when I was reading the Bread Maker's bible in Chapters the other day) but alas, I can't buy one of those books right now, and I would really like to start right away!

"You might want to check out the King Arthur flour website. It has lots of good tips and they carry a broad range of ingredients for baking."

I'll check it out now. Thanks!
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Old 04-09-2004, 01:53 PM   #5
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I found an instant yeast recipe on King Arthur flour for challah. They claim that instant is superior to active dry, so I am going to try this one and see how it turns out. Wish me luck!
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Old 04-09-2004, 06:13 PM   #6
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Don't let bread making become such an intimidating chore. It's just plain easy.

Receips call for sponefs, or bigas, or .... They're all the same thing, essentially. And no big deal. Esiest way I know of is to use the totall amount of water (or milk) and about 1/4 of the flour, plus all the yeast. Stir it up, set it aside for - now comes the fun! Anyway, what you're after is a batter consistency that allows the yeast to get going.

"Sponges" are left overnight, usually. Bigas (Italian sponges) are left for from 2 hours to 48 hours.

After 2 hours, you've siply acivated the yeaast pretty well, and won;t notice much if any difference from adding the ingredients all at once.

Overnight, the sponge has begun to develop a flavor of its own. And the longer it is left, the stronger that flavor becomes until, by the end of the 48 hours, you have a delightful "sourdough flavor. (I usually leave my "sourdough starter" three days, as the flavor is even stronger. You can tell the difference at each stage with your nose!

When the sponge has rested as long as you desire, simply add everything else and continue normally.
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Old 04-09-2004, 06:21 PM   #7
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Oh, almost forgot: The texture of bread seems to be affected most by the softness of the dough and the amount of tising - particualrly the second rising.

For example, for your Challah, the dough needs to be just firm enough to hold it's shape well and not flatten too much. Ciabatta, on the other hand, should be a very soft, sticky dough. Bread made in loaf pans can afford to be very soft, too.

Challah should rise only to about double, as it is traditionally a somewha dense bread. Longer rising will result in an ever lighter texture. If combined with a very soft dough, one can approach the softness of commercial breads like Weber's.

Or at least that's what happens when I mke breads. But I'm a novice, so no guarantees! :)
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Old 04-11-2004, 10:43 AM   #8
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"Challah should rise only to about double, as it is traditionally a somewha dense bread. Longer rising will result in an ever lighter texture. If combined with a very soft dough, one can approach the softness of commercial breads like Weber's. "

I take this to mean that I should not extend the rising period for the challah starter sponge beyond the alloted 45 minutes specified in the recipe, right? Unfortunately, instant yeast is harder to find than I thought, so I have ordered some from the King Arthur website, which will arrive in 7-10 days. I will let you know my results when I have tried my first loaf.

Oh, btw, do you think it would be a good idea to steam the challah? I understand this will create a crispier crust, but I am unsure if this is a beneficial thing for challah. What do you think?

Oh, finally, for anyone who's interested, I was skimming through the bread bible in chapters last night, and the conversion from active dry to instant yeast is 2/3, or 0.67. Once my yeast arrives, I think I will try using this to convert my other recipes!
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Old 04-11-2004, 12:23 PM   #9
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From what I read about Challah bread, recipes are highly varied. About the only constants are the eggs and brainding. Still, it is essentially just plain white bread with the eggs added.

Measurement of yeast is definitely NOT critical. There are so many other variables - humidity and temperature, consistency of dough, time, etc., that affect the performance of the yeast that the amount, beyond a minimum, is not terribly important.

I have found that the sponge or Italian "biga" method affects the flavor of the bread depending upon the length of time the biga is allowed to rest and rise. An hour or so will have no appreciable flavor effect, but 24 hours or more approach the sourdough level, and has a real effect.

I cannot say I've noticed much of a difference between "Rapid Rise" and "Active Dry" yeast. Hee in Los Angeles, the Active Dry is cheaper, so I've been using it with good results
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Old 04-11-2004, 10:11 PM   #10
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When you say "rapid rise", are you talking about the good stuff that starts fast, but develops slowly, or the cheapo stuff that starts instantly, and is primarily used to save time? As I understand it, there are 3 types of dry yeast, "instant" being the best, "active dry" being in the middle (this is what most recipes I've seen call for, and what I have always used) and "rapid rise", which is the worst, because it activates instantly, but then quickly dies out. Unfortunately, no one seems to standardize their names, so I never know what people are referring to. (I have seen instant yeasts referred to as "active dry" as well as "rapid rise".)

"An hour or so will have no appreciable flavor effect, but 24 hours or more approach the sourdough level, and has a real effect"

Are you saying then that I should allow my challah sponge to wait for 24 hours instead of the 45 minutes indicated in the recipe? Is this appropriate for challah? Here's the recipe, maybe you could look and tell me what you think.

Quick Starter
1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 cup (8 ounces) water
2 teaspoons instant yeast

Dough
All of the starter
3 1/2 cups (15 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup (2 1/4 ounces) sugar
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) vegetable oil
2 large eggs + 1 yolk (save 1 egg white for the wash, below)

Wash
1 egg white
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon water
poppy seeds (optional)
Starter: Mix the 1 cup flour, 1 cup water and yeast together in a large bowl or the bucket of a bread machine. Let the mixture sit for about 45 minutes. (This type of quick starter is called for in recipes that are high in sugar, in order to let the yeast get a head start. If you have Fermipan Brown or SAF Gold yeast -- both formulated especially for sweet breads -- this recipe may be prepared as a "straight dough, with all of the ingredients mixed together at once.

Dough: Add the dough ingredients to the starter and mix and knead together -- by hand, mixer or bread machine -- until a smooth, supple dough is formed. This dough is a pleasure to work with -- smooth and silky, it almost feels like you're rubbing your hands with lotion. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning it over once to coat it lightly with oil. Cover it and let it rise for 1 1/2 hours, or until it's doubled in size.

Shaping: Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and fold it over once or twice, to expel the carbon dioxide. Divide the dough into four pieces, and roll each into a snake about 18 inches long. On the lightly greased or parchment-lined sheet pan, braid a four-strand braid (see instructions below) or fashion a simpler three-strand braid.

NOTE: How To Make A Four-Strand Braid:Lay the strands side by side, and pinch them together at one end. For instruction purposes, think of the far left strand as #1, next is #2, then #3, and the far right is #4. Take the left-hand strand (#1) and move it to the right over strands #2 and #3, then tuck it back under strand #3. Take the right-hand strand (#4) and move it to the left over strands #3 and #1, then tuck it back under strand #1. Repeat this process until finished.

Make the wash by mixing together, in a small bowl, the reserved egg white, sugar, and water. Brush the loaf with this mixture, reserving some for a second wash. Cover the loaf with lightly greased plastic wrap and allow it to rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until it's almost doubled in size.

Baking:Brush the loaf with the remaining egg wash (this will give the finished loaf a beautiful, shiny crust, as well as provide "glue" for the seeds), sprinkle with poppy seeds, if desired, and bake in a preheated 375F oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the challah is lightly browned. Remove it from the oven, and cool completely before slicing. Yield: 1 loaf, about 16 1-inch slices.
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