When you have autolysed flour and water for an hour, proofed dough for 2 hours, rested dough overnight, re-proofed for 1 hour, shaped and proofed for 1h30… and THIS happens… you just want to sit on the floor and cry.
But what just happened is another lesson and apprentice baker such as I must learn… and the mistakes learnt will be precious knowledge for the future.
This time, 3 things were the problem.
The first was the fact that the dough was too wet. The reason was that I like to experiment and this time I had put way too much liquid starter, probably because he (Bubbly, my sourdough starter) was literally going overboard with energy. I thought it was a shame not to use more of it.
The second was that I used a tea towel that was way too damp.
The third was caused by the lack of flour on top of the baguettes before I covered it with the tea towel.
This is what I learnt from this epic failure:
1° You can have a very wet dough but there is a limit to that wetness, I still have to experiment to see where that limit is. But in any case, if your dough is very wet, follow the 2 advice below.
2° When putting a tea towel over proofing dough, to avoid it to dry, then crack and let the air out, you need to wet it thoroughly and then fold it in 2, then in 4 and twist it very firmly to get rid of the excess water. It should be damp, not wet. If wet, it will stick to the dough.
3° This is probably the most important of the 3. When you have finished shaping your bread, baguette, boule, bâtard or any shape, generously sprinkle flour all over it. Then, with your hands, spread the flour over ALL the surface of the bread. It should be covered in flour entirely.
If you forget to put flour or your put too little, the towel will stick to the dough. On the other hand if you leave piles of flour it will cake up and leave terrible chewing gums of dough stuck to your tea towel. If you leave patches of dough without flour rubbed in them, the towel will stick and same thing, you’ll not only get chewing gums on the towel but it will rip the dough skin off and let all the air go. Bye bye nice holes and French looking baguette…
The key is to rub the flour all over so there is enough to prevent the towel from sticking to the dough but not too much not to ruin your tea towel.
If you’re not sure how much flour and if it’s going to stick, just sprinkle flour, rub and massage your dough, cover with the damp but not too wet tea towel and come back 15 mins later and check by taking the towel off. If it doesn’t stick at all, put the towel back. If it does, add flour and very gently massage (do not press, let the fermentation happen) but the towel back.
If the weather is terrible, or your starter is a bit weak and it takes ages for the bread to rise, the towel can get dry, keep checking regularly. And if it does, just wet it again in hot water and squeeze the water out very hard again.
Last thing, because we’re talking tea towels and bread here. When you apply this method (lightly damp towel and flour massage) you will get very little flour or dough on the towel. It will be much easier to wash.
My advice is: if you see a chewing gum of dough or excess flour on the towel put it under running water and rub the towel with itself, your great grandma style and put it in the dirty laundry basket for the next wash. It will be perfectly washed.
If you leave patches of dough or flour, it will rub against other clothes and make mini beads of cooked dough, a lovely dark grey colour, and will stick atrociously. So, well… don’t do that :)
I hope my failure can help a few of you who had to face the same problem and the ones who will be able to avoid it by just applying these simple tricks :)
Have a lovely day!