There have been so many innovations in food during the last decade that it is hard to keep up with it all. I would say that, the moment I personally realized that things would never be the same for me was during a conversation I had with a cook at The River Cafe (where I was employed), about ten years ago. We were talking about these guys in Spain who were making something called foams. The notion was so novel and exciting we just had to try it and we did. And it was fun because it worked and it was easy and you could do all sorts of funky flavors and combinations. We used it a lot. Too much maybe.
And then the world was drowned in foam.
But what I have also come to realize is that there hasn’t been that much going on when it comes to bread. Is it because you are not supposed to change bread? Leave good enough alone? Pastry and cooking seem to be at the forefront of it all, having all the fun. While bread has steadily remained true to its origins, method and technique for decades. I would enjoy putting an end to all that; or at least finding a way to think differently about bread. There are two people on my staff, Matt Waldron and Justen Nickell who are helping me with such projects.
Today’s “experiment” used a basic lean dough (which we use for baguettes and epi’s), vegetable ash (the kind used for goat cheese) and black Oregon truffles. The point of this experiment was to see the effect of ash on bread, in it’s crumb and on it’s crust, as well as the potential flavor transfer of truffle into the crumb.
There were two approaches…
We took 1000 g of lean dough, shaped it as a round (boule), flattened it like a pancake, coated both sides with vegetable ash, placed a 60 g black truffle down the center of the disc of dough, and wrapped it as if it were a dumpling.
The second approach consisted in taking the same amount of dough, shaping it as a round as well, and then studding it with 5 small black truffles. After the truffles had been added, we brushed the dough with the ash on its entire surface.
Both dough rounds were placed on a couche (bread linen). The first dough (with the large truffle), seam side down, the second, seam side up, and then covered with the same couche. They were proofed for 1.5 hours at 27 degrees Celsius with 85% r.h. (relative humidity).
The first dough (with the large truffle, seam facing down), was flipped over onto our bread loader, seam side up. When doing this, it is not necessary to score the dough. The opening from the seam works as though it was scored.
The second dough (with the smaller truffles, seam facing up), was also flipped over onto the bread loader, seam side down. This dough did in fact need to be scored.
After baking in a deck oven (also known as a hearth oven) at 255 degrees Celsius, (initially steaming as soon as the oven was loaded and then, on the onset of color, venting to form a crust), we waited for the bread to cool down completely.
The exterior obviously had a very dark hue because of the ash, but the actual browned crust was visible under the ash. The crust remained crisp. So the ash had at least no negative effect on the bread. The ultimate test would be what the crumb looked like and most importantly, what it tasted like.
In the first dough, the crust had a crisp, minerally, but not unpleasant at all taste. The appearance of the crumb was visually arresting, since the ash that had been folded into it had left a striking pattern inside of it; the truffle itself was smack down the middle. Unfortunately the aroma of the truffle was very subtle. Had we used the real deal or a white truffle, it would have been another story.
The second dough was similar to the first with regards to the crust and the crumb, but the small truffles throughout the crumb were visually unappealing and had little flavor.
Hands down, the first dough was the winner. But more importantly, is this a better piece of bread than if it would have been left as the original lean dough? I would say that it cannot be considered better or worse, just a different type of bread made from a very familiar dough. It would have been terrific with a real truffle, but then again, who is going to pay hundreds of dollars for a loaf of bread? Bread is considered to be the food of the masses. The stuff you eat when there is nothing else, right?
Which is exactly why we should put a real truffle in it next time. Bread as a luxury item. That’s an idea.
Our next test on lean dough includes a cry-o-vac bag and machine, a microwave and a deck oven.