Please Ignore the Clock!!!

Every bread recipe, even the ones I’ve written, list times for various activities. Knead for ten minutes, two hours to bulk ferment, an hour to proof, etc. etc. But you have to bear in mind that the recipes were written according to specific conditions in the author’s kitchen.

When I read Ken Forkish’s book, “Flour Water Salt Yeast,” he was good at pointing out that even though he listed times for certain activities, the times were based on HIS kitchen and its ambient temperature. He warned that things will happen slower or faster depending on someone’s kitchen conditions.

For instance, I remember the first time I made a poolish. I let it sit out overnight as instructed. And when I made bread the next morning, it came out flat. What I didn’t account for was that it was a really warm night and the yeast and bacteria were completely exhausted. The bread tasted fine, but I ended up turning it into croutons.

This evening, I made a biga. But since it’s still the height of summer and I don’t run my air conditioner at night, the ambient temperature of my kitchen will probably be around 75-78 degrees. So my biga will probably be ready to use in 10 hours as opposed to 12-14 hours as Ken lists in his recipe. Given that, I mixed my biga at 9:30 PM. But more importantly, I’ll have to determine how “done” it is based on its appearance: It should have at least doubled or tripled in size and should be pockmarked with bubbles. We’ll see.

And that’s the point: With bread making, you have to go by sight and feel. If you use time for anything, use it for making a check on how things are going. And before I forget, if your kitchen is warm, your bread will proof quickly. We had a heat wave a couple of weeks ago and though I turned on my air conditioner, it was still over 80 degrees in my kitchen. I had rolled out baguettes and at that temp, they were proofed in less than 20 minutes, even though the recipe I was following said to proof for an hour!

So ignore the clock and listed times when you bake. Go by what you see and feel.

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