It seems that most artisan bakers these days aim to create a very slack dough, often using stretch and fold techniques instead of kneading. The reason for this is usually said to be the desire to create a loaf with varying sized bubbles, preferably some very large ones.
Over the last few years I have developed a technique which produces what I consider to be a very tasty sourdough loaf which suits my daily schedule very well. However the hydration of the dough is under 60% and it involves 10 minutes kneading.
Having recently bought Chad Robertson’s beautiful book Tartine Bread, and feeling that I ought to try something different I made a loaf following the instructions given for his basic loaf. Hydration was 75% and the loaf was made in a day after creating a leaven overnight. Although the result was reasonably good (and the holes were certainly larger) I found it a messy and long-winded business. Although there was no kneading involved the recipe required that I stretch and fold the very wet dough every half hour. Robertson suggests that the dough should be handled on the bench using a minimum of flour but I found this next to impossible even though the it was developed during bulk ferment for longer than he suggests and was well-risen. Shaping was a nightmare but I did eventually get the whole thing into a banneton. The end product was acceptable although flatter than the plump, well-risen loaves I am used to.
My own method is very simple: I create a preferment (leaven) overnight. In the morning I mix my ingredients, including salt, and knead for ten minutes, the dough is just tacky but does not stick to my granite board (around 57% hydration). I leave the dough in the fridge for 24 hours then shape it, pop it in a banneton and prove until I decide it’s ready using a poke test (currently just over 3 hours). I bake using a La Cloche, taking the lid off about halfway through.
Everyone to their own methods, obviously, but I’m convinced that mine actually takes up less of my time than no-knead, stretch and fold techniques and the taste, which is what really matters, is just as good.
I’d be interested to have your opinions, guys.