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.gongoozler
Kneading doesn't seem to be very popular, either because it traps less air, or is just too much effort. I used to make low hydration doughs just so that I could knead without getting my hands covered with sticky dough. Manipulating the living mass into a smooth, elastic dough was, to me, the very soul of making bread.
Now I also work with high hydration doughs that cannot be kneaded. But I'm not seriously going to do stretch and folds every 30 minutes for several hours. I will activate the starter, then prepare the dough for a) bulk ferment b) final prove and c) baking. Each step is quite short, but separated by several hours, during which times I can get on with something else.
Alternatives to kneading are to pick the dough up in the fingertips and drop repeatedly on the bench, or to do multiple sequential stretch and folds within the bowl (see http://sourdough.com/recipes/light-rye-light-wholemeal-rustic-pain-au-le...).
Some people suggest the texture slack dough is better.
if you are happy don't feel you have to change.
Two things I can chip in with:
1. for those with brick ovens, we can bake at much higher temperatures than with a convection oven because the heat inside is radiant, i.e. it bakes the middle of the loaf at the same time as the outside. However, at 750F/425C levels, a dry dough will begin to burn on the outside before the inside is done. A very wet dough is better. THis sort of thing is unknown by most bakers because most people can only play with 375 - 550F range and only with convection heat. But this is not an arcane point because in fact many old recipes are based on brick oven logistics which have been sort of forgotten over time. Focaccia, for example, are essentially high temperature high hydration doughs which go into the oven first when it's very hot. Also, high hydration loaves tend to look more like pancakes going in, which is why focaccia are usually laid out on a baking tray. WIth temperature that hot you cannot have a 6" thick loaf very easily because the crust will be charcoal before the middle is ready. And of course a hydration dough doesn't stand up unless you have it in a baking tray. So a high hydration, thin loaf is best - aka focaccia or ciabatta or fougasse, or if you want low hydration, it's going to be like pita which is dry and very thin - same more most Middle Eastern and Indian flatbreads. They go in dry and thin and bake for about 1 minute and are done.
2. When making whole grain doughs higher hydration is better because a wetter environment stimulates both enzymes and starter cultures. Put another way: the denser the grain the better it is to soak it with more water and for more time.
3. Also, with higher hydration loaves there is less need for kneading. But that depends on the method used. Basically the function of kneading is to develop long, elastic gluten strand network. This happens naturally with a hydrated dough in about 12 hours because there is more ability for the cultures to move within the dough than with a dry loaf, albeit whole grain doughs with high bran content need longer (and never get as elastic as bread flour white doughs). So kneading is essentially done to accelerate an otherwise natural process. Fundamentally, though, kneading is an acceleration technique. Where it belongs with sourdough baking, I suspect, is when you have formulas where 75% - 50% of the dough is added in only a few hours before baking, meaning that this new flour has very little time to develop and kneading it soon after mixing makes sense.
My workaround this issue is to soak the dough overnight albeit without the starter, and then join the soaked dough to the prepared starter and that soaked dough is already almost perfectly fine so that only a couple of quick S&F's are needed.
That said, you can easily see the difference between bread that has been kneaded a little or stretched and folded and those that haven't - unless you have long retardation, for example in the fridge for 2 days.
Personally, I never S&F more than twice and my way of doing it is simply to stretch the dough out in all directions on the work table and then roll it up again. Takes about a minute.
I believe that higher hydration and time makes for more multi-layered flavours and aroma so I do try to go for juicy doughs. ALthough greatly preferring the look and crust of a brick oven hearth loaf, I have found that high hydration sourdough sandwich breads in large linked loaf pans are really superior. These are moist loaves, albeit not with huge holes, possibly because of the weight of the water in the dough within the pan limits their size, or maybe it has something to do with how the loaf gradually warms up in the pan versus on the hearth. I don't know. In any case, the holes, albeit larger than typical yeast loaves, are much smaller than typical hearth loaves when done this way. But the depth of flavour is unlike any other sandwich bread I've ever had. Sometimes it even tastes sweet and custardy, almost like French toast, albeit no sugar is added.