Ascorbic acid concentration effect on fermentation volume

Note: This is an ongoing post with updates. Scroll down for updates.
Link for this post: http://bit.ly/85Crbe

I've been enamored by bread volume for a long time. I like my breads, but, I've always yearned to make the super volume, airy, razor-crusted loaves that characterize the baguettes used in Parisian street food.

About a decade ago, potassium bromate was removed from most flour formulations. It was an agent used to strengthen dough, speed up aging and whitening of flour and contribute to huge volume. I'm not sure what combination of conditioners or additives replaced bromate, but one suspect is ascorbic acid. General Mills Pro formulations (Superlative, etc.) are spec'd at about 30-50 ppm ascorbic acid. Otherwise, the label ingredients look identical to the flour in the store.

In order to determine the effect of ascorbic acid on bread volume, I designed this little flour formulation experiment.* I'm not baking a loaf, but checking the volume of the first rise as a surrogate endpoint for the final loaf volume (big assumption).

I bought some vitamin C tablets, (ascorbic acid, 500 mg) and diluted it in Gold Medal Bread Flour to 50 and 500 ppm by successive solid dilutions. The 3 glasses contain flour (50 g), water (50 g), yeast (1 t). The glass on the left is straight unmodified flour, the middle is 50 ppm ascorbic acid and the right 500 ppm. I want to see which glass "test tube" contents give the highest rise before collapsing. It's getting late, it's a school night and I can't watch the results unfold. I set up the 3 tests and perched them in front of my netbook's webcam with a little piece of software to snap a pic every minute. I'll see what I see in the morning.

Anyone still there? Anyone? Stay tuned ...

*I realize I could buy a bag of flour with the ascorbic acid in it, but I'd have to commit to 50 lbs without a test. This way I can have a bit more flexibility. I can determine if the ascorbic acid does anything and I can alter its concentration to see what's best.

Results 01-Jan-10, discussion to follow ...

Kind of fun to watch.

Update 02-Jan-10
This may be a very long post but I want to keep it all in one entry. I'm currently retesting this using an alternate and more accurate dilution of ascorbic acid. My test samples contain 0, 40, 80 and 200 ppm ascorbic acid in a slack dough of 25 g flour, 25 g water, 1 t yeast. I added the ascorbic acid as a 2 mg/ml solution to these to achieve those concentrations. Using the successive solid dilutions in flour, I feared, may have been inaccurate. We'll see. Exciting isn't it?

In this case there is an effect on volume of fermentation even at the 40 ppm level, but the higher concentration is almost double.

Wrap up to this point
I'm having trouble reproducing these results.

Some key questions left unanswered that I'll be addressing in the future:
1. Is the small-scale (25 g flour, 25 g water, 1/4 t yeast), fermentation volume evaluation a valid flour assay and does it relate to final loaf volume?
2. I'll be trying gluten addition also.
3. Comparisons not only with ascorbic acid and gluten additions, but General Mills vs. Montana Sapphire flour need to be done.
4. Final baked loaf volume needs to be added to the small scale fermentation volume to see if they are correlated. If they are, the small scale fermentation would be a nice flour assay for high volume crusty bread applications.

Last night I just tried a loaf with Gold Medal (General Mills) flour and 50 ppm ascorbic acid and the loaf volume wasn't as good as my typical Montana Sapphire loaf. I need to try the Gold Medal without ascorbic acid and then try some gluten runs.

Reproducibility is a bitch.


Mirepoix madness, not just a fancy French name

Ever since I learned what a mirepoix was from Andrew, it has become my new best friend in the kitchen. The combination of aromatics is more than a great method to enhance sauces and soups; it's a cool way to add more veggies to almost anything. The Wikipedia entry (linked above) is a brief, but useful description. Over the past couple weeks, I've explored it in the following preparations:

1. A sweet potato and fish soup (depicted above). I used a mixture of turnips, celery and onion cooked down in olive oil and butter to make a base for what I had in the fridge: sweet potatoes and some mediocre fillets of cod. The soup was pureed and a couple tablespoons of cream finished it off for a wonderful meal. I think there were enough veggies to counter the evil calories of the cream.

2. A more flavorful tomato sauce. On xmas eve, we had friends over for ravioli with tomato sauce (and smelts - yum). One friend was vegetarian so I was unable to flavor the tomato sauce with pork. Mirepoix to the rescue using a traditional mix of onions, celery and carrots - finely diced and cooked to a mush in olive oil. The resulting tomato sauce, made from cans of pureed tomatoes, was rich and flavorful.

3. A venison chili. This was a bit involved. I'll save it for another post.

Coming up ... a lamb ragu.

Thanks Andrew for opening my eyes to a long-overlooked classic culinary technique.


The ravioli machine

Last night, I got about 4 lbs pasta dough mixed and put in the fridge. Today, Mrs. Davesbeer made the cheese mixture. I rolled dough, the kid stuffed and the Mrs. cut. About 200 made in about 2 hours with a side of noodles for the upcoming week.

Now, it's off to Studio 35 for the new Jim Carrey Christmas Story.


Food snobs we are not

In the early days of courtship, this was the food of the gods. Breadsticks and Rotel dip.

A few years later, we could not fathom such a lavish meal of "cheese," fat and starch without a fiberous antidote. For tonight's special movie night, we will introduce Frankie to this wonderful food with an accompaniment of lightly salted and blanched fresh veggies. It will be nostaligic and a wee bit healthier.

Our drink? Clos Normand French fermented cider. Should be interesting.


Merry smelt season

It's that horrid time of the year. One of the only things that takes the sting out of the pain and agony that is xmas is that it is also smelt season.

I don't know if smelt actually have a season, but the stores stock frozen smelts in the cold months and I can barely wait for them. Been frying these little guys forever, but this year, I changed my coating. I had always coated the little guys with egg and dredged in bread crumbs. This year I first dredged in flour, shook off excess, and then coated with egg and dredged in bread crumbs (seasoned with basil, salt and pepper).

smelt fishing
Don't name them or you might hesitate to drop them in hot oil.
After breading them in this way, the crumbs stuck tenaciously. Don't know why the flour had such an effect, but it was great. I took the breaded little guys and stacked them on a plate and put them in the fridge for an hour or so while I cleaned up.

I prepared my faithful FryDaddy (I deep fry outdoors on my deck) and started tossing the fish in the hot oil. A batch of 6 or so only takes a few minutes. Cook them fast because you'll probably eat quite a few while sitting at the fryer on a cold night. Frankie dips them in ketchup and we dip them in a mix of ketchup and horseradish.

smelt fishing

Interesting link on the smelt: seagrant.umn.edu/fisheries/smelt_mystery


Baking for the French Teachers

The kid goes to a French immersion school here in Columbus, Ecole Kenwood. The Europeans and Francophiles on staff were an irresistible gang to try a small bread baking production effort. Baking on a large scale has been tricky for me in the past, so I decided to use a retarded (cognitively disabled, sorry) rising to slow things down and gain control over the baking stage. I can't give all the details, but the pics show the sequence adequately and I wanted to use this entry to remind myself of things I did that I would and would not change.

This past Friday night, I mixed 4 batches of dough. Each batch was 400 g cold water, 1 packet rapid rise yeast, 10 g salt and 600 grams Montana Sapphire unbleached white. I plopped the 4 kg in a large stockpot for the weekend. Temperatures outside were 18-39°F throughout the weekend. I punched down the dough (it rose even at those temps!) during the weekend about 2 times. Sunday night at 8 pm, I plunked a probe in the middle and took it inside to my chilly home to warm up until 4 am the next morning.

rising dough warming up
It went from 38-50°F in 8 hours.

dough warming up and rising
Very active dough, even at cool temps

The dough was punched down and scaled to 100 g and 200 g pieces. The 200 g pieces were formed into small baguettes and the 100 g pieces, boules and allowed to proof about 20 minutes each.

scaled and proofing, boules and torpedos
Scaled and proofing

While 4-8 pieces proofed, another batch were formed into loaves. The house temp was cold and the proof was sluggish. Once the loaves formed I had between 20-30 minutes to get them in the oven. If any piece had overproofed, I punched it down again, reformed the loaf and let it proof again. Eventually I got a rhythm and the first batch of 4 small baguettes came out nice.

One of the first batches out
First batch up.

The rest of the morning went well. I tried various shapes and docking methods to play around. After all was finished (2.5 hours), the loaves were placed in a basket with preserves, butter, napkins and left in the teacher's lounge.

Ready for delivery

• At one point, I realized a 200 g piece was a bit much for a morning snack and took a long baguette-shaped piece of dough and chopped it into 80-100 g pieces with my spackle knife (pastry knife) and docked the center. It was a nice shape. Kind of a pillow with a vent on top. I never reformed the freshly cut ends - working too fast.

• Once the dough started to warm up by forming it into loaves, it started get pretty peppy rising.