The importance of percentages but also intuition can't be overstated when it comes to baking bread. That came to mind right after getting my latest bread book, Tartine by Chad Robertson. It's beautifully packaged with a Corinthian leather feel. And the photography is amazing. As is the inspiring and idyllic story of Chad Robertson's travels through sourdough country in France and California. Getting it gave me the excitement of a kid on Christmas morning. After admiring the photography and glancing through the pages, I quickly whipped into its recipes. But just as quickly I found out that maybe these formula's weren't quite up to snuff in the percentages department.
Recently in the The Fresh Loaf, I read an article Whole Wheat Loaf – "hole-y grail?" which reminds me of this experience. The article suggests that bakers should tap into tuition as much as dutifully following recipes. But also start with checking percentages. Sure you can follow a recipe, but are there errors in many baking/cook books. Thankfully some bakers will correct them. This makes great fodder on forums or a less then perfect loaf, so do the math before you bake.
The two times I made the rye, country loaf and whole wheat breads from Robertson's book, I found the dough was very slack; with a combination levain and dough having a high hydration. I used A.P. flour rather then bread flour, so this may have made a difference. What came out in my first bake, in actuality, was a very nice flax, sunflower seed loaf made with the rye – though the add in was for the recipe calling for whole-wheat.
Taking a chance or just hoping for the best made it more interesting with an addition of a soaker. It was extremely wet and virtually impossible to shape. No picture but believe me, it was very tasty. The country loaf was also slack and sort of shapeless, even with the foldings, and dried out quickly. This latest bake, was promising but the loafs seemed flat, and my mom said it had too many holes for her liking.
Far from wanting to judge or critique this book, I want to go back and try this formula again, this time I want to use my intuition, or change something in the levain or final hydration, check the percentages. It's all about feeling your way around baking, figuring it out.