Trying a new ingredient or a new formula excites me. If I find a new method or a new ingredient to make my daily bread the next morning, I often feel too excited to sleep the night before. I read about the Chia seed in Johnny’s post a long while ago and had tried Chia seeds with other grains and seeds several times but never on its own. I was happy with the results each time but never stopped to think why the results were good; I just moved on to something else. I treated the Chia seed as any other grains and seeds.
It just so happened that I ran out of all the grains and seeds, except the Chia seeds. It was one week before my family were due to travel again and I was trying to run the fridge down and not to bake any more bread before we leave – the freezer was already chuck full of sourdoughs to bring away with us. But, I got excited over questions like: what would it be like to have Chia seeds, and Chia seeds alone, in my sourdough? and what would Chia seeds do to my daily bread?
I chose a simple Pain au Levain recipe and added 7% Chia, pre-soaked in four times its weight in boiling water – only 7% because this is not like walnut bread where you want to actually bite into walnuts when you have the bread. My starter was a liquid wholemeal starter, using Four Leaf’s 85% Light Flour which has 15% bran sifted off. In the true French-style Pain au Levain, the levain is a stiff levain with a small portion of Rye in it. In addition, only flour and water are autolysed; the levain and salt are added after the autolyse. For convenience, I autolysed all ingredients (except the Chia seeds). If there is appellation control over home sourdough baking, I probably fail.
I did not know how much water Chia seeds would absorb and I did not want trouble soaking the seeds in cold water the night before. I knew boiling water would do the job on the spot. I first poured double its weight of boiling water over the seeds; the water was gobbled up in seconds, so I poured a bit more, and a bit more again a few minutes later, totaling four times the weight of the seeds. (I subsequently read in the article mentioned below that 8 parts water to one part Chia can be added to bread dough, but I think this will completely alter the dough's hydration profile and make the bread gummy.)
This is my Chia sourdough, sliced in half:
And, the crumb close-up:
You cannot believe how [b][color=blue]moist[/color][/b] the crumb was. It was so incredible.
I am so amazed at how good the bread was that I started to read up on the Chia seed. There is an article [b]here[/b] that talks about Chia as [b][color=blue]the ancient grain of the future[/color][/b], but it looks at it from the angle of nutrition which is not my concern here. I would recommend the article to anyone who is interested in the topics of omega-3 and other important nutrients for our health, and diet, antioxidants, vegan, or even gluten free solutions; but my concern here is bread, not nutrients.
Chia has a very unusual property – a gelatinous, glue-like substance due to the soluble fiber in the Chia that is able to absorb up to [b]12 times[/b] its weight in water! The seed’s hydrophilic saturated cells hold the water when it is mixed in with flour. I picked up some Chia soaked in, say 6 times water, and I found that it did not wet my fingers one bit at all. The moisture is well contained in its cells. With this bread, I found that the hydrophilic colloids in Chia prolonged moisture in the bread in a most spectacular way.
* I used lukewarm water to bring the final dough temperature to 26 C as my room temperature was around 18 - 20 C. This amount of water was for a dough hydration of 72% (not taking into account the Chia and the boiling water to soak it). You could substitute 16 g honey, 16 g oil, and 311 g lukewarm water for added flavor for the crumb.
Flour (Laucke's unbleached bakers flour)
Wholemeal Starter @100% hydration
Lukewarm Water *
Sesame Seeds for dusting
1. Pour 160 g boiling water over Chia seeds. Stir and set aside to cool while you prepare the next few steps.
2. Dilute starter by adding the lukewarm water a little bit at a time until all is added, or hold back 15 to 20 g water if you are using different flour. (I find the Flour Leaf’s organic flour that I used very, very thirsty.)
3. Add flour and salt into the diluted starter, mix to combine. Cover. Autolyse for 30 minutes. (My dough temperature at time off mixing was 26 C.)
4. Knead the dough in the bowl by way of stretching and folding the dough, about 25 strokes, or use your usual way of kneading. Cover. Rest for 30 minutes or longer until the dough is relaxed and extended.
5. Pat the dough out inside the bowl and spread half of the [color=blue][b]Chia gel[/b][/color] (Chia and boiling water mixture) over the dough; flip the dough over, and spread the remaining half of the Chia gel over it. Flip the dough over again and start stretching and folding it inside the bowl to incorporate the Chia, about 25 strokes, being careful not to tear the skin of the dough on the bottom. The Chia seeds won’t be evenly dispersed yet. They will get more evenly dispersed in the following S&F’s. (Alternatively, you can do this step on a work bench, which should work better.) Lightly oil your bowl and place the dough back, right side up. I find more dough strength develops if the dough rests right side up. Give it 30 - 45 minutes rest until it is relaxed and extended.
6. Turn the dough over and gently stretch it between two hands without tearing it. Fold 1/3 from one end to the centre and 1/3 from the other end to the centre, the same way as you would a letter; then, from the other direction, fold the dough again like folding a letter. Place the dough back to the bowl, right side up. Rest for another 45 minutes or for as long as it takes for the dough to relax.
7. Another double letter-folds. Rest. Repeat the folds and the rest, if needed.
8. Pre-shape and shape the dough. By the time I finished shaping the dough into a batard, it was six hours from the time my dough was first mixed. The temperature of my shaped dough had come down to 21 C.
9. I let the dough sit for 1/2 hour then I removed it to the fridge for overnight proof-retarding.
10. The next morning, my dough had nearly doubled in size in the fridge.
11. I pre-heated my oven to as high as it could go for well over an hour.
12. I sprayed the top of the dough with water (if you have no spray bottle, you can use a damp towel), then sprinkled lots and lots of sesame on the top.
13. I poured 1/3 cup boiling water onto the lava stones sitting in a roasting pan underneath my baking stone. Then, I scored my batard and peeled it onto the banking stone. I poured a cupful of boiling water over the lava stones.
15. Immediately I turned the oven down to 230 C and baked for 25 minutes, then I turned the oven down to 220 C for another 25 minutes baking.
16. Rest the baked loaf for an hour before slicing.
On day FOUR of this bread, the crust was soft to the touch, not hard and dry like most of my other sourdoughs. The softness was due to the moisture retained in the Chia seeds, slowly released, like a low GI food slowly releasing its sugar. This moisture is completely different from a super high hydration loaf like Ciabatta which will turn as dry and tough and as quickly as anything you can think of. The moisture is similar to Hamelman’s [b]Five-Grain Levain[/b], due in part to the flaxseed, one of the five grains, which, once soaked, has a similar gel like substance like Chia. I toasted a slice of my Chia sourdough on day FOUR:
The toast was exceptionally delicious. We know that toasting a slice of dry bread temporarily gelatinizes the crumb and makes the bread crunchy and edible. But trying toasting a moist bread! Whew! The [b][color=blue]soft[/color] crispiness[/b] you get is amazing.
[b][u]Updated 20 June 2010:[/u][/b]
Since I wrote the post above, I have done an experiment on two breads with 6 times water to soak the Chia seeds for two purposes:
(1) To see what it would be like to have further moisture; and
(2) To see if the Chia seeds would be more evenly distributed in the dough if I mix the Chia gel with the starter/water; i.e., before adding the flour (one of the breads was done this way).
The article mentioned in the post says that the Chia gel can form a barrier between carbohydrates and enzymes that break them down, thereby slowing down the conversion of carbohydrates into sugar. This does not appear to be applicable to sourdough as both doughs fermented equally well and the crumbs from both breads were equally open:
The Chia seeds were much better dispersed throughout the dough when they were added to the starter/water mixture before the flour. (However, I do not know if they would rob some water off the starter/water mixture, had I used 4 parts boiling water to one part seeds.)
From the crumb shots above, you could see that towards the bottom crust, the crumb was gummy. These two breads were [b]too[/b] moist to the point of gumminess, which I find very unpleasant. It may be hard to tell just by looking at the pictures. My daughter did not mind the gumminess, but my son and I did not like it. This tells me that 4 times water to the Chia suits the bread better.