bread dough frustration
I've been baking decent bread for quite a while now, but I've run into this problem twice in a row, so thought I'd better figure out what I'm doing wrong. Until recently, I never used the sponge method to start breads, but I got a copy of Rose Levy Berenbaum's The Bread Bible for Christmas, and have been doing so since. The first time, I didn't have time to let it go overnight, so I just let the sponge sit out on the counter for a few hours, made the bread, and all turned out well. (It was the Cinnamon Raisin Bread recipe. Fabulous stuff.)
The second time, I let the sponge go overnight in the fridge (which is what she recommends for best flavor development), took it out the next morning, and put the rest of the dough together. It was almost impossible to work with; the moisture didn't distribute evenly, even after resting for 20 minutes or so, and it was impossible to knead. I had to let it warm up for a few hours before I could do anything with it. After I did, though, it turned out fine.
Today, I'm trying Alton Brown's plain white bread recipe from this week's Good Eats, and he, too, tells you to do the sponge in the fridge overnight, so I did. Took it out this morning and threw the rest of the stuff together, and the results were the same. Blobby, dry in some areas, wet in others, and impossible to work by hand or in my Kitchenaid. I waited an hour or so again, and it seems to be behaving now, but I'm curious.
Should I be letting the sponge warm up to room temperature before using it? It's really convenient to do the overnight thing, but not if I have to wait hours for everything to warm up so I can work with it. I've followed the recipe exactly, so I don't think I've made any other glaring errors.
I just read your post to my DH the bread baker around this house. In response to your question about bringing the sponge back to room temp he sais "well yeah" also he does not refrigerate the sponge over night. He just leaves it out, covered on a kitchen counter. He has refrigerated dough and loaves before baking.
After removing your sponge from the fridge, mix in some warm tap water until the sponge is warmed up. Go on with your recipe, adjusting for the extra water.
You should definitely let the sponge come to room temperature (about 2 hours) before working with it.
I've been experimenting with a recipe for ciabatta loaves which are baked from very sticky dough. I make the sponge the night before baking. The sponge is put in one of our double ovens that has been heated to about 100 degrees where it 'works' overnight.
The dough is made the next morning. The mixing implements are a bowl and a table fork. No mechanical devices are used. Once the dough is unworkable with the fork, I use my left hand to incorporate the flour mixture while adding the flour mixture and turning the bowl with my right hand.
Forget electric mixers and bread machines. Do it the primitive way. I always get a homogeneous dough, altho sticky, which is a characterisitic of ciabatta. Add the flour to the sponge a little at a time and work with the fork until you need to use your hand. Ciabatta is a light, airy bread with a nice crust.
Another benefit of this primitive baking method is that I get rid of lots of aggression. Primitive baking is great therapy, and the resulting bread is preservative and junk free.