The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Chausiubao's blog

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With respect to hydration, I think I've decided to tell myself, “You know what hydration you want, go get it.” Having set out to make challah, I dutifully followed a formula, as the ingredients rumbled about in the bowl, ploddingly worked by the dough hook (which I may say is doing a mighty fine job at mixing bread doughs, it is quite a surprise I must say. I'll have to put away the elitism of hand mixing for the present.), it was nothing but a pie dough without the liquid. Quite surprised I certainly was. After a few revolutions I decided to add some water, and if I were called to account, I'd probably say I brought the water up to around 50-55%. Not even having taken into account the oil and eggs that go into the mix!

I also discovered I am in desperate need of a spray bottle. That is, if I intend to practice my braiding and gain the practiced hands to do some decorative pieces for work. That was the intention for all this after all! But I'll say no more about that. All these braided doughs require a rather stiff consistency, which means dry, which means unfavorable conditions that are certainly accentuated by the climate I've found myself in. The air is a good deal drier here at 6000 ft above sea level. What was I talking about? Probably something unnecessary.

I've found without milk powder, or buttermilk powder or whatever I can find really, the white bread formula I did last week just didn't cut it. It wasn't toothsome like I like; like Chinese bread is. Not that I have any legitimate Chinese bread recipes, but that is why I have to feel them out until they're passable. So I go from one extreme to the other, from the soft white bread of American wonder bread companies to the not so American, super strandy challah, which I know is a good toothsome bread.

I just poured myself some Santa Cruz brand limeade. And as I was doing so, I was thinking to myself, “Well hasn't this been a little digression! We should get back to talking about challah.” But as it turns out, the few sentences I put down before said glass of limeade happened to be about challah! Fancy that.

Well the challah is in the oven now. It has got a whopping 3% of yeast! That is substantial, considering the aforementioned white bread formula, so called, “pain de mie” has only 1.6%, so challah is about twice as well yeasted as that loaf ever was. But one can't simply scan over numbers and make blind comparisons. There is something to be said for understanding, conceptual especially; when we take into account pain de mie is at 50% hydration, while comparatively, this particular mix of challah is at 50% or so. Hydration facilitates fermentation; while yeast is more abundant in this challah formula, the rates of fermentation might very well be equivalent! There is proportionally more fat and sugar in challah as well, so the slight differences in the yeast percentages after taking hydration into account are probably hand wavingly explained away by that. Actually scratch that, those are all lies. They're both at about 50% hydration, although there is more fat and eggs in pain de mie, so it might could be true, but the percentages are actually quite similar. So it appears that this particular challah formula is just well yeasted.

If I might drift back into a nostalgic haze, you know I actually can't remember why I was going to do that. But I was going to glow a little about how I egg washed the challah. I did it three times! The first time because I wanted to keep the dough from drying, the second time because it did, and the third time because I wanted it to dry before the loaves went into the oven. And thats very important! You should have seen how glossy the dried egg wash was on the unbaked loaves. It was positively the most spectacularly shiny dough I've ever seen.

Well I've probably rambled enough. My this limeade is delicious. Perhaps you've gleaned something of value from my meandering through the afternoon whilst mixing, shaping, and baking up a storm. At the least, you've seen a glimpse of, well of something.

 My my, it looks like the challah got overbaked. Well you can see it anyways, but next time I'll have to amend the baking time, I'm going to say its closer to 15 minutes rather then 20 minutes.

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This time last week I had just started a new responsibility. Having been in Colorado a solid week and a half and started working at an old bakery in an institution of a hotel I came to find my days off horribly split across the weekend. Friday and Sunday off? What would happen, pray tell, to my Saturday? Fortune has turned her most beautiful face my way and I came to find that I would have two days off, in a row no less! It was simply cause for celebration. That being said, I decided to bake bread. Having accumulated some of the essentials of the kitchen, however not all the essentials as you will see in my ingredient list, I put myself to work fashioning a loaf of bread. I deliberated at length in whether to enrich the dough or not, it was a question of dairy and sugar or none. But my vacillation was easily concluded at the discovery of a lack of butter in the apartment, so I soldiered on and went about designing a straight dough, mixed directly! At upwards of six thousand feet above sea level I'd been told there was a need to increase hydration, decrease leavener, and decrease baking temperature in order to avoid overproofing and the consequence therein, collapse of the dough. Was I surprised that temperature, leavener, and hydration all seemed to work out without a hint of adjustment? Why sure I was! But not unfortunately so. I said to myself it was better to not complicate matters and risk confusing myself. So with a firm nod to my good fortune I finished my mostly unnecessary calculations and went about scaling my ingredients. Both the flour and the air temperature in the apartment was ~75 F! It was quite amazing. Using 69 F water that brought me to a dough temperature of 74 F, so it would make sense that I can start a new base temperature for this recipe at 220 F. From this air and flour temperature can be subtracted until I arrive at my desired water temperature! It was to be glorious.


But if I may step out in audacity for just a few minutes, it is clear to me that the dough was most likely undermixed, overproofed, or some other problem. The opening on top was certainly just a little too small. Alternatively the sides of the loaf were nice and tell. In the middle of the bulk fermentation it got a bit of a fold and I did pull a decent window after the mix. So I will conclude that the dough was overproofed with a dough temperature and air temperature approximately 75 F, and a proof time of 90 minutes. Next time I do this, all conditions remaining about the same it may be beneficial to reduce the final proof time. I will bring this gushing, somewhat bubbly exposition to a close with a simple statement; there is nothing more satisfying, then taking a loaf of bread out of the oven and hearing it sing to you in its own crackly way. The end.

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French dough made with poolish is a wonderfully extensible and easy to shape. Unfortunately for me this particular batch was a bit on the short side.


As a home baker I always have trouble getting a nice open crumb, usually whatever I was making whether enriched or lean would always be tight. Which is not to say that it was "bad" but it was a really troubling condition of my bakes. Baking in a bakery on the other hand is quite the opposite. Achieving a tight crumb in a spiral mixer requires intentionality, an oddity when we consider the fact that its one thing to mix doughs by hand and quite another to mix them in a machine. Mixers are rough, unyielding, and can go on as long as they have the power to; hand mixing with kneading or folding, depending on your bready sensibilities, is comparatively gentle and definitely not a process that you can do forever. So you would think that mixing a dough by hand would always give you a good open crumb. But my own experiences seem to invalidate that hypothesis. So stepping back, we say that your cell size is dependent on the level of gluten development (also dependent on how strong your flour is) because mixing, in addition to incorporating all your ingredients, primarily develops gluten, by hydrating flour.

So if there are additional factors besides pure gluten development and flour strength, what are they? The first and most obvious is the proof. It has to be, its the period of time when you allow your yeast to fill up cells with gas, and the more gas, the more these cells are stretched and thus bigger air cells. Which brings up another point, dough extensibility allows maximum volume. I would imagine bulk fermentation also plays a minor role in this, as without good fermentation (and momentum), a good proof will be longer and more difficult. A good hot oven as well promotes maximum oven spring as the yeast are introduced to so much heat.

The one thing I don't understand is the effect of shaping on air cells. I'm reasonably confident good shaping will facilitate an open crumb, but then again to a certain extent a "good" crumb is what you make of it. If you want a tight crumb, you will shape it such that your finished product has a tight crumb, and vice versa for an open crumb. It would make sense for the orientation of your air cells to be effected by the shaping. If you shape a baguette and overhandle it such that its twisted and uneven, the air cells you get are probably going to be destroyed or torn up.

Shaping and proof have a fundamental impact on the crumb of your bread, so lets stop worrying about gluten development and worry about the whole process instead!

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I had the good fortune of being placed on the bench this morning, which translates to many, many baguettes. Here for your viewing pleasure were the best (probably) and the worst (probably) of the bake. My beastie caught underneath the loading board as it was being slid into the  oven, so its back end got tucked underneath itself on the loading.

In addition, because it caught underneath itself, it glued itself to the baking stone, and didn't slide in on ball bearings of flour as it should have, so it was a bit warped. Add imperfect shaping and scoring and what we've got is quite the beastie looking baguette.  But despite all my heavy handed-ness, the crumb wasn't too badly torn up inside.

I blame elderly dough! The older a dough is, the harder it is to work with, whether dividing, shaping, or scoring. A more relaxed dough with much acids built up in it will be elastic and have little extensibility, sticky and difficult to handle, sticking to hands and blades alike. On the one hand acids toughen up the dough increasing elasticity and on the other hand the dough is starting to break down (if this hypothesis is true, the dough has probably reached its limit of fermentation products, which work to break down the gluten, maybe)

I do hope I'm finally getting the hang of scoring, particularly with a lame. I'm getting less "breaks" between the openings of the scores, and I was actually able to notice the grigne opening up properly, due to the angle of the blade. All in all, not a bad bench day. Now I just have to master bench-work with a miche, heavy shaping, and a busy store.


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Pain de mie, sandwich bread, white bread, dinner bread, chan-bao, this bread has a lot of different names, and I'd say its one of the most popular breads out there. Our bakery has been playing with how to make it, and I think, finally we've made a break-through in making it from a practical standpoint. 

Simply put, its an enriched dough thats 20% fat and 5% sugar, but the trouble has been in the bake. The bread is too finicky. Its bottom browns quickly (far quicker then the top) what with only a sheet pan and parchment between its tender bottom and the hot baking stone. In addition the small size of our ovens leads to heat loss easily, and we have been needing to rotate the pans somewhere during the bake.

But it looks like all thats in the past, and we can move onto other challenges.

I've reached a point in my training where I am being forced to pick and choose which of the approaches I want to use to get the jobs done. Alternatively I've been using hybrid techniques with aspects from multiple sources. Theres so much information out there in a relatively small amount of bread techniques just being able to confidently call myself a bread baker looks to be quite the unsurmountable challenge, let alone calling myself a baker.

Luckily for me, I enjoy challenges,


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First of all, I'd like to say this:



Now that thats out of the way:

I've been taught that thats a textbook example of the improved mix. There's three mixes; the short mix, the improved mix, and the intensive mix. When you pull a window, the short mix tears easily, the improved mix has characteristic "veins" that run through it, and the intensive mix looks very even and opaque. This is how you can judge the crumb of your finished bread before you even divide the dough.

It'd be an understatement to say that I've learned a thing or two while working at the bakery, truth be told, I learned more in my interview with the owner of the bakery (an interview which was 5 hours on the bench of course,) then I did in the few weeks we spent on bread in school.

I wanted to showcase my bakery's breads and the title I wanted to give the blog was, "the soul of the bakery, its in the formulas" but the truth really doesn't reflect that. Formulas are the backbone of any bakery, but its melodies, subtleties, and nuances are what really define a bakery. We make this dough with three different kinds of levain in it. Thats a really unnecessary thing to do, and personally I have a notion that having the three different cultures all together might hinder the growth of the individual cultures since they'll be competing (a fight that the white levain will have an advantage in!). We create formulas, we calculate water temperatures, use our hands to tell us all the things about the dough that we should ever need to know, and we live bread. Or at least thats how it is meant to be. whether we actually reach (or want to reach) this lofty attitude of bread baking is debatable.

I like to think that as an artisan bakery, we bake bread as it has been made in past decades. This involves small ovens, a single mixer, couches, loading boards or peels, and hand shaping. But ultimately, how feasible and how practical is this arrangement? Bread bakers are the eccentrics in an already quite eccentric field. Moving into the culinary field is almost romanticized in our culture, yet many do it for reasons other then the love of the process. The man hours, the physicality, the odd work schedule, all of it pushes away possible bakers. On the other hand, when people need work, all of that diminishes in significance.

If we were to become a chain bakery (either privately owned or corporate) is this a business model that could be passed from store to store to store? Or are we a fad, living a fast, high octane experience that will ultimately and inevitably implode and collapse in on itself?

We definitely make good product, though there's always better; but is artisan baking a relic of the past or an unrealized future?


 Despite the high costs of labor and running an establishment based on perishable food stuffs, we continue to expand and put out good product. And the more I work and throw around thoughts about bread with my colleagues, the more ideas for my own bakery spring spontaneously into my mind.


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Its been a few months at the bakery, and I've got to confess that I've come home from a shift compelled to write and describe my experiences, yet I've never had the willpower to take up the pen (or keyboard, as it were). All those times were of difficulty, bad days caused by plenty of effort and a healthy amount of optimism, with the outcome being less then what should come out of so much desire and "try".

Its been about three months now, and I have to say, its been a hard three months. For the most part my bread education has been self taught (both theoretical and practical) so adjusting to professional baking hasn't been easy. On the bright side I think I've learned a good deal about mixing, the next challenge is shaping, and proofing and baking. I can follow a recipe like nobody's business, but organizational skills and planning are so much more important to working in a bakery then your ability to make the product. That of course is important too, but it is what sets us apart from the home bakers. A home baker can be every bit as good as a professional baker, yet the home baker has no explicit need for organization, a necessity volume requires of us.

These three months have been tough, difficult, hard months filled with much learning, mistakes, and the consequences of those mistakes, levied by myself and by others. But this is the price we pay for the trade we ply. We can do nothing but shoulder the burden and move on. If we can't do this much, what will become of our passion, our curious interests? I started out on this path because of misgivings about my previous career beginnings and because I believe that, "a man should enjoy the works of his hands", combine that with my passion for bread and baking and here I am.

Through the pain and the hardships of being trained, I think I have slowly and permanently gained some of the skills that success in this field require of us. I really feel like its all coming together now; its hard for me to deny that all this was inevitable. So many people talk about working in a bakery or how great it would be to own a bakery; theres nothing great about working in a bakery, yet it can be fulfilling. Seeing your product come out of the mixer or out of the oven, and most of all, being able to cross item after item off your list of tasks can be such a satisfying and gratifying sensation; it is progress.

It is the feeling that in the struggle is the slow accumulation of skills and instincts that lead us to success.


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This forum is interesting for someone like me. I began as the audience to which it directs its content; amateur bakers and artisan bread enthusiasts being that crowd. Yet now I'm not just an enthusiast (which some would argue do not belong in the bake shop) but soon to be a member of the baking profession. Makes me wonder if its still suitable to be posting here! But great discomfort at my posts being in the minority, I'll just keep saying whatever comes to mind, no matter my trade.

Our bakery just moved into a new space this week! Its twice as big as the old space, at the opposite end of the building. Its really nice, with room for an extra work bench in the bread area (and that is HUGE, let me tell you). Its a little confusing with stuff moving in and out, but thats okay. I have a long commute ahead of me, and I'm still acclimating to new responsibilities and expectations, but days like my last shift bring new hope to my career.

I've started thinking recently, "I've finally become what I think I want to be in my life!"

Yet even so, the necessities of independent life are encroaching and I fear that I will be unable to rise to the challenge. Can I live on the beginner baker's salary? Or more to the point, can I live on the experienced bread baker's salary? What heights are possible for the bread bakery this side of owning your own shop?

As in all trades, wages start out low, and grow as experience likewise increases. Additionally, it would appear that the pastry side of the bake shop makes a tad more then the bakers of bread, so diversification of my skills would probably help to increase my level of financial security.

I guess these are the things that those leaving school are always going to be thinking about. I can see the hard thinking that lies in my future, both near and far! I'll leave you with some pictures of things I've been doing recently. 


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So I worked my first eight hour shift today, and I had some difficulties, learned some interesting things, and in general came home smiling. The two main things that I learned deal with double hydration and venting an oven. When I was first shown oven venting, my eyes were pretty glazed over; I'd never heard of venting, and pretty much didn't know what it was, why you might do it, and in general was confused. A few days later (today, as it were) it was explained to me. Venting is, as its definition implies, removing air, or things in the air, from a space. You vent an oven at the very end of the bake, in order to remove steam and ensure that a good crust forms. But more then that, venting ensures that your crust will last, and stay long past its time immediately out of the oven.

Venting is the key to creating crusty breads. 

We baked off baguettes today, but we also baked off some baguette dough cut for sandwiches, and these didn't get vented. The reason being rolls aren't supposed to be hard and crusty, but rather softer and easier to take a bite out of when you're enjoying a sandwich. If you don't vent, the moisture from within the crumb will move into the crust, softening it (diffusion!), but if you do vent, there is less moisture within the crumb to allow this. The moisture gets baked off during the vent period and is carried out of the oven. When I finished my shift, I walked out to my car and I said aloud, "well, I learned something today". The only thing left to determine is whether venting can be done in the home baking environment, which it may or may not be able to. 

Secondly, double hydration. I personally have never been exposed to such a technique, or at least not by this name. You mix a stiff dough, then when the gluten is already formed, you mix in water to complete a high hydration. The dough is extremely slack and gets several folds to strengthen the dough. Now that I think about it, it is identical to making brioche or certain types of foccacia where you mix the dough to develop the gluten, then knead in butter or olive oil to enrich the dough with all the qualities large amounts of fat contribute. Additionally there is no shortening of the gluten that occurs when mixing large amounts of fat with wheat flour. I'm not really that blown away by double hydration, but its an interesting way to hydrate dough, and its amazing how similar ciabatta is to making foccacia, its just a different ingredient is being kneaded in. 

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Recently I had an interview with a bakery in hopes that I'd be able to secure an internship for after my schooling. I need some technical training working in a high production environment, and this place was amazing, they had beautiful bread and several varieties of pastries besides. Possibly the best baked goods I'd seen in a bakery. 

The interview consisted of me working with baguettes at various levels of development. We ended the day mixing baguette dough and reserving pate fermentee, and we started the day by shaping loaves and loading proofed baguettes into the oven. It was an incredibly informative and educational experience to say the least. 

The dough that we used wasn't very wet, but baguette shaping being what it is, tends to stick to the bench. Liberal flour dustings were very useful, and if you dust with the right amount of flour, by the time you're finished shaping the baguettes, any excess flour has been pounded into the dough (which could be good or bad, depending on how anal you are). Without the flour, the dough sticks, and your shaping gets extremely rough (the only thing I got reprimanded for!). I'd never used a couche before, I'd always thought it unnecessary and cost prohibitive, but I had to use one to proof my baguettes, so I found you can only move them without damaging them too much if you pick them up from above and not below. 

Remember to dust your dough when shaping, pick dough up from above, and make sure your seam is on the bottom!

I used the bakery formula (slightly derived) to bake some baguettes at school:


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