The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

PMcCool's blog

  • Pin It
PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

While I have been baking in the last several weeks, most of it has been geared to sandwich loaves.  Don't get me wrong; that is some pretty important baking.  While it has been nourishing to the body, it hasn't been anything to stir the soul.  I've had some old favorites: Clayton's Honey Lemon Whole Wheat and plain old honey whole wheat.  I gave Beatrice Ojakangas' Granary Bread a try.  Lovely stuff, but not at all anything that qahtan or others who have had the real thing would recognize as such.  Essentially, it's honey whole wheat (um, I'm beginning to see a theme emerging here) with golden syrup subbed in for the honey.  I'm going to digress for a moment.   For all of you in the U.S. who have been wondering what on earth golden syrup is, here's the inside scoop: it's molasses.  Yes!  Really!  A very light, mildly flavored grade of molasses, but molasses none the less.  There.  Now you know.


I've also been experimenting with some rye breads.  The most noteworthy was a spectacular flop of the Sour Rye, year 1939, which came to my attention via Shiao Ping's blog.  It looked and sounded so lovely in Shiao Ping's post and I'd been wanting to venture further into the rye world, so I thought I would give it a try.  The first bad decision (I won't bore you with the entire list) was to opt for the free-form loaf, rather than the panned loaf.  Being in full "never say die" mode (not readily distinguishable from denial), I soldiered on to the bitter end and was rewarded with something that had the general dimensions and texture of a 1x8 pine board, albeit somewhat darker.  The flavor was worlds better than pine, but the amount of chewing necessary to extract the flavor made the whole enterprise unrewarding.  Hence, my retreat to Ms. Ojakangas' book and the selection of her version of Granary Bread.  A man's gotta eat, after all.


This weekend, still smarting from last week's debacle and still wanting rye bread, I hauled out Mark Sinclair's formula for Sour Rye bread.  This I've made before, and in quantity, so I know how it works and how it is supposed to turn out.  There are some differences between my execution and Mark's.  First, he's a professional baker and I am not.  Second, he uses dark rye and what I had on hand was medium rye.  Third, he has some really big and really cool toys, while I was doing all of my mixing by hand.  Since my use of Mark's formula is by his permission and a consequence of my internship at his Back Home Bakery, I'm not at liberty to share it here.  If you really, really want to make this bread, sign up whenever Mark offers opportunities to intern with him.  If you want something very close to Mark's bread, look up Eric's Fav Rye on this site.  Mark started with that and made some adjustments that suit his selection of ingredients and production scheme.  Both are excellent breads and they are very nearly the same bread.


As noted, I have medium rye flour on hand, so my bread came out somewhat lighter than Marks.  Since I don't have a mixer here, I mixed by hand.  Initially, the mixing was primarily to combine the ingredients uniformly.  Since Mark relies on the mixer for kneading as well as mixing, I continued to work the dough in the bowl in what was essentially a stretch and fold maneuver to develop the dough's gluten network.  As the dough became more cohesive, I dumped it out on the counter for some "slap and fold" or "French fold" kneading, a la Richard Bertinet.  This worked very effectively to finish the dough's development.  The dough was then gathered into a loose boule and placed in a greased bowl for the bulk ferment.  After the dough had approximately doubled, it was divided in three pieces of about 710 grams each and pre-shaped.  After resting a few minutes, the dough was then given its final shape and placed on a Silpat-lined baking sheet for final fermentation, lightly covered with oiled plastic wrap to prevent drying.  As the dough was nearing the end of the final fermentation, I pre-heated the oven.  When the oven was ready, the loaves were uncovered, brushed with egg wash, liberally sprinkled with poppy seeds and slashed.  The baking sheet was put in the oven and hot water was put into the steam pan on the lower rack.  Half-way through the bake, I rotated the loaves so that they would bake evenly, even though I was using the convection setting.  I also pulled them off the baking sheet and let them bake directly on the oven rack so that they would bake and color evenly.  They were a bit closer together on the baking sheet than I thought they should be for optimum results.


And the results?  Well, I'm a happy baker today.  Here's the finished bread:


Sour Rye, Back Home Bakery


I won't have a crumb shot until tomorrow, but the exterior is encouraging.  Slashing can definitely improve and I might have allowed the final proof to go a bit longer, but I'm pretty pleased with how things are looking so far.


Maybe I can get back on that 1939 horse again...


Paul


Here is a picture of the crumb:


Back Home Bakery Sour Rye crumb


As I surmised from seeing how the slashes opened during the bake, the bread could have been proofed a while longer.  However, it's rye bread; it is supposed to be hefty rather than fluffy.  The crumb is very moist and surprisingly tender.  The interplay between the earthy rye and the pungent/astringent caraway flavors is balanced so that each complements the other, with neither dominating.  It makes a wicked base for a ham and swiss sandwich.  The lighting for this photo was an overhead fluorescent fixture (sheesh, I almost spelled that as flourescent!), hence the greyer tone of the crumb


 

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

I took the day off from work today with the stated purpose of looking for a car for my wife.  The company has provided me with a leased vehicle but that leaves my wife stuck at the house most days.  With a 45-60 minute commute in each direction, it isn't practical for her to take me to work and then use the car for the rest of the day.


Every country has its bureaucratic quirks (I cringe when I think of what expats from other countries must encounter when they arrive in the U.S.) and South Africa has its own.  One of those quirks being that you must acquire a particular form from the government before purchasing a car.  After standing in line 2 hours, we finally reached the window; only to be told that the form would be issued one month after filing the application and that that particular office would be closing by the end of January, so we would need to make our application at a different office.  After some gnashing of teeth (ours, not the clerk's), we set off in search of the other office.  We started to make a turn at an intersection and were T-boned by an oncoming car.  Both of us thought that the way was clear; our view of the on-coming car must have been obstructed by a stopped vehicle on the opposite side of the intersection.  My wife's side of the car took the impact, just behind her door.  The force was strong enough to send our car spinning into the guardrail, thereby destroying the front of the vehicle, too.  Since my wife's door was wedged shut, the firemen cut off the door before she could be extricated.  Fortunately, after a number of x-rays and a thorough examination at the hospital, she was pronounced well enough to be released and a co-worker took us home.  She will be very sore for a few days but the doctor thinks that some light therapy will soon reduce the effects of the mild whiplash she experienced.  All in all, we are very blessed that a potentially fatal encounter has only left us shaken and bruised.  The other driver suffered a cut on his forehead but didn't speak of any other injuries.


Everyone working the accident scene was very professional and competent, from the police to the paramedics to the firement; even the tow truck driver.


My therapy is already in progress.  I have a batch of Reinhart's N.Y. Deli Rye under construction.  I think the onions have cooled enough to stir into the starter, so I'll do that and head to bed.


Paul

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Between last weekend's experiments with varying hydration levels, locating rye flour, and tuning up my sourdough starter over the past few days, things took a turn for the better with this weekend's bake.  If I had to rank the importance of those three, it would be a difficult choice.  I'd probably nominate the improved starter as the most important but that wouldn't have happened if I hadn't obtained some rye flour.  Of course, having a notion where things were headed because of the hydration experiments gave me confidence in what to expect, so, I suppose I'm back to where I started...


I'll start with the starter.  It was initially propagated with whole wheat flour and orange juice (didn't find pineapple juice at the store until several days later) and has always had an intense acidity.  It's residents may also have been a little too active in pumping out enzymes because it tended to go gooey after a few hours at room temps (it's summer here in South Africa) in spite of being maintained at approximately 50% hydration.  I took a tablespoon or so of the starter, mixed it with another couple tablespoons of mineral water and enough rye flour to make a soft paste.  I repeated this regimen with morning and evening feedings for two days.  Over the next 3-4 days, I introduced bread flour until the mix was mostly bread flour and a couple of pinches of rye flour, always discarding all but a tablespoonful before the feeding.  By the end of the third day, the starter was much bubblier and the odor and flavor were much less acidic.  The starter now has more of a yeasty/fruity odor.  


With a now lively, less-acidulated starter in hand, I decided that Leader's pain de compagne looked like a good candidate for a trial run.  The hydration level is approximately 67%, which is right in the sweet spot of the previous week's hydration tests.  All of the required ingredients were on hand, so I mixed up the liquid levain on Friday evening before going to bed.  The next morning it was evident that the levain had more than tripled overnight and was already subsiding, so I mixed the dough before breakfast.  Here's where I have a slight quibble with the process.  Leader directs you to mix up the final dough, sans salt and levain, let it autolyze for 20 minutes, then mix in the salt, followed by the liquid levain.  Nothing unorthodox there, except that the final dough without the levain is about 50% hydration.  Try mixing a liquid levain into bagel dough!  By hand!  At least I had the good sense to chop the dough into small pieces before starting to mix in the levain (the directions do not suggest this step).  Still, it was a long, slow, laborious process to mix the dough and the levain into a uniform mass.  Toward the end, I was effectively doing stretch and folds with the dough in the bowl, trying to get everything folded in and combined.  Needless to say, I settled for a few rounds of French folds instead of the recommended 12 minutes of kneading on the bench.  I can attest that the dough was well developed by that point.


Bulk fermention, shaping, final fermentation and baking all proceeded pretty much as advertised in the book.  It was extremely gratifying to see strong oven spring with this bread, after having had a few less-than-stellar bakes.


Here's how the finished bread looked:



 


I like the coloration of the crust.  Apparently I'm starting to get better acquainted with the oven, too.


The crumb, shown below, has a mix of smaller and larger alveoli.  Not classic pain de compagne texture but it will work well for sandwiches, which is how most of it will be consumed.



The crust, though thin, was more chewy than crunchy.  After sitting overnight in plastic, it has softened considerably.  The flavor is definitely more French than San Francisco: only slightly tangy and thoroughly wheaty.  The crumb is somewhat moist and feels slightly cool upon the tongue.  Very pleasing to the palate.


All in all, a very pleasing outcome.

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

After several not-so-happy outcomes, and one pleasing outcome, it was obvious that I needed to get better acquainted with the South African flours that I have.  Previous bakes seemed to indicate that the flours' absorbency was different than I was anticipating, based on my previous experience with U.S.-produced flours.  The only way to find out what was going on with any certainty was to do side-by-side bakes of identical breads, adjusting only one variable (hydration, in this case) at a time so that I could compare the outcomes.


For this bake, I decided to use a 50/50 mix of brown bread flour (protein content in the 12%-12.5% range) and bread flour (protein content in the 11.5%-12% range).  Although the label isn't altogether clear, I think that the brown bread flour is either whole wheat, or possibly de-germed wheat.  It contains large particles of bran.  Note that the same miller also produces a "Nutty Wheat" flour that they describe as white flour with the bran mixed back in.  I used 2% salt and 1.6% yeast (IDY).  Hydration levels ranged from 55% to 80%, in 5% increments.  Each dough contained 100g flour, to make the math easy.  (It also makes a pretty decent size roll for sandwiches.)  The dry ingredients for all of the doughs were premixed in one batch, then weighed out for individual mixing with the selected quantity of water.  These are straight, lean doughs; no preferments or enrichments were used.  This was to eliminate the potential for other ingredients masking the effects of differing levels of hydration.  Autolyse was not used for any of the doughs.  All mixing was by hand.  No bench flour or water was used.  Room temperature was 75ºF-77ºF.  The temperatures of the ingredients and the finished doughs were not measured but are assumed to be within 3ºF-5ºF of room temperature. The water came straight from the tap, compliments of the City of Pretoria.  All doughs were fermented on a lightly oiled granite countertop and covered with oiled plastic wrap.  Each was preshaped after the bulk ferment, then given 15-20 minutes to rest before final shaping.  Breads were baked for 25 minutes on a sheet pan in a 400ºF oven, with light steam.  


Observations are as follows:


55% hydration - this dough was very stiff and did not want to come together in the bowl.  The dough was dumped out on the countertop to finish mixing/kneading.  All flour was incorporated and after several minutes of kneading, the dough smoothed out and became pliable with almost no tackiness.  This dough was the slowest to rise.  Due to an interruption in the process, this dough had approximately 2 hours of bulk fermentation and barely doubled in that time.  The finished bread was the smallest of any in this test bake, having risen less after shaping even though it had the longest final fermentation duration.  The crust was thick, hard, and tough; the crumb very tight and dense and slightly gummy, even though the bread was thoroughly cooled before slicing.


60% hydration -  This dough was also somewhat stiff, although it was fully mixed in the bowl, unlike the 55% dough.  Pliability was better than the 55% dough and the dough was just slightly tacky at the conclusion of kneading.  The bulk ferment was slightly less than 2 hours and the dough was a bit more than doubled in that time.  The finished bread was only slightly larger than the 55% hydration bread, exhibiting a similarly hard/tough crust and dense crumb.  However, the crumb was not gummy in the finished bread.  


65% hydration - Early in the mix, this dough was sticky, although that improved to being moderately tacky by the end of kneading.  The dough cleaned the bowl with all flour being absorbed.  The bulk ferment was approximately 1:20 and the dough inflated to about 2.5 times its original volume in that period.  The finished bread still has a tight crumb, but the crust is thinner and less resistant to cutting.  Size is slightly larger than the two preceding breads.


70% hydration - This dough was noticeably stickier during mixing and kneading than the previous doughs.  It did clean the bowl during mixing.  I wound up using a combination of standard kneading and stretch and fold to manage this dough (not easy with such a small sample).  I don't think it would have come together without the stretch and fold technique.  At the end of kneading, it was still more sticky than tacky, with some sticking to my fingers.  It had about a 1 hour bulk ferment, during which time it nearly trebled in volume.  This bread also rose more after shaping, and was significantly larger in volume than the preceding breads (and, consequently, felt "lighter" because of the reduced density).  The crumb was the most open of any the breads made to this point.


Intermission - a co-worker stopped by to drop off some things just as I was finishing kneading the 70% hydration dough.  That inserted about an hour's delay between the 70% dough and starting the 75% dough.  All of the first four doughs were baked on the same sheet pan at the same time.  The last two doughs were baked on a separate sheet pan.


75% hydration - This dough never stopped being sticky.  It did not entirely clean the mixing bowl.  Standard kneading techniques were not working, so I switched to using the French Fold.  Kind of a challenge with such a small quantity of dough.  This bulk proofed about 45-50 minutes, easily doubling in that time.  Slashing before baking was problematic because of the dough's stickiness.  The finished bread was larger than its predecessors, felt "lighter" still, had a thinner crust and a more open crumb.  


80% hydration - This was an extremely sticky dough.  It had to be scraped out of the bowl after mixing and repeatedly scraped from the bench while kneading.  The only kneading technique that worked was the French Fold method.  Even that took several minutes (not several cycles) before the dough started to exhibit some structure.  This dough expanded the fastest during the bulk ferment and grew the largest after shaping, even though it had the shortest times in both ferments.  The knife dragged a trench in the dough, but did not actually slash it.  The finished bread had the thinnest crust and most open crumb of any of the breads in this test bake.


Follow-up thoughts:


1. One of the notions going into this test was that the city water might be a culprit in some of the former bakes.  Based on the results of this test bake, I think I can get good bread using city water, without going to the effort of running a similar test using bottled water.


2. For this blend of these particular flours, a hydration of approximately 70% seems to offer the best dough handling traits and a pleasing finished bread.


3. None of the doughs experienced much oven-spring.  I would attribute that to handling during shaping that was not gentle enough (too much degassing) and to baking on a cold sheet instead of on a hot stone.


4. It appears that the jury is still out on my starter.  Most (not all) of the previous bakes that experienced problems were sourdoughs, rather than yeasted breads.  This starter may be too acidic or too enzymatically active, either of which might be leading to gluten attack.  I'll see how it behaves after a few days of rye feedings.


5. I'm still not sure how much effect, if any, altitude is having on the results (I'm at approximately 4200 feet elevation in Pretoria, compared to having been at about 800 feet elevation in Kansas City).  I can't control for that, so I'll use the results of this test as an indicator of what to do with future bakes.


6. Weather today was mostly sunny, with outdoor temperatures nearing 80ºF while I was running this test.  I didn't think to check the relative humidity while running the test.  It's now 47% at 75ºF, about 7 hours after starting the test.


7. Since this is a whole wheat blend, I'll be interested to see whether I can get better results at either the 65% or 70% hydration levels by utilizing an autolyse step in the process.



Front row: right, 55%; center 60%; left 65%.  Back row: right 70%, center 75%, left 80%.  The 75% and 80% doughs have just been mixed and kneaded.  The others have been on the bench anywhere from nearly 2 hours (55%) to just over an hour (70%).  It's a good illustration of how hydration affects the fermentation rate.



Right to left, finished breads, lowest (55%) to highest (80%) hydration.  Note that these were initially shaped to be the same size.  Growth occurred during final proof and baking.



Crumb of, right to left, lowest (55%) to highest (80%) hydration.  I think the crumb of the three higher hydration breads (70%, 75% and 80%) ought to have been more open than this.  That they aren't is probably an indication that I was too forceful during shaping and degassed the breads too much.  An autolyse step might also help.


That's today's effort.  It's one datum, not a trend, but I can use it as a benchmark for future bakes for gauging how much hydration is required and to make some educated guesses about the effects of added fats or sweeteners for enriched doughs.  Now I suppose I should do something similar for panned breads...


Paul


 


 

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Hallelujah!  I located rye flour today at a store within reasonable driving distance!  And not just simply rye flour: I can get wholemeal rye, medium rye and crushed rye.  Thanks MiniO for one of your tips; I went to the mill's web site, looked at their list of stockists (for the Americans, the equivalent would be retailers), and finally made it to the store today.  For anyone else in the Pretoria (Tshwane) area, it is the SuperSpar store at the Silver Lakes shopping center, just off Hans Strijdom Drive.


I decided to slowly work my way back into baking with rye and limited myself to a bag of medium rye (which I had already wheedled from the baker before rounding the corner of the aisle containing flours - oh me of little faith).


Since I had pulled my starter out of cold storage last evening and given it a feeding, I nipped off a tablespoon or so, stirred in some water and enough rye to make a thick paste.  It's sitting on the counter now.  With any luck, the party for the lacto-, aceto- and yeast-beasties should be revving up.


I noticed that the gluten in the starter was almost completely destroyed, so I took a taste and was surprised by the intense acidity.  I think my starter may be longer on bacteria than on yeast, so I'll try running it closer to 100% hydration for a while (it's normally kept at 50%) to see if that favors yeast development and gets things into a better balance between leavening and flavor critters.


Color me happy!


Paul

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

For those who are keeping score, I moved from the USA to South Africa in late October to work on a project being managed by my employer.  After spending a week in a hotel and a month in a temporary apartment, my wife and I moved into a leased house on December 1.  We're feeling fairly settled now and can find our way to several different supermarkets, gas stations, restaurants and the like.  It's a different landscape, and I'm not just talking topography.  Still, we're learning to navigate our way around without creating unnecessary hazard to ourselves or others.


Part of the learning process involves getting acquainted with new players in familiar roles.  In the case of bread, this includes different flours, a new starter, a different oven, and a different elevation (approximately 4200 feet above sea level, give or take a kopje).  None of these are especially difficult to cope with, but the collective effect has me slightly off kilter.


Prior to this weekend, I had baked bread three times, with results ranging from dismal to passable.  


This weekend saw some improvement, with plenty of room for additional improvement.  I baked a pain de campagne from Clayton's Complete Book of Breads, a honey oat sandwich loaf and scones from KAF's Whole Grain Baking book, and Mark Sinclair's version of Portugese Sweet Bread (in hamburger bun form).


The pain de campagne calls for a yeasted "starter"; I used my own sourdough starter to build the levain.  I'm beginning to wonder if there is something about the whole wheat flour that I'm using (Snowflake brand Brown Bread Flour at 12.5% protein, if memory serves).  My impression is that it tends to absorb less water than other whole wheat flours that I have used, which produces a stickier dough.  By sticky, I mean almost rye-like stickiness.  The grind is a bit coarser than I have seen in other flours, so it may be that I need to go with extended autolysis to give it enough time to absorb moisture.  And I may need to dial back on water content, too.  The closest thing to AP flour that I've located so far is something labeled cake flour, at 10% protein content.  The initial dough was quite sticky after mixing (did I mention stickiness earlier?), so I gave it a series of stretch and folds during the bulk ferment that lasted about 5 hours.  Temperatures in the house ranged from the low 70'sF in the morning up to about 80F yesterday afternoon.  I shaped the dough into two batards, achieving a good gluten cloak, and set them to rise in a parchment "couche".  When they had expanded about 60-70% in size, I preheated the oven and baking stone, along with the steam pan, then poured in about a cup of boiling water.  I slashed each loaf and jockeyed it as gently as possible onto the stone, using a baking sheet for a peel.  Oven spring was modest, with the slashes opening partially.  The loaves colored up nicely, indicating that the yeast hadn't run through all available food.  I haven't cut into either loaf yet to know how the crumb turned out.


Things went quite well with the honey oat sandwich loaves, but for two glitches.  One was that I had intended to make each with a cinnamon swirl but failed to remember that until I was pulling them out of the oven.  The other is that both loaves were over proofed and partially collapsed during baking, even though they did not come close to reaching the volume ("one and a half inches above the pan rim") recommended in the directions.  Eish!  At least they taste good.


This morning's scones also tasted wonderful, but failed to rise as much as they should have.  Maybe the oven runs a bit cooler than the controls would suggest.  Then again, its geared for Celsius and I'm not.  I think I'll pick up an oven thermometer or two while we are back in the States over the holidays.  Then we can find out if it is a calibration issue, or operator error. 


The Portugese Sweet Bread was everything that I wanted it to be, though.  Texture, color, flavor, rise, everything worked just right.  If only I could figure out why!  My track record so far would suggest that it is more of a fluke than an exercise in skill.  Right now, I'm just happy to have had a bake go the way I wanted.


The experimenting and learning will continue.  I will keep trying various flours and methods until I get to where I can produce consistently good results. 


Oh, and if anyone can tell me where to look for rye flour, I'll be grateful.


Paul

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

The past couple of months have been something of a whirlwind.  Just before leaving for an internship at Mark Sinclair's The Back Home Bakery, my boss asked if I would accept a 2-year assignment on a project my employer is managing in South Africa.  Without subjecting you to the lengthy discussions between my wife and myself as we considered one factor after another, suffice it to say that we agreed to the assignment.  Since then, we've sold cars, furniture and household goods; located a tenant/housesitter; packed; made lists; checked off lists; etc., etc., etc.  And so, here I sit in the Delta Sky Lounge in the Atlanta airport, waiting to board the 15-hour flight to Johannesburg.


For being a new adventure, its beginning is remarkably mundane.  Sitting in an airport just isn't particularly, I don't know, romantic?  Exciting?  Heady?  Whatever, this isn't the stuff of high drama; although I will admit that the lounge is much better-appointed than the gate area.


With any luck, I'll locate a place to stay in the next few days and be moved in by the time my wife arrives in a couple of weeks.  In the meantime, I'll be checking in at TFL from time to time to share vicariously in your baking.  Once I'm settled, I'll get a new starter up and running (can't see the hotel staff playing along with an attempted head start) and start baking again; something that hasn't happened at all since leaving The Back Home Bakery.  The new assignment is going to chew up a lot of my time and energy, so baking opportunities may be limited and cherished.  We'll see how it plays out.


So, if I'm quieter than usual, you'll know why.  See you in Jo'burg.


Paul

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

On our way back from The Back Home Bakery, we made a quick stop at the Wheat Montana bakery/deli pictured here:



It is located in Three Forks, Montana and is just off I-90.  The place is big; I only captured part of it in this photo.  And yes, those are grain silos at the back corner of the facility.  I believe that they grind all of the flour on-site that is then bagged and sold, or used in their baked goods.  There is also a gas station out of the frame, about 100 feet to the right of my position as I took this photo.


The first thing that meets your eyes as you step through the door are stacks of 50-pound bags of flour: Bronze Chief (red whole wheat), Prairie Gold (white whole wheat) and their Naturally White AP.  There are also bags of wheat berries.  Prices are surprisingly low, compared to what I see in local supermarkets.  The berries were priced from $19-21 per 50-pound bag and the flours were priced $20-22 per bag.  If I hadn't been told just before leaving for vacation that I'm going to be spending the next couple of years in South Africa, I'd have purchased a couple of bags and worried later about where to store them.  As it is, I need to burn through my existing flour stocks in the next few weeks.


Further in, there are shelves with Wheat Montana logoed goods; caps, cups and such.  There are also flours in 5- and 10-pound bags, cook books and preserves.  Still other shelves hold various breads.  There is a deli counter where one can purchase various pastries and sandwiches, along with hot and cold beverages.  There are a number of tables to sit at while enjoying your food and drink.  I must confess to having been a bit of a bread snob after a week of seeing what Mark produces.  Any other day I might have thought their stuff looked pretty good, but it just didn't measure up to what we had been making at The Back Home Bakery.  So we stopped long enough to buy a drink and take this picture, then headed back to the road.


Paul

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

I had the pleasure of spending a week working as a baking intern for Mark Sinclair at his The Back Home Bakery in Kalispell, Montana.  Other than the sleep deprivation, it was a thoroughly enjoyable week of measuring ingredients, washing dishes, mixing bigas and doughs, washing dishes, stretching and folding dough, washing dishes, pre-shaping and shaping loaves, washing dishes, making pastries and fillings, washing dishes, scraping the workbench, washing dishes, packaging the finished breads/pastries, building friendships with Mark and Sharon (his wife), and washing dishes.


A typical day would start at 2:00 or 2:30 in the morning.  We'd begin by pulling bigas from the refrigerator (they had been mixed the previous afternoon or evening) and measuring the ingredients for each bread.  Most of the breads were mixed in a 20-quart mixer, except for the baguettes, which were a larger batch that was mixed in the 60-quart mixer.  The other exception was on Saturday morning, when about half of the breads were mixed in the 60-quart mixer because of the larger batches being prepared for the Kalispell farmers' market later that morning.  Mark also pulled 2 or 3 frozen pastry doughs from the freezer at about the same time so that they could be thawed and ready for sheeting and shaping during a lull in the bread production.


After mixing, the bread doughs were placed in a proofer.  Most were given 3 stretch and folds at 45-minute intervals.  After proofing, the doughs were shaped and placed on sheet pans, then put back in the proofer for their final proof prior to slashing and baking.  The baguettes, again, were an exception to this general practice; they received a pre-shape, then a ferment at room temperature, followed by a final shaping and final room-temperature ferment before slashing and loading into the oven.  Mark uses two convection ovens; one is electric and the other is gas fired.  All of the baking is done on sheet pans, rather than on a deck or stone.  Neither oven is steam-injected, so Mark throws a can of water on a cast-iron griddle sitting in the bottom of the oven when a bread requires steaming.  


What I haven't conveyed well is the overall planning that Mark does in deciding which doughs are mixed first and which are mixed last.  Based on experienced he has gained and on the particular day's product roster (it varies from day to day), Mark sequences the production steps so that he can maintain a steady flow of bread or pastries in and out of the ovens without creating bottlenecks or gaps.  And it's all subject to change, depending on the activity of the doughs.  There are anywhere from 1 to 4 timers in use at any given point and each step of the process for each bread or pastry is noted on a sheet of paper.  If it didn't get written down, it would get lost in the ever-changing flow of the work.  A couple of examples may help to illustrate just how important time management is in a bakery.  One: "If you have time to stand around, you've probably missed something."  Two: Mark muttering "That timer rules my life" as he leaves the dinner table to put the rye starter in the refrigerator for the night.


I encountered several surprises during my week at The Back Home Bakery:


- Mark produces a variety of pastries, using both croissant dough and puff pastry dough.  I had preconceived that he was primarily making breads, but that was a misconception on my part.


- Mark uses Wheat Montana's AP flour, which most other milling companies would label as a high-protein bread flour.  Still, he produces incredibly tender and flaky pastries and robust breads using that same flour.  The man knows what he's doing.


- Aforesaid pastries, still warm from the oven, make a spectacular breakfast.  My wife ran out of adjectives by Thursday.


- Mark is something of a Renaissance man: teacher, coach, log home builder and baker.  And very patient with a well-meaning but sometimes-addled assistant.  I'm sticking with the sleep deprivation defense as long as I can.  


Saturday was the biggest production day of the week because of the Kalispell farmers market, so we were up at 1:00 a.m.  Sharon also pitched in, so there were three of us banging around in the bakery, trying not to trip over each other.  That morning we produced and packaged:


- palmiers


- bear claws


- croissants


- cherry croissants


- blueberry croissants


- cheese danish


- pain au chocolat


- apple strudel


- ham and cheese croissants


- sticky buns


- sour rye bread (based on Eric's Fav Rye)


- rustic white bread


- buckwheat-flax bread


- baguettes


- Sal's rolls (torpedo shaped, made from baguette dough)


- Portuguese sweet bread (shaped as rolls)


- Kalamata jack bread


All of the above was loaded in the van, along with the booth and display fixtures, and ready to roll by 7:30.


Here are a couple of pictures from that morning:



Sharon, wisely, bundled up for the chilly morning.  Mark's concession to the cold was to change from shorts to jeans and put on a cap.



Sharon waiting on early customers.


Mark's commitment to putting out a high-quality product is paying off.  He has loyal customers who come looking for their favorites and who are very disappointed if they arrive too late and find that item has sold out.


I'm very grateful to have had a week working with Mark and getting to know both he and Sharon.  Should you have the opportunity to pursue a future internship, I can highly recommend it.


Paul

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

This past weekend, I was looking for a sourdough formula that sounded interesting and just couldn't find one that tickled my fancy.  So, I decided to free-lance a formula of my own.  I had about 320 grams of well-fed levain that I pulled out of the refrigerator before leaving for church on Sunday.  On returning home, I found it to be warmed up and at peak expansion.  


Since I wanted to be able to use the bread for sandwiches, I determined to make a pair of batards and guesstimated that a pre-bake dough weight of about 750 grams each should work nicely.  Having had a run of whole grain breads recently, I was ready for a change of pace but still wanted something flavorful.  After consideration, I built a 70% hydration dough with 5% rye, 10% whole wheat and 85% bread flour.  At the last minute, I chucked in 30 grams of flaxseed meal because, well, because it was there and it seemed like a good idea.  


The water, levain, flours, and meal were treated to a 30 minute autolyse.  Then I did a double round of stretch and fold, after which the dough went back into the bowl to ferment.  I did 3 more stretch and folds at 40 minute intervals, only remembering after the second one that I hadn't added any salt.  (That should have been a clue.)  I slurried a tablespoon each of water and sea salt and worked that into the dough.  After the dough was nearly doubled, I turned it out on the counter, divided it in two approximately equal pieces, pre-shaped it and let it rest for about 10 minutes.  After the rest, I finished shaping the loaves into fat batards and set them to rise in a parchment paper couche.


When the batards were still a little short of doubling, I preheated the oven to 450 dF with a baking stone and a steam pan in place.  When the oven reached temperature, I poured boiling water in the steam pan, slashed the loaves (still need more practice with that) and loaded them onto the stone.  After turning the oven temperature down to 400 dF, I set the timer for 25 minutes.  A few minutes later, I came back to see how the oven spring was working (very nicely, thank you) and it hit me that I was seeing all of my levain/starter baking.  I had not remembered to reserve a piece for storage!  I've avoided making that bone-head move for almost 4 years, but it finally caught up with me.  At that point, there was nothing to do but swallow hard and let the bread finish baking.  When the timer sounded, I checked the internal temperature of the bread and the thermometer went to 210 dF very quickly, indicating that the bread was fully baked.


The bread, thankfully, turned out very well.  No single flavor stands out, but the levain, the rye, the wheat, and the flaxseed meal all meld for a very satisfying taste.  Here's how it looks:



On this particular loaf, the slash at each end of the loaf opened beautifully, allowing the crumb to expand fully.  The center slash, however, must not have been deep enough, because it didn't open very much.  As a result, the loaf has sort of a Bactrian camel appearance with humps at either end and a dip in the middle.  


All I have to do to duplicate this is get a new starter going and try again in 4 years ...


Paul


 

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - PMcCool's blog