I didn’t think I would be baking at all. The little hobby that supports all this baking fun was keeping me away from home and oven.
However, I am working for a client who employs a chef to prepare meals for the executives and he graciously lent me the executive kitchen for the day (and the evening before.)
After getting the lay of the land in the kitchen and not wanting to poach too heavily on the supplies, I turned the wheels of the rental car to the local mega-mart and stocked up on the essentials for a day of baking. The local mega mart had fresh yeast and I couldn’t resist – some cream, some buttermilk, eggs, KA 11.5% protein white flour, some whole wheat flour, butter, brown sugar – that would give me at least four different baked goods.
So, late at night (well, late for me) on the first day of the year, I did my scaling and mixed my pre ferments. Early the next morning I returned.
It hadn’t hit me the night before, but as I walked into the space in the morning (and checked my pre ferment first thing) I realized that for the day this kitchen was all mine.
I’ve worked in commercial kitchens before, but always when they were under the control of someone else. But today, for one day, I was in charge. I didn’t get the satisfaction of buttoning on my chef’s jacket (Yes, through a long series of unfortunate events I was forced to buy a chef’s jacket. I generally avoid enterprises that require new clothing, but this was unavoidable.) but I was the head baker that day.
Being engaged in the discipline of planning, I had the day laid out. The kitchen was minimally equipped for bread baking (no wooden surfaces to work on, no couches, no loaf pans) but I was able to adjust. I first baked some scones to get some food out to hungry colleagues, and then started the (hand) mix on about eight pounds of baguette dough. I then did the mix for some Moravian sugar cake and took a deep breath. I had a lot of whole wheat flour left and so decided to make a whole wheat sandwich loaf. All that practice in formula writing served me well and I was able to write up a formula using available ingredients. I did the mix in the Kitchen Aid Pro 600 mixer to as close to an intensive mix as I have ever gotten. I noted that this was a weak, whiney little machine compared to My Preciousssss.
A request rolled in for more scones and it was easily accommodated.
I had to proof the baguette dough (shaped for epis de ble and an Auvergnat) on parchment, but no biggie (actually, yes, big biggie to me, I don’t understand why anyone with a love of artisan bread baking doesn’t just bite the bullet and buy a proper couche – so much benefit from so little expenditure.). Six ounces of dough that was left over from those shapes was rolled out, brushed liberally with olive oil and then sprinkled with dried herbs (a good use for it).
Since proofing facilities were primitive, at best, I did a lot of my proofing in unoccupied areas of the building which were, curiously warmer than the kitchen.
The Vulcan convection oven had a practical capacity for 3 sheet pans, so my eight pounds of baguette dough could be baked all at once. I contemplated mightily what I could do if I had that sort of oven capacity on a daily basis.
Since there were no loaf pans, I baked the whole wheat sandwich loaf in a conveniently shaped hotel pan.
Oh. And I kept up with emails and technical request from my hobby.
Strangely, the only disappointing moment had to do with the yeast. (And realize that since this was a long way from home, I had no access to sourdough starter – which forced me to work with all commercial yeast.) The local mega mart had fresh Fleischmann’s yeast. Now, I know that for the end product itself, instant yeast is most likely the same as fresh (Please, let us not open the great fresh vs. instant yeast debate!), but in terms of process and the impact on me the baker, there is nothing the action and aroma of fresh yeast early in the process. I find the smell quite intoxicating although as the process goes along that early-on smell and feel is lost. So I had purchased fresh yeast. When I went to open the little blocks I saw the words “Product of China” emblazoned on the package. Has it come that? Really? Really!? We get our fresh yeast from China!? What the ----? I’m going to need to look into this further and see if there is a closer source. This product is not available in my home market, but as sensuous as the experience is, I am not completely sure I can support flying in yeast from across the Pacific Ocean just to give me that little fresh yeast high.
I started at 7:15 AM and by 3 PM I had produced:
2 batches of scones
4 epis de ble
1 mini foccacia
3 Moravian sugar cakes
1 Whole wheat loaf
If I hadn’t been such a wimp with the size of the baguette dough mix (I could easily have handled double or triple the amount even with a hand mix – but I hadn’t purchased enough flour!) I could easily have made more. I am more convinced than ever of the primacy of oven capacity (and practice with hand skills to be able to divide and shape quickly and efficiently) to determine how much can be produced in a reasonable working day.
All the products were consumed by a grateful project team. They were pretty good. (Ok, the scones [formula on these pages] were awesome – even when triticale isn’t used.)
I also have a streak of lightly charred flesh on my left hand (not serious, it doesn’t even hurt) from a miscalculation about oven racks to remember the day. Some bakers get ink – I collect scars…
As I looked out over my sparkling clean kitchen (I was, after all, a guest – but a kitchen should be that sparkling clean at the end of a work day anyway) with tired feeties and deep satisfaction, I felt that the universe was sending me a message. I just wish I knew what it was.