advice for a newish baker
Hi! I found this forum a few weeks ago, and it's amazing! This seems like the right place to ask a few questions, so here goes.
I work at a small bakery, it's my second time working at a bakery. At my previous job, I mostly did the baking and shaping, and didn't really get a feel for mixing. In addition, the owner kept a tight ship - pretty regimented schedule, careful attention to detail, etc., which I loved. At my new job, I'm basically in charge of just about everything having to do with the bread, with very little oversight. There's one other baker, who is probably around the same level of experience as me. I'm familiar with home baking, but hardly a whiz at it, though I have a general feel for the bread and how it should look, what it should taste like, etc. Also a big help is that I love working in a bakery, and it's been a real treat to be in charge of the whole process from start to finish, even if I wish that I knew more about mixing and scheduling. The forums have been a great help in that regard. Usually, I do mixing four times a week, producing between 100 - 260 items of bread, which include about thirteen varieties. This is a lot of work and I don't have an assistant, so it can be really hard to manage and herd all the loaves of bread on time. The way the bakery has managed this in the past is a few different ways - first, they will sometimes shape and retard loaves a day or two in advance, so if you came in on Monday, you'd be shaping Tuesday and Wednesday's loaves. The other way that they do this is by making large amounts of dough and keeping them in the cooler.
At the bakery I worked at previously, we didn't do this - we'd shape the next day's bread, but that was it, and we didn't keep bulk dough around. Is it a common practice to store dough until needed? The way that it's done now, the dough is kept uncovered in the walk-in, and it tends to form a crust that affects shaping. Usually the method for saving it is to throw it in the mixer with some yeast. What I've tried to do since I've started is to minimize this by making just enough dough for two days and trying to keep everything under wraps.
The other concern I have is that we don't keep levains, sourdoughs, or other preferments around, although we do often throw old dough in with a new batch. I'm starting a sourdough (my first) following a recipe I found on the site, so we'll see how that goes. I've also been mixing a poolish for the baguettes the night before. However, because the dough sort of sits around it seems like it gets a lot of ferment anyway.
I guess I'm looking for feedback on these methods, and any suggestions for resources for uhm, amateur professional bakers? More than anything else, it'd be nice to be able to streamline this process to create a consistent product, but sometimes the old dough becomes fickle. Examples of inconsistencies in the product include: loaf size, "folds" in the bread from a crust, tearing and weak gluten in some breads (especially whole wheat), a tendency to become tacky, sticky and very "strandy" when remixed (especially the rye). In addition, we have one bread with a cheese additive that never seems to rise completely and burns in the oven unless it's covered by tinfoil. I'd love to know more about how other bakeries handle their bread-making - what I know has come from my experience at the old bakery, which did several fewer types of bread and had two assistants on hand for most tasks. Even general tips, like how to organize storage, and other sort of bakery hacks would be much appreciated. As I've browsed the recipes on this site, I've tweaked several of the straight doughs, but it's a work in progress. It seems to me at this point that building a sourdough and creating a levain might be the way to go to create a more consistent, easily managed product (bulk fermentation is almost never done, unless by accident, and in general rest periods aren't adhered to, so while I try to do this, managing lots of loaves on my own means occaional under or over proofing or fermentation).
My other question is - what is the importance of dough temperature? We rarely monitor the mixed dough - is the dough temperature to ensure an even fermentation?
I know there are lots of problems with the methods, and I certainly can't fix everything, but I'd love to do better and gain experience. The more I do it, the more I enjoy it even if I have only a year and a half of experience in a commercial kitchen.
Thanks, and sorry for the rambling post.