The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

advice for a newish baker

terrormisu's picture

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.

PastryPaul's picture

First off, let me say I am NOT a bread guy, cakes and pastries are more my thing, but we do produce a few hundred loaves a week. I can't tell you what you should do, I can only say what we do

1) Get a hold of Jeffrey Hammelman's book BREAD. Read it, re-read it, read it one more time, then try a few formulae. I keep a copy at home and another at the shop

2) As I understand it, dough temperature is for product consistency. The loaf I buy from you today must be the same as the one I buy next week, next month or next year.

3) Maybe the bread guys can correct me as to best practices, but what we do is schedule bread production based on sales. * I went to business school before pastry school) Baguettes, "pain fesses" and rustiques are done every day. Other varieties are done only for weekends, others still only on specific days, and a few only once a year for specific holidays.

4 ) Dough is only "stored" for fermentation and rising.

5) Not sure what you mean by additives. Our cheese bread uses a mix of three cheeses. (FYI only produced for Saturday and Sunday)

6) Set standards for weight. In France a baguette must be 250 grams, but we use 300. Batards are 450 to 550g depending on which one. Parisians are 375. Ficelles and demi-baguettes are 175 (the ficelle is the same length as a baguette while the demi is about half the length. ) Rustiques are 450 and 750. NOte: What they are does not matter as much as that they are always the same or pretty darned close. I allow a variance of 5 grams for smaller loaves and 10 grams for the larger ones (obviously, they are not auto-scaled given our itsy bitsy bread volume, each loaf is weighed individually by a real life human)



Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

courses in baking to pick up the fundamentals to go with your observations.  

If the cheese bread needs covering to prevent burning, try using a cooler oven temp or baking first before the oven temps are set higher.  Cheese is heavy and doesn't contribute to loaf rise, yet contributes to fat & protein content.  In the home, cheeses are added at the end of the mixing, folded in so they don't interfere with the initial mixing and hydrating of the flour.  If the cheese additive is powder, dig up the spec. sheet on it and see if any suggestions are given as to when and how to use.    

PastryPaul's picture

IMHO : Better yet, if the cheese is a powder, stop using it.

It is my opinion that people buy loaves of bread from bakeries because they want good-quality, fresh ingredients that are well prepared. Powdered cheese does not fit the bill. Our "additives" are chocolate, olives, fresh rosemary, fresh fennel, fresh basil etc, jack cheese, cheddar (mild, medium and old), and other similar stuff.

The only additives we use are: Surfax (or Tandem) in sponge cakes; and 25% Nutrifil in mousse cakes (but only during hot spells, otherwise the mousse will never make it to the customer's home without melting)

I guess an arguement could rage forever about the pros and cons of additives vs no additives. To my mind they detract more than they help.

I concur with the suggestion about baking school. I'm not too sure how you will be able to attend and work full-time. Maybe you could work something out with the owner. If you can't... fully digest every good bread book you can find. (Start with "Bread" by J. Hammelman) Do every recipe even if it is in very small batches (if the store owner doesn't agree to that, consider moving on). All formulae in "Bread" list Bakers' Percentages. PM me if you need help with figuring out all that that implies. From BP you can get how much flour you need for any given yield, modify formulae without re-calculating everything, cost recipes more efficiently, etc.

Post any issues you have right here and the community will try to help.

You know your boss better than I do, but I would suggest that, if you are willing to make the effort to turn the place around, you work out some sort of remuneration bonuses based on gross profit increases and/or sales increases.


terrormisu's picture

The cheese is just shredded cheddar - by additives I just meant things added to the bread, we don't use anything besides regular ingredients - flour, water, salt, yeast, cheese, red peppers, all of it in its recognizable varieties. I have a couple of bread books ordered from amazon, I think I'll have to invest in the hammelman book as well.

The real turnaround that I'm looking for right now is in the way that we handle and treat the dough's fermentation. Right now, as I said, we tend to make bulk quantities of dough that we pull out of the refrigerator when we need them and we don't use any preferments. I'd really like to find out how other bakeries handle their quantities of bread - management is attached to the current system, since it allows for a quicker turnover, but I think it affects the quality and consistency of the product. I'd like to find a schedule that could work for a single employee in charge of dispatching a hundred plus loaves a day, but I'm not sure exactly what the best regiment for this would be. When I'm on shift, I try to make a poolish for the white bread for the next day, or if I'm not on the schedule, I'll use a longer fermentation style based on a decreased quality of yeast and decreased mixing time, combined with folds of the dough to improve its strength. However, this is a lot to juggle for all the breads for one person, so I've mainly been doing this with the white dough to see if I see a difference (I do - the crumb and taste is far superior). 

Are there any professional blogs that cover a bakery routine in more detail, or any videos that show a complete day at a bakery? I'd love to see other methods for maximizing product quality within a careful regiment of time. I might be able to convince management of the appeal of this if I could cement the details and make it seem like it'd be worth it from a financial point of view.

jcking's picture

Hang out with the pros, join the Bread Bakers Guild of America. They have a forum at Yahoo where all your professional questions can be answered by professional bakers.

Dough temps are important because you can better judge when the dough is ready for the oven and be able to schedule your production. And yes, read and re-read Hammelman.


terrormisu's picture

After looking around some more, I've begun to realize that dough temperature is important because of the yeast activity it promotes - I'll definitely introduce the suggestion of buying a dough thermometer at the next opportunity. At the moment, membership with BBGA is a little bit out of my finances.

ehanner's picture

After reading this thread, I'd say you have your hands full. The suggestions for getting and reading Bread by Hamelman is excellent for learning to understand how things should work. What you are doing now is trying to run a bakery on the basis of the popular home bakers book "Artisan Breads in 5 Minutes a Day". That method has you make a big batch of dough with a small amount of yeast in it and pull from the dough in the cooler when you need it. I suppose that could work if you have the capacity to mix and store dough at a regular cooler temperature of 40 or so degrees F. The cooler can be your friend but you need to learn to schedule a baking session based on known requirements of the bakery.

First, before anything else, temperature control is the single most important thing you need to get a handle on. You use water temperature to control the dough temperature when mixing. The ambient room temperature is important for fermenting and proofing and to some degree the humidity in the proofing area. Get yourself a laser point and shoot thermometer. $40 bucks you will be amazed at how helpful it is and how easy it is to control dough temp by adjustments in water temp.  Try starting off the Desired Dough Temp of 76-78F for mixing and fermenting. Less yeast, same temp, equals longer ferment time and better flavor.

If you can lay out a schedule of breads you want to produce in a week and back up the time to allow for proper fermenting and proofing, it should be easier to schedule your time. You need to have the flexibility to work when you need to be there for the bread schedule. You will need food grade plastic tubs with covers appropriately sized for your quantity to ferment and fold your dough in. I suggest you get tubs large enough (considering dough expansion during fermentation) to handle the batch your mixer will handle. So one batch, one tub equals "X" number of loaves.

If you don't have one, get a $10 quick read thermometer while you are waiting for the laser model. They are a cheap way to get started controlling your process.



lbcheatham's picture

So I have worked at a few places that did there own breads. Everyone has there own way they do it. Sometimes I have to make the bread day of, everyday. Sometimes we made batches and let them sit in walk-in for up to three days. I would like to share with you what i think would be most effective.

First off, make a sour starter. Build it up for awhile, say a month or so. Then start making bread with it. The higher the percentage of sour you have in your bread the longer it will last on the shelf after being baked. I find it's always better on day two or three.

The way I have done mass quantities of many types of bread.

On Monday we would make 3 to 4 large batches of dough, about 40# each, all a different type. We would proof, punch, proof, scale, bench, and shape them. We then would immediately place them in the walk-in on a speed cart that is covered, this helps with the skin problem. We NEVER baked the bread we made that day. The doughs would then be ok to bake for the next three days. Meaning I could bake Mondays loafs on Thursday. The higher the % of preferment the longer they lasted in the walk-in. Then once baked, let cool completely and store in paper bags. The bread would then be ok to sell to customers for two days. This allows them to have a few days of shelf life at home. So Mondays bread, baked on Thurs, sold on Friday. Thats 5 days from one batch of bread.

We rotated every day making something different. Baking off whatever bread we needed more of for the day. This allowed us to constantly have up to 16 types of bread. Be sure to keep a schedule of when everything was made, what day it needs to be baked off by. Add once baked, be sure to use the FIFO method (First in First out.)

Just as a note. We made baguettes everyday. We also had different starters for different bread. Some were made with biga or scrap dough and others made with a poolish left out overnight. I tried to do all the sours the same day, all the bigas the same day, and so on. This made it easier for me to keep schedule. And BTW I was the only baker.


JustinB's picture

Your routine sounds similar to mine. Not quite, but similar. I am the only mixer, and I usually have to bake as well. Do about 350-400 loaves a day.

We have preferments for all bread we do (French has a basic Flour/Water preferment or starter, Sourdough is a real starter, and Ciabatta and Pugliese use a biga).

So, the only doughs we store, which are covered up in tubs, are the starters and bigas and sourdough. Sourdough is left to set on a proofing board cart w/ the couche in the walkin fridge, and is ready to be baked in the morning the following day. I don't like the idea that you are getting all the crustyness on your dough! I hate that!

A normal morning for me would be: Mix flour, water and yeast for french, let autolyse for 20 minutes. In between, start Ciabatta. I usually finish ciabatta just as I add the starter and salt to the french mix. Cut out ciabatta in to tubs to bulk ferment. By that time, french is done mixing, so cut those out into tubs for bulk ferment. Start pugliese, our recipe always proofs fast so I do it last. After all of them are in tubs, I go bake the sourdough that was made last night in the proofing cart. In between loading the oven, I start throwing the ciabatta and pugliese into the dough divider. Those go onto a similar cart except the proofing boards are covered in rice flour and reg flour. I usually have someone else bake that just because it throws me off. While they are baking, I start dividing and preshaping all the french. Start sourdough autolyse by pretty much same process as french, minus the yeast. Final shape french and load it all onto the "magic box", and start final mix of sourdough with salt and starter. Cut sourdough out for bulk ferment while I am baking french, then repeat process of pre/final shaping sourdough. Sourdough gets baked the next day, it ferments over night. Just to give you a sense of time frame, that takes me about 6-7 hours depending on the day.

Once you get into a routine, it becomes super easy. But it's also difficult not having a helper too :) You will figure it out!