The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

The 'bench' in bench-rest..

Bread1965's picture
Bread1965

The 'bench' in bench-rest..

I just finished performing a final shape on a loaf that rested on my 'bench' for 20 minutes. And something struck me..

My "bench" is a three inch thick wooden butcher block which has never been used for anything truly butchered! I'll dust it well with flour, pre-shape and then do a final shape. Every time I go to do the final shape, the wood absorbs some moisture from the loaf.. and it sticks..  i struggle to get the dough off the resting spot, then dust that spot with more flour and proceed.. but even then.. that spot becomes a problem as a shape.. I'll often have moments where I'm struggling with the dough because of how it sticks.. the picture above is of the board after I put it in the basket..

I also have a proper shaping board (but it's big and a pain to get from the basement for a single loaf - ok, I'm lazy on this point)..  that board is pine I think and has coating so absorbing moisture isn't ever an issue on that board..

So this had me wondering.. how many of you actually use a slab of granite or the like (or in my case just use my counter top going forward, instead of wood.. maybe I should use this any more.. ok, I'll re-phrase, I realize tonight I should just stop using this board for shaping..

So survey.. what do you use?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

the wood, sanded and soaked with mineral oil to pre-treat its tendency to soak up moisture?  

Sticking, I find, has more to do with dough development and the particular flours and ingredient in the dough.  Also hands on skill level.  Sometimes the wood "effect" is taken into account working much like a banneton to create a "skin" on dough surface or reduce the hydration slightly.  

Struggle to get dough off?  Use your friendly bench scraper, dusted perhaps.  

I use what ever counter top is handy, and also the bowls themselves. 

 

Bread1965's picture
Bread1965

I never thought of using mineral oil to treat the block, and I'm not sure I'm a fan of the idea - after-all over time some would get into the dough. Although if it's food grade, so it shouldn't hurt. As to hydration - it's about 80%. I think my technique is OK but not perfect. But I sometimes feel I should buy a bigger scraper. I think if I didn't have this "moisture pocket" develop on by bench I wouldn't have any problem (mostly) with shaping.. I think I'll use the counter top next time - or go grab my large board from the basement.

Thanks mini..

MonkeyDaddy's picture
MonkeyDaddy

You say you don't use that board for butchering, but it is very obviously a "well-loved" piece of equipment.  Sand all the knife marks and scratches out of it, oil it well with food safe mineral oil, and rub it with a soft cloth until your arm aches.  If it's 3 inches thick, you've got plenty of material to work with, and when you're done it'll look brand new and be a beautiful accessory in your kitchen.

My kitchen countertops are quartz, and I have to liberally use my bench scraper while shaping - I'd actually love to have a wood bench.  Wood just feels so alive and natural compared to the cold hardness of stone.

Bread1965's picture
Bread1965

I agree. Using a counter-top does feel 'cold'. Using wood seems so much more authentic somehow.  And I've thought of giving it a good sanding, but that's like getting a face lift. Those scratches are the patina of a life well lived.. it would be a shame to polish them away! Thanks..

Justanoldguy's picture
Justanoldguy

Don't think of it as a face lift. You're just giving it a shave and a haircut and following up with a nice moisturizer; making it presentable before it meets the next gorgeous hunk of dough. The scars and marks may have an emotional value for you but the item's utility is somewhat diminished by them. After all you wouldn't refuse to sharpen a carving knife because you used it to serve that great Thanksgiving dinner that everyone loved.

Bread1965's picture
Bread1965

Such a classic way to look at it.. very funny and great perspective! Thanks..

 

clazar123's picture
clazar123

Part of routine maintenance for a wooden or butcherblock top is an occasional sanding or scraping to remove some of the cuts that will shed tiny pieces of wood (sawdust,cellulose) into whatever is being worked on. Also, if not sealed, the wood does absorb the water and microbes which can actually survive there. If the sourdough beasties survive, you my have a built in starter! There is actually lore about "Grandma's wooden bread bowl"-just add flour and water and the bowl provides the culture.

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/32599/wooden-bowl-permeated-sourdough-starter-culture-years-use-myth

The most important part of working on the initial maintenance  ofyour wood surface will be to let that moist spot dry over 2-3 days before sealing. The moisture can go quite deeply into the wood.

So-Let it surface dry, sand/scrape, let dry 2-3 days more and then seal. Use mineral oil-vegetable grade oils become rancid over time. Future maintenance after oil is usually a scraping done with a straight knife (a sharp knife held horizontal to the surface with both hands and drawn towards you while firmly scraping the surface) or a drawing knife (same procedure that is done by a woodworking tool). Just takes a few minutes. You'd be surprised at what comes up.

Have fun!

Bread1965's picture
Bread1965

I actually replied to part of it.. given the replies to my bench I'm tempted to do just that  - sand it down for a few days and then add the mineral oil, etc.. or I could be less lazy and walk down to the basement and grab my large (very smooth) bread board and use it.. :)  But it does need a good cleaning, so I may as well give it a bit of TLC.. Thanks..

law_and_loaf's picture
law_and_loaf

give it a good sanding, and a good finish sanding (220 grit), and then apply several coats of "Salad Bowl Finish" (I uses General Finishes brand). it's a food safe varnish. follow the instructions on the can, but if you give it 3-5 coats and give it the required curing time your butcher block should be good for a few years of abuse before you have to refinish again, and the finish will prevent a lot of water absorption into the wood.  

http://www.rockler.com/salad-bowl-finish?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_term=&utm_content=pla&utm_campaign=PL&sid=V9146&gclid=EAIaIQobChMInb_f3_...

don't get me wrong, mineral oil is great, but the varnish will seal better.

Bread1965's picture
Bread1965

The 220 grit sounds like a good idea - thanks for telling me, as I wouldn't know the number to use.. but i just can't see myself using the varnish.. I know it would make the board look stunning.. but can't see myself doing that on something that I'll also use as a bread cutting board... some of that varnish would inevitably come off with the cuts and nothing good can come of that .. thanks!!

law_and_loaf's picture
law_and_loaf

mineral oil works great, I only mentioned the salad bowl finish because it's food safe and lasts for a few years rather than a few months, but by all means do what's comfortable for you. it's fun to refresh the boards and butcher blocks, they look so great after getting used for however long. but the mineral oil will look just fine.

Bread1965's picture
Bread1965

I get it for bowls.. no cuts or scrapes.. thanks again..

pmccool's picture
pmccool

For a cutting board or chopping block, the scars from the knives aren't necessarily a bad thing.  A work surface for dough should be smooth, though.

Bakeries that use wooden work surfaces, such as hard maple, either employ some mineral oil as a sealer or nothing at all; definitely no varnishes.  The tops are maintained by scraping away the dough film with bench scrapers.  The scrapers, if maintained properly, also shave off a trace of the wood, which makes the sealing step somewhat moot.

You can probably find a better description of the bench scraper sharpening process than I can give.  It involves a round file and results in a "wire edge" on each face of the scraper blade. 

Paul

Bread1965's picture
Bread1965

I like the no-coat version.. something more natural about it.. but a good sanding is definitely in order.. I think I'll salt it a few times over a few days, let it dry out well.. then sand it to a buff polish and go from there.. let's see.. but am too thinking maybe just using a stone counter top would be good too.. but never liked the feel of working on that surface..

albacore's picture
albacore

I've got granite work tops, but I don't find then very good for dough handling. The surface is so smooth that high hydration dough loves to stick to it. I was also concerned that sooner or later it was going to get scratched by the dough scraper. At least with a removable board it's not a disaster.

So I bought a big wooden board from Ikea. It was called Lamplig. It's the kind with a wooden batten underneath at the front that pushes against the work top to keep it in place. Unfortunately it's not very good for dough! It's made of bamboo and I don't think bamboo can ever be very smooth. Think of it as rows and rows of drinking straws all in parallel and glued together.

Time to think again; I could have tried beech or maple, but after a trial with a small piece that I had, I decided that anodised aluminium was the way to go. The micro-etching that the surface gets from the anodising gives the most non-stick surface (in dough terms) that I've come across. Aluminium is very light, so a nice big piece of 3mm ali is very easy to handle. Easily available on Ebay - I just fixed a maple batten underneath like on the Lamplig board. I think I got a 500 x 600mm size.

Of course, aluminium is quite soft and easy marked, so care is needed with the scraper. Overall though, I'm very happy with it.

 

Lance

 

Bread1965's picture
Bread1965

In my original post I mentioned that I was lazy to go to the basement to get my bread board as it's larger (wider) than the block I used.. the block is just there and we only use it for bread now and it's just the right size for a single loaf.. but here's the board i have in the basement (I know.. I shouldn't be lazy and use this every time!).. https://www.amazon.com/Tableboard-Co-Reversible-Cutting-PBB1/dp/B005RK8JF6  at 80$ it's a deal.. it's incredibly well made of sturdy maple.. super smooth too.. I think you'd like it over the anodized aluminum for feel of working dough on it.. thanks for the reply..

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

30cm square (almost 12") white matt ceramic tiles on my counter tops. (not my choice)  To avoid the grout, I tend to knead in the middle of one square.  Works well for one loaf at a time.  Currently looking for a table with a raw surface to oil for kneading and shaping work.  Might have to make it myself.  

When I was about 7 years old, I saw my father taking sandpaper to a most precious wooden paddle my mother used in the kitchen.  Later found out it was an heirloom butter paddle but Mom was most particular in keeping it clean and dry, ready to use at the stove.  No soaking and no idle washing (of which I was known for.)   So thinking it was of grave concern to see such implement being sanded,  tattled to my mother who informed me that it was being sanded smooth by the loving hands of my father.   It needed the sharp edge restored every so often.