The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

What's in "Your Bag"

Steve Petermann's picture
Steve Petermann

What's in "Your Bag"

If you're a golfer or a photographer there is often an interest in what the pros have "in their bag" so they can decide if something is right for them as well.  While I have been baking bread for many years, I've only recently begun to delve more deeply into artisan baking. So, I'm curious what experienced bakers have found to be very important for their baking experience. I'm especially interested in what has really made a difference.  This could be equipment, tools, ingredients, books, techniques, advice, etc. So, if you're willing to share, I'm sure many of us with less experience will be interested.

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Steve, over the years I have acquired most of the artisan bread baking "stuff" used by home bakers except for a grain mill, and I enjoy using it all. A good thermometer and a scale are mighty helpful, but probably the only necessity for baking hearth-style loaves, if you don't have a special oven, is either a cast iron dutch oven (or equivalent), or a good pizza stone. I think everything else can be improvised or worked around.

But THE most important thing -- the thing that has made the biggest difference along my bread baking journey -- was, and continues to be, taking hands-on classes. If you're lucky enough to have any within driving distance that are appropriate for your skill level, sign up. If like me you have to travel, you won't regret the time or investment to learn under a great teacher. To see, smell, feel, and handle properly mixed and fermented dough, and to taste the end result. The real-time experience will improve your skills faster than any tool, amount of reading, or watching YouTube.

Steve Petermann's picture
Steve Petermann

Thanks for the reply. I did some checking and unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any bread making classes coming up in the Dallas Area.  I did see one but it was really just at the beginner level.  I've been baking for quite a while so I probably wouldn't get much out of it, but I would soooo love to be able to quiz an expert on many things. I think I'm right that you have some association with King Arthur Flour.  They should really do a seminary here in Plano, TX.  There are so many people here into healthy eating and cooking that I think it would sell out immediately.  Just wishing. :-)

BTW, I've read your post on Lactic Acid Fermentation several times. Great stuff!  It really helped me better understand what's going on with my starter and bulk ferments.  Thanks.

Those who haven't seen it should check it out:

http://www.thefreshloaf.com//node/10375/lactic-acid-fermentation-sourdough

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

BBGA would be a perfect fit for you --- and they're sending Stan Ginsberg to Plano in August to teach a class titled Scalds, Soakers, and Starters at Middleby Bakery Innovation Center. If you don't mind driving to Bentonville AR, there's Grain-Focused Viennoiserie coming up fast (April 6-7), and there are still 3 spots left (but registration closes on that one tomorrow, I think). It doesn't start until late in the afternoon on the 6th. There's another class in Dripping Springs, TX on baking with freshly milled flour, but it's already sold out. Every year the classes and locations change, but Texas is usually represented. There's also a quarterly magazine included with the membership that you might like. You should consider joining.

BBGA Regional Events Calendar

Also keep an eye on this page:
Non-Guild Classes Taught by Guild Members

Thank you for your kind words :)
dw

Steve Petermann's picture
Steve Petermann

Thanks so much for the info.  For a few years, I did automation engineering design for Johnson & Johnson so I've got to somehow get in to see Middleby.  I'll also definitely take the Ginsberg class.  

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Be sure to join and get yourself on the email list for the e-newsletter (and yahoo group). When registration opens for Stan's class, it will be announced there. And his classes fill up fast, so don't wait too long.

gavinc's picture
gavinc

Steve, in support of Debra's reply, gather expert knowledge somehow. An alternative to a class is a good technical baking book.  I recommend Jeffrey Hamelman's "Bead - A baker's book of techniques and recipes" as it is deep in detail which is what suited me.  Others think it's a bit too detailed for the beginner, but I found it a great resource.

It was great to see Debra's reply as she was the person that demystified sourdough for me over ten years ago! 

In addition to a reliable kitchen scale, I also purchased a pocket scale that can measure small amounts of instant yeast and salt.  

Happy baking, Gavin.

Steve Petermann's picture
Steve Petermann

Yes, I have Hamelman's book. Great book.  I also have "Local Breads" and others. My problem is that I have many "why" questions.  There are lots of established practices but I'm curious about what they are really doing. I've found that in any area there can be a lot of unsubstantiated myths that may not really make sense or even be detrimental. So, I'll keep reading and post some of those questions here in the forum.

barryvabeach's picture
barryvabeach

Steve,  I haven't taken a real class  ( I did one that was at Sur La Table years ago, but it was pretty clear the instructor was filing in for the regular instructor,  when he was forming the baguette, it looked like a powdered donut, there was so much flour on it).  But you are in Plano, which is not far from Sanger.  https://www.bakewithmike.com/index.php?content=schedule   I actually considered taking one of his classes when I was visiting relatives in Plano, but the dates did not line up.  

I have Hamelman's book, and love it.  Don't ask what is in my bag, it is more like a uhaul trailer , or two.  

Steve Petermann's picture
Steve Petermann

Thanks.  I'll take a look.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

cups, standard American cookbook fare.  Then came no cups or cookbooks and just eyeballing, then came the gram scales.  The scales gave me more freedom and less stress to just experiment as the proportions were easier to get right in the beginning of mixing up the dough.  A spoon scale was the next leap and I still hang onto a 5 ml teaspoon to help get the salt right.  Learning to get salt exactly how I want it, between 1 and 2% of "flour weight" was a major step, it let me explore without worrying about nailing the salt amount, all I needed was the "flour" weight.  This gave me a lot of time to just let the dough teach me about itself.

Learning to read packages is secondary to having a basic recipe stuck in my head, something simple to compare all flours.  That turns out to be an egg pancake, like a crepe, one egg, a few towering forks of flour, pinch of salt and enough milk or water to make a medium batter.  The consistency, the way the flour handles, the way it cooks and tastes all tell me something about the flour and how it most likely will behave later in baking.  It is much easier and less dramatic to flub up a pancake than a whole loaf of bread.  It's also more economic.  

So my essentials are a scale or two, a teaspoon, a tray sized piece of alufoil, a tray sized piece of baking parchment folded, all in a sturdy large zipper bag or two that can double as a fermenting bowl.  That's my travel kitchen "bag."  Hiding somewhere is a sourdough sample and yeast.

Mini

Steve Petermann's picture
Steve Petermann

Mini, I didn't know about the spoon scales. Really neat.  I wasn't confident about my bread scales doing salt and then I realized I had a scale for working with my archery arrows that was very accurate for small weights. Those are the sorts of things "in the bag" that can make life easier and more stress-free.

https://smile.amazon.com/Smart-Weigh-SWS100-Digital-Pocket/dp/B00EPO9M2Y/ref=sr_1_4?keywords=archery+scale&qid=1553762795&s=gateway&sr=8-4

Another thing I've found helpful at times are some vinyl exam gloves that I got at a local pharmacy.  Certain dough hydrations are too stiff for stretch-or-slap-and-fold so I'll do a traditional knead but it's still sticky enough that I get tearing of the dough as I knead. So instead of using flour or wetting my hands often, I'll just put on a pair of those gloves, wash with soap and water really well and then spray some cooking spray on them and knead.  Amazingly, there is no sticking at all.  Also, if I feel too lazy for cleanup, I'll use them sometimes for pinching in the salt on wet doughs.  Probably a cop-out but hey, just makes life a little easier.

bikeprof's picture
bikeprof

For me, three things have made the biggest difference: 1) classes at SFBI; 2) spending time in great bakeries/with great bakers; and 3) baking A LOT.

Don't have time right now to elaborate (big bake day)...but those are clearly my top 3.

bikeprof's picture
bikeprof

I'll also 3rd the BBGA recommendation, the forum can be really helpful (but don't be discouraged if a particular question doesn't get the robust response you are after...professional bakers are busy), and the BBGA classes (esp. from folks like Debbie W.) are also great.