Last week I had the pleasure of wandering around San Francisco with my wife. While at Fisherman's Wharf, we walked by the big window of Boudin Bakery a half dozen times in our trips to various attractions. A couple of times an employee was making baguettes and batards. It was really fun to watch the pace at which he formed the dough, and compare my own styles to his.
He first put a giant glob of dough into a machine that looked like a big rice cooker. He closed the lid, and a few seconds later opened it. The dough was pushed back up, sliced into about a dozen equal portions. It was so cool to see it mushrooming up out of the machine! He then tore apart the dough and made boules. To create surface tension, he used the table to hold the bottom of the boule in place, and kind of squeezed the top of the dough down into it, almost like he was wringing out a towel. It was very cool, and very fast.
For $3, we took the bakery tour and tasting. It was a self-guided tour where we got to see the history of Boudin Bakery, and watch the employees work the giant machinery below. It was very interesting to see that they do the same things we do, just on a grand scale. The mother starter is kept in the fridge (very stiff, I noticed). An employee goes in and cuts off a cube of it (about 12" on a side!), weighs it, and drops it in the huge mixer bucket with flour and salt. He then checks temperatures and adds water. Then a mix and knead, shaping, and overnight fermenting. The next day is slashing and baking.
Finally we came to the end of the tour and tasted the bread. The sourdough was very mildly sour - so mild I would have been hard pressed to pick it out as sourdough. The crumb was fairly dense with a chewy crust. My wife took a taste, then another, then whispered, "Yours is better."
I grinned for the rest of the day :)
If you have the chance, stop by Boudin. I didn't get to eat dinner there, but the tour and tasting was well worth $3.