The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

New ish

Stephen's picture

New ish

Well I’m not sure how to start, as this is my first post, so I’ll give a little bit of a backstory...

I work as a chef in the middle of the country close to my home. I don’t don’t do top end fine dining rubbish;  I do good quality local homemade produce which I put a lot of care into. With the soul problem being, that I simply don’t have enough time to create and do new things as much as I want if I don’t have a bit of knowledge on what it is to begin with. Anyone else who works in a kitchen will likely understand where I’m coming from.

So you can imagine my surprise and frustration at suddenly having nothing to do with my time when my work closes for the time being to help the effects of what is causing everyone distress across the globe. Weeks went by before I stopped banging my head enough on the wall to think of a way of learning something relatively new

I never dreamed that I’d actually get to dive into a new ish  area of cooking that I’d previously thought impossible due to work/home restraints.

I am of course referring to bread.

during catering college you learn many of the basics, but that was near 12 years ago now, id always been intrigued with how to make sourdough breads and I learnt precious little back in the day, and it looks like the tartine book the misses got me for Xmas nearly two years ago is finally going to get some use? 

little did I know of the immense journey I was about to take. Never mind Frodo and the ring, this was a journey of immense proportions and consequences.

now not being the sort of person to “sit and read” I found it difficult to get into it, as I’m constantly doing something, i find it difficult to focus and to educate myself in just this manner alone. I like to be “shown and told”.  such is my way, but I persisted, even nearly starting a argument with the misses who bless her, doesn’t understand what it is that the book is telling me, but is doing her best to translate it in a way my simpler mind might understand it better. Honestly without her to translate and actually tell me what it is that’s on the page I’d of probably given up on the whole thing.  I make it sound like I’m thick or something ? I hope I’m not , but it was easier in the early days to have her read it through with me so I could at least try to understand the most basic of methods.

all still here???

anyway after much experimentation and feeling of disappointment/excitement and many other emotions in between, you can imagine how I felt when I was told I can go back to work, without it sounding too much like something from a book or a film when the character has a big disappointing reveal about a  reality check (if that’s at all possible if you’re still ready this dribble lol) I was disappointed; not at going back to work! My country needs to sort itself out and get back  on track. I was disappointed I hadn’t found “the loaf”. for those of you that have found “it” you will know what “it” is.

well the reality is I hadn’t found what I was after, even after finding different flavours and textures from the same three ingredients. I had no other choice than to give up. Their was no way I was going to manage experimenting at home with my working hrs, I’d of been making some very sour flavoured doughs if I’d off carried on in this manner, and that’s not what I was after. Especially when I’m doing this to try and find that newer thing to produce at work, as well as at home. and if it’s not working when I’ve got all the time I had at home, then how would I get it to work for me when I’m doing it for work, but when I’ve not yet found it? It’s not something I can risk wasting time on when money everywhere is tight at the moment. Especially if things don’t get back to normal, my job could be further at risk. I mean my money is one thing, but wasting my bosses is something I think we can all agree , is just asking for trouble.

it sounds a bit obsessive and in a way I suppose it is. I don’t look at is I’ve failed to make a loaf of bread; more like I’ve found however many way “not” to make  a loaf of bread the way I want it.

 But, well with that idea crushed until the next bright idea comes along I gave up on the idea of making breads and got back to “normal” 

but what is “normal” at the the moment? As within eight weeks of reopening we closed out doors again. But mind you, with all the backward rules and unclear regulations it’s no wonder we closed again, people are confused, I’m confused and I don’t blame people for not coming out I don’t want to go out and risk health issues just for the benefit of eating food, so I can’t expect my customers to do that for me either.-My foods good but not that good lol.

so here I am again, now since just before Xmas 2020. furloughed again. ? obsessing over the idea of the perfect loaf. With a false start to my now new starter after many attempts at getting her right; (yes my starter is a girl) but that’s a different story.

With this previous, though what I prefer to call deeply lacking experience I’d gained with what I’d been making during the summer, I would like to think that the bread I’ve been attempting to create since then would at least in some way be more compliant now with the little knowledge that I’ve acquired along the way. Again with using the same three ingredients I have changed the percentages, proving times ,shaping and just about every other way I can think of to find what I’m looking for.  But alas, I’m still struggling to get it, just so.

for those of you still reading I ask this....

what is the perfect loaf? What makes what you guys bake any better than I? This is of course meant to be a rhetorical question because everyone’s tastes will undoubtedly be different, but there is another question here as well, what can I do to further improve what I’m doing and can it match what you all do? 
this journey is one that I think I can now honestly say, is one I cannot take alone and as difficult as it is to say, I think what I’m really asking for is help. 
Asking google only gets you so far and it usually sends me to the fresh loaf page at some point regardless,but then you can only learn so much from reading the answer, to someone else’s question, when what you want to learn has only half been answered, by a question that for you, has only half been asked.

i hope I didn’t loose anyone on that last part? 

So now, here I am searching on my quest for knowledge. 
no doubt the answer to one question will only open up more questions in the future but I look forward to the experience. if there’s one thing I’ve learned from this so far, it’s that anyone can bake if you love to cook. I will be returning kitchen soon, hungry for  more

mariana's picture

Hi Stephen, 

welcome to TheFreshLoaf community! And thank you for sharing your story. 

What makes a perfect loaf to come out my oven? You actually gave an answer at the very beginning of your story: doing good quality local produce which I put a lot of care into. 

I struggled a lot with Canadian flours, until I found a way to purchase European flours and two good flours from certain millers from one NewYork supplier and one European miller here in Ontario. Eventually I learned to make great bread with any flour, adjusting its properties with this and that. But a perfect loaf requires certain flours that I cannot help but purchase from certain locations where they grow good wheat and rye and mill them appropriately. Every obsessed with perfection baker eventually ends up with either having some favorite flour to bake with or with asking his miller to mill one for him according to his or her specifications. 

Eventually you may discover that the same is true when it comes to water, and salt, and yeast. We just have to start with water being not too hard or not too soft, with salt that works just right and yeast that is not too slow or not too fast or has a certain flavor profile when it ferments. 

So for a loaf that is amazing, I learned to work with what is available, to understand my ingredients and either to adjust their quality or to adjust the breadmaking process to suit them. But for a perfect loaf - unless I have just the right kind of flour, water and yeast I might as well continue to dream about perfection. 

I am a chef as well and for me baking bread is definitely not cooking. It's a whole new world. I have never struggled as much with ingredients and techniques when cooking as I had when baking a simple loaf of daily bread for breakfast. It's ridiculous.

A reliable thermometer and watching my dough temperature like a hawk is the second most important factor in making bread. 

Good luck!


phaz's picture

I have the Lord if the rings, uncut version, about 11 hours of incredible cinema, and the op felt about as long!

Seriously though, to answer the questions. The perfect loaf = whatever you think it is. What makes you guys better = nothing, absolutely nothing. Enjoy!

LynneC's picture

Hi Stephen,

Let me just start from this quote about perfection - “If you look for perfection, you'll never be content.”
― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

I think, when you make your sourdough it is the most important to have a love for what you do, kindness to all people on the planet Earth, and contribute part of your soul into your bread loaf. Every bread loaf made with love will be tasty and recognizable by others. And it shouldn't be so special or look like the bread loaf other people bake. Just learn every day from the masters. Bake your bread the way you bake. Eventually, you will become the master and you will attract those people, who will love your bread as well as you love to bake it. Happy Baking to you!