What Are You Up To?

Saturday Farmer’s Market, Estremoz, Portugal

Cindy and I walked down to the Farmer’s Market today. It was fun to see the vendors again and catch up on things. It’s been two years since I baked for the Market but lots of people still want to see our bread there.

There was lots of interest in our trip and what we saw. There was even more interest in what we were doing next. Sadly, I think my response was a poor one.

I have this habit of telling people I need to figure something out, because I can’t be “unemployed” for much longer. But that’s the wrong answer.

  • I’m already talking to several places in town about starting or improving their bread production
  • There are people signed up to The Baker’s Bench who are ready for another baking course
  • I’m running into people on the street who say they enjoy our travel blog and want me to keep writing

So whether I say it or not, I’m already a baker, a teacher and a writer. And I’m doing all those things. I just didn’t get paid today.

It’s too easy to describe ourselves only in terms of what we do for money. That’s a trap. There’s a lot more going on in all of us.

Figuring Out Flour

June 30 (flour)

Originally uploaded by romanlily

Since I got back from SFBI I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with my flour. Around the time I switched to organic unbleached flour back in November I’ve been struggling with pale loaves. We talked about this at school and I suspect that the organic flour might be the culprit. It all comes down to enzyme activity:

* enzymes (specifically, amalyse) breaks down the starch in flour into simple sugars.
* the simple sugars are needed for yeast food, but left over sugars are what causes nice browning. That is, browning is caramelized sugars

So, you need sufficient enzyme activity to create enough simple sugars to both feed the yeast and have enough left over for a brown crust. How do I know how much enzyme activity is in my flour?

* Millers use a measurement called the Falling Number to determine enzyme activity.
* Basically, they make a flour and water slurry, put it in a tube, put a weight on the slurry, and wait for the weight to fall. Enzyme activity breaks down the flour which allows the weight to fall.
* Bakers want a falling number between 250 and 300 seconds.
* Conventional (non-organic) bread flour typically meets this falling number requirement, but my organic flour has a higher falling number — closer to 350 seconds.

Still with me? So my organic flour has a falling number that’s too high, which means I don’t have enough enzyme activity to create simple sugars for yeast food and also for browning. Well, why not? And why does my Robin Hood flour not have this issue? It comes down to grain storage:

* Enzyme activity increases as the wheat berries get close to sprouting. ie. moisture is introduced.
* However, any grain farmer will tell you he wants dry grain in the bin so it doesn’t spoil.
* Millers are no different. They want nice dry, stable grain in the bin to grind flour from.
* Conventional flour millers add a product called fungal amalyse to their flour after they grind it in order to introduce additional enzyme activity to the flour, while preserving nice dry stable grain in the bin.
* Organic millers don’t have this option, so it’s up to the baker to do the correcting on his own. Usually this is accomplished by adding 0.5% – 1% malted barley flour to the white flour. Malted = sprouted = lots of enzymes.

So armed with this information, all I have to do is find me some malted barley flour and I can fix my pale loaf problem. BUT, do you think I can find malted barley flour locally? Not yet! I’m afraid I will have to go back to conventional flour (and incur the wrath of my local organic miller) until I can find some malted barley flour in the city. sigh…

Baking School is Over (sniff)

Whole Grain Bread Display

Originally uploaded by madbaker66

*Sigh* Well, the SFBI Whole Grain course is over and I’m back in snowy Regina. It’s great to be home but I’m fighting as hard as I can to keep the bread vibe alive. It’ll be hard to do that from my cubicle at work but I’m more determined than ever to get our shop opened up sooner rather than later. In fact, I’m meeting with a local SFBI grad tomorrow to keep the process going.

A great big Thank You to Michel, Evelyne, Erin, Laura, Marty, Shari, Jorge and everyone else at SFBI and TMB Baking. You made my three weeks one of the best learning experiences I’ve ever had. And of course, a very special Thank You to Steve Issac and Didier Rosada, two world class bakers who shared so much knowledge about every facet of the baking process.

PS — the picture is a display of all the bread we baked during the Whole Grain course. I’m sure you’ll agree that there was a huge variety to bake, eat and experience!

You Want seeds? You Got Seeds!

Day 3 Bounty

Originally uploaded by madbaker66

What an amazing day at the SFBI Whole Grains course. We combined more soakers, preferments and levains than I can count to come up with five complex loaves. The flavours and textures were as varied as the seeds that went in them.

Here’s what we made, from the back:

– Prairie Bread
– Crown of the Great Valley (my favorite in taste and name)
– Two Castle Rye (#2 in both categories)
– Finnish Rye (the pun of the day, stated only 14 times was “The Finnish Rye is finished!)
– Sesame Flame: winner of the shape of the week award.

There are some closeup shots in my flickr group. I’d love to write more but I’m of to school to make five more loaves today.

Learning about Whole Grains

Bread fromDay 2

Originally uploaded by madbaker66

My final week at the San Francisco Baking Institute is underway and this week it’s an advanced course on whole grains. There is a lot to learn and we’re clipping along at a quick pace.

If I could summarize the course in two points it would be:

#1: Grains do a job on the gluten structure of the bread, so you need to be careful to create a light, voluminous loaf.

#2: While people like the idea of whole grain bread, it is certainly an acquired taste, so we’re learning ways to bring our guests on the journey a little at a time.

and if I got a third point it would be this: there are more combinations of seeds, grains and fruits than I can possibly count! An eager baker can spend years tweaking formulae to come up with a unique, tasty combination.

For example, the picture shows four of the five breads we made on Tuesday. From the left, they are Oatmeal Pan Bread, Flax Seed Bread, Millet Bread, and 100% Whole Wheat Bread.. We also made a Corn Bread that is missing from the picture. Each uses different grains and seeds. Most use a preferment. Some use a preferment and a sourdough levain. Each has a unique shaping technique and scoring pattern. Honestly, I could spend years with this stuff!

As we proceed down the whole grain path we’re experimenting with countless combinations of soakers, levains and preferments. One bread we’ll be making tomorrow uses four different pre-mixes before we make the final dough. Veterans of SFBI know that this means a desperate hunt for mixing bowls and containers to store it all. So far it’s all working out pretty well — no tub fights have been reported!

Do the Opposite

Doing the Opposite

Remember the Seinfeld episode where George did the opposite of what he normally did and everything worked out well for him? That’s a lot like the Whole Grain course at SFBI. We’re getting the chance to learn from Didier Rosada, who is an exceptional baker and instructor. He’s a very effective teacher and is helping me learn about a very complex topic. I’m also picking up many tricks of the trade which will help me for years to come. But, many of his techniques are “the opposite” of what we learned in Artisan 1 and 2. Some examples:

  • You think we shouldn’t add more water on Speed 2? Ha! Just slosh some more in there till it feels right! Really soft, that is. [it’s called double hydration and makes for a very extensible, airy dough]
  • 2 minutes on speed 2? No way, baby! Use colder water and mix like hell. At least this way I can pull a window. Heck, my dog could pull a window with this dough! [we’re taking up to 8 minutes on speed 2 to develop the gluten and it’s developed a lot more than Artisan 1, but we haven’t over mixed one yet!]
  • – Why put a little flour on the table when you can make it a solid mass of white? Go for it! [this highly hydrated, soft dough can get super sticky, so it needs a lot more flour for shaping and proofing]
  • Proof baguettes seam down? Surely you jest! Seam up is the way to go. Then you can flip once on the peel and slide it onto the loader. All my baguettes were ‘S’ shaped but it’s a new technique so give it a try! [I’m got a tiny bit better on Day 2, but it’s still a challenge]
  • 3 fingers between loaves? No Way! 3mm works too.
  • don’t move the loaf once it’s scored? har har! Some of my loaves got moved at least three times. I’m surprised they didn’t get moved to another oven. [in fairness, we’re baking a lot of bread so we’re really trying to be efficient with loader space]

If you’re a ‘follow the directions’ type of guy this week is not for you. But if you want to see a different way which works very, very well, then seeing these new techniques is a real treat. I’m having a ball so far — it’s already opened my eyes to new ways of doing things and new ways to view what we’re doing when we’re working with the dough.

And I sure can’t argue with the results!

wheat germ baguettesThis is a wheat germ baguette — all the best parts of a baguette with better nutrition and a nice wheaty taste.

buckwheat pearThis is a buckwheat pear bread. The buckwheat adds colour and the pears and walnuts add a LOT of flavour!

Semolina BatardThis is a semolina batard with fennel and raisins. Very similar to what I make at home but with a much more delicate crust and crumb.

Three outstanding loaves on the first day. Gotta love it!

Artisan II is Over!

Artisan II is Over!

Originally uploaded by madbaker66

That’s me looking tired and weak-armed, holding a massive boule I made to wrap up my second week at the San Francisco Baking Institute. I forgot to weigh it but I’m pretty sure it’s 5kg.

The loaf is made with a sourdough culture I started on Monday and was baked long to ensure the crumb is fully cooked. I love the dark colour — it’s hard to believe the loaf is made with white flour when it looks like that, but that’s what caramelization does.

Really strange emotional vibe at school on Friday. I’ve made some great new friends in the past two weeks and most of them are heading home now. It’s tough to think about how I’ll likely never see some of them again after getting along so well and having so much in common. It takes a certain type of person to bake bread, I guess, and I tend to click with that type of person.

On the other hand, I’m also wicked homesick, so my emotions are sure getting pulled in two directions. Time to hunker down, get some laundry done and push through the final week. I keep hearing that the new instructor is extremely good, so I’m looking forward to the whole grain class, even as I’m ready to hop on a plane.

Regional Shapes

Regional Shapes

Originally uploaded by madbaker66

We wrapped up the Artisan II course on Friday by spending some time creating decorative bread shapes. Each shape represents a regional variety that is made in a specific French town. For example, you’d find Pain d’Aix in Aix.

The bread is a basic country bread with white and whole wheat flour, which tastes pretty good but seemed bland after the olive bread we baked in the morning!

Let’s see if I can pick out the shapes from the picture. Starting at the top left corner and moving clockwise we have:

– Fleur
– Fendu
– Tordu
– Tabatiere
– Auvergnat
– Another Auvergnat with a smaller cap (how did two get in there?!)
– Vivarais
– Charleston (a little lumpy)

In the middle is a Corrone Bordelais (my favorite) and the Pain d’Aix, which looks kind of like a bowtie after some red wine. After white wine it looks like a moustache. Trust me on that.



Originally uploaded by madbaker66

Wow! I now know what a wet dough really is. The verb we used to describe the dough as we were dividing the dough was ‘swimming.’ And it was.

The loaves in the pictures were massive, yet light as a feather. 10 inches square yet only weighed 600 grams.

Another neat technique I learned — you need to dry these out in the oven a bit before unloading to drive out all the steam. Makes for a much crispier crust.