To Market, To Market

Ferry Station Market, San Francisco
Saturday was a day off from Baking School so a group of us toured around San Francisco for the day. It was a brilliant day, warm and sunny, with a gentle breeze coming off the bay. Lots of opportunity for sunburns!

We spent several hours touring around the Ferry Station Market. It’s a huge weekly farmers market with more bread, cheese, oil, fruits and other artisan products than I have ever seen gathered in one place. We sampled our way among the stalls and bought enough fresh goat cheese and fruit to accommodate another week’s worth of bread baking.

After the market we walked to the more touristy areas of the city — Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghiardelli Chocolates, China Town, North Beach (twice) and Union Square. I think we walked over 20km in all but when you are in as diverse and exciting a city as San Francisco we wanted to take in as much as we could.

SFBI Day 5: Back to the Baguette

[Sorry, no pics today — I forgot the camera in my room!]

Today we wrapped up the Artisan 1 course by experimenting with three different baguette formulas, each featuring a different pre-ferment.  The preferments are designed to add structure and depth of flavour to the standard baguette formula and, depending on the preferment, adjusting the level of acidity in the dough.

We used an old-dough preferment, called pate fermentee, which we had also used with the various wheat and rye breads yesterday.  It didn’t add near as much in the way of flavour, although I expect it will improve the keeping characteristics of the baguette.

We also tried a sponge, which is a firm dough containing a tiny amount of yeast and no salt. While the sponge added to the elasticity of the dough making it easier for my heavy hands to shape, it didn’t add much for flavour.

My favorite pre-ferment was the poolish, which is similar to the sponge (no salt, very small amount of yeast) but has a 100% hydration.  This soupy mix was left to ferment overnight and then added to the baguette mix.  The result was pure ambrosia — a wide open crumb, crispy crust, creamy colour and the most complex smell and taste of the bunch.

In all, Artisan 1 has improved my baking skill, full stop.  I was able to dig into the science of baking breads that I have made at home for years and by digging deeply I have a much better understanding of how to adjust for local flours and local conditions to make a consistently excellent loaf.  Heck, we made seven completely different baguettes from the same four ingredients and only manipulating time, temperature and mixing technique!  I also learned new mixing methods which will improve breads which are already favorites at home.  I can’t wait to make an improved multigrain loaf for our customers in Regina!

It was also extremely inspiring to work with such talented bakers from around the world.  While we’re all at different stages of our culinary journey, we shared a passion for bread and baking that kept us together as we struggled with new techniques and new working conditions.  I hope we are able to keep in touch as we continue down the road to bread nirvana.

SFBI Day 4: Time for some variety!

What a day! Whereas we’ve been making several subtle changes to our baguette formula for the past three days, today we branched out! Five very different varieties with only one thing in common — each contained a healthy amount of pre-ferment. We used an old dough preferment which is also known as pate fermente.

So what is all that on the table?

Rye Loaves a rye loaf made with rye and whole wheat flour.

Whole Wheat a whole wheat loaf made with a very high hydration dough. The extra-wet dough made for a very light texture even though it was tricky to handle.

Three Pan Loaves A basic white pan bread but made with three very different shaping techniques.

Multigrain Batard And my personal favourite, a fantastic multigrain batard, with flax seeds, sunflower seeds and millet that was all soaked overnight. The soaked seeds made for a terrifically complex smell and a great texture. This is my favorite bread so far by a long way. I can’t wait to make it at home!

We also made a braided egg bread but it was still baking off at 5PM so we’ll taste it tomorrow morning.

Tomorrow, we’re back to making baguettes but we’ll be experimenting with different pre-ferment techniques. Then it’s two days off before we’re on to sourdough!

SFBI Day 3: All Flour All The Time


It was Flour Day today, where we learned everything we possibly could about the main ingredient in your bread. Everything from the different types of wheat and their properties to the different type of flours that can be milled and their properties. I’ve been doing a lot of reading on this topic (Maggie Glezer’s book explains it very well) but it sure helped to talk about this with a knowledgeable chef and instructor.

Whereas yesterday we took the same ingredients and varied the mixing technique, today we kept the exact same mixing technique and only varied the flour. Our standard artisan bread flour vs. high gluten flour. The comparison is especially relevant for me because Canadians primarily grow Hard Red Spring Wheat which is used in high gluten flour. So therefore, most Canadian ‘best for bread’ flours have a much higher protein content than American artisan bread. High gluten flour is great for machined bread, but the extra protein provides some challenges for the artisan baker since the dough doesn’t tolerate longer fermentations. This usually results in slightly larger, rounder loaves but with a less complex flavour.

Today, the theory stood up to the practical test. The high gluten flour resulted in a rounder baguette with a chewier crust and smaller “ears” and a flatter taste.

Now I’m off to contact my local miller to better understand the data on his flour and see if I can get locally milled ‘artisan’ flour.