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!