[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.