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.

SFBI Day 2: Four Ingredients, Three Different Loaves

Short Mix Baguettes

Originally uploaded by mdstamps

Another great learning day at the San Francisco Baking Institute. Today we focused on how to manipulate one factor, mixing method, to create three completely different baguettes. The story behind these three baguettes is as interesting as the loaves themselves:

– The first dough was called a ‘short mix’ and represents how bread was traditionally made before the heavy machinery was called in the mid-twentieth century. We still used the mixer, but we only mixed long enough to hydrate the flour before moving the dough to tubs for a long bulk fermentation. The dough was approximately 50% developed when it went into the tubs and we properly developed the gluten by folding the dough every 45 minutes. It was great to see how the dough changed over time, but better yet, how to tell when the gluten was sufficiently developed. This gentle mixing method allowed us to use more water and less yeast, which in turn delivers a more complex flavour.

– the third dough we mixed was the ‘intensive mix’, which represents how dough was mixed after the introduction of high speed mixers. The gluten was 100% developed in the mixer and used less water and more yeast. The end result was a dough which was much tighter and easier to handle, which makes it perfect if we were going to use machines to divide and shape the loaves (we used our hands) at the expense of flavour, texture and colour. There’s a place for intensive mixed doughs, but my preference is for looser doughs and longer fermentations to create a better flavour.

– the second dough we mixed was the ‘improved mix’, which represents how artisan bakers pulled back from the intensive mix in order to extract better flavour while still getting the labour saving advantages of the mixer and shorter fermentation times. This was the same mix we used yesterday — 70% gluten development, more water than the intensive mix but less than the short mix, and an amount of yeast between intensive mix and short mix too.

So much for the method — how were the results?

The intensive mix gave a loaf that was much like I make at home when I don’t use a preferment — even, slightly dull colour, a chewy crust and a tight, white crumb. Not bad, but no real depth to the flavour or aroma.

The improved mix loaf was wonderful — a shiny, crisp, crackling crust, light crumb with slightly irregular holes and a nice creamy colour.

The short mix was a delight as well. I got the best ‘ears’ from my slashes, but that was more due to getting the technique right for a change. The loaves had a slightly chewy crust and a creamy crumb with a wide variety of holes. The smell and taste was nicely complex wheaty flavour.

My favourite was the improved mix because of the crust. I just can’t get enough of it! It’s unlike anything I’ve had before; crisp and easy to chew even hours after it was baked. My supper tonight was a baguette with cheese and an apple and it was superb!

On another note: I ended up with 13 baguettes to take home to the hotel tonight. Let me tell you, I’m making friends in the lobby of the Hampton Inn! If any of my Orange Boot customers are feeling deprived, just head down to the Hampton in South San Francisco around 5:30PM and you won’t regret it!

SFBI Day 1: Heaven on Earth!

The first day was fantastic! I’ll post more detail as the week goes on but suffice to say that this is a really special place. We’re learning a ton of theory, our hands on work is being scrutinized in great detail, and the equipment is top notch. I’ve already met some incredibly interesting people, from a hotel chef from Maui to a culinary instructor from Melbourne to an artisan baker from Victoria who’s bakery I know a bit about through our travels.

My first baguettes passed the chef’s close inspection fairly well today. There is lots for me to improve on in the shaping and scoring department but I was glad that there was sufficient goodness in there too.

Oh and in case you still don’t want to be down here too — we get to take all the bread we make home with us! So I passed out four baguettes in the lobby of the hotel when I got back and ate one for supper. It was without a doubt the best baguette I’ve ever had.

I’ve got a few photos from Day 1 on Flickr if you’re interested