Monday, January 18, 2010

A tight ship

About two weeks into the new semester now. My first rotation is breads. This time around, as second quarters, we are in charge of the bread rotation. We are responsible for directing the first quarters and for getting the breads out on time. To do this, we have had to come up with a schedule. This may sound easy, but then you have to take into account the proper methodology of bread making, at least as my chef and our book describes it, which looks something like this:

1. Scaling - As I said in my previous post, most professional bakers scale their ingredients as it is more accurate and easier. You might also call this Mis en Place which is French for "everything in its place" or something to that effect. It basically means that you gather all the ingredients before you start on the procedure.

2. Mixing - Just as it sounds. Read the directions though, each recipe has its own way to mix. Some want the water in the bowl first, some will add preferments after the autolyse, some want the salt last, etc. If you don't know what autolyse is, go ahead and google it.

3. Bulk Fermentation - As my chef says, this is the second of the 5 fermentations that your bread undergoes. "Wait, what happened to the first one" you ask. The first would be what we call "pre-ferments" such as bigas, poolish, sourdough, levain, pate fermentee, etc. These you would prepare as part of your mis en place. They usually require 12-18 hours of fermentation time. You can begin to see how scheduling becomes essential. Anyway, back to the bulk fermentation. This varies with the recipe. For most breads we prepare at school, the full bulk fermentation time is 90 minutes. Some breads, however, such as pain au levain, take 2-3 hours. Read the recipe.

4. Punching - This is a bit misleading. I don't know why they call it punching, because the actual action you take is more like folding. For us, most 90 minute bulk fermentations have this step 60 minutes into the fermentation. Some breads are different, such as ciabatta, which you fold every 30 minutes. Punching, or folding if you prefer, does several things. It relaxes the gluten for more final stretch. It distributes the yeast throughout the dough. Gasses are released and temperatures are made more even throughout the dough. All of these are important for the final volume and quality of the bread.

5. Scaling - Basically, you are chopping up the dough into the size of the final bread. For instance, for rolls, you would divide the dough up into 1.5 ounce pieces. For baguettes we general scale out 1# (lb) of dough. Larger loaves can be anywhere from 1 1/2# or larger. I think a third quarter scaled her miche at 5#. The idea is that by scaling your doughs, your loaves will be of uniform size. We actually use an antiquated looking balance scale for this, although a digital scale would be just as fine.

6. Rounding - When you scale your bread, it tends to activate the gluten strands in the dough and makes forming the final dough a bit tough. As an intermediate step we round the scaled dough into balls or oblongs called "boules" (French for ball). These can be tight boules or loose boules. You would use round boules for round loaves or for flat breads such as focaccia. You would use the oblongs for baguettes or batards.

7. Benching - you know how I said that scaling (and rounding) activates the gluten strands of your dough? Well benching is basically a resting period in which these strands relax enough for you to be able to form your dough into its final form. Benching generally takes 15-20 minutes but you want to feel the dough to make sure. Poke it. If it feels soft and the indent doesn't spring back immediately, you can move on to

8. Make-up - or forming if you prefer. This is where you form your boules into their final form for the oven. Make-up varies a lot for different breads. I won't even try to describe them all. Usually we just ask the chef. If you want, you can check out some baking books or try YouTube for some different make-up techniques, although you might get videos on applying eye-liner or something. In any case, make-up is important to the final bread results. If your make-up is incorrect or you don't place your seems in the right places, you can end up with some odd shapes in your final product.

9. Proofing - The second to last fermentation step for your breads. Proofing varies by what you are making but basically you put your finally formed breads (in couches or in banetons - google away!) in a warm humid area and let them ferment so they are not squishy when you poke them. Kind of the opposite of what you are looking for when benching, the indent (by the way, don't poke them hard, be gentle with your doughs once you start the proofing process) should spring back or the dough will sort of resist indenting. You will have to feel the dough to know exactly what I am trying to describe here. So much of bread baking is feel...

10. Baking - Once the proofing is done you have to GENTLY transfer your bread to however you are baking it. We have a cool deck oven with a huge gurney-looking device called a loader that delivers the bread into the oven. Here is a video of a similar loader:

If you watch the video you can see a guy doing something to the tops of the breads. He is scoring the dough (very quickly) which is important for "oven spring" which is the rapid expansion of trapped gases and the final fermentation of the yeast which will die once the temperature hits about 140 degrees F. Oven spring is also aided by the introduction of steam which keeps the crust of the bread from pre-maturely forming and reducing the final volume. Steam also helps add more color to the crust as it bakes (for more on this google maillard reaction). There are also other reactions that occur as the temperatures rise in the dough, which is quickly transforming into bread. Proteins coagulate and starches gelatinize between 140 degrees F and 160 degrees F. For more info on what goes on in the oven see this article :

11. Cooling - As it sounds. In order for the structure of the bread to harden into its final form it must cool adequately. In other words, you have to wait a bit to eat it if you want it right.

12. Storing - This seems like a cheap "step" to include in baking, but its important. A process of "Starch Retrogradation" occurs as soon as you take the bread out of the oven. As the bread cools, molecules in the bread that have liquefied during baking, start to recrystallize in the presence of the moisture in the bread and turn the bread crumbly or "stale". This is exacerbated by cold temperatures in a refrigerator but halted in a freezer (the water molecules are frozen and therefore cannot react with the amylose and amylopectin molecules in order for them to form crystals..yay google!). So, long story short, don't refrigerate breads, freeze them. Or just eat them right away. Once they are cooled anyway.

So as you can see, with these steps in mind, it becomes a bit of a trick juggling all the steps when making, say, 4 different breads. Below is a link to a typical schedule in the breads rotation:

So it is not as easy as it all sounds. We have had some failures but mostly successes. Most importantly, I have learned a great deal, and I still love it.