The inspiring painting from Chad Robertson's Tartine Bread. Les Canotiers de la Meurthe, by Emile Friant, 1888.
I've been thinking a little bit about art lately, about art and how good art tells or evokes a compelling story. In film, songwriting, painting, poetry, or any other medium I can think of, technical mastery counts for a lot, but truly memorable pieces always create a powerful or meaning narrative. Which has got me thinking, are the things that I make compelling? Am I making a utilitarian loaf, or an evocative one? I think I know the answer to that one, which means I need to get to get back to work.
But first, Some Important Bits.
Those of you who check in on the website regularly have probably noticed that my blogging activity has become non-existent over the last few months. A few other important hobbies and habits have also taken a back seat in favor of spending more and more time at work. This trend has been discouraging, so I've been searching for ways to reach a more sustainable, rewarding work/life balance. I took on some helpers, and I brought in some more equipment, but things generally haven't gotten easier, they've just gotten less fun. So with the big picture in mind, thinking about how I can happily make better and better bread for many years yet to come, I've decided to make some changes. In brief: I'm taking some time off to attend some weddings (I'll be out of town from the 2nd until the 11th), and when I get back I'll be baking only twice a week -- Wednesdays and Saturdays.
I plan to flesh out the specific changes in more detail over the next couple of weeks. Thanks for your patience and understanding.
Hello dear readers. As ever, things are quite busy around here. I've started making deliveries to EZ Orchards and Lifesource Natural Foods in Salem, and Sarah and Conner over at Diggin' Roots Farm are carrying my bread down at the Silverton farmer's market. The extra business is outstanding, but it's been a challenge keeping up with the production. It takes a lot of work and time to make bread by hand, and I'm hitting the point where I don't have much more spare energy or hours left to spend. Over the next month or two I'll be trying to work in a couple of assistant bakers, in an attempt to reclaim a little bit of sleep and sanity.
The packaging piece is finally all wrapped up (har har). It adds yet another laborious step, but I'm just so happy with the way it looks and functions that I'm glad to do it. The tags, designed by the very talented Glenn and Brittany Beyer, are absolutely beautiful. Swing over to one of the four (four!?!) places you can now buy a loaf and see for yourself.
Do you guys want to talk about dough? Cuz I kinda wanna talk about dough. I've had dough on my mind for the past, well, couple of years, but I've been meaning to share some thoughts with you all about it for a while now. Let's do it!
These days I tend to think about my dough in terms of two of its properties; its degree of development and its degree of fermentation. The foundation of excellent bread, I now believe, lies in optimizing these properties. As a beginner I placed a much higher emphasis on things like dough formulas and shaping techniques. I now think of those steps, while still recognizing how crucial they are to a successful bake, as tools to facilitate ideal fermentation and development.
There are a few things that stand in the way of creating a perfectly fermented and developed piece of dough every time. One: In my shop at least, mixing large batches by hand makes it incredibly challenging to reach the 'proper' level of development. Two: As one retired baker I know put it: "In the bakery, each day is hell anew." There is a certain amount of variability in using starters and pre-ferments that is very difficult to remove, changes in weather influence conditions in the shop, and changing batch size affects the way the dough responds. And Three: development and fermentation are not independent of each other. Degree of fermentation greatly affects how a dough feels and performs structurally.
Here's what I've been doing to optimize fermentation and development. To make up for my relatively poor degree of mixing I've extended the time of the bulk fermentation, and I periodically fold the dough. At the same time, I've been shortening the degree of fermentation during the bulk, and shifting more and more of it to the proofing stage. Or more explicitly: my dough increases in volume very little during its overnight bulk fermentation in the fridge. I let catch up on volume during the proof at room temp, and then I chuck it back in the fridge overnight. As my dough is relatively weak, it lacks the resilience of a thoroughly mixed dough, it doesn't hold up well to a high degree of bulk fermentation. By shaping it while its relatively under-fermented the dough seems to respond much better to proofing and springs much more beautifully in the oven. As I've been playing around further in this direction I find I'm pulling out very pretty loaves (If I may say so) with a great, mildly sour flavor. The downside- still a little denser and with a less even crumb than I'd like to see. I took some pictures along the way to today's bake, to help illustrate my meaning.
Here's the Whole Grain (27kg) and one half of the Country (21kg) in bulk. They're getting ready for their second and final fold, and they're both already at my retarding fridge temperature of 53F. They'll hang out in the fridge overnight just like this. Below, you can see the Country after it's preshape, ready to be shaped. It's a moderately wet dough at 82% hydration, and with 20% Whole Wheat and 10% Whole Rye it's a fairly light flour blend. I'll shape it, leave it at room temp for a couple of hours, and jam it back into the retarding fridge for the remainder of the proof.
Starting May 6th/7th I'll be baking on Saturday instead of Friday. I'll still have bread at Gear Up, but I'll also be selling at the Farmers Market in Silverton. And keep an eye out next time you're at EZ Orchards or Lifesource, I'm expecting to start bringing bread there within the next couple of weeks. Have a great week everyone!
Hi guys. I just want to let ya'll know that I've updated the bread pages, they should now all reflect the amount of levain I'm using for these new, longer ferments, plus whatever other little tweeks I've made lately. Also, I made an instagram account, so if you're ever in the mood for low quality cell phone pictures of bread you now have a place to go.
Glenn and Brittany Beyer have been cranking out some really awesome logo and label graphics for me, I can't wait to show everyone. Stay tuned.
In closing, here's a video from one of my bread heroes, Josey Baker. Have a great week everyone!
I'm overdue for filling you guys in on the ongoing changes around here. I should have just enough time to catch up while I'm stuck at the laundromat. Let's see if I can get this written before I need to start folding things!
Update number one. I've reworked my fermentation schedule to add more time. A lot more time. We can look at my schedule for this weekend so you can get the idea. I fed my starters this morning for dough that I'll be mixing in a couple of hours. I'm going to retard (baker's term for chill) the dough until tomorrow around noon, when I'll come in to divide and shape it. The shaped loaves then get retarded until the bake Monday morning. The Dark Rye and Baguette are on different schedules, I'll probably elaborate on those more in future posts.
So, you might ask, what's going on with all the retarding (and here is where you make your own jokes, I'm a respectable businessman now people). There are a few big reasons behind making this shift. Firstly, the longer fermentation is making the bread taste better. I'm finding it's unlock some really nice subtle sweet qualities, and surprisingly not contributing any significant sourness. Secondly, it's allowed me to make big improvements in streamlining my little operation. The timing happens to fit really well with how I run my bake and deliveries, and it's cutting down on my less productive intervals. Third, since the dough is spending much less time fermenting at room temperature I think this method will be much more durable, consistent, and predictable as we head into summer. And lastly, longer fermentation times are generally associated with more digestible and healthful bread. I'm reluctant to harp on this one too much, because I'm not sure how much more healthy a 48 hour sourdough is in comparison to a 24 hour sourdough, but I know there are people who care greatly about these sorts of things. There were a few challenges moving to this new method, getting the times and temperatures just right. I'm still working on getting more volume and better shape from the loaves, but that always seems to be a work in progress.
So that's that.
Other goings on: I'm about to start experimenting with other whole grain flours. I've been using Bob's Red Mill Ivory Wheat for all of my whole grain wheat, and I think it's pretty great stuff, but a recently experience demoing some freshly milled flour from a nearby home baker makes me wonder if I can be doing better. I'll be giving a number of other whole wheat flours, and perhaps a few blends of whole wheat flours, a shot over the coming weeks.
A final note. I'm really excited to be working with local graphic designers Brittany and Glenn Beyer. They've turned their attention to my logo after having just recently revamped the Silverton Co-op's. I'm pretty close to getting all my little duckies in a row, and once I do I can begin selling at grocery stores. I'm optimistic that will happen soon, and it will be a very welcome boost to the business. I just don't know where I'm going to find the time to make, bake, and deliver all that bread!
Phew! Time to fold. Laundry, that is.
Hello! I'm thrilled to announce that Jon has come through and made an awesome short video for the shop. You can find it on the homepage.
I've made some changes to the breadule, recently. The past few weeks I've been a lot more rigorous about tracking how things have been selling over at Gear Up, just running a spreadsheet that tells me how many loaves I baked for retail, and how many of those sold-- for each batch. Some breads where just lagging far behind, and so I'm replacing the Chocolate Bread with a Potato Bread, and the Brewer's Bread for Bacon Bread. I'm very happy with those new loaves, hopefully they catch on. Also, I'm making the baguettes bigger. I started doing this so I could spend less time shaping baguettes in the morning while still fulfilling the needs of my restaurant customers. Rather than run a retail sized baguette and a wholesale sized baguette, I'm going to make them all the same size. They're now coming out of the oven at 1lb, rather than 12oz.
Aaron Miller, co-owner of Gear Up, genius programmer, and soon-to-be father of the best looking baby in Silverton, has been working on making bread available for purchase online through Gear-Up's website. The thought is that some folks can't make it in to the cafe until after work, and sometimes the bread they want is already sold out. Soon you'll be able to pay for a loaf online and it'll print out a receipt at the coffee shop, where it'll be bagged and held for you until closing time (9pm on Mon, Wed, & Fri).
I've been super excited about the nice weather we've had the last few days. My mind is already filling up with thoughts of plants and fresh vegetables and bees. Speaking of, should anyone have an unwanted colony of bees they'd like removed, or spots a swarm of bees in the coming months, please drop me a line. I've got beehives to fill!
Hello dearest readers. I'm happy to share with you all that the new schedule has been a big improvement. My current routine has me working overnight in 24 hour shifts. It makes for a challenging work day, but I really appreciate having my time off occur in larger continuous chunks, rather than in increments that allow me only enough time to eat, shower, and sleep. Also, I've been making good on my efforts to enlist more customers, and my bread is slowly finding its way into more businesses.
I've introduced a couple of new breads this past month, I really encourage you to revisit the bread section and poke around a bit. Better yet, come on down to Gear-Up and give them a shot.
My friend Jon, the photographer and videographer, is planning to come back through and make a short video about the bread. I'm very excited to share that with you all, hopefully that comes to fruition soon.
On the topic of videos, I draw lots of inspiration from videos I find online. Below are a couple of excellent examples.
Have a great week everybody. Hope to see you all soon. Don't forget to poke around the bread page for continued updates.
After a lot of reflection I've decided to put all my formulas (bakery slang for recipes) up on the website. I think many parts of the food industry benefit from the obfuscation of what goes into food, not because they're afraid of someone copying their product, but because they're afraid that the consumer might lose their appetite. I want to distinguish myself from that kind of system. I think my customers are the kind of people who appreciate knowing more about what they're eating.
You might be concerned that revealing my formulas will be detrimental to my business, but the truth is that the formulas are only a small part of making good bread. The magic really happens in the process; in the fermentation, in the care and attention that I give each loaf, in my refusal to compromise quality for convenience. Good bread isn't just about good ingredients, it's also about the way those ingredients are transformed. These sorts of loaves are demanding to make. I'm not worried about finding knock-offs down at the Safeway anytime soon.
Before I can present you with my formulas I have to give you the tools to understanding them. Essentially all bakers use a kind of short hand called the baker's percentage. This method of recording and scaling recipes is based on mass, not volume (time to start thinking in grams and kilos, let those measuring spoons and cups get dusty). Measuring ingredients in mass is faster, far more accurate, makes it easier to change batch sizes, and it gives the baker tremendous insight into a dough at a single glance. The total weight of the flour in a recipe is our baseline measurement, and we measure all other ingredients as a ratio of this baseline. For an example formula let's look at the Country Sourdough:
Say I wanted one large loaf, which I scale at 1.2 kilograms. I divide 1.2kg by 181%, or 1.81, and I get 0.663 kilograms, or 663 grams. That's the total amount of flour in my recipe. Using this number and some simple algebra I can quickly determine the mass of the other ingredients. For one large loaf of this particular dough I need:
497g White Flour
106g Whole Wheat Flour
60g Whole Rye Flour
When I say "Wild Sourdough Culture, Wheat (18% of Flour)" I mean that 18% of the flour, and a corresponding portion of water, comes from my wheat sourdough starter. In this instance that means of the 663g of flour in this loaf 119g comes from my starter, or levain. This portion of the flour is what leavans the greater portion.
You might need to dust off your algebra textbooks, but with a little practice these sorts of calculations become second nature. Also, any worthwhile bread book will give a more thorough primer on this system. My recommendation, as always, is Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish (Library, Amazon). If you can't fork over a few bucks for a kitchen scale the folks at King Arthur Flour have a handy mass-volume conversion cheat sheet for you to use (and good luck converting 497g of flour to cups and teaspoons).
There are countless ways to go about turning a dough with those ingredients into a bread. Playing with different methods to make a bread suited to your taste is the fun and challenging part of baking. I'll leave that pleasure for you to discover.
I'll be uploading my formulas to the bread page over the next few weeks. I'm also adding a new bread and shuffling the baking schedule a bit. Check back for ongoing changes.
Happy holidays everybody! I'm down in Phoenix for a couple of days, and so I won't be baking again until Wednesday (the 30th). I fly back on Monday, but it takes a couple of days to get everything ready. Gear Up is closing early New Year's Eve, so plan to get your bread before 3pm, and we'll both be closed for New Year's Day.
It's been good to take a break from the rigors of the bakery, spend time with loved ones, and soak up some sun. Stepping back, even this little bit, provides a good perspective for thought and reflection. With the new year around the corner I find myself thinking about the events of the previous year, and my hopes and aspirations for the next one. I'll share with you some of what's been going through my head this holiday season.
Where do things stand now? On the whole things are great, but everywhere I look I see room for improvement. My focus has been and remains making the best bread I can, day in and day out. I'm convinced that as long as I'm committed to that principle the other stuff will fall into place. And every day I become a better baker, even though my progress seems to move in stutters and starts.
Where do I hope to be this time next year? I'd like to still be in business, for one. I'd like to have a more sustainable work load, and a bank account which grows- not shrinks. Most of all, I want to be making better bread.
I'm keeping my eye out for what might be a diverging road ahead. I love my routine now, but it's a draining one which leaves me with little energy at the end of the day. If I want to remain a one man operation I'm going to need to abandon the 7 day/80 hour work week. That'd require a rewrite of my whole business model. I can keep my model and just scale my business up to where I can bring on and train help, but I'd need to grow it substantially to be able to pay wages. I'd have to give up my precious solitude in the shop, and it's going to take a lot of faith to leave the bread in someone else's hands. It's going to be another interesting year to look back on, I think.