Sunday, May 31, 2009

Defining work

I left the bakery yesterday around 4pm. Long day. Business in the store was great. Markets did well. My feet and back were aching. It had been almost fourteen hours without sitting down. But ya know, it felt good. Based on the number of folks that came in the store and all we sold at the markets, it makes our efforts worthwhile.
Besides, the bakery isn't work. Painting the garage or cutting the grass, those chores are work. My oldest child is twenty five. Never once heard me refer to the bakery as work. I don't go to "work". I go to the "bakery". Thirty four years, in a week. June 6th, '75. Never once got up and said "I wish I didn't have to go to work today". Not once.

I really didn't think much about the whole flour thing, after that day in '98. I really didn't understand the value, other than the aroma of that bag. The team went on to win the Coupe. The year following the Coupe, in April, I attended the annual Retail Bakers of America convention in Minneapolis. The BBGA had set up a little bakery in their booth. It was manned by the three bakers that won the coupe. Robert Jorin, Jan Schat and Tom Gumpel. Down that same aisle, the NBC had a booth. It was manned by Greg Tompkins, the baking centre director at the time. He was sitting there alone. He was sitting on a stool so he looked me in the eye while sitting. I told him I wanted to register for a class at his school. He opened the class catalog, and pointed to the offerings. The classes were listed starting with "Artisan I" followed by "Artisan II". There were a full list of classes, but those were the two that I focused on. I said "I've grown up in a bakery, I'll start with artisan I". He said "I think you better start with Artisan II". I couldn't understand why, questioned him, and he said "I think it best you start with Artisan II". I listened and signed up. Scheduled a class for October. Best advice anyone has ever given me.

I attended that class. I was reintroduced to Didier Rosada, and Philippe LeCorre. I was also reacquainted with the proper flour.

I still have that course catalog that Mr. Tompkins gave me. It really was just a tri-folded piece of paper. A picture of Didier and Philippe on the cover. But on the back flap it says, "Plan to have all your preconceived notions about baking challenged". That's just what happened.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Twenty Two more to go

Twenty two more Saturday farmer's market mornings, like this one, to go. But who's counting. It's a lot of work. Lots and lots of product. Today, down at GCM, they're filming "Top Chef". Some kinda cheffin' show on the Bravo network. I understand it will be a mob scene down there. Maybe the weather will be on our side. All our markets should be picking up now. Farmers are starting to turn up with more and more produce. We picked up some strawberries at the GCM on Wednesday. We have had rhubarb for a couple weeks. So starting Wednesday, we will have strawberry rhubarb danish at the market. Making homemade jam is one of my favorite things. The aroma! Val adds vanilla bean to it when she is cooking it. Best filling for danish pastries anywhere. Better than any jam in any grocery store. Ya gotta check this stuff out!

Val mixes the danish dough on Monday for Wednesday's market, and mixes Thursday for Saturday. It ferments overnight, in the fridge. Next day she laminates it with high fat, European style butter. She pounds the butter with a heavy wooden rolling pin, to make it malleable. Places it back in the fridge. Once the butter and the dough are the same consistency, she laminates them together. She does two, what is called a "double fold", or a "book fold". She rolls the dough out twice as big as the butter, places the butter "pad" on the dough, and folds the dough over the butter. This creates a layer of dough, layer of butter and a layer of dough. This gets rolled out long, and gets folded into a book. Two outside edges into the middle, and then one half on top of the other. It gets chilled for a while and then the folding step gets repeated. Ends up forty eight layers in total. At this point the dough rests in the fridge for a couple hours. After a rest the dough gets rolled out for it's final shaping. We roll the dough sixteen inches wide and four feet long. It gets cut into eighty five gram, long skinny pieces. Each sixteen inches long. The bakers roll them a little with their hands to extend the length. They roll it, moving their hands in opposite directions, and twirl the string into a loose coil. Again, back in the fridge, sixteen to a sheet pan, after brushing with egg wash. Second night in the fridge. The following morning, they get egg washed again and topped with vanilla pastry creme and homemade jam. Allowed their final rise or proof, and baked. They are glazed and off to market. We hold back some to sell in our store as well.

Here's the picture. All butter, flaky, flaky danish topped with pastry creme and homemade jam. Oh, and guess what, the jam, all sugar, no corn syrup, no added water.
Just fruit, sugar, vanilla bean and a little pectin.

The message, buy it here, buy it real.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Rollin' the dice again

Faced with another game time decision. Which weather site should I base my decision on? The national weather service says 30% tomorrow before 1pm., says 30% after 10am. We'll keep an eye on it. We'll make the call this afternoon at 4pm. Why can't it just be nice on Wednesdays and Mondays? Go ahead and rain away the other 5 days.

Yesterday I covered my intro the BBGA and the NBC. Needles to say, I didn't make the baking team. Not that time, or the next. But I did earn a spot and compete on the 2005 team. That 1999 team went on to win the whole deal. It was a real shock to the French. First time the US won. I've been to Paris many times. I've spent a lot of time with French bakers. Nice guys, a lot of things make it difficult for us to compare our business model to theirs. But they face the same challenges we do. Worse news for them, they are going through the same infusion of grocery stores that American bakers have been going through since the 60's(?). Every trip to Paris/France, I see fewer and fewer bakeries. More and more frozen dough. There are still way more bakeries, per capita, than we have here. I think there are more than 10,000 bakeries in Paris alone.

I spend a lot of time talking to bakers, from both sides of the water. Not only the French. When you meet an American baker, he/she will say "how's business"? Every time. Never fails. When you meet a French baker, he(very few female bakers in France) will say "what flour are you using"? Kinda funny. I learned the flour ins and outs from a French guy, Didier Rosada. Great guy, great instructor, great friend. Came here from France to work for Bay State Milling. He became the bread instructor at the NBC. He does a lot of work for the American Wheat Council. Also, coached the 2005 team I was a part of. My dad taught me how to work, taught me perseverance, gave me the freedom to learn, Didier changed the way we bake.

I've been sitting here, motionless for a good couple minutes, hesitant about saying this. I'm gonna say it because I really, really believe it. Don't want to hurt any feelings, so I am sorry ahead of time. It's as easy to find good bread here as it is in France. There, any issues, take them up with Didier and a second guy, Phillipe LeCorre. It's their fault. They offered and I listened. They taught me to respect the process, and I do. You just have to know where to find it. Now, one thing. The reason the bread/pastries are so good in France is because they are always fresh, hours out of the oven. It's simple, they have tiny, tiny bakeries. From oven to store. They bake baguettes all day long. Not just once a day like here. They have tiny ovens. As I understand it. It's to costly to have any payroll, with the tax structure and all. Eighty percent of the bakeries in France have five employees or less. They are also governed regarding the selling price of a baguette. A small bakery, will produce 500-600 baguettes a day, a few other varieties of bread and some croissant.

Again, I apologize to my French friends, and my French customers. But I think they'll agree. After all, they know where to look.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Low protein, what do they know....

In the summer of 1997, I saw an add in one of our trade publications, announcing tryouts for Baking Team USA 1999. The team was sponsored by the Bread Bakers Guild of America, for guild members only. At that point I was required to send in a video tape of myself, to demonstrate my hand skills, etc. There were three categories in the competition. Specialty Breads and baguettes, viennoiserie (yeasted breakfast pastries) and artistic design. So I joined the guild and I applied for the bread category. I made my tape, and sent it in. A few months later I got a letter telling me to prepare for the regional tryout held at the National Baking Centre in Minneapolis, in January 1998. Now what? I started practicing here in our bakery. The competition required four different breads. One being a baguette made with a poolish. At that point, I couldn't have told you what that meant. Couldn't tell you what a poolish was, if you had poured one on me. The other 3 breads were to demonstrate a variety of pre-ferments, as well.

When I joined the guild they offered video tapes for sale to their members. The three tape set was filmed at the Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde park, New York. The tapes were educational videos by Raymond Calvel, the patriarch of French bread baking. I bought the book "Bread Alone" by Dan Leader. This was my arsenal. These and perseverance. In both the book and the tapes, they mention the need for unbleached, unbromated, low protein, red winter wheat. I didn't really hear that until after the fact. We had always used bleached and bromated patent flour milled from who cares what wheat. It had worked here for years, it's all I knew. It's what American bakers use. What difference could the flour make? As I practiced, I was infatuated with the exterior of the bread. Totally focused on the looks, gotta say, I had that part down, sometimes. But I could never get the interior the way I wanted it. How could that old man in upstate New York get such nice big holes in the crumb of his bread? how could he get such a nicely shaped cross cut? Kinda oval. Mine was very round. The baguette slice was very round. Even grained.

I went to Minneapolis in January. I was a boy among men. We had to take a written exam, and bake. We had one hour on day one and eight hours on day two. The first day, that one hour day, was to be used for making pre-ferments. It was 4:30pm. The rules were discussed with us four candidates. Greg Mistell, director of the guild and the NBC, said "gentlemen you have one hour". Off I went to my station, formulas in hand. I tore open a bag of General Mills, Harvest King. Flour milled from low protein, red winter wheat. It wasn't bleached, first time in my life, smelling unbleached flour. The aroma. Life altering. You never forget your first time.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I rolled the dice

I was here on Monday and I created the list of goods we would prepare for the market on Wednesday. When the troops got here on Tuesday morning, they could get started right away. I checked the weather sites yesterday, hourly. Last night before I left, I kicked it up. Well, what products I could increase. As you all know, using our artisan process, goods sold today had to be started on Monday. Baguettes, ciabatta, croissants, and epi, are exempt from this rule, kinda. Reports were that by 5am this morning it should stop raining. So far, so good. Unfortunately, if the weather holds, we will be out of product earlier than I'd like.

Back to that brief, general overview of the baking process.

We put flour, water, salt and yeast into our mixer. We start mixing at low speed. Most critical stage of mixing a dough. Once incorporated, we switch the mixer to high speed and mix the dough until it's ready. Most important part of mixing a dough, knowing when to turn the mixer off. Separates the bakers from the bakers not. The dough is placed into some type of receptacle, where it is allowed it's first fermentation. Yeast, water and flour come together and activity really gets going. During the first fermentation, the dough might be given a "punch and fold". Some doughs are given multiple folds. Remember, every bag of flour is different, every dough is different. Only experience can tell you what is right. Once properly fermented, the dough is divided into appropriate size pieces, loaves or rolls. The pieces will be "pre-shaped". This means loosely rounded, or shaped into a batard. Kinda, sorta like a loaf of bread. The shape of the pre-shape is determined by the desired "final" shape. Once the dough loosens up, it is given it's final shape. It is placed into a mold, proofing basket, on a sheet pan or on a couche. Couche is floured linen that loaves/rolls are "proofed" on. Proofing is the final rise, before the bread goes to the oven. When the shaped pieces are proofed enough and are large enough, they are scored with a razor and loaded into the oven. The loading process depends on the type of oven. The type of oven depends on the type of bread. Our hearth breads are baked on a stone deck. They are loaded with a belt type "oven loader". It is pushed into the oven chamber, as it is pulled out the loaves transfer directly on the hearth. Our pan breads are baked in a carousel type oven. Our buns and soft rolls are baked in a convection type rack oven. All three of our ovens are steam injected. The bread receives a shot of steam after the oven door is closed. The steam is imperative to the bread baking process. Doesn't have much to do with the flavour, but has great effect on the exterior of the product. The film of moisture on the surface allows it to expand properly, and the cuts to open fully. Generally, half way through the bake, the damper is opened and the steam is allowed to escape to dry out the crust. Again, bakers knowledge, humid/rainy days the damper gets pulled earlier in the bake. We are trying to dry the crust out more than normal. Once baked, the bread is removed from the oven, and off to the store.

I tried to make it brief. It's as brief as I could go. I will go thru it piece by piece over the next several postings. Once we go through it, you'll start buying your bread at a bakery. Ya might wanna start pickin' one out.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

At it again

We're back up and running. All systems go. Tough coming back and needing to hit the ground with both feet movin'. Short weeks are especially hard when you are involved in hand producing a perishable product. We are short a days production this week that we won't feel until the end of the week. I've always said it would be easier for us to work holidays than to try to come back from the off day. This year we will only be closed five days. Memorial Day, Labor Day, Christmas, December 26th, and New Years Day. We will be open July Fourth since it falls on a Saturday, too much business to pass up. We used to be closed Easter and Thanksgiving, but sales volume is to the point that we just couldn't handle it in one day. Spreading it over two days is just so much easier.

I may have gotten ahead of myself. I thought about it yesterday, maybe a little overview of the baking process is in order. First, whenever I speak of the baking process, I'm referring to baking yeast leavened products. It's where a baker's true skills are revealed. Baking baguettes, nothing is more difficult. Four ingredients, flour, water, salt and yeast. To create flavour using those simple ingredients is very, very difficult. It's easy to make bread full of cheeses, dried fruit, olives, garlic, etc. But a real baker only needs the simple things. Why do you think there is a grocery store aisle full of "cake" mixes? Add water and stir. Some of you might be old enough to remember "Easy Bake Oven". A child's toy. To bake cakes. Add water and stir. Here is where someone who bakes, and a baker, get separated. There are so many variables that occur in bread baking. Every batch of bread is different. Every bag of flour is different. Knowing how to manage all the variables is what a baker does. Someone who just "bakes" doesn't know what to do when something goes askew. They just stand back and say "I don't know what went wrong, I followed the recipe".

A baker starts with flour, adds salt, water and yeast, and it's kneaded. It's allowed to rise, it's shaped and allowed to rise again. Placed into the oven, and baked. The oldest form of food. It's chiseled into the interior pyramid walls. Been going on and on for centuries. It's all about the manipulation and fermentation. Back to that fermentation thing. Managing fermentation is key.

Just had a thought. Ever wonder why there isn't a "beer mix" aisle? Keep following, I'll tell ya.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Happy Memorial Day

I'm down here at the bakery, have been for a number of hours. We are closed today. As you've been reading, this whole artisan process thing forces us to never miss a day. If we are going to have goods to sell tomorrow, we need to start them today. I'm in the bakery by myself. Few visitors stopped in, they knew I would have coffee made. Arturo, our lead night baker, stopped by to be assured the starters are ready for tonight's production, and pull a few things out of the freezer. Six pm, it all starts again.

While I was here early morning, the radio was on, they were talking about Memorial Day. They talked about the numbers of folks we've lost in battle. They played an interview with Ken Burns, author of "Band of Brothers". A little later, I was in the freezer myself, I was removing puff pastry dough that will thaw overnight. It was cold, and I was cursing under my breath. I came out of the freezer and I felt guilty about complaining. In one episode of Band of Brothers, they portrayed the battle of Bastogne. It was winter, our soldiers were pinned down in foxholes, knee deep in snow, awaiting attack. No fire, couldn't create smoke. They were all huddled together, shivering. Those guys were cold. I don't think any of us know cold like they knew.

My dad is a veteran, he was a sailor in the Pacific in World War II. Still sees his Navy buddies annually. He's told a story many times, about loading wounded GI's onto the ship he was on. The did a kinda fireman's water pail line, passing these stretchers from one ship to another. He gets choked up when he remembers one of those wounded marines, thanking him, for lighting his cigarette.

I'm not waving the flag here. Don't want to create any political unrest against the bakery. Just want to make sure we all know why most of you have the day off.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

My daughter gets it

Had a revelation occur this week. Thursday night we had a birthday celebration in our house. It was my son Guy's, birthday. he turned twenty five, so it was an adult celebration. We cooked dinner at home and as we usually do, we purchase some bakery goods from another bakery. What better chance for all of us to be together and taste competitor's products. My wife, Patti, bought some dinner rolls, from another RETAIL bakery. They were real, create from start to finish right there all at the same address. They were very well done. Fairly priced, as well. We opened the bag at the dinner table and my eighteen year old daughter Deanne, grabbed one and immediately smelled it! It was a very proud moment. She get's it! She understands what to look for, in a loaf of bread! la vie est belle!

The biggest difference in our goods over others is, we respect the process a little more. We understand the value of sourcing out the proper flour, fermenting it, for what seems like forever, shaping it and fermenting some more. The whole baking process cannot be compromised at any stage, or the goods in the end, will suffer. A baker's understanding of the whole process is key.

I left off talking about the enzyme, protease. There are actually five enzymes, present in the bread baking process. Two are in the flour and three are in the yeast. The other enzyme in the flour is Diastase or Amylase. Any "ase" is an enzyme that attacks whatever word is in front of it. Amylase denatures the amyllos in the flour. Without it there wouldn't be any transformation of starch into simple sugars that are digestible, by the yeast. Before the starch is transformed, it is a complex sugar. The enzyme protease, denatures the protein in the wheat. More critical information for the baker. Remember that, protease denatures the wheat protein. A little denaturing is a good thing, too much, not so good. Try to follow where I'm going here. Salt, has an inhibiting effect on the enzymatic activity.

The day is to nice to be talking about this stuff. Gotta get outside and enjoy what's left of this day.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Why we do, what we do, the beginning

Strange feeling in the bakery right now. Very similar to the feeling one gets when your nine year old, trumpet playing nephew leaves, late Christmas eve. Four hours ago, this bakery was packed, I mean PACKED. We filled two vans, quite a few times. When they leave with the last load, there is much rejoicing. The week is done. Now we're here waiting for any news from the folks selling, hoping they come back empty.

Yesterday i mentioned the enzyme protease. I wasn't really sure where to start the whole enzyme thing. It's kinda like the chicken and the egg thing. Before i go any further, I'm not trying to pretend I'm a chemist. I'm a baker. I'm telling you this so you can appreciate the effort that goes into what we bakers do. Not only here, but a lot of bakeries. Grocery stores, discount home centers, places that you perceive as bakery, but don't own a mixer, etc., excluded. Fermentation AMAZES me! For thirty four years I've been watchin' it. It still amazes me. We make our starter(s) everyday. A starter is a portion of the flour, that will be used to mix the bread dough, that is pre-fermented, before the final dough is mixed. This portion of flour is blended with water, some type of yeast, either compressed or airborne, and maybe some salt. It is allowed to ferment for a prescribed amount of time, until it is ready. Everyday, i lift the lid on that starter pail. I know ahead of time, what I'm going to see. And everyday it brings a smile to my face.

We could take lots of shortcuts here. There are a number of fermentation enhancing agents, we could add to our dough. Two pounds of S500 to every one hundred pounds of flour. Make ya the prettiest bread you've ever seen. It's amazing, mixer to oven in an hour. One thing I firmly believe, every loaf of bread has a soul. But bread made the old fashioned way, has character. It has texture, aroma and flavour. Quick method breads only have aesthetic appeal. Break open a loaf from the grocery store and smell it. We could sleep in later too, but not for our customers.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Wheat and the weekend

The required weather conditions to grow winter wheat can only be found across the middle of the country, from east to west. If you go to far north and the freeze takes place to early. If you go to far south, it happens to late. So the middle, plain states are the only suitable, geographic choices. Many, many folks that bake and bakers alike, yes, there is a difference(will cover it another day) think that the baking process starts when you press the start button on the mixer. Totally not true. Back in the fall, it all began. A farmer opened the ground and dropped wheat seeds in the void. He pushed the earth back over the seed and watered it. Within 24 hours, the membrane between the germ and endosperm was enzymatic ally denatured. The germ and endosperm came together and started a sprout. The enzyme that caused the degradation is “protease”. Thanks to nature’s plan it remains a part of the wheat. So it grows into the next season’s wheat and so on. The good and bad news for us bakers is, that it remains in our flour until the enzyme is denatured by the heat of the oven. So as the growth cycle of the wheat is halted, so is the activation cycle of the enzyme protease. It remains dormant in the wheat seed, as well as our flour until it is hydrated in the mixer. The other side of the equation is, once you add water to it, the clock starts. Sorry, I find it very interesting. Enough for now.

Tomorrow at the Green City Market we will be offering Harbor Country Bread. It is a sourdough loaf made with a little honey, a little butter, the added richness of buttermilk, tart organic cherry juice, dried Michigan cherries, and a little grain for crunch. First time for this one, should be delicious!

Talk to you tomorrow. We will be open on Sunday, 8-3. We’re gonna try and keep the store full of buns, weather’s gonna be nice!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Found some dry fruit!!

Some of you might know, but in case you don’t, we had a big change at the Green City market yesterday, we didn’t have California bread at the market and our scones were plain. The folks running the market had asked us to not use any of the dried fruit we had been using. They felt that dried fruit from far away places didn’t fit in the market model. They were right. Organic or not, they want local goods. The same day, my son found Steve from Seedling Fruit and we’ve secured some really nice, locally grown dried fruit. My son came back with some very nice dried cherries, and we’ve placed an order for apricots, pears, apples, blueberries and strawberries. So we will be back in business this weekend.

I mentioned yesterday that I would continue the flour discussion today. Might as well start at the beginning. We use red, winter wheat. It has the best handling qualities, fermentation tolerance, and flavour. It is also, by lab specs, the closest thing to type 55 flour used in France. Type 55 flour, in France, is how the French code their flour. To a French baker it means there is .55% ash in the flour. Winter wheat is planted in the fall and harvested around late June. It ages in the silo and makes it to market around the first of August. In the fall, once the Hessian Fly has laid its eggs, it is time to plant. It typically grows to a sprout of five or six inches high, and when snow falls, the ground freezes. The sprout will go dormant until the spring thaw, when growing resumes. I remember hearing as a young boy, at a bakery convention, that flour that is grown under stress makes the best bread. Makes sense now, what could be more stressful than having the growth cycle halted by freezing. The flour we use has a protein level of 11.8 to 12.1 percent. The ash content is from .46 to .49 percent. Fat is about 3 percent, moisture 13-14, and the balance is starch, wheat starch.

We will start with the ash content. The ash is the organic compounds in the milled wheat. In a lab, they “flash burn” a weighed amount of flour. They flash it in a very hot oven. Not any oven that either you or I would recognize, it’s a special lab type oven. I think it’s around 1000’. I guess this happens very fast, as you can imagine. Once it cools the remains are weighed, resulting in the ash content. The other components are burned away. The miller can adjust this percentage by adding more or less bran/germ to the mill stream.

It’s all very interesting to me. My kids think I’m weird. Had to be said by a wise old man, something like “caring more than others think is wise”?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

My flour obssesion

Just sent out the second truck full of goods for the Green City Market. Gonna be a great day. The weather is key. Cold won't keep people away, but rain will end it, right now. Due to the weather, we will probably be sold out at 10am. My fault. That is the downside of an "artisan process". Goods that are sold today, had to be started on Monday. Sourdough starters need to be made. They need to set several hours after each feeding. Val's danish gets mixed on Monday, laminated and shaped on Tuesday, and baked on Wednesday. Kinda cool, the stuff will still be warm when it gets to the market. It goes from oven to truck.

I've mentioned before that we use a milder flour than most bakers. By milder, I mean lower in wheat protein. Bakers have a choice of many different flours. This topic can fill several days blogging, just a warning. The flours range mostly in protein levels. We also have a choice of bleached or unbleached, bromated or not. We choose unbleached, unbromated. Well, except for our cake flour, it is bleached. Choosing unbleached means there are more of the natural caretenoid pigments left in the flour. Our flour is more amber, creamy looking than bleached flour. The crumb of our bread also reflects those characteristics. The flavour of our bread has a more nutty component because of this. The mouth feel of our bread is a lot less "rubbery" than most, because of the lower protein. I mentioned yesterday that I prefer my flour at least fourteen days old. Another thing about our flour, every bag is coded and dated. I get flour specs emailed to me every month, telling me the laboratory specs on every run. I'm making sure what we sell to you is exactly what i think it should be. Information like ash content, protein level, falling number, hydration, even where the wheat was grown. I want to know that.

Go ask the girl at the grocery store bakery if she knows where the flour was grown that's in her oven. Bet she doesn't even know where the dough was mixed.

more about flour tomorrow.......and the next day.....and the next

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Strawberry Tarts

If you ever find strawberry tarts in our display case, BUY THEM! We made some yesterday, sold 'em all.

A few times in my life, I can remember strawberries tasting like strawberries. At the end of my block, growing up, there was a large open field that led up to the "woods". In that field every summer we would pick wild strawberries, not a lot, and they were small. But the flavor. On ice cream. Also, when i competed in Paris, we bought strawberries from Fauchon. The independent, most upscale grocery store in Paris. Those strawberries smelled like perfume, red all the way through. Juicy, run down your chin juicy.

We ONLY make strawberry tarts when the berries are good enough for tart purpose. So many times we get strawberries, and they have as much flavour as a potato. The interior is as white as a potato as well, and sour! We have to use them, because people order their birthday cakes with strawberry filling. We fold them into the typical red glaze that has enough sugar to make the berries palatable. They are sandwiched between cake layers, and the slice of cake has enough icing on it, so they taste o.k.

But in strawberry tarts here at our bakery, the berries can't hide. We use a tart shell made from sugar, butter, almond meal, eggs and flour. We bake them very slow, 300', for a long time. this will carmelize the sugar in the crust and create wonderful flavor. the almond meal also colors the crust. Turn our tart shell over, dare ya, no blond spots. after baking we brush them with a thin chocolate coat, and fill them with vanilla pastry creme. We top that with fresh berries, and spray them with a neutral glaze, done. Always, always, remember, simple is better.

I'm puttin' you on the inside track, we're makin' them again today.

Monday, May 18, 2009

What's a bakery?

Just when I didn't expect it, we had more customers in our store yesterday than we did on Mother's day. Thank you.

Yesterday morning, I arrived at the bakery feeling like a prize fighter the morning after. A little blurry/groggy from Saturday's opening of our farmer's markets. The first day is always the worst. It's funny how fast you can forget what became the "rules" last summer. We set sales record numbers at the Green City market on Saturday. Things will only improve there, as there isn't much produce out yet. This summer, we are one of two bakeries at that market. I understand we had folks cued up all morning long. A true testimony that people are hungry for "real" baked goods. It's not my place to promote other bakeries here, but there are a number of high quality, retail bakers in Chicago and the suburbs. I'm not talking about dopey places that make cup cakes, either. I'm not referring to places that only make wedding cakes. I'm talking about bakeries, old fashioned bakeries. Where a few lights are on at night, and the floor is covered with flour. Where flour, water, salt and yeast are stirred together and manipulated into something that is nourishing to your body and soul. Where you can buy a DONUT. You know the the type of place. I know they are some times out of the way, but always worth the effort.

I'm in our office in the bakery basement. I can hear racks rolling overhead, and I can hear the elevator being loaded with more incoming ingredients. Gotta go check on that, I only accept flour that is fourteen days old. Bet they aren't that cautious in a grocery store bakery.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

the smells, sounds and sights.........

Been thinkin' 'bout what i wanted to write about since, 'bout 3am. Our bakery is on a corner. The southwest corner of Davis and Maple. Our back door doesn't lead out to an alley, it leads out onto the sidewalk. The sidewalk is very wide, maybe twenty feet. The city doesn't allow us to park on the street here, between 3 and 6 am. We park right on the sidewalk. On a summer Friday night we are loading trucks, all night long. we have three farmer's markets every Saturday. Two are close enough that as we get things ready, we head over to the site. Set up tents, drop off tables and baskets, and somewhere in the middle of the night, we start with product.

Along the inside of the east wall of the bakery, we have our ovens in a row. Stone deck oven,a convection rack oven & rotating "reel" oven. Above the ovens we have an exhaust fan, that blows right out into the street. As every Saturday, market morning, the bakery is a buzzin'. lots of commotion, hollerin', oven timers ringing, etc. I was standing at the oven waiting for a deck full of baguettes to come out. Driver Mike was waiting to finish loading his truck and head to the Wilmette market. The oven man, Arturo peeled out twenty two baguettes and placed them in a plastic shipping crate. I hoisted the crate onto my shoulder, and off I headed outside, to the waiting truck. When baguette are removed from the oven, after a few seconds, they start to collapse. Never much, but just enough that you can hear the crackling of the cooling crust. Not like stepping on frozen lake, but like crinkling cellophane. If I had run outside, on a January morning, I'd a woke the neighbors. It really is a very special sound. A sound you only get from long fermentation, with milder flour than most American bakers are accustomed to. And definitely, a sound you'll never hear at a grocery store bakery.

At the same moment, outside the bakery, I passed under the yield from our exhaust fan. They just pulled a rack of brioche, from the rack oven. Not sure what it smells like in heaven, but I'll chance a guess.

Friday, May 15, 2009

homemade jam

yesterday, val cooked some unbelievable homemade rhubarb jam. she also mixed a danish dough, which today will be laminated and shaped. it will sit in the fridge overnite and tomorrow morning will be baked. there are a couple of things that make this happening so special.

her jam is made with five ingredients: fresh rhubarb, sugar, pectin, lemon juice and vanilla bean. when it comes to baking, you must always remember, simplest is best. no gums or high fructose whatever. she cooked it, for what seemed like a couple of hours, real slow. the vanilla bean is so aromatic, and the jam is such a rich, red color. gonna make some incredible pastry.

today she will take the fermented dough and laminate with 100% butter. not boasting, but very few places laminate like we do. when this danish bakes tomorrow morning, the lamination will resemble fine corduroy. no real secrets about the lamination, ya just gotta pay attention. after it rests a hour or so, it will be rolled and cut into strings. they will be twisted and curled up into snails, egg washed and put back into the fridge.

early saturday morning, they will egg washed again and allow to rise somewhat. we will pipe on a ring of pastry creme. once again, homemade stuff. once again, simple stuff. milk, egg yolks, sugar, corn starch, butter and vanilla bean. nothin' says "vanilla", like vanilla bean. the center of the pastry creme will be filled with THE jam of all jams. it'll be topped with streusel and a little crystal sugar, allowed to complete the rising, and baked. we will remove it from the oven and glaze it right away. done. into the store and of to the markets.

ya know there are alot of days i wish i was a customer. guessin' tomorrow will be on of 'em.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

more about rye, maybe to much about rye

got good news this morning. forecast for saturday has improved. sounds like the rain will be here and gone before our markets open saturday morning. good news for me, sorry news for the gang upstairs. lots and lots of stuff to be made.

gettin' back to that rye flour thing. the fact that whole rye flour is complete, meaning it contains all the organic compounds. not organic, like covered in cow poop, but the nutritional parts, the bran and germ. they contain the minerals that our bodies benefit from, once consumed. we use the minerals, they pass thru us, and back into the world. it's kinda cool god's work, eh? these minerals are as important to airborne yeast cells as they are to us. therefore, for a baker's rye culture to get total benefit from sourdough yeast, the culture must be fed those minerals as well. minerals unavailable in conventionally milled rye flour. i know it's a long answer, it interests me more than it should. but when i get a whiff of our raisin rye bread? totally worth it.

our raisin rye is a very unique loaf of bread. it is 6 parts rye flour, 2 parts rye meal(cracked rye), and 2 parts wheat flour. we don't add any sugars or fats. it is loaded with raisins. fifty percent, based on the weight of the flour. luminita cristea, cjb, was working here and entered the california raisin bread contest. it was a professional level competition. if you haven't seen it on our website, or in our store, she won the grand prize. she competed against 20 other bakers in manhattan, kansas, last october. the bread has terrific flavor, but i wasn't sure how it would stand up to the judging. rye is very different from wheat. it isn't really good right out of the oven. not really true of rye bread that comes from a grocery store, once out of the oven, the clock starts, and it's downhill from there. but with real rye bread, it needs to mature. especially when there is more rye than wheat in a formula. my point is that rye bread judged soon after the bake is touchy. should be judged thirty or thirty-six hours out of the oven. but, shows ya what i know.

well, gotta run the bad news upstairs. i just printed the list of numbers we need for saturday's markets. these folks are gonna be busy.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

flour mill

raining right now. not lookin' to good for today's farmer's market. baked goods don't hold up in the rain so well. forecast for saturday isn't so good either. oh well. we typically get rain two saturdays every summer.

i mentioned yesterday that i visited the mill we buy our organic flour from. i taught a class in minneapolis for the bread bakers guild of america, the bbga. it was taught at the general mills headquarters, in the culinary center. anyway, my wife patti and i drove up there for the reason of stopping at great river organic milling in fountain, wisconsin. it was very worthwhile and informative. it was kinda hid back in the woods like someone makin' moonshine. thankfully, owner rick halverson came out and met us to lead us back to the mill.

at the mill i spent some time with the head miller, jerry. the mill is a multilevel building. the grain gets dumped into the holding tank, which is below grade. it is carried upstairs by an actual bucket and chain loader. it gets dumped into a sifter, and it heads down thru different streams depending on the need. into the stones, milled, and it gets sifted, remnants go thru a second pass and get sifted again. grain is moving all over via conveyors and pneumatic type systems. then down to bagging. very interesting. i feel it makes me even closer to our bread.

why organics? well, it not because i'm a leftover hippie or anything. it makes better bread. the best example is found with rye. in a conventional mill, the grain is "tempered" first by spraying it with water. two reasons: first, it makes it possible to remove the germ and bran. those two components are more valuable to the farmer for animal feed, so the are stripped away. second, it adds water to the remaining rye endosperm, making it heavier. more valuable to the farmer/miller. yes, they are a tricky pair. organic rye is dry milled, nothing stripped off. therefore the whole rye berry is in the bag. we refer to it as "WHOLE" rye flour. it is only available from an organic mill.

more tomorrow, gotta get the market truck outta here........

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

about that miche....

posting a little later today, everyone is still a little lethargic after the weekend we had here at the bakery. that and the blackhawks playing western canadian teams in the playoffs has me up late. we are still busy filling the pipeline. we use a very "artisan style" approach to our baking here at bennison's. it takes a few days of preparation to get our goods ready to sell. i will explain it more as time passes, but as an example, our croissants. we mix the dough on monday, laminate on tuesday, bake on wednesday. we mix on tuesday, laminate on wednesday, bake on thursday. it goes on and on. so much happens to the structure and flavour of the product over that time period. the other choice would be to add fermentation enhancing chemicals to the dough. not happening here.

leads me up to our miche. our miche is a very unusual loaf. it is made from 100% organic flour, water and salt. the flour we use is a high extraction, red winter wheat. high extraction means greater yield per bushel of flour. typical extraction from a bushel of wheat yields about 76% white flour, 24% being germ and bran. the flour in our miche is around 85%. so the flour has a greater percentage of the organic compounds, germ and bran. supporting the whole "know your bread, know your baker", i visited the mill where the flour comes from (that will be tomorrow's story). it is milled on a small stone burr mill in lacrosse, wisconsin. the high extraction thing creates the unique colored crumb of our miche. you won't see any bran particles, or germ pieces, they have been milled too fine. our miche involves a sourdough "levain". a piece of the "chef" is mixed with flour and water. the levain is mixed around 8 am, it rests until just after lunch when we add more flour, salt and water. mix again to create the final dough. it rests for 2 more hours, and the dough is divided into 5 pound pieces. it is rounded into a ball, and turned upside down to "proof", or give the dough it's final rise. it is proofed on french linen that has been dusted with flour. it is placed into a refrigerator overnite. around 5 am, it is pulled out and allowed to set at room temperature until it reaches the proper volume. then it is scored, with a "b", and placed into our hearth oven under high pressure steam. it bakes for an hour.

very important, you always need to save a little piece of the levain, to feed the next days batch.

seems like a real hassle? our customers are worth it.......

Monday, May 11, 2009

monday morning

whoa, what a weekend. yesterday was the biggest sunday our bakery has ever had. we took a beating. today we need to regroup, reorder and restart. we're out of a lot of ingredients. had run to a neighbor bakery and get a few things on friday, to get thru the weekend. mondays we have a smaller crew in production. we rotate mondays and saturdays. pretty much, if you work one, you're off the other. monday is a good sandwich day. i guess folks have a harder time gettin' started on monday mornings. no time to prepare a sack lunch?

one of my favorite sandwiches here, is our croque monsieur. i gotta say the key to our sandwiches is our bread. for the croque, we use our miche. our miche is a very special loaf. mark and val make it. it is, ya know, i'll talk about our miche tomorrow. anyway, a thick, hand sliced piece of miche, spread with dijon mustard. we "bag on" bechamel sauce using a pastry bag. a few slices of canadian ham, a bit more bechamel. topped with sliced ementaler cheese, and sprinkled with cacciocavallo cheese. we toast them and put them out for sale. they should be heated before eating. best to do it here. we heat them in our stone oven, never a microwave. if you take it home cold, i know you will use a microwave to heat it. shame on you!
just the croque monsieur alone is a good reason to stop by our bakery today.

well, our flowers outside were ignored this weekend. gotta go water them. was gonna talk about iced summer drinks today, but based on current temps, should probably mention homemade marshmallows for our hot chocolate.......

Sunday, May 10, 2009

mom's day

it's almost 11 am, mother's day. it's been a full out sprint since we started this morning at 3am. reduced crew on saturday nights, only 3 of us involved. i pretty much pack all the orders that go out. today we had a lot of baked goods going to area mom's day brunches. i saw everything that will be eaten at all of these places. i have to say i was very proud of the goods we sent out today, as well as the goods that we had in our store today. i'm very proud of my staff. they don't hear it enough. so, kudos to you. many times, my dad would walk in the bakery, see what's here and say "you get in a car, and you will drive a long way before you find stuff like ours". today that statement is fitting. that is why it's a good day to come to our bakery. well, it was earlier, it's empty now. we got slammed. we got slammed yesterday, also. at the green city farmer's market, we were sold out at 10:30. market lasted until 1pm. so the same gang that i was just praising will have to lace 'em up tight this week. get to bed early. the evanston farmer's market starts next saturday, the 16th. we're gonna need a lotta stuff next friday night.

to you on the other side of the counter, tomorrow will be a great day to stop by bennison's, cause it'll all be fresh.....

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Short Night

not quite 3 am, saturday morning. a true double edge sword situation. the aroma and glisten of a bakery full of "real", baked items vs. the cool reception from my men. i really enjoy getting here, while it's still the dark of night. the bakery is just a swarm. all 4 of the "night guys", are a little edgy, at this point. the pace has been furious since around 7pm friday. right now, breads and breakfast pastries are being counted and sorted. trucks are being loaded; mike the driver has emptied his truck twice since midnight. the first of several day bakers has just arrived. by 8 am the store will be full of customers, and both of our farmer's markets should be rolling.

saturday, another good day to shop here. mark always makes bienenstich on saturdays. bienenstich, or "bee sting" as americans call it, is truly what is served in heaven. we take 5 pounds of rich yeasted dough, and roll it to fill a sheet pan. we boil creme, butter, honey and sugar. let that syrup cool for 5 minutes and add sliced almonds and a bit of coconut. we spread that on the dough and let it rise for an hour, and bake it. once it cools, it is split thru the middle. we blend pure unsweetened cream with cooled custard, spread it on about 3/4 inch thick, and slide the top back on it. we cut it into pieces, and it goes to the store. it's another one of those items that is usually in the store during the week, but always on saturdays.

gotta get upstairs, big day today and a bigger one tomorrow, mother's day. lots of brunch orders from country clubs and restaurants. saturday night's gonna be a short night.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Toulouse Day

Friday is a good day to visit our bakery. Friday is the first day, of two, that Mark makes our Toulouse sandwich. It is a croissant filled with bechamel sauce, scrambled eggs, black forest ham, bacon and white cheddar cheese. Carolyn and Jenny, from the hardware store next door, are addicts. They are our best form of advertisement. He also make them on Saturdays. Nice morning, today, to sit outside at our sidewalk tables with a toulouse, hot coffee, listening to Edith Piaff, you'll think you are there.

On Fridays, Val and Jennifer make Houska. They make it during the week, as well, but they for sure make it on Fridays. Houska is a bohemian specialty. A five strand braided loaf, topped with slivered almonds and rock sugar prior to baking. It is a very rich yeasted dough made with only butter, no shortening, egg yolks, plumped white raisins and a hint of zested lemon. Hands down, the best choice for French toast. If you sit right next to the toaster with a stick of soft salted butter and cold milk, there won't be any turning back.

Certified Master Baker Efrain Tirado has started yellow and chocolate heart cakes, to be sold for Mother's Day. They will be in the store starting late Friday, thru Sunday. Don't forget Mom.

Gotta run, lots to do, farmer's market day tomorrow.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

48 hours

48 hours until the opening of the, every Saturday, Green City Market. It’s a sustainable farmer’s market in Lincoln park. The market has a very strenuous application process. This year we are only one of two bakeries at the market. We sell artisan breads, scones, croissants, brioche and fruited Danish. The market is frequented by all the foodies in Chicago. Top area chefs have a constant presence there. I am very proud of the fact that we are associated with this market in particular. It says a lot about our beliefs and principles. Very appropriately said, “know your bread, know your baker”.

Today our gang is busy preparing sourdough starters and soakers. A soaker is simply whole grains or seeds that will be added to a bread dough. If the seeds aren’t soaked in a prescribed ratio of grains to water, the dry grains will draw all the moisture from the bread's interior. We will also mix the doughs that will be laminated and shaped tomorrow, for the croissant and Danish. We will be featuring fresh blackberries over vanilla bean pastry crème on the Danish. Our feature bread will be a flax seed loaf made with a good percentage of soured rye flour. Incredible flavour, really will be best on Sunday, after some post oven aging.

Today, in our retail store, we will have palmiers around noon. Not boasting, but nobody does ‘em like us. All butter puff pastry, made within 50 feet of the bakery door. Kinda unusual. Most places buy their puff dough. Who knows where it is made, or what’s in it. During the last two folds of the puff dough, we sprinkle the inside of the dough with cane sugar. When it comes time to shape them, Mark will use vanilla sugar instead of dusting flour. We dry all our vanilla bean pods in cane sugar. Run it thru a food processor and sift out the chunks. Unmatchable flavour. The palmiers are baked halfway and flipped over to finish baking. Simplest things are the best, right? Flour, butter, caramelized sugar and vanilla bean.

Oh, that oven timer again………

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

First entry

As a place to start our blog, I think one of the most treasured things about operating this bakery is the constant, personal interaction I have with our customers. I think it is what totally sets us apart from other places you can buy bakery items. Via this blog, I will have the opportunity to notify more of you about what is happening here in our bakery.

In a world where cost cutting is foremost on everyone’s mind, here at Bennison’s we are more focused on finding better quality, local ingredients. As an example, we just hooked up with S. Serra cheese company in Clinton Township, Michigan. From these folks, we started buying fresh ricotta cheese. Unbelievable, the difference. We started getting our fresh mozzarella from them as well. The fresh mozzarella is nice improvement to our Caprese sandwich. One of their most unique cheeses is Caciocavallo. It’s a locally produced, low-moisture cheese, very difficult to find here in the Midwest. We are using that on our Herb Ciabatta bread and our Croque Monsieur.

Oven timer is ringing………