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.


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