Friday, July 31, 2009

i knew it as soon as i heard his voice

Yesterday was one of the most frustrating days I've ever had in the bakery. I couldn't get anything done. Arturo is on vacation, and like I said we are running out of the inventories he created. I can do his job. I know how to make all the things that he does. I don't have the time to commit to it. Yesterday, I needed to make eclairs. When Arturo does it, he uses five gallons of eggs. It's a pretty big batch. He makes the mix and runs them thru a wire-cut depositor. Forty five-fifty pans of eclairs, five, six minutes. But, of course, there is a lot of prep time, set up time, etc. Yesterday, I tried to make a one gallon of eggs, size batch of eclairs. The way we did it twenty five years ago. Took me all day. I poured the water in thecopper kettle at 7:30am. I added the oil at 8:45. I scaled the flour at 9:20. Lit the stove for the first time at 9:45'ish. Turned it off. Re-lit at 10:20. On and on. Went home, was mean to my wife and daughter. Had a couple beers at dinner. Apologized to my wife and daughter, still don't feel any better. Now I'm stressin' over puttin' faces on a few pans of smiley face cookies.

Next week, Filemon is going on vacation. I'm assuming that week to be better, because so many people understand what he does. There is only two of us, Frankie and myself, that understand what Arturo does. He pretty much keeps to himself. Does what he does and does it well. I've always said, between memorial day and labor day, are the worst weeks of the year. Busy with the farmer's markets, but when these guys start to take time off, things head south quick. These guys been here a long time. When they were younger, they played soccer on Sunday's. They would come in here on Monday morning's, reminded me of a few scenes from "saving private ryan". One would be limping, one would have a black eye, and ya know what young guys do after any game or sporting event. I was really glad when the school year started.

Wednesday, Diego had a big baguette dough on the mixer, preparing baguettes for the Aville market. I asked him "what's that"? He said "baguettes". I said "what an odd color". Diegos' a young guy, Filemon's son. I think he plays a little soccer, now and then himself, if ya know what I mean. Dough felt funny too. But then again, I don't feel the dough everyday anymore. I helped Filemon load the baguettes in the oven. They didn't have the usual spring. Seemed off. I asked Filemon about about it, he shrugged his shoulders. Thursday morning, I came in and some items weren't up to snuff. My eclairs, didn't come out a hundred percent either. Adding more to my frustration. But I thought the fact that it was a six, seven hour process had something to do with it. Then it happened, Patti and I were in the car last night 'round 9:30. My cell phone rang, it was Jeff Yankellow from Phoenix. My bread baking teammate from the baking team. "Jory, still using Harvest King"? My reply "yes". Jeff "havin' any problems"? Me "I'll call you in the morning". I KNEW IT!! I got the same exact phone call last year from Keith Brown, at Olde World Hearth, in Orlando, exactly, word for word. I'm callin' the mill this morning. I bet we are using new crop flour. Every year around the end of July, early August, they switch crops. For the first few days they blend old crop with new. The percentages change as the days pass. First day ten percent old, ninety percent new. Second day, maybe fifteen old, eighty five new, etc. Looking back at the reports I get each month from the mill, we are about ten days earlier than last year. Last year the new crop wasn't in the blender until bags with a mill date of July 31st. This whole flour milling thing amazes me. The flour has to age before it can be milled. It then must age once it is in the bag. Unless, you use bromated flour, which is outlawed in many states. Bromate is a carcinogen. I mentioned before bleached and bromated flour is commonplace in a lot of bakeries. Read your labels before buying your bread. Or buy it here.

I gotta get to work. I got cookies to face, a mill to call and a baker or two to call. Gonna take me all day to face those cookies. Arturo hurry back.

All is forgiven.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

most soothing

It's an unjust world. We've done some work at home, in the yard and we've sodded. I suggested they lay the sod each of the last two Tuesdays. First two Wednesday's it didn't rain this summer. Farmer's markets did great. But I gotta say, I don't believe there is anything more therapeutic than watering sod, with a hose. It's right up there with watching a Zamboni go round and round an ice rink. The Zamboni thing is only valid if you're sitting up high enough to appreciate it. At ice level, it doesn't have the same effect. Watering sod, is mindless, like icing layer cakes. Gentle spray of water back and forth, very relaxing.

I'm sure I told you, cake and cookie Arturo is on vacation this week. Yesterday, we had our employee benefits meeting. We're switching our whole payroll/benefits thing to one source. During the meeting yesterday, we closed the store. We stayed closed for about an hour and a half. First time we ever did that. Close in the middle of the day. We put a sign in the door, "closed for meeting", etc. We said we would reopen at 11:15, customers were there waiting. This made for a ridiculous day. Day baker Marc, was off for a funeral. He came in at midnight to make up for his absence. So two guys off on a market Wednesday, plus the meeting, crippling. When the day was done, I was done, as well.

This benefit package is gonna cost the bakery a lot of money, but our crew is worth it. We've arranged for our fulltimers to be insured. Hospitalization, dental, eyes, life, disability, the whole deal. Startin' a 401k plan, as well. Never did this stuff before. Never had a complete crew like this before. This has been an incredible summer. The markets have been very busy, and it has gone very well. Our crew has really done well with assuming responsibility, and it hasn't taken much on my part to get it all done. I put up the market numbers, on Thursday, and on Saturday morning the bread is there. Jeff Hamelman told me once, his theory about employees "it's their job to take care of me and my job to take care of them".

Gotta get upstairs and get to work. Today is the last day, Marc will have a chance to practice anything for his CB practical exam on Saturday. I think he is in pretty good shape. I know, but I can't disclose to him, exactly what products will be required of him. But I can disclose a general term like "cookies". Today he will be making a mix or two of hand bagged butter cookies.

Today, we've reached the painful point of running out of a lot of the items that Arturo had made ahead, filling his void. We need to start producing these items, to get us by until Monday. Next week, Filemon is going for a week. I'll be gald to see September 1st get here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

no shock, we're offerin' great value

Bakery business is doing well. Not surprised, what we are selling is truly good value. I mentioned before that I'm a member of the Baker's Dozen. I spoke yesterday to fellow member, Rich Eberle at Reuter's bakery in Chicago. He said things are busier than he expected. We agreed, us retail bakers, are offering good value at a fair price. He said "people are catching on". You should see the fruit danish that went to the GCM this morning. Topped with fresh pitted sour cherries, blackberries, blueberries, sliced peaches, on top of a blend of pastry creme, lemon curd and almond creme. Just sinful. It's really not fair to the grocery stores, convenient stores,national chain coffee shops,etc.

The Andersonville market has outgrown one van. Tonight we are sending two vans down. One will unload and return to the bakery. We are making onion walnut bread, Irish Soda bread and pumpkin sourdough, as our special breads this week. The onoin walnut bread is stunning. Thick slice of that spread with some Brunkow, raw milk cheddar cheese. I twittered it this morning, that combination, "will put ya next to heaven, promise". Filemon Vega, our resident sourdough specialist, has incredible talent. Started in the bakery, knew nuttin' 'bout bakin'. Now, straight up, bulletproof. He use a blend of unbleached, whole wheat and rye for the onion nut bread. Levain, toasted walnuts and diced onions. You should smell it comin' from the oven. It's right out of France. Very traditional.

Speakin' of France, I'm going to France in April to manage the two American competitors, participating in the Masters de Boulangerie event. As of the 2008 world cup, the French bakers have decided to hold the Europain convention every other year. The Coupe du Monde is a part of Europain. They decided to do the coupe every four years. They will skip every other convention. I can understand why. You'd have to see this to believe it. Nobody can imagine the work that goes into it. Two years is not enough time to hold a baking competition, so instead of waiting six years, they decided to hold a little different competition in 2010. They have chosen twelve bakers in each of the three categories, to compete individually against each other. The competitors that finished in the top three in their category, during the last coupe get an automatic invite. I'm not sure how they decided who fills the other nine spots. Peter Yuen and Dara Reimers will represent USA. Peter will compete in the viennoiserie category and Dara will do an artistic piece. I was asked by the BBGA to go to Paris with them and act as manager. I agreed to do it, before I saw the job descritpion. Kinda like missing a committee meeting. I got a multi-paged email yesterday. I'm good with it, as long as there aren't any fundraising duties.

We are leaving six days before the event, to practice in France. This whole Coupe du Monde is sponsored by LeSaffre yeast company. They will host us and allow Peter and Dara to practice in a laboratory bakery in one of the yeast plants. Probably in Lille, north of Paris. The rules were sent to us in March. Peter is off to a good start. He is really more of my responsibility. Dara is going to be aided by Solveig Tofte, the bread baker from the 2008 team. Solveig, for whatever reason, rejected the chance to bake in 2010. I totally understand, the coupe experience is brutal. I could never do it a second time. Over teh next eight months, Peter and Dara will travel around the country, working with past team members. Of the eighteen team members I know, going back to '92, I think there are only two or three, who are no longer involved with the process. speaking for myself, I'll never miss another coupe. It's in me, deep in me. The two guys I baked with, our coach and manager, I hold next to my wife and kids. There isn't a day goes by, hell, maybe an hour that I don't think back to that experience. I still don't believe I was a part of that team. It was never fun, but oh so special.

Gotta get upstairs, had a sluggish levain for the Irish Soda Bread, for tonite. Probably ready now. Been sittin' at room temp for three, four hours.

I'll keep ya posted about the progress preparing for Paris.

If you can get down to the Aville market, get some o'that onion bread. You owe it to yourself.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

sugar or salt?

Always seems to happen, just as you put your coat on, something goes wrong. I was getting’ ready to leave yesterday afternoon, ‘round 4:15. I know it was that time, cause the first thing I do is check to see how much time I have before the hardware store closes next door. Our deck oven wouldn’t get over 390’. Then it comes out, been happenin’ all day. Nobody says anything until they’re ready to leave. I was told that earlier in the day it went up to temp and then couldn’t hold it. Kept falling. It’s happened before a few times. The oven burner draws airborne flour into it and it gets all plugged up. So I pulled the burner out of the oven and used some plumbers cloth to clean up the flame rod and spark igniter. It’s a pretty safe system. If the burner doesn’t sense a flame, it won’t allow gas to pass the valve, otherwise, it could fill up with gas. Small spark and a big explosion. Put it all back together, works like it should. But, John Roeser says "while ya brought the tools up from downstairs, ya might as well do a little maintenance on other things". Got the airhose out, so I blew out a few refrigeration coils.

Always, always, something to do in the bakery. Common line between my dad and myself, we’ll ask each other “are you finshed”(for the day), reply is “no, but it’s time to go home”.

Made some real headway on the certification stuff yesterday. Pretty comfortable, I’m in good shape. All the ingredients are ordered, some of them already delivered. I’m buds with the guys at General Mills, they’re always quick to help out a master baker exam. They were and still are very generous with the BBGA. They are the exclusive “Platinum level” member sponsor. Not sure what that costs, but I bet you could find somethin’, for the same money that would sleep six. We use a lot of General Mills flour. The Harvest King flour we use is a General Mills flour. When we were practicing in San Fran, preparing for the coupe, we used the same flour. At that time, they were milling Harvest King in three mills, Buffalo, New York, Avon,Iowa, and a mill in northern California. They have since, closed the Buffalo mill, or milling something else there. But every time we practiced in San Fran, we used only the flour milled at the Iowa mill. Didier wanted that flour. Had the closest specs to French flour.

French flour is very different from ours. Even with the same spec numbers, it’s still different. When you roll out a dough made with our flour, it has a lot of recoil. It bounces back. Roll a dough to 4 mm on the sheeting machine and place it on the table, and it will recoil to 6 mm, or so. Damn French flour is cool. You roll it to 4 mm, and it will stay there. Every baking team I’ve been around gets very concerned about “the French flour”. Turns out no big deal. It’s actually easier to work with. There are all kinds of lab test to measure the strength, protein, absorption, elasticity, fermentation tolerance, but there isn’t any type of test for gluten quality. The only way to measure gluten quality, is to bake with it. Common fact, the higher the protein percentage in flour, the poorer the quality. I had a guy call me three, four weeks ago. Had a great deal on flour, told me the specs. they were close to right. He sent us eight bags to try it out. No good. Canadian spring wheat. Real white, no flavor. Said it was around twelve percent protein. I question that. Thanks, but no thanks.

I was thinking yesterday about other times God was standing next to me, in the bakery, referring to my danish mishap at the CIA. We started our day in Paris, at the coupe. Nobody knows this, William won’t remember. The judges said go, and off to our bakeshop we ran. Opened our boxes and started scaling. An hour before, we were briefed by the staff, as to where all the ingredients were. I scaled sugar, then salt, for my first dough. William said “hand me the salt”, I passed him the container. He said “no, that’s sugar”. I had them reversed. Can you imagine. Sixteen months worth of work. Countless dollars. William happened to ask me at the most very perfect moment.

Actually it wasn’t William speaking, it was a far greater being. That whole footsteps in the sand poem. You’ve heard it, “when I carried you”.

Monday, July 27, 2009

one tall lumberjack

As I was driving here this morning, I'm stressing over the upcoming certification weekend. I want to make sure I don't forget anything. I don't want disappoint any of the candidates or the RBA. I know that both of them have gone to a lot of expense to make this weekend happen. I keep running thru my mental lists, hoping I have it all covered. I have set up a new folder in my laptop, so after this weekend, it should all become easier for future exams. I'm trying to piece together the needed documents from past exams, and change the dates and location.

Going way back, not sure at what point, but as a beginning, the RBA hooked up with the ACF, American Culinary Federation, and together they set up the certification wing of the RBA. The RBA sent out several letters and advertised in the trade publications about the certification program. I think at that point if you had twenty years experience, you could apply and straight away, you were a CMB. I didn't think anything of it. There was a deadline, that came and went. I don't even know if I qualified. Years passed and for whatever reason, I decided to certify. It was certainly after my indoctrination to the NBC. I applied, was accepted, and was scheduled to test, October 2001. I was to test at the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park, New York. I still have the letter, reading, if I chose to, I could put the whole thing off, due to the fear of flying and the 911 attack. I decided to test. I remember flying from Chicago midway to Albany, NY. Chicago Midway was empty. Of course I had a toolbox full of knives. Didn't have much problem with that. I had to check them. Erie feeling, plane was empty, The Albany airport was empty.

The weekend was interesting. I learned a very, very valuable lesson. At that point in time, I had tried out for two baking teams. For the better, neither one of them worked out. At the first tryout I met Rich Coppidge. He was, and still is, the bread instructor in Hyde park. He is very tall, gotta be six foot six. In a toque and heels he is over seven feet. First guy I ever met had to bend down to look in the top deck of a deck oven. Helluva nice guy. He is a hockey player and a lumberjack. During the second day of the CMB exam, there is a mandatory twenty minute lunch. You can take it when you wish, but you must do it. I broke for lunch. I was cruising. It was noon, my danish products were on a rack, in the proofer. Three hours to go. My cake was baked and all I had to do was ice and decorate my cake and bake my danish, and ice it. Rich and I were the only two in the makeshift cafeteria, a converted classroom, near the bakeshop. We must have talked for at least an hour. We covered it all, the guild, the team tryout process, the Blackhawks. Around one o'clock, I decided to return to work, disaster struck. I didn't notice, but I was using a Rubbermaid speed rack, in the proofer. They are completely plastic. Somebody, had to be a student, had used it once, when unloading the oven. Filled it with hot pans. the pan glides were melted and deformed. When I went to pull the rack out of the proofer, the bottom two pans fell straight down, right on top of each other. Splat. Moist, proofed danish, sandwiched between two sheet pans. My heart stopped. Mike, forgot his last name, from Abel & Schafer in New York, was right there. Stopped dead in his tracks, both hands on his now crushed chef hat, mouth fully opened, "what are you gonna do"? Well, surprisingly, I didn't get excited. I had enough danish dough left to re-make the product. I kinda rushed it, but got it done. I got my cakes iced and decorated, danish baked and iced, and I passed.

Eight of us started the exam together. Seven of us finished. I was the only one that passed. Four others eventually retested and passed. I'll go into that whole process tomorrow.

I learned a most valuable lesson that day. I've mentally referred to it, countless times. I've told this story to many, many classes that I taught for the guild during coupe preperation.

Don't ever take your time for granted.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

mr smith and his white bread

Sunday morning, alone in the bakery, my favorite time of the week. I can get office work done without any interruptions. If the phone rings, it goes to voicemail. It only lasts about an hour and a half. Retail folks arrive and it's all over. The whirlwind begins again.

Great day yesterday. Store was very busy, and the markets cleaned out. The market numbers are surpassing last year. Kudos to the staff at the GCM. They have done a great job promoting that market. On Wednesday we had a customer at the GCM ask about placing an order for goods to be delivered to the market on Saturday. We explained that we don't take orders for goods to be delivered to any of our markets. She was slightly disappointed, and came to the Evanston store to pick it up. I can't tell you how happy I am to pick up a retail sale, as a result of one of our markets. It wasn't a huge sale but I'd like to think it, one of many that I don't know about.

I'm comfortable that the whole certification process is evolving for the better. Since I've been involved, there have been many things that I've wanted to change. Now that I'm the committee chair, I'm trying to do just that. This upcoming test, is the first one that we've added baguettes and removed white bread. It wasn't real difficult to get the board to agree to this. Since the beginning, we had white bread as a part of the master baker exam. I've said it in this forum many times, a baguette is a true example of a baker's ability. People don't eat white bread anymore. Mr. Smith gets two loaves of unsliced buttercrust bread every Thursday, at noon. Other than that we don't make it. We make a batch for that and the rest goes in the store. Actually goes in the bread pudding come Monday. As a part of the exam, the baguette is made with the formula 100 flour, 65 water, 2 salt, 1.5 yeast and .2 malt. It is mandated that it be made using twenty five percent, prefermented flour. Style of preferment is up to the candidate. You've heard it here, before, "a real baker can get flavour from flour, water , yeast and salt". We mandated a baked weight, to be decided the first day of the test. They must also be fifty five centimeters in length, once baked. Hearth baked, no dopey dimples on the bottom. Dimples on the bottom of a baguette belong at Subway. Gonna be interesting to see, how the candidates do.

Got an oven timer goin' off. Only store folk upstairs. Got ap[ple pies comin' out the oven. I had to practice the pie formula we are going to use next weekend as a part of the CB test. When you evaluate a pie always turn it over. Takes skill to get nice colour on a pie bottom, cream pies excluded.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

mr. earl knapp

Good to be back in the bakery! Once I'm away for three or four days, I'm ready to come back. I really stress about things when I'm gone. Who's emptying the dehumidifier, who's pruning the flowers, did they rotate the yeast when it was delivered, lttle things like that wear on my mind. I know the cakes will be decorated, the baguettes will be baked, the day to day stuff assigned to other folks will still be done. It's the damn little details.

I chose to be gone last week, because the upcoming week is going to be brutal. Our lead day guy, Arturo, who doesn't take care of any details, but sees to it we have plenty of buttercreme, cake layers, cup cakes, muffins, on and on. The guy has been here twenty plus years. Over that length of time, you've become an important part of the scheme here. Oh, yeah, he makes all the cookie. Not by himself, but he get everything organized, makes the mixes, runs the machine, even bakes them.

On top of that, next weekend is the ICES, International Cake Exploration Society(I think)convention, out at Pheasant Run Resort. The same weekend is a regional RPIA meeting here in Chicago. Not sure what the RPIA stands for, but it's a group of progressive bakers, from around the country that have formed a buying group. Also, that weekend the RBA, Retail Bakers of America, is hosting a master baker certification exam, here at Kendall College. Turns out that I am certification chair for the RBA. I've been on the certification board for seven or eight years. I took over chairman as of January, 2009. This upcoming weekend we will be testing 12 applicants over a two day period. Truth be known, four of the twelve, are testing for CB, certified baker. The CB stage is the middle step towards master baker.

The whole process has become pretty involved. We have elevated the process to three levels. CJB, certified journey baker, is the first step. The title is based on years experience, and a written test. The second step is CB, certified baker. Again based on years experience, written test from a study guide, and an eight hour practical exam. CMB, certified master baker, is based on years experience, a second written test and a twelve hour practical exam.

The written test is broken down into three categories. Chemical leavening, yeast leavening and sanitation. The CB practical includes white bread, enriched dough, yellow cake, pies and cake icing with time requirements. The CMB practical exam involves baguettes, yellow cake and danish dough, along with five undisclosed products. The yellow cake that is baked needs to be iced and decorated with time requirements.

I am the lead judge next weekend. I can't judge directly, because one of our bakers, Marc Levy is being tested for CB. Here at Bennison's, we also have two bakers that have applied for CJB. They will do their written test here in the next two weeks. We also have one CMB, besides myself. Efrain Tirado, has been here at the bakery for twenty plus years as well. He had no problem passing the exam. If you are a baker, you'll have no issues. If you are someone who bakes, you're gonna have issues. We have had another fellow who earned his CMB, while here. He was the youngest to ever do it. We have another testing for CB next weekend, that started the process here, but has since moved on the live in Arizona.
My duties this upcoming week, are to organize all the judges, have the proper ingredients at the site and prepare formulas books and scoring sheets. We test twice a year. The last test was held at the Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park, New York, last November. We plan on testing there again in October.

The one question I get asked, all the time, is "why do you get involved in these things"? Fellow bakers ask me, my family, kinda funny, I don't have any friends that aren't bakers, customers as well. I believe ya gotta give back. I think back to many, many folks folks who gave of themselves so I could compete in Paris. It's an endless list of names. I think back to my little league days. Mr. Earl Knapp, coached me for three years. Lookin' back, he didn't have much. Bunch o' boys. Kindofa southern guy. Used to come to practice right from whatever mill job he had. His hands were still dirty, as well as his clothes. But he was always there. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 5:30pm, behind Emerson School. Unless there were games of course. Weekend games as well. He didn't have to be there, maybe he thought about someone from his childhood. Maybe he had a debt to settle. Maybe he enjoyed baseball as much as I do bakin'.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

snuck away

got a chance to run off to Michigan for four or five days. Back in the bakery on Friday afternoon. Start bloggin' again Saturday morning.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sacher torte

All is quiet here now. Just about to open. I just got here. Left early yesterday. Markets sold out. Have been extremely busy in the store. Yesterday, first time in thirty four years. They were waiting outside, on a day that wasn't Fat Tuesday or the day before Thanksgiving. This is a late July Saturday. Should be kinda quiet. I also realize, the weather was perfect. Matt took some pictures, tomorrow I'm gonna start adding pictures to this. Needless to say our customer count is thru the roof, both Friday and Saturday. Today is the big bike race in Evanston, generally draws a pretty good crowd.

Been goin' thru a lot of macaroons lately. Had two orders for them yesterday, one on Friday. When people order them, it's not three and four. It's forty and fifty. We had thirty go out with a wedding cake yesterday. The Frenchies claim they will be the next craze. I guess there is a string of French macaroon shops open in Japan, that has opened in New York. In the new Whole Foods concept store, they are offering macaroons from many different bakeries. I've heard they are nothing special. One of our bakers was there and he asked about them. The counter person said "they taste like an Oreo". Don't know what that means.

We've redone our Sacher torte, here in the last few weeks. Been very well accepted. I save all monthly trade publications. I have things going back to the late fifties. I attended a trade show/convention years ago. The Gottenbusch family from Servatti Pastry Shop in Cinncinati demonstarted their version of Sacher torte. Sacher torte has loads of folklore. I'm not sure what I believe. I've been to the Hotel Sacher in Vienna, long ago. I remember it being a little hotel and a big bakery. Seems the tortes were available in several sizes, each in it's own wooden box. One thing for sure, ours is better than theirs. The "original" is kinda dense and bready. I thought it lacked chocolate flavour. We start with our devil's food cake and add almond products to it. We use our homemade raspberry jam between the layers with housemade ganache. We coat it with a glace made from chocolate and creme. Really, really delicious. And moist, wow. Back to the Servatti demo, I remembered that cake, but couldn't find the info from the demo, I knew I had it. After searching for weeks, viola. We've had it in the store non-stop ever since. This week, I'm gonna try making individual pieces. Livin' by the thought that, nothin' is new, just the old things comin' back around.

Well gotta close this. I gotta lay a plan for this week, I got an old lady up in Flint, Michigan looking for me.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

life's great /bad decisions

Not one of our better nights, last night. Product was nice but things just didn't come together like they should have. Had to double back to both markets. Things got forgotten. Some days your the pigeon and some days your the statue. This day only has one direction to go.

We make all butter danish to go to the GCM, every market. Today we topped them with cherries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. Once they are half proofed, we egg wash them a second time. We pipe on a big spot of a blend of pastry creme and lemon curd. Place the fruit on top, and finish proofing. We bake them and glaze them out of the oven. Once cool, we dust them LIGHTLY, with powdered sugar. They are gorgeous today. I'm comfortable none of these will make a return trip, to the bakery. Val does a great job with laminated doughs. Game ball Val Irving.

A few weeks ago we started baking buns for River Valley Ranch. They are the artisan mushroom farm in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. They are across the aisle from us at the Aville market. We've known Eric for a long time. Helluva nice guy. Anyway, he's as busy as the rest of us, forgot to call in his bun order, a few markets ago. We sent a good stack of buns,to cover him. I told our girls at the market, sell whatever he doesn't want. They were the first thing to sell out. Since then we keep sending more and more buns, hamburgers and hot dogs, plain and seeded. This morning we sent a stack tall as me. We'll see. We divide and run our buns thru a 2 pocket Koenig machine. My wife made me mad two Christmas's ago and I bought it. Coulda bought another German product with four tires and a Blaupunkt radio for what I spent! I struggled with the decision, talked to my dear friend Tony Stricker, several times about it. One of those decisions that falls into the category of "the list of great decisions in my life" list. I have a a bad list too. This thing divides and rounds three thousand pieces an hour. In bakers talk, that's about a three dozen press of rolls every eighty seconds. One man. We us it to divide and shape our yeast raised donuts as well. This market season we started frying the raised donuts, Friday, late afternoon. I'm involved in that. Shaping the donuts now, is over before it starts. Our baker Mark keeps telling all the new hires, "if the bakery catches on fire, I'm gettin' the roll divider out before you". Needless to say, I get excited about making buns.

Gotta get upstairs and get this day back on track. I have a graduation party to go to this afternoon, and Rascal Flatts concert tonight, gonna be a full day. Weather is gonna be great.Market should do well.

Friday, July 17, 2009

who else would go to a library?,

The weather was great last night for the chef's BBQ. I was watering some new sod last night and I was concerned. It may have even sprinkled a little. Rain is really hard on a bakery trying to sell bread at a farmer's market, but it would be even harder on forty or fifty charcoal grills at a bbq. As far back as i remember, I don't think it ever rained on a GCM chef's BBQ night.

We put in a new phone system, a week or so ago. Works pretty well. Seems like there are more of them, well I know there are. Our incoming call volume has to have gone up. Damn things are ringing all the time. Either that, or I've become my father. Whenever they ring for four or five times, I find myself spending time trying to figure why it's not being answered, instead of answering it. We've added another line as well, so now I guess there is opportunity to have it ring more. I answered a call yesterday. A lady from Flint, Michigan. Placed an order like she was in the store looking at me. A pound of tea cookies, fifteen large cookies, three cinnamon raisin bread, on and on. Said she got our number from the library in Flint. Don't know if that means it's scratched in the bathroom wall or what. "for a good bakery call 847-328-9434", doubt it. She asked that I send her any brochures we might have. I told her we don't have much like that, I said " we rely on our website for that" and then realized what a silly comment that was, to someone who found our phone number at the library. But God Bless her. Stuff is goin' out Monday, overnight mail. Don't matter to me where they come from, so long as they come.

I've been talking 'bout this BBQ thing. A little story about the way a bakery works. Yesterday we were busy as hell. The volume on Wednesdays has become an issue. We wake up on Thursday, knowing that we need to start for the markets on Saturday. We were finishing up the items for the BBQ, my son comes back, says "you know a Japanese woman Kumiko". It could only mean one thing. She is an internationally known writer for B&C magazine in Japan. B&C, I think means "bread and cakes". It's not like our trade magazines here in the states. They profile a bakery each month from Europe or the states, as well as a Japanese bakery. Full of colour pictures. Sure enough, I stepped thru the door between the shop and our store and there was shadow cast over the bakery. I thought it was gonna rain. The worlds largest hummer limo out on Maple street. Two, three parking places, PLUS the loading zone. It was a herd of Japanese bakers form Donq. I understand they have eighty or ninety stores, scratch baking in each of them. They were doing a US tour. They weren't here long. Shot loads of pictures, and off they went. I felt bad, if I had known they were coming. Kumiko is great, knows more bakers than Peter Yuen. Both here and abroad. This outfit Donq is very, very into the Coupe du Monde. The Japanese as well. They already have the team picked that will compete in the coupe in 2012.

Gotta get upstairs. Gotta get started on that order for Flint. I'd hate to force her to make a repeat trip to the library to look up our number.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

hard to beat creme fraiche

Here it is at the end of my day and I'm finally getting to this. Time sure gets away from me. I'm sure I can remember the boxes of Christmas ornaments being covered with dust, every December, when I was a kid. Now they aren't in storage long enough to collect any dust.

Long day yesterday. Early morning start to get things off to GCM, and it was late before we got back after the Aville market. Things went well. Had the usual rain st GCM in the morning, but it was gorgeous last night at Aville. We bought some beautiful sour cherries last night along with raspberries and blackberries. We will be making triple berry danish for the GCM Saturday. I'm looking forward to that. Falls under the heading my dad always uses, "get in a car and you'll drive a long way 'til ya find stuff like that".

Last night at the Aville market, we had four people come up to our table and ask about raisin fennel bread. We made it last week, first time at that market. It was the last variety to sell out. I kept tellin' customers "raisin fennel is the sleeper here tonite, trust me". I was excited when four different people asked for it. This is a formula I got from Amy's bread in Manhattan. I think it is the table bread at a well known steak house there. They also have a restaurant here in Chicago. I'm hesitant to say their name, but I think it is on Dearborn and the north bank of the river. What they are serving there is a poor excuse for raisin fennel bread.

The parmesean polenta bread we made came out nice. Flavours were very mild, but the texture was very cool. A high percentage of corn gave the crumb a real "meaty" texture. I didn't give way to you fingers when the crumb was squeezed. I also think it could be sliced very thin. Interested to see what the response will be next week.

Oh, my french lady friend is up to eighteen macaroons each Wednesday. She has requested lemon be the next variety added.

We also made gibassier and tart bresanne for the Aville market yesterday. We did well with the bresanne, but we had a few gibassier left. For the bresanne we used eighty grams of brioche dough. We mixed it on Tuesday and it fermented overnight in the fridge. We rounded it up and after a few minutes, we pressed it flat, sugaring it heavy on both sides with vanilla sugar. Once it proofed a little we "docked" it with our finger tips. Placed a spoon of creme fraiche on top and more sugar. Finished proofing them and baked 'em. Awesome. Sweet, buttery, rich, tangy. We will see what they have to say next week. We actually sold quite a few in our store as well.

The gibassier didn't do as well as the bresanne. We made quiet a few more. They came out very pretty. The only comment I heard at the market was, "they taste really fresh". Once again, kudos to my guys/gals, they are really some talented folks. I think it's the fact that they are truly,truly interested.They want to make nice stuff.

A family was there from Paris. Mom, dad, three or four kids. Bought lots of stuff. Kept coming back to the table, pain chocolate, baguette, croissant de amandes, baguette. I later spotted them sitting outside at Ranalli's. I asked them "mon pain est bon"? They said "Oui, très bon. Ils devraient faire le pain comme cette maison arrière ! Put a big smile on my face.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

precious little blisters

The site said it would stop raining by 7am. They were right on the money. The rain started letting up around 5:40. We were able to get the truck loaded and out of here by 6am. I loaded up the morning market pretty good. Last couple weeks we had some stuff left and we took it to the evening market.

Patti and I ate outside at Bluestone, on Central street in Evanston, last night. It was very comfortable, but I was shocked how quiet the street was. We left the downtown area here, streets were really, really busy. My dad always comments how "there aren't many parking places on Davis St". We are very fortunate to have the location we have. We are never short of walk in traffic. In fact our customer count is running a good bit ahead of last year. I think the addition of sandwiches has helped a lot. We have been making them since May 1st, '08. We are coming up on our one year anniversary of our computerized registers. I will be able to compare the months very easy. Also, create some very accurate numbers.

Filemon just loaded some sourdough bread in the oven. We have been having a problem with it not getting enough fermentation. It gets shaped in the afternoon, and baked the next morning. Well morning is anytime after midnight, right? They started baking it to early. The whole thing wasn't fully developed. The volume was good, flavour was good, but the crust wasn't right. Here in the states, sourdough loaves should be covered in blisters. If you look at the bread at Boudin bakery(I think they are still in Chicago), you will see loads of blisters. Probably the coolest bakery in the world, Boudin Sourdough at Fisherman's Wharf in San Fran. Unbelievable. You have to see it to believe it. Even then you will scratch your head. Anyway, loads of blisters. In France, the blisters are seen as a defect. I think they are cool. The bread in the oven is VERY cool. Looks like the back side of a Nestle Crunch bar, maybe coarser. The gluten structure starts to give way under the increased acidity from the natural yeast. Gluten in the presence of acidity gets stronger. But it can only go so far. The extensibility decreases, and the gluten web can't withhold the burst of carbon dioxide created during the initial oven spring. "Chimneys" are created in the dough, and the gas goes to the surface. The outside crust has a layer of moisture on it from the steam that was injected into the baking chamber upon loading the oven. The moisture increases the extensibility in the crust just enough, to allow the blisters to form.

Next time you pick up a loaf of sourdough, examine the crust. Oh, sorry, there are only a few places in the city you can find real sourdough. Panera Bread does a pretty good job. There's here, maybe Boudin, if they are still here. Don't have another name, I'm sure there is one or two more. Don't bother with the stuff at the grocery store, it's made with powdered acids. Stuff tastes like salt and vinegar potato chips.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Dem little tiny pigments

Honestly tried to write yesterday, and I was so tired, couldn't do it. Late nights and early mornings caught up with me. I started somethin', wasn't happy with it.

Yesterday afternoon, I headed in the store for something, I spotted a woman, looked familiar. We looked at each other, and she spoke first. Said "I was talking to you last Wednesday at the Aville market". As she spoke I remembered her. She is an older woman, maybe seventy. Old enough that chances of her reading this and me being wrong about her age, are slim. She was with another older woman. They asked questions about all of our offerings. She ended up purchasing a loaf of cracked wheat bread. I'm sure I mentioned this bread before. We use a high percentage of PFD. I think it's 100 percent. So it's 100 organic, stone milled whole wheat, and 100 bread flour. We put a lot of both honey and molasses in it, even some sugar. It is also the last thing out of the oven when we leave for the market. I have to take oven pads with us, it's that hot when we get there. We bake twelve rounds in a sheet pan, with a high extender. So they all bake together with soft sides. We just break them apart as we sell them. SHE CAME IN LOOKING FOR THAT BREAD. The very reason we participate in these farmer's markets. To get more folks in the store. I was ecstatic. We didn't have the bread in the store. She said she would be away this Wednesday night, but ordered three loaves for Thursday. She said "it made the best toast".

I had another thought about the mixing stage of a bread dough. It's all cause and effect. Every little thing you do, has an effect on the result. Examining the baking process from A to Z, if you are off a little at each step, in the end, you will be way off. We start with unbleached flour. This flour yields a much creamier coloured crumb in bread. Bleached flour is treated with chlorine. Flour bleaching is done for a couple reasons. Going way back, bread with a whiter crumb was the bread of society. Only simple folk ate bread with a brown, or darker crumb. The bleaching step also "dries out" the flour. Bleaching soft wheat, bleached cake flour, is drier. It will help absorb the excess liquid it takes to dissolve excessive amounts of sugar in a cake mix. The flour particles that get bleached out are the caretenoid pigments in the bits of bran and germ. It is commonly known that unbleached flour will have far more flavour, in bread, than bleached flour. If a bread dough is over mixed, more oxygen is absorbed by the gluten web and the caretenoid pigments in the flour loose their colour and a lot of flavour. Again, the difference will be slight, but if you're off a little here and off a little there....

One of the advantages of attend a basic Bread Baking I class, is tasting loaf after loaf, side by side, of loaves baked with different flours. All fermented differently. Who would have time to do that in a busy bake shop? I've done this here at home and in Europe, both wheat and rye. The differences are astonishing. Busy bakers taste their bread today. Try different flour tomorrow, and try to taste by memory. Can't be done.

I always, always, think back to what Craig Ponsford told me "if it comes off the mixer properly mixed, the rest is downhill".

Sunday, July 12, 2009

GCM chef's BBQ

It's later Sunday morning, had to come back and make a delivery. The McDougal family is having one of their typical big parties. got enough cake ordered for 250 people. not really sure what it's all about. They been throwin' big parties with Bennison cakes, my whole life. They used to have a party couple times a year. They always order big round cakes. Spice cake with buttercreme or devil's food filled and iced with fudge. When they would order a tiered cake cake it would be done using these flavours as well. We have a lot of loyal customers like that, as do all bakeries. I've mentioned before, I really enjoy knowing our customers and talking with them.

This coming Thursday, the 16th, ib the Chef's BBQ at the Green City Market. It is really a great party. A regular food orgy. Anyone and everyone associated with the food scene in Chicago, will be there. They put up a temporary fence around the market. They sell tickets, last I heard you can still get them on Craig's list. All the hot chef's, past and present, in Chicago, will be grilling. Your admittance entitles you to all you can eat and drink. In the past, Goose Island Brewing was there tappin' beer, and there was a wine company, don't remember who. It is a great party. We have gotten orders from many of the chefs/restaurants that will be there. I think we have orders from six or seven of them. Each have ordered sixty to sixty five dozen buns and rolls, all mini stuff. we run all our rolls thru a two pocket roll machine, no gettin' divided and shaped is no problem, but still alot of work. Biggest pain is baggin'em all. Mini hot dog buns for elk sausage, mini hard rolls for some type of french dipped sandwich, mini burger buns for another, etc. On a weekly basis, at the GCM, there are three vendors that use our buns for the sandwiched they sell at the market. Tiny Greens uses our sliced cracked wheat bread. River Valley Ranch uses our buns for their grilled portabella mushroom sandwiches. Sunday Dinner buys both buns and loaves for whatever they sell at the market. We also make the crepe batter for the crepe stand at GCM. I've heard that is something to watch. People wait a very long time on line for crepes. They use only filling items that they can get at the market that day. They are always talkin' about it on the GCM twitter site.

Last night was a social function, put on by the BBGA at Kendall College. The guild is sponsoring a two day class at Kendall college, this weekend. Peter Yuen, member of the 2008 baking team is teaching a laminated dough class. Everytime the guild holds a master class, the also hold a social party for the class and all the local members. Last night I was speaking to Michael Cox, his wife Connie is ana ttendee to the class. While she was n class Saturday, he wandered over to the GCM. He was telling me about the long lines at most of the vendors, Bennison's included. He couldn't get over the wait time for crepes.

Goes to show ya once again. The world is jones'n for high quality food.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

smells kinda vinegary

Yesterday/last night, felt good. It has been exhausting, but still, it felt great. Feels better now, everything came out nice. Croissants, brioche were beautiful, baguettes had plenty of bake. A lot of times, hot Friday night's, busy as we are, things get away from us. My guys did a great job last night. Yesterday afternoon, this place was packed, I mean packed. We have a good number of cakes today and tomorrow, more wedding cakes than I care to deal with, but, oh well.

We made some adjustments this week in our honey oatmeal bread. We kicked up the salt. Made a huge difference. Bread tastes a lot better. Here, I just realized, great example. Tuesday, I asked Jennifer how much salt was in the formula. She said "2.2 percent". We looked at the formula, and realized that the total flour and grain in the formula was 133%. I like salt to be used at 2% of flour. So we kicked it up to 2.6%. It's much easier for bakers to communicate using bakers percent.

We always bake the schnitzel, left from a big bread dough. The piece at the end that doesn't make weight, to be called a loaf. Once baked, we cut it, evaluate it, etc. We tasted the honey oat bread yesterday, was delicious. We also cut open a whole wheat sourdough. Joe walked by, picked it up, smelled it like I ask everybody to do. He said "smells kinda vinegary". Yeah Joe, it's sourdough. Had excellent flavour. We use stiff white levain, in a blend of 50/50 bread flour to whole wheat flour. We use 5% honey and we add a cracked wheat soaker.

I mentioned that we gave up on the Wilmette farmer's market. Wednesday, I got a call from one of the cheese vendors there. He asked about selling our bread. I thought it would be a great idea, he gave me an email address, and I forgot about him. I remembered Thursday morning, but couldn't find his email address. Forgot about it again. He came in the store yesterday, to see me. He explained that he was picking up bread at another bakery and selling it at the market in Wilmette. He said the bread wasn't that good, but it was all he could get. He thought since our name was already familiar to the market, it would be a good fit to sell our bread. I showed him the sheets from the last four markets, what we sent there what came back, our selling prices, etc. He took one look, pointed to the sheet from the 27th of June and said "send me that". I thought wow, sounds like a lot, maybe in a week or two, once customers of the market, know it's available there. We agreed on half, so we'll see what happens.

Gotta get upstairs, got some brioche screamin' to get in the oven.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Damn flour

I've spoke about this prefermented dough process. I will try to explain why I chose this process. Once it's understood, the entire baking cycle, what is going on chemically and structurally, it's easier to understand.

Going back, gluten is a single strand bond. It doesn't link "sideways". It only links in a chain. Ninety nine times out of a hundred, when the question is asked "what happens during the mixing stage", the reply is "you develop the gluten". I disagree. What you do is organize the protein. The next time you're in an office supply store, go to the rubberband section. There you should see a large ball of rubber bands. Notice how they are all on top of each other. That is what is going on inside a dough. Layer upon layer, of strands of gluten. Once the mixer starts and the particles find each other, they start hooking up. One runs the mixer until they are organized, woven into a mesh. If the mixer is run to much, the strands get thinner and thinner, until they start to break. This natural bond is reliant on water. Once the strands start to snap, water is released. Keep mixing and the structure will come apart, and you end up with a soupy mess. I've been taught there are three stages of mixing: short, improved and intensive. While the dough is being mixed, we grab a little chunk off the mass. We start to stretch between our fingers. we pull it to see how thin and even we can get the membrane to be. This is referred to "checking the window". At the short mix stage, the dough will have "veins" of gluten running thru it. The gluten hasn't been manipulated enough. At the improved stage, the dough will have some very fine veins, and well more than the majority of the window will be clear, smooth, nearly transparent. At the intensive stage, it will be very transparent. You will be able to see the hairs on the back of your hand.As this mesh gets woven more and more, the results out of the oven, keep becoming different.

The way you want your bread, once out of the oven, is decided between what flour goes in the mixer, how wet it gets, how long it spins, and how it is fermented. Wheat protein will get stronger and stronger, the longer it mixes. To a point. The tighter the bands are, the finer the structure will be in the finished loaf. Here is something that American bakers just don't get. The more protein in your flour, the chewier and tighter the crumb. Ninety five percent of American bakers use patent flour, upwards of fourteen percent protein. It's very hard to get nice palatable bread from that flour. It makes wonderful white pan bread and hamburger buns, but it penalizes all other products. We need to go way back. Why do so many of us use this flour? My dad did it, his dad did it. Well, going back, sliced white pan bread is what this country was built on. So, the farmer grows appropriate wheat. The miller, mills appropriate flour. The baker, bakes appropriate bread. All to produce the sliced white loaf, Americans want. I'm thinking, index finger on lips, wanted.

The country has realized that chewy, crusty loaves, with big holes, are far more flavourful and palatable than pan white bread. I can remember, as a child, my dad would get ticked when he picked up a slice of bread and it had big holes in it. A result of improper handling, when producing white pan bread. I came back from the NBC in 2000, trying to bake bread like I saw there. We were using patent flour then. I baked batch after batch, couldn't get the grain to open up. Damn flour. My dad said "our bread used to be holey as hell, now you want the holes, and can't find them".Things changed when we switched flour.

Craig Ponsford, CEO of the BBGA, said to me one time, I'll never forget. I say it over and over here, "If it comes off the mixer properly mixed, the rest is downhill. If it's not right, you'll fight it until it's out of the oven".

More tomorrow, so much more.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

what makes it worth it

We did very well yesterday at both the Aville market and the GCM. Folks turned up in spite of the rain. Last night at Aville, it sprinkled most of the evening. We were so busy, I called the bakery and they ran us over some more bread. More testimonial to the fact that the world is starving for upper quality bread products. I must stress, I'm not boasting here, I'm stating facts.

Being there, working the market is very enjoyable. It's difficult for me to attend the daytime markets. I can make it to the one on Wednesday evenings. Last night was our third week there. We keep increasing the amount of product we offer. Gonna kick it up again next week. Rumor is, soon, on a Wednesday early evening, the sun might even be out. I'm gonna have to see it to believe it. I've begun to recognize people that are there every week. For some of them, I've begun to memorize their preferences. Coolest one of all is a French woman, who I converse with in French. She orders macaroons from week to week. For next week, she wants eighteen. Six each, of three flavours. We don't offer them for sale there, but she saw them on our website. Aside from the macaroons, she buys two or three loaves of bread. Creating those relationships with our customers is absolutely the most rewarding part of this business. There are customers who come in our store seven days a week. I know them by name. I like speaking to customers. If they prove to me that they are the least bit passionate about bread baking, I'll show them our bakeshop.

I mentioned Carla Hess, a few postings back. She is a graduate from The French pastry School, here in Chicago. Was here for two years. Spent most of her time here making croissants. She produced over the top croissants. She posted a comment about producing flavourful breads without the trouble of keeping a sourdough culture. I kinda touched on it yesterday. I mentioned taking an old piece of yeasted dough, that has been in the refrigerator for a few days. That is kinda what we do, only using a controlled plan. This process would be known as using a yeasted starter. They can be put together in many different configurations. Salted or not, stiff or liquid. I suppose on the first day, way back, we made a straight forward baguette dough. Maybe in the morning, let's say 6am. We used(percentage now, not pounds) 100 flour, 65 water, 2 salt & 1.5 yeast. We ran it five minutes in low speed. We cut it out of the mixer and placed it in a Rubbermaid barrel on wheels. We allowed it to set at room temperature for one hour. By 8am it was pushed into the fridge, and it was in there when the nighttime production crew started. This dough was allowed to ferment for twelve or fourteen hours. The yeast had plenty of time to do it's thing. It created a lot of aromas and alcohol. When it is uncovered, and one inhales thru your nose, you'll get a slight burning feeling in your nose. That is caused by the alcohol created during the fermentation. When you feel this mass of dough, it will feel much more "rubbery". What happens is the acidity created during fermentation has had it's positive effect on the gluten. This process is called the "prefermented dough process". At night when the final dough is mixed, we use 100 flour, 65 water, 2 salt, 1 yeast, .2 malt & 40 prefermented dough, from now on PFD. This is all mixed together, allowed to ferment and divided, shaped and baked. With one exception, the baker would hold back a big chunk of it and put it in that barrel, back in the fridge, until the next day.

That's pretty much it. The big question, what if you don't have enough PFD to make the next batch of bread? This is where the artisan process get tricky. As the bakers leave to go home, regardless of their shift, they need to make sure there is enough PFD for the next guy. Another issue is, how long can you use this PFD, until it gets over fermented. We need to use it up within thirty six hours. Never an issue here, we are constantly making it.

Alot of effort, yes, but I remember that French woman, her words make it all worth it. She said "vôtre est la première boulangerie i' , le VE a trouvé ici aux Etats-Unis, celui fait des produits comme nous avons la maison arrière, merci. Vous me rendez moins nostalgique".

Next week, I'm gonna get her name.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

a little about how it works

For all practical purposes there is only one yeast, saccharomyces cerevisiae. Meaning "sugar loving mold".If you notice the second word is very close to the spanish word "cerveza", which means beer. Wether one bakes with compressed, dry or instant yeast, its all the same yeast. Again, in God's wisdom, he created yeast complete with it's own enzymatic powers to breakdown compounds into it's own digestive process. This is an enzymatic transformation. The benefits we bakers realize is alcohol, acidity and carbon dioxide. Alcohol is responsible for the aromas and flavour. The acidity is a component in creating gluten strength. And the carbon dioxide is what causes the dough to rise. Bakers yeast, has millions upon millions of yeast cells. It is a lump of highly concentrated yeast cells. The dry stuff, is the same, except it has been dehydrated. Once hydrated in the mixer, it becomes the same stuff. Old bakers will tell you "it's not the same". Fortunately, I'm a few years away from being able to share in that belief.

Sourdough yeast, is the same yeast. It is a different species. The biggest difference is it's metabolism. Sourdough yeast relies on bacteria to transform compounds into digestible form. The concentration of yeast cells is not nearly as high as baker's yeast. The wild yeast spores are in the air, and the bacteria is everywhere. When you build a sourdough starter from the beginning, you blend flour and water, allow it to sit. Take a small piece of that, add more flour and water, repeat and repeat, and you continually build up the concentration of yeast cells until it is strong enough to leaven a bread dough.

In the proper environment, sourdough yeast cells will multiply quickly. I'm not sure of the ratio, but the bacteria breeds as well. Yesterday I mentioned keeping the levain in balance. That means keeping the proper ratio of yeast cells to bacteria. This is done by controlling time and temperature. I mentioned that we keep our levain, I think from now on we will call it "culture", at night in a 55' fridge. Between 50 and 60f, the ratio of yeast to bacteria grows at a very balanced ratio. If the culture is held to warm, the yeast cells take over. The concentration of bacteria goes down, and more acetic acid is created. The culture becomes very active, will leaven bread just fine, but it won't yield much flavour or aromas. If the culture is kept to cold, bacteria will multiply to fast, it won't take over, but over time it will create more lactic acid than acetic. It will bake bread with very sharp acid tones. It also will become very active when warmed up, but again not much flavour. If you ever saw the movie "Karate Kid", Mr. Miagi said it best, "must have balance".

When baking with traditional yeast, either compressed or instant, there is a second distinguishable difference. When one adds this yeast to a dough, it immediately takes off, multiplying like crazy. This fertilization continues until the acids created, lower the ph of the dough to a certain point. Not sure what that number is. But it's not very low. Sourdough holds under 5, on a ph scale. I'm thinking traditional yeast will start shutting down as it approaches 6. If you've ever seen a piece of old dough, three, four days old, under refrigeration, it appears dead. It stopped moving. It is very much alive. The yeast in there has been fed well. Add a small piece of that to some flour and water, and it will take off again, because the fresh flour has diluted the ph. It has climbed up towards 7. The ph will drop fast as the dough sits. The yeast in that old dough has been pent up, it's aching to get going.

Enough for today. Carla, I saw your comments. I'll address them tomorrow.

Irish soda bread. It is popular because the Roman Empire never conquered Ireland. The Roman army traveled with their own bakers, and they baked the bread with sourdough yeast. There wasn't any other choice back then. The Romans never spread their technique thru northern Europe.

Now you know.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

it's not something you make, it's a lifestyle

It turns out, the weekend was very good for business. Not sure you noticed, but the rain held off, on the fourth, until we had returned from the farmer's markets. We sold out at GCM by 11am. We had a few communication problems Friday, that caused us to be short product. The Evanston market did equally well. As I said we pulled out of the Wilmette market. The store did well. We had a hard time predicting what we needed. I added a five or six dozen extra donuts and forty baguettes, and that's just about what we had left. Go figure. Ya never know when to leave well enough alone. Sold lots of cakes on Saturday. I never thought of this holiday as a "cake" holiday, could've been the cooler weather?

Yesterday, I put up the market numbers for tomorrow's markets. We always rotate two breads. Tomorrow we are doing white sourdough for both markets. We will do Olive sourdough for the Andersonville market, and honey oatmeal for the GCM. I spoke to Filemon, our resident sourdough guru, about fermenting the loaves longer. I think we got a little lapse, and instead of proofing our sourdough loaves, ten to twelve hours, in the fridge, they have been proofing two or three hours at room temp. There are two major issues, flavour and aesthetics. In that short of time period, the flavour doesn't get nearly as strong. The crust doesn't develop nearly as nice blisters either. The problem with baking sourdough, in the states is, if it isn't sour enough to make your mouth dry, people are disappointed. Most Americans believe that the stuff at the grocery store is what real sourdough should taste like. It prefer it have a very subtle sour flavour, but I am the minority.

Sourdough isn't something you make, it's a lifestyle. I think the terminology is what's confusing. The first thing to know about sourdough, is, if you got the mojo working, keep doing what you are doing. The real key to sourdough is the temperature that the starter is held at. It's a very simple process, flour and water. At 6am, twelve ounces of "chef" is mixed with one pound of flour and eight ounces of water. That is a ratio of 100% flour, 75% chef and 50% water. We refer to this as "stiff levain". This is mixed to a stiff dough. It is held at room temperature until 2pm. At 2pm, the same step is repeated. What you should realize is, that at 6am the formula yields 36 ounces of mass. At 2pm, we only need 12 ounces of it for the "refresh". The balance gets discarded, or tossed into another random bread dough. That little bit, 24 ounces won't have any effect on a sixty pound batch of rye bread, or an eighty pound batch of donut dough. Once the "levain" has been refreshed, it is held in a cooler that we hold at 55'f. We have a little fridge in the basement that has a special set of controls that is set at 55'f. This is a very broad overview of the "feeding process". What happens in production is, instead of discarding that 24 ounces in the afternoon, we alter the size of the batch. So instead of creating 36 ounces of yield, we would create 36 pounds. Or thanks to technology, we use a computer to calculate how much levain we will need the next day, and write a formula for that size batch. Most important, ALWAYS ALLOW FOR A FEW OUNCES EXTRA FOR THE NEXT FEEDING!!

the part that nobody likes to hear, this needs to be done everyday. Dairy cows must be milked, taxes must be paid, never miss a White Sox season opener, never go a day without feeding the levain. Now I know there are people, mainly home bakers, that let there levain sit a week at at time without feeding it. They keep it in the fridge at 38'f. It gets out of balance. It will still work, but the results are different. The levain is like a child. It must be fed or it gets cranky. It won't behave as you would like. Maybe you've heard it as a child yourself "misbehave, and you'll go to bed without supper". That would be considered a punshment, why punish your levain?

The subject of sourdough is something that can be blogged about for weeks. I'll do my best to clear up any confusion about the terminology. A trivia question for tomorrow, Why do they make "Irish Soda bread", why not Norwegian or Polish?

Monday, July 6, 2009

the way things used to be

I didn't get a chance to write yesterday, sorry, but I did a lot of thinkin'. I mentioned that we used to figure our batch sizes, based on how many quarts of water. When I started in 1975, I would start at 10pm. I've always liked working nights. I don't do it much anymore. However, I MUST start my day in the dark. I wouldn't feel like a baker if I didn't. I would arrive at the bakery, and the night crew would be well into it. We had two stores then, plus we baked all the bread and buns for Hackney's restaurants. They had three locations then. We did all of our production tabulations by hand. We had a long, awkward shaped, printed sheet, that listed all of our products. We had a magnet that would hold the production tally sheet, on the fridge door, I can still see written, how many quarts of each dough we would need to make. Twelve quarts of white bread was written as "12qts white". It would also say "8qts wh wh", for 8 quarts whole wheat. It's easy for a baker to figure, if you know all of the dough's, on a per quart basis. I can still remember white bread, 3 ounces each sugar, milk powder, shortening, 2 ounces yeast, 1 1/2 ounces salt, 3 1/2 pounds of flour. I can still remember the others as well.

For the Hackney dark rye, we did it different. We always made the same size batch. We started with a gallon of caramel colour, we would use eight gallons of water, but they were gallons just as full as you could get them. Probably equated to fourth two quarts or so. We added twenty one pounds of rye flour, three pounds of sugar, three pounds of shortening, two pounds of salt and two pounds of yeast. We would add a hundred pound bag of wheat flour, plus four heaping scoops. Maybe another twenty pounds. We used an upright mixer with a hundred and forty quart bowl. It was on wheels and we would roll it to the sink to draw the water. There was a pallet of hundred pound bags adjacent to the sink, and we would lay a sack of flour across the bowl and roll it over to the mixer. Once, I remember pushing the bowl away from the sink. I had everything in there except the wheat flour. Real soupy stuff. The rye flour made it the consistency of thin gravy. The caramel colour, made it black as oil, the stuff that Jed Clampett discovered. The whole thing tipped over. You never saw such a mess. It was running everywhere. Evan ran out the back door onto the sidewalk and down the basement steps. I can still see a hundred pound bag of flour sitting in a large oil slick, with a three pound lump of shortening next to it.

This whole figuring dough's per quart of water went on until I discovered the BBGA and The National Baking Centre. There, I learned about bakers percentage. Didier explained, "this is the way the French do it", and "it's the only way to produce a consistent product". I learned that one of the goals of the BBGA was and is, to create a language that is more universal to bakers. Three percent of the flour, based on weight, is very constant, worldwide. When I'm teaching, I explain the importance of baker's percentage. I'll have two or three students draw a quart of water, and weigh them. One will weigh 33.5 ounces, the next 31.6, etc. If you weigh all the ingredients, and everything is based on a percentage of flour, you do stand a better chance of being more consistent. When comparing notes, or if you have a problem, and you are discussing it with another baker, it's much easier to discuss formulas, based in bakers percent.

I will say that my first trip to Paris, I was stoked. It was in 2002. I went to see the Coupe. Not sure if I explained this, but the competition is set up inside an international baking exposition, called Europain. During every Europain, the guild sets up bakery visits. Maybe 8 bakeries each day. You go on your own, with an assigned group. You all meet at a specific bakery. Kinda like a shotgun start on a golf course. Maybe ten per group. Group A, will start at bakery A, and go to B,C,D, etc. Group B will start at Bakery B, go to C,D,E and so on. You travel thru Paris from bakery to bakery via the metro. Patti and I met with our group at our specified bakery. One of the folks in our group was a home baker from Seattle, Neale Creamer. Neale had a Parisian friend, not a baker, but he spoke English, so we had him as our translator. About the fifth or sixth stop on our tour, we went into the store to announce our arrival. The baker came out and explained that he couldn't take all ten of us at once, we had to go in groups of three. That's how small his place was. He didn't have to walk far for anything. We saw his place and at the end, he came out to wish us farewell. He didn't speak any English. One in the group asked him about his baguette formula. Thru our translator he started, "for every liter of water we use 30 grams of salt, 30 grams of yeast, etc". I was crushed.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

happy fourth of july

We opened today at 8am. We'll be closing at 3pm. we are off to a brisk pace, certainly no typical Saturday, but we expected that. Probably should have opened at seven, but, hey. The farmer's amrket appear to be busy. I've called each of them once, and didn't get an answer. That's a good thing. Kinda funny, I call them and I'm more content when they don't answer.

We're making fresh blueberry coffee cakes this weekend. That's another funny one. Does that mean that all our other blueberry coffee cakes aren't fresh? Does it mean that the only fresh coffee cake we offer is blueberry? No, we are using fresh blueberries. We only make blueberry coffee cake this time of year. We use Chciago sweet dough. Now there's a topic, more later. We roll it out a twelve ounce piece, makes a nine by fourteen rectangle. Brush it with melted butter. We use a half pint of blueberries, sprinkle them all over. We then sprinkle vanilla sugar and toasted cake crumbs. We roll it up and cut the roll into fourteen pieces. We stand them, cut side up, in an eight inch cake form. We proof them, cover liberally with streussel, and bake. Out of the oven we unmold them and drizzle them with warmed fondant. It is really a nice coffee cake. loads of blueberries. They kinda come apart in the oven, but the cake crumbs absorb all the juice and flavour. In the fall we make it with apples.

Back to that Chicago sweet dough. Also known as straight dough, pound, pound, pound dough or a one pound dough. What it means is amount of sugar, fat and eggs for every quart of liquid. So it means 1 pound sugar, 1 pound eggs and 1 pound shortening(we use half butter), for every quart of liquid. In the bakery, we used to talk in quarts. For instance, "we need six quarts of white bread, 4 quarts of rye", etc. So if we need a gallon of sweet dough(four quarts), the recipe would be four pounds of each. All the other ingredients are weighed at a precise ratio. For every quart of liquid we use 5 pounds of flour, four ounces of yeast, one ounce of salt,oh, for sweet dough we use liquid milk. Some bakeries use a twelve ounce dough or a fourteen ounce dough. A one pound dough is about as rich as I'm comfortable making. Aone pound dough turns out to be twenty perent of each of the three ingredients, sugar, fats and eggs. One pound per every five pounds of flour. One to five equates to twenty percent.

I refer to it as "Chicago" sweet dough because as I've traveled and teach, I explain to people how we do things in our bakery. They often ask "Is that how all the bakeries in Chicago do it?". We use this dough for a lot of products. Cinnamon Rolls, Bienenstich, Parkerhouse rolls and open face coffee cakes. In St Louis they call it "stollen dough". On the west coast the call it "Rich sweet dough".

Don't bother to ask at the grocery store bakery counter what they use. I'm sure they will tell you, "I don't know, it all comes in frozen".

Have a good holiday.

Friday, July 3, 2009

I talked it up

It's ironic, the other day I was speaking about lower protein in the flour and how I don't see so many scorched baked goods, well guess what? Yesterday, twenty sheet pans of eclairs, in the bin. It wasn't that they got forgotten in the oven, the guy who loaded the oven, didn't pull the dampers. We bake them in our deck oven. The oven decks are so well sealed, no moisture can escape during baking. Anything that spends time in any oven will give off moisture. The percentage of weight loss during baking, is relative to surface area. Baguettes, lose seventeen or eighteen percent moisture in the oven, because they are all surface. Eclairs as well, turn into all surface during the bake, because of the oven spring the have. It's very cool to watch them bake. They go in the oven, and begin omitting steam immediately. The moisture than remians in the oven chamber keeps the surface of the eclair, very moist. You can see the layer of moisture. This allows for abnormal expansion, during the bake. Problem is two fold. First the moisture contained in the oven makes for extra large eclairs, sidewalls get extra thin, and weaker. The pressure from excess steam, will cause them to collapse, right before your eyes. A couple posts ago I mentioned the Maillard reaction. Well the excess moisture, combined with the protein from the flour and the eggs, causes the eclairs to get very dark. When you bake eclairs, they need to bake until they dry out some, in the center. Yesterday, since they were baking in a sauna, they never dried out. The guys left them in longer than necessary, trying to dry them out. They look like something you could grind up and use for mulch.

If you pull(open) the dampers before the eclairs go in the oven, the steam will never build up in the chamber.

Just goes to show ya, not everyday can be a good day.

I gotta tell ya, one of the coolest sights that has never gotten old, watchin' a load of ciabatta bake, in our deck oven. Our ciabatta is a very wet dough. Around seventy five percent water. It really expels water during the bake. When it's about sixty percent baked, the oven deck can hold the moisture back. Steam comes pouring out around the oven doors. Coolest thing you ever seen. All my French baker friends gave me grief for buying an Italian oven. It's been nine years, they still ask me about my "Italian oven", chuckling. Most even oven I've ever baked in. I've baked on both sides of the water, never seen another one like it.

We will be open tomorrow, Sunday hours, eight to three. Two farmer's markets, and most cafes/restaurants we bake for, will be open. Besides, in order for us to be open on Sunday, we need to work on Saturday. Damn, this artisan process. If only we could open a box of frozen dough. If only.....

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Camillo is back

Our night man, Camillo returned last night. Things have returned, to what we consider, normal. Still had my usual tiramisu torte for a 6am pick up. Folks outside the bakery business wouldn't understand that. For those of you that don't know, here is what we face, routinely. Bakers leave at 3pm. Afternoon counter help comes in at 4pm, after school. Before the bakers leave, we/they put together a list of what they need to do the next day. The list always contains three classifications. The things we must do, the things we should do, and the things we'd like to do. It is always more than can be done in a day. It's kinda like a huddle in a football game. So, the afternoon store manager gets tied up on the phone with a mother who's child will grow up to be an axe murderer, if he doesn't have pirate themed cup cakes, to match her tablecloth, on his second birthday. In the meantime, second in charge, goes in the back to write on a cake, for some husband that forgot his anniversary, and it happens. Some lady customer gets ahold of the least experienced person on staff. We have gone to a computerized order system. Works great. I'm not very good with it, but I'm of the wrong generation. But it allows a fifteen year old, to commit us to things that weren't on the bakers list, when they left.

Consequently, we committed to a nine inch tiramisu torte for 6am. When the bakers left yesterday, nobody knew about it. The store staff left me a voicemail, so I knew about it. Since I was the only one who knew, I came in to get it ready. Every time I look at the employee phone list, there is never a name below mine.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Granny's funeral cake

About an hour ago, or so, I put up a message on twitter that granny's funeral cake is now available, in our store. I thought about it, and I should explain where the name came from.

To make our funeral cake we use a pound cake type cake, made with alot of butter and sour creme. We also make a cinnamon streussel. We grease a ring mold and sprinkle some cinnamon streussel in the bottom of the mold. We deposit some of the cake batter into the pan. We cover the batter with a generous amount of the same cinnamon streussel. We add another layer of cake batter, and top it with a little more streussel. Off to the oven they go. Once out of the oven, they are finished. Place them on a gold board, and a piece of Bennison's printed tissue in the middle. We rush them to the store so the buttery cinnamon aroma fills the store.

In June of 2006,we hired Carla Hess, a graduate from the French Pastry school, in Chicago. After a week or two, we asked her to put together, what was then called "granny's crumble ring". I went thru the necessary step by step instructions. Carla went on to make the ring cakes. Once out of the oven she explained that her mother made the very same cake. She went on to explain that her father called it funeral cake, because every time he came home from work, and saw that cake on the counter, he knew he was going to a funeral.