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.


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