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.


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