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Little Tricks

It ain't who you know, it's what you know... or something like that.

Before we get into the main article, a quick attempt to drum up sales and pay the rent.  We're coming up on our last class of the year.  On November 10th, we're having a class on Montreal Bagels.  These are great bagels, and once you have them you'll understand the long standing rivalry between Montreal and New York city over which has the best bagels.  One of the great things about these bagels is they are so FAST!  If you get up a bit early, you can serve them for brunch.  C'mon by and let us lure you over to the dark side of bageldom!

Eli is an Internet friend who owns (r) evoloution bakery in Petaluma California and who is half crazy, but I repeat myself.  (You have to be AT LEAST half crazy to open a bakery.  Trust me on this.  I used to own a bakery, so I know.)  I've wanted to meet Eli face to face and hang out with Eli for some time, and this trip offered me a chance to do so!

If you ever get a chance to hang out at a bakery, do so.  You'll learn things so fast it will just amaze you.  "WOW!  I didn't know I could do that!"  However, you'll also see some things you could help them with.  If you see those, be diplomatic.

The first thing I saw was the way Eli handled water.  Water is a very important ingredient in baking.  In Germany they talk about the percentage of water in a bread and call it "dough yield," with the understanding what they are talking about is profit margin.  More water means less cost.  But, that's a different discussion.  Dough develops best at a certain temperature.  Most of the books I've read suggest it's 78F/25.5C.  The easiest way to get your dough temperature where you want it is to adjust your water temperature.  Bakers use the Rule of 240 to calculate the needed water temperature and since we talk about it at sourdoughhome, I won't repeat that discussion here.

The point I'm getting to is the baker needs to get water to the right temperature.  The easy way, the high tech way, is to get a self regulating faucet.  Set it to your desired temperature and Bob's your uncle.  Of course, there has to exist a combination of your hot and cold water that can blend to get to the right temperature.  Here's an inexpensive one, of course you have to plumb yet another faucet.

I typically just don't get that excited about temperature and I know I should.  My breads would be more consistent if I did.

Eli has an answer.  Eli has many answers.  He fills what looked like a 5 gallon bucket with water at what he calculated to be the correct temperature.  He used some of that water to make his first batch of dough.  He checked the dough temperature after the mix, and then adjusted the water temperature in the bucket as needed by adding hot or cold water.  And then he's good for a number of mixes.  I like simple answers, even if they are sometimes a small hassle.

Maybe it's too many years as a computer nerd, but at times I have too binary a thought process.  I'm either going to develop my dough in the mixer or by hand.  For small batches, I'll knead by hand, for larger batches I'll stretch and fold.  Eli was baking enough that neither approach really worked for him.  So, he looked for a better ways.  He borrowed a 20 quart mixer and found that was too small for him, so he now has a 30 quart Hobart all his own.  I had one of those, and they are ancient reliable, rugged beasts.

His whole process is really elegant, more elegant than what I did in my farmers market bakery days.  The day before the mix, he measures all his dry ingredients into bus tubs, puts lids on them and labels them with masking tape to indicate which bread this is as well as how much water and starter the batch needs.

On the day of the mixing, he measures water and starter, puts it into the mixer, and then adds the dry ingredients.  He sprays the bus tub with some oil as the mixer lightly mixes the ingredients.  Just an initial rough mix.  He usually holds back some water and adds it if the dough needs it.  He wants all the flour wet, and all the dough clearing the sides of the mixer.

He doesn't develop his dough in the mixer.  The first stage of a stretch and fold process is to just combine the ingredients.  And that's all he does in the mixer.  After that, the dough goes back into the oiled bus tub where it waits for its folds.

You can stack bus tubs with lids at least 6 high, so he doesn't need separate racks to hold the bus tubs.  Any table - or even floor - space will do.

In my stretch and fold for a farmers market instructions, I use 5 gallon buckets and bus tubs, I like the idea of not having the buckets!  Also, I dump the dough onto a work surface, stretch it and fold it.  He does something easier.  He wets his hands, slides them under the dough and lifts it.  He folds the drooping dough under the dough he's holding and drops it back into the bus tub.  He repeats that 2 more times, turns the tub 90 degrees and repeats the three folds.  No real separate stretches, just folds.  This works in part because Eli's doughs are wetter than mine were.  My doughs are getting wetter with every bake!

Eli and Guy both use the same loafing technique - a 8 to 10 inch stainless steel taping knife from your friendly local hardware store.  They use it to slowly push the dough in the direction where they want it.  Then they pull it away from the dough very quickly so the dough won't have time to follow the taping knife.  A bit of flour on the blade helps with the release.

It was a good trip - next time I want to hit a few more cool restaurants!  The Bay Area is an amazing place to graze!

Until next time, may your dough always rise, no matter how many buckets its been in!
-Mike

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