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2018-06-12 Summertime and the Bakin' Is Easy!

Baking in the summer - AND a contest!

It's summer above the equator.  And the higher heats that come with that present baking challenges to us.  The easy answer is to use air conditioning to control the temperature.  However, that's not an option all of us have.  If you're running a commercial bakery it may not be practical to air condition a room with large ovens in it.

Many bakeries have separate rooms for dough production, loafing, rising, and baking.  All but the baking rooms can be air conditioned at a reasonable price.  If your ovens are well vented, the bake room can also be air conditioned.

Still, how do you cope with higher temperatures?

The first step is to keep dough temperatures under control.  Bakers have found that dough develops best around 78F. If the dough is too cold, it will rise too slowly. If the dough is too hot, it will rise too quickly which can result in not enough flavor development, and sometime off-tastes being created by yeast that are out of their preferred temperature range.

Bakers have also found that the only really effective control they have over temperature is through water. It's easy for most of us to use hotter or colder water as needed.

To make a dough the right temperature, subtract the room temperature and flour temperature (in Fahrenheit) from 240.

If you want to get even more precise, subtract how much your dough temperature will rise in kneading from that. When you knead dough, the friction of the flour grains will cause the dough temperature to rise. Some mixers heat up the dough more than others, and whole grain flours heat the dough more than refined flours, so it is a good idea to check each recipe.

Determining how much the dough will heat up in kneading is very simple. Take the dough's temperature when it just comes together, and then again when you are done kneading it. The difference is how much the dough heated up. The first time, just use 5 degrees.

A quick example. Your room temperature is 90 degrees, your flour temperature is also 90 degrees (more often than not, the flour and room will be at the same temperature). You have found that your kneading heats the dough by 10 degrees. So, you calculate 240-90-90-10, which is 50. You should use 50-degree water to get the desired dough temperature.

What about our friends who use Celsius or Centigrade? Your ideal dough temperature should be about 25C. The rule for Celsius would be 80. Subtract your flour and room temperatures, along with the temperature rise from 80.  In the example above we used a room temperature of 90F, or 32C, and a dough temperature rise of 10F or 5.5C.  Your water temperature should be 10-32-32-5.5, or 10.5C.

There are two last wrinkles to the rule of 240 (or 80). In extreme weather the formula may call on you to use water that is too hot (more than 100F, or 38C), or water that is too cold (less than 40F or 4C) for the health of the yeast. The goal in this case is to protect the yeast from direct contact with the hot, or cold, water. I put the water into my mixing bowl, put the flour on top of that, then add the yeast and mix it into the flour. This will protect the yeast from the extreme water temperature, as the water temperature will change as soon as it mixes with the flour.  In extreme cases, we've used ice water with the ice still in it.  For some people, it may make sense to keep the flour in a cooled or warmed area to allow more reasonable water temperatures.

The last wrinkle is that when you are using sourdough or other preferments the rule of 240 becomes the rule of 330. Take the temperature of the sourdough or other preferment as well as the temperature of the flour, water and room. Subtract all from 330, rather than 240. If you are using Celsius, this becomes the rule of 112.

Getting the dough temperature right is the first step.  And if your bakery is at a reasonable temperature, that may be all you need to do.  However, if you use very long rises and your bakery temperature is not reasonable, you may need to take further steps.  For the colder months, we created a proofer room in our bakery.  It was the size of a large walk in closet and we heated it with a small radiator style space heater and a humidifier.  In the end, we found the humidifier kept the room at the temperature we needed and we wheeled the space heater away.

Now that we have shut down the bakery, we use our laundry room as a proofer.  The laundry room is attached to our garage and gets quite cold in the winter, so we still use the space heater to warm the proofer.  If we were making lots and lots of bread, we could use a spare bedroom as our proofer.

Cooling in the summer, which is where this discussion started, is a bit more difficult.  When we were running a commercial bakery, we had a walk-in cooler and rolled carts of rising loaves of bread and pastries into it.  We kept the walk-in around 48F(8.9C) to 55F(12.7C).  The big problem facing a home baker is that a refrigerator is really too cold to raise dough in at around 34F(1C).  You can work around this by using more riser or raising the temperature of the refrigerator.  Using more yeast or sourdough works, but you'll have to play with the formula some more if you decide not to use the refrigerator in the future.  Raising the temperature of the refrigerator is also problematical.  48 to 55F are not safe food storage temperatures.  We are using those temperatures as a processing temperature and it is safe for the dough.  However, for the steak in the meat keeper, or the milk on the top shelf, not so much.

My usual suggestion is to get a used upright freezer, available inexpensively from Craigslist, and to control it with an external thermostat, available from a brewing supply house.  You want a freezer rather than a refrigerator because a freezer has only one compartment so there is more usable space, and you want an upright freezer because it has shelves which can hold loaves, as opposed to a chest freezer which just has a large amount of hard to use space.

Letting the dough rise at lower temperatures is called retarding the dough, and I cover it at some length on a page entitled, "Retarding Dough For Flavor Enhancement and Process Control".

Last week I encouraged people to share stories of the worst baking mishaps they'd had.  I'd like to hear some more stories!  Bribery, no, a contest, might motivate people to share stories!  Let's have four prizes -

Grand Prize - all four of our eCookBooks, including the as yet unreleased book on whole grain baking!

First Prize - all three of our released eCookBooks

Second Prize - your choice of two of our released eCookBooks

Third Prize - your choice of any of our released eCookBooks

If you haven't seen our eCookBooks, we sell them through Mike's Bread Shoppe.   If you buy our cookbooks and win the contest, we'll refund your purchase.

So, you want to have a home bakery - the wrap-up – after sharing the early parts of this with the list I did get a few questions.  OK, the same question, several times.  And it was, “Good heavens, when did you sleep?”  And the answer is, whenever I could.  There was about 45 minutes between mixing a fresh batch of dough and the next stretch and fold, and there was often 20 minutes between putting bread in the oven and the time when it needed to be rotated or pulled out of the oven.  In short, you learn to cat-nap.  And while not the best arrangement, it does work.  We did two market days back to back.  I went to the second market with my wife Beth and her best friend, Ethel, on Sunday.  The market was about 35 miles from the bakery, so, for safety’s sake, I let Beth drive and napped on the way there.

Once there, I helped set up, and then went to the nearby health food store.  They ordered the organic flours and many other ingredients for us, and on Sundays I picked up our order and placed our next order.  As discussed before, health food stores are happy to place bulk orders.  They usually discount them, and don’t charge shipping.  This is because the more the store orders, the better the prices they get from their vendors.  By ordering from them, you are reducing their costs.  And their vendors don’t charge them for shipping. so they don't charge their customers for shipping.

Once my car was loaded, I went off to get breakfast for Beth and Ethel.  And then I fell asleep in the back of the popup unless my subconscious heard trigger words like, “Is he the baker?”  I could wake up and be semi-aware pretty quickly.

Until next time, may your bread always rise, no matter what the temperature is in your kitchen!

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