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How Do I Fit Baking Into My Schedule?
A More Hands-on overview of fitting baking into your busy schedule

Any number of times I mention that you can adjust your baking schedule to conform to your work schedule, or other facets of your life. It IS easier if you work at home or are retired. I hadn't realized HOW very lucky I was to do that until I got a "real job". However, until now the details of scheduling bread making haven't really been pulled together into one place on this site.

If you are looking for exact instructions, you are about to be disappointed. This site is about giving you access to tools you can use to make the bread you want, when you want to. Since your flour, water, and kitchen are different from mine, to say nothing of your needs, I can't give you exact instructions. You'll have to figure out how to use the tools to make the bread you want to make.

Before we go any further down this particular rabbit hole, you might consider if this is really necessary? Or, put another way, why you so concerned about fresh bread that you have to have fresh bread in the middle of the week? When French bakers bake Miches, they are making a bread that will feed a family for a week. French people talk about which day they prefer the taste of the bread. Many prefer it the third day after baking. Some prefer it even older. The sourdough breads we make should develop in complexity for a good while after they are baked. Further, when we ran the bakery, we found our sourdough breads could last about 3 weeks before molding. So, really, maybe you're more worried about the fresh thing and baking in the middle of the week more than you really need to be. Or, maybe you could bake extra on the weekends and then freeze some? Bread freezes and, more importantly, thaws well.

OK, maybe you really need to extend rises and schedule your baking. Many home bakers have a hectic schedule all week long, work all during the week with all the things they didn't get done during the week coming home to roost on the weekend. Many commercial bakers want to rearrange their baking schedule so they can maximize their sleep and minimize the amount of time they and their staff put into the bread. Controlling your process helps you plan your days, and let you bake when you want to. And, even better, many of the techniques we will talk about actually improve the taste of your bread, so let's get started!

First a quick suggestion. You might try working out your timing on a day off. That way if your dough is ready two hours early, you'll be there to bake it when it is ready to be baked. Then you can adjust your process and try again on your next day off. If you can't do this on a day off, you will risk having some bread that won't be right, and you'll lose the timing information you could have gotten if you had been home. For instance, did the dough reach it's peak at 2:00 PM? Or 5:00 PM? How much you adjust your process to get to a 7:00 PM full rise depends on that information. You can guess, but having many bad loaves in a row is disheartening for any baker, especially for a beginner.

This discussion will focus on long rises, on delaying dough readiness. In general, haste is the enemy of good bread. A number of bread machines have settings for one hour bread. And the results are uniformly bland. Mass market bread is made in about an hour. And it is pretty bland also. So, the focus here is to delay the rise until a time when you are ready to bake the bread. You can turn these techniques on their heads to get a one or two hour bread, but I don't think you'd like the results.

Many life coaches tell you to start with the end in mind. And, despite not really being a fan of life coaches, I have to admit that's good advice. Our scenario - imagine you are a home baker who works outside their home the usual 8 to 5 time frame, who ;eaves home around 7:00 AM and gets home around 6:00 PM. It takes your oven about an hour to warm up because of the quarry tiles you put in it. So, you want your bread ready to bake about 7:00 PM. While the oven is warming, there is time to prepare and enjoy dinner.

To restate this - your goal in this mental exercise is to work toward being home at 6:00, firing up the oven and having the dough ready to bake at 7:00. You can adjust this to meet your needs.

The main tools you have to control the rise time of your dough are the amount of riser, the temperature of the dough and the rising area, the density of the dough and altering the bread making process. Another tool of the trade is common sense. If a bread usually rises in an hour, it's not a good candidate for a long term rise, you're just fighting the process. If a bread usually takes 4 or more hours, then the formula is already doing a lot of the work for you. Our 100% whole wheat bread is an extreme example of this. We found we didn't need to retard it, we just let it rise overnight at whatever ambient temperature the bakery was experiencing. The same was true of our sourdough cinnamon raisin bread. Your mileage may vary.

You can control the amount of riser over a very wide range. Less riser will lead to a slower rise, more riser will lead to a faster rise. However, if you use too much riser, your dough can over-rise and self-destruct. In general, the longer the rise the better the bread will taste. However, longer rises do tend to increase the "sour" in sourdough, which may not be desirable depending on the bread you are making and your taste. In the "Introduction to Sourdough" cookbook I sell at Mike's Bread Shoppe, I offer three variations on a sourdough bread where the recipes are the same except for the amount of starter in them. One recipe has a lot of starter, another not so much, and the third very little. Typical rise times range from an hour for the first, to four hours for the second and as much as 16 hours for the third. Which loaf you prefer is another matter. There's not a good or bad here, more of a chocolate versus strawberry versus vanilla thing. The fastest rising loaf is very mild in flavor, where the slowest is very sour, and the other is in between.

I'd suggest keeping the amount of starter between 10 and 40% as a baker's percentage. And, of course, I'd suggest using an active starter. If you are making a yeast bread, you can adjust the amount of yeast in the dough. The "use a packet per loaf" meme is just a starting point. Using the techniques covered in the "Mastering Flavorful Breads" cookbook I sell in the Bread Shoppe, you can make about 20 loaves of bread with the yeast in a single packet. Using dry yeasts, you should be able to use between .2% and 1.5% bakers percentage with no problem.

Next, there is temperature. While dough really likes to be about 78F/25C, lowering the temperature will extend the rise time and raising it will shorten the rise time. However, if you raise the temperature much above 95F/35C, you risk off tastes in the bread. Above 110F/43C or so and you risk killing the riser.

We used to make pizza dough for a pizza joint in our area. We'd put 2 1/2 gallons of unrisen dough into a 5 gallon bucket and then hustle to get it to the pizza joint before it overflowed the bucket. In the summer, that meant we mixed the dough with ice water. If you use very cold water, you should mix your riser with your flour and then add the water. The flour will act as a thermal shock absorber - no riser really likes extreme temperature changes.

Next there is the proofing area temperature. We talk about that a lot in the page about retarding dough.  It's a good, if somewhat long, read. You can reduce or elevate the rising temperature for any rise of the dough. The rises don't have to be at the same temperature. We typically did the first rise at room temperature and reduced the temperature on the second rise.

Next, the more liquid a dough is, the faster it will rise, all things being equal. Of course, if you are trying to make a specific style of bread, the amount of water in the dough can be a very important part of getting the bread "right". Still, for many breads you can change the hydration by 5 to 10% and still make a good bread, even if it isn't quite right.

Many bakers think they have to make the bread the way it is given in the recipe. While I encourage people to try a recipe the way it is written the first time, a recipe is a recipe, not some gospel scripture that must be changed at risk of eternal perdition. Many times that means a first rise for the dough in bulk, it may mean a second bulk rise, forming the loaves and then a final rise. You can, depending on the vigor of your dough, have more rises to extend the bread making cycle. Or you can form your loaves as soon as the dough is mixed and has a chance to relax and then bake it after its first - and only - rise. Each time you knead your dough and let it rise again, the finer the crumb structure will be. So, if you change the number of rises, you will change the texture of the bread. Is that a serious issue? For bread you'll serve your family, probably not unless they are bread purists. For bread you sell? It depends on your market. You could get push back from customers if your bread's crumb is not what they are expecting.

Let's put it all together now.

  • In the days before the bake, get your starter(s), if any, ready to use.
  • In the evening of the day before you want to bake, shortly before your retire,
    • mix your dough,
    • cover the dough and
    • let it rise overnight.
  • In the morning, look at your dough.
    • If the dough collapsed, next time you need to:
      • use less riser,
      • make the dough a bit thicker (less water or more flour),
      • cool the dough by using cooler water,
      • and/or cool the rising area.
    • If the dough wasn't fully risen, next time you need to:
      • use more riser,
      • make the dough a bit thinner (more water or less flour),
      • warm the dough by using warmer water to mix it,
      • and/or warm the rising area.
    • Just before you go to work:
      • form the dough into loaves,
      • cover the loaves,
      • put the loaves in your retarder, and
      • go to work.
  • When you get home:
    • start preheating your oven,
    • prepare and (hopefully) enjoy your dinner,
    • Look at your loaves.
      • If your loaves haven't risen enough,
        • put them in a warmer location to help them rise a little more quickly,
        • and take steps to help them rise more quickly next time.
      • If your loaves have collapsed, you may not be able to salvage them. Your best bet is to knead the dough, re-loaf the dough and let rise again. Many bakers suggest either discarding it or dividing it into small amount, freezing it, and adding it to future batches of bread as old dough.
        • bake your bread, if it is ready to bake.

      To reinforce what was said in the page on retarding dough, you can control the temperature of each stage of your bread making separately. At the bakery, we found that most breads benefited from an hour or two of floor time, that is, time at room temperature, after they were loafed and before they were put in the walk-in cooler for a long slow rise. You can have the first rise at a different temperature than the second. In the scenario above, perhaps you'd be better off loafing the dough as soon as you get up, letting them sit at room temperature while you get ready for work, and then putting the loaves in a cooler just before you leave for work.

      One last tool in your toolbox is tolerance. Bread dough rises, reaches a peak, and then after some time begins to collapse. There is a period of time after the bread has reached its peak where the baker can still bake the bread and not lose much quality in the final loaf. That time is referred to by bakers as tolerance. (Yes, you should also love one another, until your dying day. But that's a different kind of tolerance.) Tolerance REALLY helps bakers.

      What do you do when you have more bread to bake than your oven can hold? You put the breads with the least tolerance in first.

      Which breads have the least tolerance? Overall, rye breads have very little tolerance. Wheat breads have more tolerance. And denser breads have more tolerance than light and fluffy breads.

      All this get back to... what happens if you're late getting home? Since things move more slowly in a retarder, you may find an hour or three may not make all that much difference. Also, if your dough has good tolerance, your bread may still turn out OK. Otherwise, you might knead it, re-loaf it and let it rise again, trying to bake it later in the night or early in the morning.

      Some critical success factors here are having a consistent starter if you are a sourdough baker, weighing your ingredients, tracking and controlling your temperatures, and monitoring your rise times. Tracking all that stuff will help you repeat a triumph and avoid repeating a disaster. All that said, if you juggle your bread making to your schedule, please tell me about it - I love hearing success stories!

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