Tuesday May 22, 2007 - Camp Bread - Day 3
More time with the rye guy, and the new team is selected!
The big surprise of the day was that Jeff Hamelman isn't German. Sure, he is of German extraction, but he isn't German. He's spent time there, he's learned about rye there, but, he isn't German. I suppose between the name and the penchant for rye breads, I just assumed he was German. Germany is one of a number of countries where rye breads are at least as common as wheat breads.
In the rye class, Jeff showed us how the starters look when they are ready. The surface of the starters, which had been dusted with rye flour, had a series of cracks all over it. It was easy to tell which starters were still rising, which had peaked, and which had begun to recede.
The flax seed soaker had developed a very gelatinous quality from the oils the water had pulled out of the seeds. The bread in the old bread soaker had lost all its structural integrity and Jeff again assured us that we wouldn't be able to see the old bread in the new bread, though the benefits of the old bread would be obvious.
Jeff mixed the doughs in a spiral mixer, and then showed us how to form loaves with rye doughs. He commented that you can make very nice rye breads with as little as 10 to 20% rye flour. He also commented that in Germany, such breads could not be called rye breads. To be a rye bread, a bread has to have 100% rye flour. If a bread has a blend of rye and wheat flours, it is a mischbrot, or mixed bread. If it is mostly rye flour, it is a roggen mischbrot, if it is mostly wheat it is a weizen mischbrot. (If you are a German speaker and want to correct my spelling or terminology, please do so through the "Contact Us" page.) The big issue with rye doughs is that they are fiendishly sticky. A light touch and dry hands are essential. If your hands are at all wet, they will pull the loaves you are forming apart. So, if your hands get wet, dry them.
Again, Jeff declined the offer of a proofer, except for a finicky rye bread called a Detmolder Rye. My friend Samartha has a web page that goes into the Detmolder rye process in some detail. Jeff commented that the people at the cereal institute in Detmold had largely codified what old bakers knew by instinct. Where Samartha uses ingenious equipment to regulate starter temperatures, Jeff just puts them closer to the oven or the floor. Both bakers make EXCELLENT rye breads.
Jeff rose all but the Detmolder rye in bakery carts that had a cover on them. He looked at them from time to time, and an hour or so later, it was into the ovens! The breads baked at fairly high temperatures for fairly long periods of time. The Detmolder rye was made using only sourdough as a leaven - according to Dr. Michael Gaenzle, most German rye breads today use sourdough for acidification and bakers yeast for rise. However, this was not always the case, and need not be the case. I have received reports that this is changing - large bakeries have discovered it is both cheaper and better to use sourdough exclusively.
Jeff felt the starter was up to the task, so he made the Detmolder rye just with starter. About the time the other rye breads were out of the oven, Jeff cranked the oven up to 525F. About the time the oven got there, the Detmolder rye breads were ready to go into the oven. After 5 minutes or so, it was time to drop the temperature to 425. Oops. The ovens are steam tube ovens with very high thermal inertia - in other words, they don't cool off quickly. Brian saw Jeff fretting and asked if he could help. Brian suggested opening the doors to the racks we weren't using and applying lots of steam to the ovens to cool them. This worked, somewhat. The ovens did get below 500F, but never did get to the desired 425.
Jeff kept a nervous eye on the breads as he talked more about baking rye breads. If the breads started burning on the bottom, he'd put them on sheet pans and then back into the oven - the sheet pans would act as an insulator and protect the breads from the effects of the direct heat. Brian looked around for another oven we could commandeer, but in the end Jeff decided the breads were doing OK in the hot oven. Using ovens you aren't familiar with are a hazard of teaching classes in different locations. The teacher has to just wing it.
A recurring comment from Jeff was that rye breads with lots of rye in them, like the 80% rye he made the first day of class or the Detmolder with 90% rye flour tend to be gummy until they have a day or two to age. He made us promise we wouldn't cut into the high rye breads for several days. As an aside, it was worth the wait!
During breaks and quiet moments, we looked in on the last day of competition for the Team USA Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie. Three bakers were competing in the bread and baguette portion, and my email acquaintance and new friend Solveig Tofte was competing. The breads from all the competitors were amazing. One that stood out was a triangular loaf that had a distinct blue color. The baker had dusted the breads with flour through a stencil so there were Himalayan writing on the loaves. Jeff kept us busy enough that we only caught glimpses of the competition - which is as it should have been. If I am lucky enough to go to Camp Bread in a year when the team is being selected again, I think I'll take the whole Artisan 101 class and watch the bread and baguette competition. What I saw was amazing!
There was a bit of concern though, another Solveig fan who had been watching the competition commented that Solveig was doing a great job, but it looked like she was slower than the other competitors. Since the Coupe is a timed contest, so is the qualifying contest. Would she finish on time? Would she be penalized for being slow? Would that knock her out of the running?
After classes were let out, we were encouraged to go to the mess hall where there was an open bar and a nice buffet of appetizers. A big feature of the buffet were breads and pastries that the students had made. ALL were excellent! We milled around and ate and drank and talked for some time. Finally Abe asked us to come to order and a presentation ceremony began. The first Calvel prize, in the memory of the late Professor Raymond Calvel, was given to Christian Vabret, the founder of the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie. After more talk, Abe introduced the judges of the Team USA competition, and then the nine contestants. Three people had competed in each of the categories, Artistic breads, Viennoiserie (or pastry), and bread and baguette. The members of the previous Team USA presented Team USA aprons to the winners. These were Dara Reimers of Auburn, ME in Artistic Design, Peter Yuen of La Patisserie P of Chicago, IL in Viennoiserie, and Solveig Tofte of The Turtle Bread Company of Minneapolis, MN in the bread and baguette category.
As mentioned earlier, I had some minor connection with Solveig and was pulling for her. When she was announced as a team winner, her face just glowed with an incredible joy. Most adults have lost the ability to feel, much less show, joy so deeply. I was, and am, delighted for her! For whatever little it helps, I am rooting for them and hoping they will go to Paris in 2008 and return with a gold medal!
After the announcement of the team, the largest bread sculpture ever created was unveiled. Ciril Hitz had created the sculpture, but I regret to admit I was too beat to really admire it. I was thinking of getting back to the hotel and catching up with Beth who had been alone, except for evenings, for the previous three days.