Archive for the ‘Bread Baker’s Apprentice’ Category

After I made my barm, I wanted to bake a few sourdough loaves, using only natural yeast. Sourdough is a pretty involved and time consuming process, although it’s not very labor intensive.

Reinhart uses a “3-build method,” meaning he converts the barm into a firm starter, and then into the final dough. Making one loaf of bread can take up to three days. Three days wouldn’t be such a hassle in a large bakery, because they are producing quantity and can organize a production schedule. However, at home, waiting three days for one loaf of bread is kind of ridiculous, but oh well.

Take One: For my first loaf, I decided to skip turning the barm into a firm starter. I thought this step was kind of unnecessary, because I can use the barm as a liquid starter. I only need to compromise the hydration content  to gain the final result.

First, I mixed the barm with water, flour, and salt. Since the starter contains natural, wild yeast, no added yeast is required. I let the dough ferment for the first rise. This takes longer than usual, because wild yeast is much weaker than commercial yeast. After it had bulk risen, I shaped the dough into a boule. I placed it in a banneton, or a willow basket, for the final proofing. The basket not only provides structure to the loaf, but it leaves a beautiful spiral pattern of flour on the crust.

I put it in the fridge to ferment overnight. Like Joe suggested, I took the dough out while I was preheating the oven to 500F. Then, I slid the dough onto the baking stone, covered it with a terra cotta pot, and added steam to the oven. It’s hard to recreate the results the bakery’s oven provides, but, using steam and stone is the best way to mimic the ovens. After the bread had baked almost completely, I removed the cover and browned the outside.


I wasn’t really thinking when I put the bread in the oven- I was so pleased with the pattern that I forgot to score the bread. When I took it out, I noticed that the side exploded so the steam could escape. The bread was super heavy-it must have weighed around 1.5 pounds. When I cut it open , the crumb was very dense and a little gummy. I think I put too much dough in the banneton. I’ll ask Joe for a diagnosis, but I believe that the yeast wasn’t strong enough and that the dough did not have enough hydration.

Take Two: I decided to follow Reinhart’s advice and make a firm starter from my barm. I mixed the barm with more flour and water, and let it ferment for a day in the fridge. I then mixed the starter with more water, flour, and salt for the final dough. I kneaded it in the mixer, but not until the windowpane stage. I thought that if I removed the dough at the short mix phase, I could use the stretch-and-fold technique to provide gluten structure and encourage a holier crumb.

After three stretches, I shaped the dough in a boule and put it in the banneton for its final rise. I let it ferment overnight in the fridge. I noticed that this bread had a higher hydration content, and it didn’t hold its shape as well as the previous loaf.

When I took it out the next day and placed it on the pizza peel, I noticed it spread out wider than it did vertically. When I slashed the bread, it spread out even further. It wasn’t looking good. I put it under a terracotta pot in the oven, and when I checked in on it after a few minute, the bread was still squat. After baking, it only had a little oven spring, but had a 12 inch diameter.


I was really disappointed with the outside appearance, and when I cut it open, I wasn’t that much happier with it. The crumb was less dense than the previous one, but it still didn’t have the air pockets like I wish it did. The flavor is mild; as the starter ages, the flavor of the bread will become more sour.

A lot of things could have went wrong, but I’m not entirely sure what I should do differently next time. I hope that Joe can help me figure out why my sourdoughs aren’t turning out so well.


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Even though it doesn’t seem like it, WISE is ending in about a month. One of my goals was to create a sourdough starter, which I had yet to complete. I’m leaving for California in a few for Spring break; by the time I get back, I will be preparing for my presentation and APs. I thought that right now would be the best time to create my starter since I’m not stressing over important events.

Day One:  I started my seed culture tonight using Peter Reinhart’s recipe. I combined 4.25 oz. of rye flour with 4oz. of pineapple juice. I mixed the two together, to form a paste-like dough. It will ferment for 24 hours at room temperature in a glass container.

Day Two: The next day, I fed the culture with more pineapple juice and water. It was still a paste and didn’t smell like much of anything. I didn’t see any growth, but continued along with the recipe.

Day Three: I fed the dough again, except using just water and bread flour. When I mixed it, it became a much stickier, wetter consistency. By the end of the day when I checked up on the culture, it expanded tremendously. It was almost spilling over the measuring cup! I couldn’t believe the culture was developing so rapidly.

Day Four: I fed the dough for the final time using bread flour and water. I could begin to detect a mil fermenting smell. It had a very gooey consistency; it was almost like pancake batter, except even gloopier. Ta-da! The sourdough seed is complete! Now, I have to make the barm!

The next step of the process is to make what Peter Reinhart calls the barm. In the bread community, there is confusion over what this term actually means. Reinhart defines it as a wet sourdough starter. He feeds the dough with a 1:1 ratio of water to flour. It has the same consistency of poolish-very wet and pourable.

Day Five: I removed about half of the starter and discarded it. To the starter, I added water and flour, making a 2:2:1 ratio water to flour to starter.  I let the barm ferment for a day, until it was bubbly and fermented. I then refrigerated the barm, which was ready to be used in a recipe. The barm needs to be refreshed every few days if I want to use it to bake.

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I’m always disappointed with store bought rolls-they always seem be just a vehicle that brings your burger to your mouth. When you chew one, it turns into a gooey wad! Gross! And they never go bad or stale-you can have them for a month without them molding!

I’m glad that Reinhart had a recipe for Kaiser rolls. They have a really cool technique and are slightly enriched dough-so they were fun to work with. My brother, Evan, told me about buns he made from the website Smitten Kitchen. They were brioche buns though, meaning they were rich and very tender. These Kaiser rolls are a good balance between an enriched bread and a lean one.

Kaiser rolls are the quintessential sandwich roll because of their large size and their crisp-yet-soft texture. Supposedly, they originated in Vienna, Austria and were named after Emperor Franz Joseph. The word Kaiser means an Austrian emperor or an autocrat. In Austria, they are called Kaisersemme. The names of these rolls changes depending on the region in which they are made.

Oftentimes, they are referred to as Vienna rolls. However, kaiser rolls are sometimes called “bulkie rolls” in the New England Area. This variation is usually larger and softer than that of the Kaiser.

Anyway, Kaiser rolls have a hard crust, while still maintaining pillowy insides. They can be topped with seeds, or none at all. The top of a Kaiser roll represents a star-like shape. Rather than knotting each individual roll, some bakeries choose to use a Kaiser roll press.

This press is in the shape of a star. With a roll-sized ball, the baker presses the dough, going almost to the base of the dough. This cuts in a star-like shape which blooms in the oven, giving the roll its distinct shape. However, the traditional method is knotting several times until it forms a star.

Reinhart begins with a pre-fermented dough, in order to give the rolls more flavor. A few nights before, I made the pate-fermentee, which translates into “old dough.” Unlike other pre-ferments, pate-fermentee has salt. Usually bakeries just use yesterday’s leftover dough, rather than making some for this purpose.

I mixed together flour, salt, yeast together. To this, I added the pate-fermentee, water, oil, and egg. I kneaded the dough until it was soft, tacky, but not sticky. Then, I let it ferment for the first rise for about 2 hours.

After it had risen, I divided the dough out into 2-2/3 ounce pieces, and shaped these into balls. I let them rest for about ten minutes, or until the gluten had relaxed. Next, I rolled them out into 8 inch strands, and then I began shaping them.

I crossed the dough over itself, and tied a simple knot. Then, I took the strands and wrapped them around again, making a tight, star –like shape. I flipped them nice-side-down onto a prepared sheet pan, and let them rise again for about 45 minutes. Then, I flipped them right-side-up for the final rise. However, I realized that if I let them rise again and baked them, it would be past midnight. So, I put the pre-proofed, but shaped, rolls in the fridge overnight.

The next day, I took them out to take off the chill. Then, I misted them with water, sprinkled them with seeds, and baked them in a 450F oven for ten minutes. I then rotated them, lowered the temperature, and baked them for another ten minutes, or until the insides reached 200F.

They turned out really well-and they’re tasty too! I made a wicked sandwich with chicken, tomato, basil, mozzarella, whole grain mustard, and a reduction of balsamic vinegar. It was delicious, and the bun was too! Usually the bun is the worst part of the sandwich, but instead, the texture definitely complimented it. It was crunchy on the outside, and was substantial enough to hold together. I’ll definitely be making these again; maybe I’ll make a double or triple batch and freeze them!

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I think I’ve been in the process of making this bread for over a month. I started making the pre ferment, called a biga, four times. Every time I made the biga, I never had time to bake the bread. I’d start it and get distracted by schoolwork, my sponsorship, and my job. I’m never home on the weekend, which is the only time I have to make bread.

Anyway, when I got home from work on Sunday, I felt pretty inspired to bake bread. I want to catch up on the BBA Challenge, because at the pace I’m going, I don’t think I’ll be finished by May.

Italian bread in supermarkets has become a gooey white loaf, with a soft crust. Supermarket French bread is pretty similar, except that it is usually in a baguette-like shape. Unlike real French bread though, this Italian bread has a softer crust and a more tender crumb, thanks to sugar and oil. Most Italian breads do not have enriching ingredients though, and have a lean, holey crumb.

To coax the most flavor from the flour, Reinhart uses a pre-ferment called biga. I wish I had more time to ferment it longer, but I knew that if I let it retard in the fridge, I’d run into the same scheduling problems. After I mixed the biga, I let it proof, and divided it into smaller pieces. Meanwhile, I mixed together the flour, sugar, salt, yeast, and barley malt syrup. Barley malt syrup adds mostly flavor-however, barley malt powder boosts the colorization of the bread.

After I kneaded the bread, I let it bulk ferment for about 2 hours. Then, I divided the dough into two pieces, and flattened them into circles. To shape batards, I used the method Joe and I use in the bakery. I fold down the top of the dough, pull in the corners, fold in half again, and seal it with my palm. Then, I elongated the rolls, and shaped it in a football-like shape. I knew that by the time they would proof, it would be past midnight by the time they were finished.

I had a genius idea! I have a baguette pan that I could place the refrigerated loaves on. This way, they would keep their shape and would be easy to store in the fridge, right? Wrong.

I covered the pan with a plastic bag, which stuck to the surface of the dough. To make things even better, the parchment paper stuck to the sides of the bread; I guess the moisture made the paper cling the to the surface of the bread. It was going great, can’t you tell? They had also overproofed, or the dough was too wet- I can’t really tell. But instead of being short and tall, they were long and squat. I was beyond frustrated…

I’m not sure what’s wrong with my lame, but I can’t bend the blade on it. So, when I tried to score the bread, I was apprehensive and didn’t slash it deep enough. They were going to be ugly- I knew it. I shoved them in the oven which I attempted to recreate as a steam oven.

They didn’t turn out as bad I thought they would have. The flavor was pretty good- I’m sure that if I let the biga ferment longer, they would have a fuller flavor. They were just so ugly and flat.

It’s frustrating because everything in the bakery is so easy to use and the results are good every time. It’s just so disheartening because I put so much time and effort into these loaves and they were just subpar. Why can’t I translate what I’m learning over to what I’m making at home? The dough is so much easier to work with, the equipment creates better loaves, and Joe is there to guide me through the process.

Let’s see how the next one goes…

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Focaccia is an Italian flatbread, which is made from a dough similar to that of pizza. Focaccia is made from a very wet dough, which contributes to its holey crumb.

Focaccia was traditionally baked in a very hot hearth, which translates to “focus.” I find it fascinating that the oven was the focus of ancient societies. I recently read in an article from food activist Michael Pollan about the importance of the oven in regard to bringing community together. In ancient times, the hearth was the center of the community and people ate and bonded over the food cooked in the hearth oven.

Anyway, in ancient Rome, it was called panis focacius, which translates to “focus bread” because it was baked in the hot hearth. The French version of focaccia is called fougasse, and it is usually cut into a leaf-like shape. Focaccia can be served as sweet or savory bread. It is often times enriched with oil and herbs, but sometimes dried fruits and spices are added.

Like many of Reinhart’s recipes, I began making a poolish overnight. Poolish gives me more flexibility because it can be held for a few days in the refrigerator. This preferment contributes to more flavor in the final bread. Two days later, I mixed together the dry ingredients: flour, salt, and yeast. Then, I added water and an ample amount of olive oil. Then, I stirred in the poolish to combine to make a very wet dough.

I kneaded the dough in the mixer for about 6 minutes, or until it was a sticky, dough with a lot of gluten development. It’s really interesting to work with super-hydrated doughs-they look like a sticky mess, but the final result is a very light and airy bread.  This focaccia recipe utilizes the stretch-and-fold technique which is often implemented with wet doughs. The stretch-and-fold provides the dough with more structure and strengthens the gluten.

After resting for about 30 minutes, I folded the dough again. In total, I folded it three times, in thirds each time. It began as a blob, but after three folds, it had enough structure to shape a rectangle. Meanwhile, while it was resting, I made an infused herb oil. I warmed olive oil, and added fresh herbs-parsley, rosemary, and basil-along with crushed garlic, salt and pepper. Focaccia is usually slathered in a flavored oil, and absorbs it during the baking process.

I then transferred the proofed dough to a sheet pan, and let it rest again for about 2 hours, or until it filled the pan. Then,  with wet fingertips, I poked the dough to even it out and add its traditional look. I baked it in a 450F  oven, until it was golden brown and its internal temperature  reached 200F.

I was expecting the focaccia to be much flatter, but it baked up with its highest point reaching about two inches. It was really delicious though-it tasted like bread sticks thanks to the olive oil and herbs. It made a gigantic loaf though! I gave half away to my friends, some to Mr. Esteban, to the round table in class, and enough for dinner for two days! Geez! I think the next time I make it, I will use less olive-oil. For my tastes, it was a little greasy, but it’s focaccia!

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I know, I know, I’ve already posted this. However, this was on of the first recipes I attempted from the BBA, and one of the first journal entries I wrote. I’ve added additional history and background information. I also want to keep the order of the recipes like they are in the book.

Well, here yah go!

Baguettes are the quintessential French bread; however, they are not as ancient as we assume they are. Like most breads, baguettes are surrounded by myths-so take this history with a grain of salt.

The classic shape for French bread was originally a boule, or a large, round loaf. French bread is characterized by its white, airy crumb, irregular holes, and five (or seven) slashes on a golden crust. Originally, it was called “Vienna bread” because in the middle of the 19th century, this bread was baked in steam ovens in Vienna. The steam ovens give French bread their classic golden crust and oven spring.

The French bread that we are most familiar with today is called the baguette, which translates to “stick” or “wand.” Contrary to popular belief, the baguette only dates back to the 1920s. The teens and 20s were defined by the reaching effects of World War I. There was a lack of bakers and workers due to them joining in the war effort. Also, the government enacted a new law which prevented boulangers from baking before 4AM. This prevented the bakers from making the traditional boule because by the time the bread baked, breakfast was over. Bakers shaped the same dough in long, stick-like shapes, which baked in steam ovens for far less time.

Like many lean breads, baguettes do not stay fresh for very long. In just a few hours, baguettes stale, which means that fresh ones need to be bought every day for mealtimes. In France, baguettes are eaten for breakfast, usually with butter or jam. Like the American doughnut, the French sometimes dunk their baguette in their morning coffee.

Reinhart begins with a pate fermente, an overnight starter which lends the final dough more flavor. It is simple- it combines flour, water, salt, and yeast into a rather stiff dough. I let the dough rise for about an hour, and then refrigerated overnight.

The next morning, I let the pate fermete warm up, and cut it into smaller pieces so I could incorporate it into the final dough. Like the pate fermente, the bread contained the same proportions of ingredients. After mixing with flour, salt, yeast, water and pate fermente into a ball, I kneaded it for about 6 minutes, or until I could easily use the windowpane test. Out of pure laziness, I kneaded the dough in the machine, rather than by hand.  I feel more connected to the dough when I knead by hand, but, I was tired and didn’t want to dirty the counters.

After the dough is kneaded, it rests for about two hours, to rise for the first time. Then I shaped the baguettes like I thought I should. I spread the dough out, and folded it into thirds like letters. I proceeded to elongate them into their proper shape. However, after making them I went on Youtube (great idea, huh?) and watched the proper way. After folding in thirds, you’re supposed to create tension on the outside of the bread by rolling it up in two separate “folding/rollings.” Afterwards, you gently seal the bread with the heel of your palm and then proceed elongating. Next time, I guess.

I let the dough rise for the last time for two hours. I do not have a lame yet, so I cut the slits with a pairing knife. On two of the loaves, I cut rather perpendicular, leaving the slashes not very attractive. However, on the third, the slashes were much more pronounced because I used a 45 degree angle. I realize now that I should slash the bread with an acute angle, as well as cut down the center, slightly overlapping each slit.

After I took them out of the oven, I could hear the crusts crackling. I was so excited-they looked promising, although they were a little misshapen because the seam was not on the bottom. After they had cooled, I sliced a piece. The crumb was rather dense, not holey and airy like I imagine a true baguette. I was rather disappointed, but the flavor made up for it-it had true bread flavor.

So, I don’t know- maybe I’ll make these again. I really like the use of the pate fermente and it was very cool to shape baguettes. However, the crumb was really disappointing, and for taking two days and substantial hands on time, I felt cheapened.

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My brother, Evan, came home from his trip to Antarctica and New Zealand a few days ago. We had a lot of family events that filled the entirety of the weekend, and we had no time to really even see each other. Even though I had school today, I took the morning off to bake bread and hang out with my brother before he flew back to California. English muffins were the next on deck-and I couldn’t have asked for a more interesting bread to make with Evan.

English muffins, despite their name, are not like the typical muffins we are familiar with. Yeast-risen, English muffins are cooked atop a griddle, giving it its classic, flattened shape. Once browned on the outside, the muffins are baked fully in the oven. English muffins are usually eaten for breakfast, or for sandwiches. However, to retain the texture of the crumb, English muffins are split open with a fork, revealing the trademarked “nooks and crannies” inside.

English muffins are very similar to crumpets, which are yeasted breads baked in a mould on a griddle. However, crumpets have their defining holes on the top of the bread, while English muffins have holes on the inside.

Cooking yeasted breads on a griddle was nothing new- it has been documented that in 10th century Wales breads were made like this. In the 19th century England, yeasted griddle-breads were sold door to door by a muffin man. He would come around every day, and deliver fresh breads.

English muffins were popularized by Samuel Bath Thomas, who marketed them in New York City in the late 1800s. English muffins gained their identifying trademark “nooks and crannies” in the mid-1920s.

The English muffins that I’ve unfortunately been exposed to are rubbery, store bought Thomas’ ones. The only positives about these are that when their split with a fork, toasted, and buttered, they do not taste half bad. However, I’m sure English muffins have the potential to be a delicious breakfast and sandwich bread.

English muffins are enriched bread, with butter and milk. They are a direct bread, meaning they do not have a preferment or retardation. However, I believe that these would be great using a sourdough starter, adding a more complex flavor. Evan and I decided that we would make two batches because it only makes six at a time. If we doubled it, we would have enough to feed our bread-hungry brother, Will, and freeze some for future breakfasts.

Evan and I began mixing the dry ingredients- flour, sugar, salt and yeast- together. Since we didn’t have any buttermilk, we clabbered milk with vinegar to make a buttermilk substitute. We added the “buttermilk” and butter to the dough, and kneaded it until it made a soft, tender dough.

We let the dough proof until doubled, for about two hours. The dough was so soft and supple; It was surprised that it would be used for English muffins. We scaled it into 3 ounce portions, and shaped them into balls. We sprinkled them with a really coarse cornmeal, and a finer one. Then, we let them proof for about 2 hours until they puffed up significantly.

We originally were going to use a cast-iron skillet, but the one we own is only about 8 inches in diameter. We settled on our electric-griddle which we use for pancakes. They cooked on the first side for about 5 minutes, or until they were very dark brown, but not burnt. Then, we flipped them, and baked them on the last side.

Once cooked on both sides on the griddle, we baked them in the oven for about 5 minutes, or until they were fully cooked.

They were on the big side, and a little thicker than the ones were used to. Evan and I split one open (with a fork!) and tried it. They tasted real, and delicious. Unlike store bought ones, they didn’t taste chemically or rubbery, but were soft with a crunchy corn crust.

Next time (and I promise there will be a next time), I think I’ll scale them into about 2.5 ounce balls rather than 3 ounce ones. It might have been Evan’s presence in the kitchen, but English muffins were probably the most fun and most interesting bread I’ve baked so far.

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