Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

Like many breads, the history of croissants are just legends and tales. Supposedly, croissants were first created in Vienna in 1683. The Ottoman troops had successfully invaded Vienna for the second time. The enemy came to attack stealthily at night, but the Viennese bakers warned the Ottoman troops about the pending attack. The Ottoman troops prevented the attack and there was tremendous celebration. The bakers created a horchen (small horn) which was in the shape of a crescent moon, like that on the Ottoman flag. If that’s too far-fetched, another tale is that Marie-Antionette made croissants (as well as brioche) popular in France in the late 1700s.

More likely, a cake in a crescent shape was created in the mid 1500s, and served at a royal banquet. They gained popularity from there, and are essential to every breakfast in France.

Croissants are a cross between pastry and bread. They use an enriched dough which is laminated, or folded, with butter. This creates layers of dough and butter, which creates a flaky, rich result. Croissant dough is very similar to puff pastry, except that it uses yeast.

For spring break I flew out to California to visit my brother, Evan. We both were excited to try out some new recipes. The choice came down to two: croissants and doughnuts. We decided that doing a laminated dough would be fun, and as a bonus, we actually had all the ingredients to make them.

We had three similar recipes- one Evan already tried, one from the San Francisco Baking Institute, and Cooks Illustrated. Being our normal selves, we chose Cooks Illustrated because their philosophy is to test recipes until they’ve created a perfect result.

We began the croissants the afternoon before we wanted to eat them for breakfast. We began by mixing the dough: flour, (a tablespoon!) of yeast, sugar, salt. Then, we added cold milk, and mixed until it formed a ball. The only problem was that it was extremely wet-we had to add at least a half cup of flour! I’m not sure if it was the recipe (many of their recipes tend to add too much liquid) or just that other variables were off.

Much like when I made brioche, I added room temperature butter until it incorporated to create a satiny dough. It was still very sticky, and the mixer wasn’t fully kneading it. Evan kneaded the dough by hand until it passed the windowpane test.

The dough portion of croissants was complete; we put it in the fridge to rise for the first time. Meanwhile, we would begin to make the butter package to laminate the dough with. Evan took out butter from the freezer, and I cut it into tablespoon pieces, as per Cooks Illustrated’s instructions. However, this proved counterproductive and made the process difficult and tedious. With a rolling pin, we unsuccessfully tried to smash the butter together with flour and into a square. Disheartened, we put the lopsided butter package back in the fridge. After a few minutes, I decided to put the butter package between layers of wax paper. The butter had softened, and it formed a square much easier than before.

After the first rise, Evan rolled the dough into a 11 inch square. He laid the butter package diagonally on the dough, and folded the edges to the center. Then, Evan hit the dough with the rolling pin to soften the butter and to force it into a square. Next, he rolled it into a 14 inch square, and folded this in thirds. Turning the dough the other way, he folded it again in thirds and let it rest in the fridge for two hours.

By folding the dough in thirds, we were creating the quintessential layers of a croissant, or any flaky pastry. After it rested in the fridge, we gave the dough another two folds, for a total of four folds. We let the laminated dough rest overnight in the fridge.

The next morning, Evan rolled the dough out into a 20 inch square. In the bakery, we use a croissant cutter, which cuts the dough into perfect triangles. Instead, we cut the dough in half lengthwise, and then into thirds widthwise. With each 6th of the dough, we cut it on a diagonal, to form triangles.

Evan and I stretched the dough to elongate the triangle. Then, we cut a slit in the top. Instead of how Cooks Illustrated forms their croissants, I showed Evan how we make them in the bakery. With the slit away from me, I used a pulling apart, rolling forwards motion towards myself. This forms a croissant with five rolls. Then, we pulled the two ends together to make them in the shape of crescents. For a few of the croissants, we shaved chocolate over the  dough before rolling them up.

We let the rise for the final time while we went out to the farmer’s market. After we arrived, we preheated the oven, and I brushed them with an egg wash.

We put them in a 400F oven, where they puffed up immediately. However, the croissants were beginning to become too dark before they were cooked in the middle. We turned down the oven, and baked them for about 20 minutes total. It was also a lot of fun baking with my brother-I can’t believe that we’re 3000 miles apart.

After they cooled, I ate my croissant with some homemade strawberry jam. I had never made a laminated dough besides at the bakery, and it was so satisfying to make croissants at home. I always was under the assumption that they would take up a ton of time, but honestly, it only took about 2 hours of hands on time.  I can’t wait to experiment more with croissants; maybe I’ll even try to make naturally leavened ones!


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Fermentation is the process which occurs when yeast feeds on the simple sugars present in the flour. Fermentation is a pretty complicated biological occurrence, and it’s difficult for me to grasp the basic idea of it. Ciril Hitz, who is the department chair for Baking and Pastry at Johnson and Wales, sums the process up nicely (and understandably!).

Fermentation occurs when the starches in the flour break down into simple sugars. These sugars are then consumed by the yeast. When the yeast consume the sugar, they expel carbon dioxide and alcohol. The yeast continue to eat all of the sugars present in the flour (which continues until the bread is baked.)

When the bread is baking and reaches 138F, the yeast has consumed all of the sugars and dies. This is when the bread has risen to its fullest potential, and now begins to brown on the outside.

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There are two different categories of yeast: wild and commercial. Not only is commercial yeast less temperamental to use, it is accessible and easy to use. Wild yeast needs to be created and maintained, and it provides a sour taste that may not be desirable in all types breads.

There are many different types of yeast, but the commercial one used by bakers is called Saccharomyces cerevisae. The San Francisco Baking Institute explains the Latin word as:

“Sacchar means sugar loving or feeding, myces means mold, and cerevisae is a word once used for beer.”

Yeast is a single-celled, living organism that thrives off of sugars present in the flour. When the yeast consumes these sugars, it begins a process called, fermentation. Although yeast is pretty easy to work with, it thrives in warm (75-78F) environments. When yeast is in cool (around 40F or below) environments, it retards, or slows, the process down significantly. On the other hand, in too hot of an environment (above 130F), the yeast dies.

There are three common commercial yeasts: active dry, instant, and fresh baker’s. Active dry and instant yeast have the longest shelf live, while fresh yeast has a shelf life of only about 2 weeks. Each type of yeast has its own advantages and disadvantages, but ultimately, it is the baker’s decision to choose which to use.

Active dry yeast is probably the most well-known yeast available to the baker and the consumer. Active dry yeast needs to be rehydrated before it can be used. The yeast is dissolved in warm water (around 100F), sometimes with a little sugar added to stimulate activation. Active dry yeast provides a yeastier flavor, relaxes the dough a little more, and creates a product with a longer shelf life.

Instant yeast has recently become the most popular type of yeast. Unlike active dry yeast which requires activation, instant yeast can be added directly to the dough. Not only does this reduce a step, but it also reduces the risk for human error in measuring or killing the yeast. Instant yeast is more concentrated than both active dry and fresh yeast. This means that less yeast is required if the recipe calls for different types of yeast.

Recently in the bakery, we’ve began to use a special type of instant yeast called “omsmopotent” yeast. This yeast works best with breads heavily enriched with sugar or acidity. We use this in the croissant and brioche dough because the sugar inhibits a quick rise.

Fresh yeast has the shortest shelf life of these three types of yeast. Fresh yeast comes in small cubes, which are made of around 70% water. It is tan in color, and crumbles when touched. Fresh yeast is difficult to purchase, and it’s hard to insure its freshness when bought in a grocery store. Most bakeries choose not to use it because it has a short shelf life and it more labor intensive to use than instant yeast.

Here are the conversions for substitutions:

100% Fresh Yeast= 40 to 50% Active Dry Yeast= 33% Instant Yeast


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A Boulanger is the French term for a bread baker. Much like the kitchen hierarchy, there is a bread bakery hierarchy as well. The highest position in the bakery is the head baker/bakery manager. The head baker, Mr. Granarolo in my case, is in charge of every “phase of bread production,” meaning he watches over all stages of the bread. In addition to maintaining order in the bakery, a head baker also orders supplies and ingredients, creates recipes, and coordinates with the bakers and the pastry chefs of the bakery.

At the lower end of the hierarchy are the bakers and baker’s assistants. They work at odd-hours in comparison to the norm. Bakers begin late at night, and finish in the morning, in order to have fresh bread ready for morning costumers. They work on a schedule organized on the bread baking process of making, shaping, and risings of the dough. Baker’s must be aware of the amount (or lack of) oven space, and organize the schedule to take advantage of the oven.

Bread baker’s usually solely bake bread and have a pastry chef bake sweet confections, however, sometimes there is overlap depending on need.

A full-time baker does not make much starting out, about $18,000 for a year of demanding labor. As the baker moves up the ladder, they can potentially reach the level of head baker can earn up to $70,000 a year. I plan to attend a culinary college which focuses on academics and culinary labs. This will benefit me in the long run, and maybe I will come into the hierarchy at a higher level because of education and work experience.

Many bread bakers are involved in unions like Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers International Union,  Bread Bakers Guild of America, and  American Bakers Association. These unions and guilds educate bakers about on “issues of interest to union members, works to improve pay and health and retirement benefits, monitors hours of work, helps with job placement and security, and lobbies various government agencies.”

Reading about the profession gave me insight about the financial aspects of being a baker. I know how difficult and tedious the work may become day-after-day, and they only earn $18,000. However, I think if this is truly a passion, the money should be a secondary concern. After time and dedication to the job, I will move up in the ladder, and hopefully earn more.

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I’m not sure how this will work, but in between testing recipes, I will be posting my required journal entries for my W.I.S.E. project in order to condense everything. I hope it does not get confusing.

These posts will most likely not line up with the recipes of the moment. These are research documentation about different aspects of bread baking. Every week, I will update about the experiences from my internship, along with anything I discuss with my mentor, my Spanish teacher, Mr. Esteban.

Here we go!


Shaping and Proofing Loaves

I find it rather funny that everyone in my family plays part of my bread-obsession, and I appreciate their support.  For my birthday and for Christmas, my mother bought me well-respected, well-researched, solely bread cookbooks. She is also ordering me a banneton (brotform) and a lame! I’m very excited to use these new gadgets!

A banneton/brotform is a bentwood willow basket, used to shape bread during the proofing stage of baking. Not only do they shape the loaves, the baskets leave a beautiful flour spirals on the bread’s crust and take away excess moisture on the surface. A banneton is rather expensive and costs about $20 each. However, I believe they are worth the price for the ease of use, and for the visual appeal they lend to the bread.

In Peter Reinhart’s book, “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice,” he suggests to bakeries instead of purchasing expensive bannetons, that they use wicker baskets lined with linen instead.  I think this tip is very economical, especially during mass production. The linen fabric, sometimes used to line a banneton, is called a couche. Mostly, this fabric is used to prevent free-standing loaves to spread or flatten. He recommends that the baker mists the couche with a non-stick spray (like Pam) and then dust liberally with flour. After the shaped loaves are placed on the cloth, the couche is bunched up to make a “wall” to contain the dough.

Although a banneton is not essential, I’m sure it will allow me to make more attractive boules, and make specialty breads that require this type of proofing. Although I do not have a couche, I can use a heavy terrycloth towel instead.

I’ll talk about the lame more in depth in another journal entry about scoring the breads.  A lame is a double edged razor on a stick, used to score the loaves in order for the bread to have “oven spring” and raise to its fullest potential. I hope I can get the hang of using a lame- right now I use a sharp knife, but I’m usually apprehensive and my scorings are sometimes unattractive and ineffective.

Anyway, I’m very excited for these to arrive in the mail! I should bake over break- I’m not really doing much and I have time to tend to dough!

Banneton– A French bentwood willow basket, used for shaping breads during the proofing stage.

Brotform-The German word for “banneton”

Couche– A linen cloth used to proof and retain the shape of free-standing loaves

Boule– French for a ball shaped loaf

Reinhart, Peter. The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. 1st ed. . New York, New York: Ten Speed Press, 2001. 34-38, 90-91. Print.

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