Baguette Class at SFBI
Posted: 17 December 2011 03:54 PM   [ Ignore ]
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The San Francisco Baking Institute is actually located in South San Francisco, which is a separate city from San Francisco, not merely a geographical description of where it is in the city.  This community is home for a lot of biotech companies; in fact, the institute sits amid the large campus of Genentech, Corp., one of the industry’s leading edge players.

The building is essentially a warehouse, with two large production areas that extended from floor to ceiling, and a two-story office build-out against one wall, with the classroom accessed via an external wooden staircase.  One of the production areas was devoted to our baguette class and the other to a macaroon class.  Most of us were wondering why macaroons should take two days to learn, but they probably thought the same thing about baguettes. 

They provided breakfast and lunch for us, featuring items made somewhere in the facility, such as fresh croissants, morning buns, scones, and panini.  While most of it was very good, I found the pound cake dessert inedible and surreptitiously slipped it into the garbage.  I had read online that they also supplied wine, but there was none to be found while I was there.

There were 16 of us in the class, and the skill level ranged from complete novice to professional bread bakers.  The structure of the course consisted of an alternating sequence of classroom and lab, starting with the classroom.  Most of the classroom time was devoted to discussing bread baking theory, geared towards the student who knew nothing about the subject.

Our baking goal for the first day was to make three types of baguette, one with no preferment, but a 3 hour fermentation, one with a poolish, and one with a sponge.  We didn’t do any kneading or machine mixing; we just mixed the ingredients in a tub with our hands until incorporated (20 baguettes worth), and then folded 3 times every 45 minutes, followed by an uninterrupted fermentation for 45 minutes.  Then preshaped, 30 minute rest, shaping, 30 minute proofing, followed by scoring and baking in their steam-injected deck ovens.

The baguettes were narrower than what I’m used to making, maybe 1.5 inches in diameter fully baked.  The dough weighed 350 grams, compared with 400 g that King Arthur bakes.  All of them were very good; only by tasting them side by side could you tell the difference among them.  The crumb very open when sliced horizontally, although this was less evident when traditional vertical slices were taken. 

The second day was sort of a repeat of day 1, except we did some baguette variations, using sesame seeds, added bran, and some other grain types.  I won’t further describe them.

What did I learn?

Not a whole lot.  I didn’t find the classroom portions very educational because I’d read all the relevant books; I probably could have given the same lecture the instructor did, although I’d have probably needed some notes.  However, I took this as an opportunity to grill the instructor with questions about what we did in the lab.  Interestingly, he was a bit dismissive of many of the artisan techniques I brought up, such as extended cold fermentation, or preferments older than 12 hours.  I’m sympathetic to this point of view, because I sometimes question whether people would taste the things they say they do if they were blindfolded.  But still, I suspect that artisan bakers know one or two things that don’t find their way into the production baking worldview that he came from.  And some of his views were idiosyncratic, such as “never use active dry yeast”; I was amused to remember that Amy’s Bread says “never use instant yeast”, so their two opposing recommendations cancel each other out.  wink 

I was a bit intrigued with the folding-only method of mixing.  I have actually produced hundreds of loaves this way, but gradually decided that I wasn’t getting enough dough strength and it took a long time, to boot.  And to be honest, I think the same symptoms showed up during this class.  When scoring the loaves, the dough stretched and tore, rather than separating cleanly, which is a clear sign of overproofing.  While the cuts opened pretty well in the oven, they were less pronounced that what I was able to get at home, where I incorporate some mixing.

My main goal was to improve my shaping ability and I’m not sure I did that, but I did develop an increased confidence that you can final shape the baguettes pretty aggressively without destroying an open crumb.  You simply can’t produce the very thin baguettes that we did without some heavy pressure on the dough as you’re stretching it into the baguette shape.  Another interesting tidbit he offered was to keep the hands flat as you’re rolling the baguette; what makes this point interesting is that other sources say the key is to keep the palm and fingertips on the surface of the counter, leading to a cupped hand.  Clearly, both techniques work if they’re both “key”.  wink

There was one change that I had already made to my fermentation procedure before coming to the class, but the class confirmed the importance of it:  ferment the dough in a wide, flat container, preferably rectangular, rather than tall and narrow Tupperware type containers, or bowls.  The reason is that the shape of the dough as you dump it on the counter needs to lend itself to be divided into shapes of the proper dimensions that can be readily shaped into a baguette.  You can’t do that with a big, round mass of dough.

More than likely, the only change I will make to my previous baguette procedures is to make the narrower baguette; the improved crust-to-crumb ratio makes it a more enjoyable eating experience.

Overall the course was exceptionally well-run, with great facilities and friendly, knowledgeable people.  The instructor even gave us his email address when we left, saying we could send him questions, an offer he assured us never expired.

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Posted: 17 December 2011 04:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Charles, what an awesome write-up!  You touch on so many issues that are being discussed/used in artisanal bread right now.

Must run- pizza night beckons- but I’m going to re-visit this post soon. smile

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Posted: 17 December 2011 05:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Thank you Julie.  I had to delete a couple of paragraphs due to posting size limitations in this board. 

BTW, I took the opportunity to visit some well-known bakeries in the city.  I went by Tartine, Miette, and Acme Bread.

Tartine is reputed to have the best baguette in the country and they’re even hard to get ahold of.  Turns out that one of the reasons is that they don’t have them until 5 pm.  I was there at 2pm.  :-(  So I made do with a croissant, a morning bun, and a slice of l’opera cake.  The croissant was huge and wonderful and I ate it all up within minutes.  The l’opera cake was good, too, but since I was already stuffed, I made do with a bite and tossed the rest of it away.  The morning bun was fine, but this style of bun tends to be a bit dry, rather than decadent like a cinnamon roll, so I also settled for a bite or two.

I left Tartine via BART to head down to the waterfront where there was a Miette and Acme store.  I bought from Acme a sourdough baguette, a “sweet” baguette (non-sourdough), and a Ciabatta.  I walked out onto the pier and shared them with a couple of ladies chatting on one of the benches.  I must say I wasn’t impressed.  The sourdough bread had a very sharp acidic taste that I didn’t care for much and the crust was dense and leathery.  The crumb didn’t seem particularly airy to me.  The sweet baguette had a better crumb, but again, the baguettes we made at SFBI were much tastier.  I didn’t cut into the Ciabatta until I got back to my hotel, and had to borrow a knife from the kitchen to cut into it.  Again, I found the crust a bit leathery, but the crumb was pretty open. I don’t remember whether I tasted the thing or not.

In one sense, the crust doesn’t surprise me.  My own baguettes’ crust turns a bit leathery a couple of hours out of the oven, so I thought perhaps a professional bakery had some secret to keep the crust crisp for much longer.  Apparently not, so I’m somewhat relieved that I’m not missing anything.

At Miette, I only bought a chocolate cupcake with milk chocolate frosting, and a couple of chocolate macaroons, which I had never had.  I didn’t taste the cupcake until much later that night, and I found the frosting rather yucky, so I scraped most of it off.  After that, the cupcake was mediocre.  I didn’t try the macaroons until the next day, but I didn’t like them enough to try more than a bite or two.  Since I had never eaten a chocolate macaroon, I don’t know if I just didn’t like macaroons that much or didn’t like these.

So, based on my brief sampling, only Tartine managed to impress me, although it’s probably unfair to judge any of these places by the very small sample that I took.  I really wanted a Tartine baguette, but I didn’t want to fight the rush hour crowds on BART to get one, particularly to that part of town when it’s just turning dark.  And, even if I had, Tartine doesn’t always make enough to meet demand, so I might have gone home empty handed.

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Posted: 17 December 2011 09:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Thanks so much for the detailed review! I’ve taken two classes at SFBI (their Exploring Ingredients and Techniques and their Cake Bases and Composition classes) and both were outstanding! I’ve been thinking a lot about trying a bread class since I’m not very strong in that area and your review has inspired me to go for it!

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Posted: 18 December 2011 11:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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CharlesT - 17 December 2011 07:54 PM

we just mixed the ingredients in a tub with our hands until incorporated (20 baguettes worth), and then folded 3 times every 45 minutes,

I’ve done this type of folding on one or two loaves, but am unclear as to why- you’ve pointed out your findings as to its shortfalls, but is the goal to develop gluten with the least possible oxygenation?  Or to achieve maximum extensibility with the resting between folds?

baking in their steam-injected deck ovens.

sigh, when will someone make a home oven with steam capability?  I’ve tried a number of methods, but I feel I don’t get a very good oven rise and/or steam effect.

But still, I suspect that artisan bakers know one or two things that don’t find their way into the production baking worldview that he came from.

I’m also a big believer in the capacity of a home artisan or avid home pastry chef to create things that are wonderful, but are not necessarily the most cost-effective or worthwhile from a business standpoint. 

I was a bit intrigued with the folding-only method of mixing.  I have actually produced hundreds of loaves this way, but gradually decided that I wasn’t getting enough dough strength and it took a long time, to boot. 
And to be honest, I think the same symptoms showed up during this class.

very interesting!

I did develop an increased confidence that you can final shape the baguettes pretty aggressively without destroying an open crumb.

...ferment the dough in a wide, flat container, preferably rectangular

good to know!

Glad you posted, sounds like it was a great way to spend a couple of days- so often home cooks work alone and don’t get the give and take of ideas andd verification of methods that comes from doing things in a group.

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Posted: 18 December 2011 09:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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CharlesT - 17 December 2011 09:19 PM

only Tartine managed to impress me

Interesting- Rose maintains that restaurants, not bakeries, produce the best desserts, and your experience seems to agree. 

Now I want to get a Tartine baguette, I admit I’m curious.  Don’t have any plans to visit that area in the near future, so will just have to wait. smile

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Posted: 18 December 2011 10:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Julie - 18 December 2011 03:33 PM

I’ve done this type of folding on one or two loaves, but am unclear as to why- you’ve pointed out your findings as to its shortfalls, but is the goal to develop gluten with the least possible oxygenation?  Or to achieve maximum extensibility with the resting between folds?

The oxidation issue is important, but there is also a fundamental trade-off between mixing and the long fermentation times that lead to good bread.  Since fermentation itself increases the strength of the dough, a long fermentation time implies a short mix, or else the dough will become too strong, producing inferior bread.  Since there are two positive results of a short mix, long fermentation and low oxidation, it may be a bit arbitrary to say which one is “the” reason for this technique.

The timing and number of folds is an interesting question and our instructor grew a bit fuzzy on this.  He did say that folds aren’t very effective until you give the dough some fermentation time; the more yeast you use, the smaller the interval between folds.  There is also this ill-defined concept of gluten development vs gluten organization, which, again, our instructor couldn’t really help on.  This doesn’t surprise me…he probably only has access to the same literature that we do and none of these provide super technical information.  I have this impression that gluten forms in dough from just sitting there, but it takes some mechanical activity to organize it, unless you wait a very, very long time, such as in the no-knead breads.  I am unsure of the dough characteristics where gluten is developed but not organized.  As an engineer, this sort of imprecision really bothers me….I’m used to having mathematical equations that define concepts with great rigor. 

I don’t know why they chose to use this method in class; they have mixers all about, so clearly they’re not averse to using them.  I had read online that they did this for consistency in getting all the students’ dough ready at the same time, but I don’t know if that’s true.  I didn’t think to ask!  Maybe they didn’t have enough mixers of the same type for four groups to use.

I’ve tried a number of methods, but I feel I don’t get a very good oven rise and/or steam effect.

Did I describe the method that I use?  The hotel pan and hand steamer?  I think I posted a video from the guy I got the technique from. I think it’s every bit as effective as their ovens, but it does restrict the quantity of bread I can make at once.  At SFBI, they demonstrated on the second day their recommended method.  They have a pizza stone on the baking rack and one on the rack above it; they fill a cast iron pan full of extra mass and then throw ice in it just prior to baking.  (I didn’t watch this demontration because I was behind on shaping some of my baguettes.)  The instructor did bake a baguette this way and it turned out pretty well.  They might have put a pie pan, the ones with the holes, on top of the mass in the cast iron and put the ice into that, so that it dripped out onto the pan.  As I said, I didn’t watch closely, but I had read somewhere that they did it that way.

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Posted: 18 December 2011 10:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Here’s a blog entry describing the steaming technique I use.  The author didn’t invent the technique either, he just copied the technology of a guy who markets a product that does the same thing.

http://www.breadcetera.com/?p=85

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Posted: 18 December 2011 10:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Julie - 19 December 2011 01:57 AM

Rose maintains that restaurants, not bakeries, produce the best desserts

That’s an interesting observation.  I wonder why?  I would have guessed the opposite.  I pretty much never order desserts, so I don’t have much first-hand experience on that.

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Posted: 18 December 2011 10:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Flowering Bean - 18 December 2011 01:13 AM

your review has inspired me to go for it!

Great!  Frank seems to be the guy that teaches bread and you’ll really like him.  You’re lucky to live so close.

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Posted: 14 January 2012 12:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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re ADY yeast:

I’ve also had several professional bakers tell me there’s no need to use ADY.  I couldn’t figure out why they would think this, as my results with the other sort of yeast have always been inconsistent.

Turns out they’re working in bakeries that are alway 80F or more (because the ovens are going all the time) and/or they have proofing boxes that precisely regulate the environment during proofing.  Sometimes they are not even doing multiple rises, and to a baker, they are not doing cold ferments.  In my real world kitchen, where things are not so precisely regulated, ADY gives me much MUCH more consistent results, and instant is always a FAIL for cold ferments for me.  So I stick with the ADY.  Yeah, it takes a little longer sometimes, but it’s more versatile and more flexible under varying conditions than any instant I’ve ever used.

re steam in the oven:

You actually get better steam starting with hot water than ice.  The ice may give more visible clouds, but the hot water puts more actual moisture into the oven. You lose heat when you have to heat the ice up from freezing to the gaseous state, hence less humidity in the oven overall.

That said, I usually just upend a disposable roasting pan over the bread for the first 10 mins or so.  Sometimes I spritz the loaf first, but mostly I don’t (I’m nervous about thermal shock to the baking stone, which is probably not a real concern with a mister, but in this instance I usually let my paranoia reign supreme over my rational side).

The moisture from the loaf itself during the first few minutes of baking gives me the best results compared to every other method I’ve tried.

My baguettes are far from perfected, so YMMV.  But this is the best method for me to date.

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Posted: 14 January 2012 01:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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KitchenBarbarian - 14 January 2012 04:43 PM

ADY gives me much MUCH more consistent results, and instant is always a FAIL for cold ferments for me.

I don’t think this has anything to do with the yeast; the yeast in both products is the same, but due to a different manufacturing process, more of the yeast in the instant yeast is alive, so you need to use less of it.  You can proof instant yeast in warm water if you wish to do so, it’s just not necessary.  I never do it and I rarely even warm the water I add to the dough. Slower the rise, the better.

You actually get better steam starting with hot water than ice.

I don’t think more steam at the beginning is the goal; I think the goal is to have steam last for a long time.  The hot water will turn to steam faster and escape the oven.

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Posted: 14 January 2012 02:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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CharlesT - 14 January 2012 05:20 PM
KitchenBarbarian - 14 January 2012 04:43 PM

ADY gives me much MUCH more consistent results, and instant is always a FAIL for cold ferments for me.

I don’t think this has anything to do with the yeast; the yeast in both products is the same, but due to a different manufacturing process, more of the yeast in the instant yeast is alive, so you need to use less of it.  You can proof instant yeast in warm water if you wish to do so, it’s just not necessary.  I never do it and I rarely even warm the water I add to the dough. Slower the rise, the better.

You actually get better steam starting with hot water than ice.

I don’t think more steam at the beginning is the goal; I think the goal is to have steam last for a long time.  The hot water will turn to steam faster and escape the oven.

The yeast in both products is NOT the same (there are differences in formulation as well as slightly different strains), though I’ve seen that myth bandied about frequently.  However, if instant yeast works for you, what difference does it make?  It doesn’t work for ME.  Also, they’ve got some new varieties of “instant” yeast coming down the pike.  LeSaffre now makes something they call “Instant Premium”; also “Instant Purple”; *I don’t know if they’re the same* - which are supposed to work better at lower temps than the standard instants.  Maybe that would work better for me, but not being a pro baker who has to turn batches of bread around at set times, the ADY suits me fine.  Plus, I can get 2 lbs of it at Costco for like three bucks!

As for the steam issue, it’s important to get the humidity in the oven up quickly at the beginning of the bake, before the crust “sets”.  Ice cubes do this more poorly than hot water, as well there is the additional risk of breaking your element or the glass door in an oven if you drop an ice cube in the wrong place, or if one pops in the sudden heat increase and flings a chunk out into the oven.  It’s happened to some people.  Hot water is just the better choice all around.

Your method, with the cover and the steamer, is best of all, but too much trouble for me at my age and with my dexterity issues.  I get good results just covering the dough, actually better than any time I’ve tried any variation of the pan-with-water-in-the-bottom-of-the-oven scenario.  For those of us who can’t handle hanging over an open oven with a steamer and a buffet pan lid with a hole cut in it, just dropping a roasting pan over our bread at the beginning of the bake is a pretty successful method of creating steam in the oven!  Spritzing the bread lightly first is probably a good idea but I haven’t done a side by side comparison, and I probably should before I totally drop that.

Maybe one of these days when I have a bit more energy than usual.  smile

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