Monday, 29 November 2010

A proving box

This week I made a wholemeal wheat bread based on Laurel Robertson's Desem bread. This was the first time I had tried to make it in any quantity, and one of the main challenges was proving it. The original recipe calls for a very short, warm, humid prove. Previously, with this sort of thing, I've either put it the molded loaves in a very low oven or in a plastic bag (as the recipe suggests for home bakers). In this instance, though, our only oven was full of bread, and plastic bags would have meant humidifying each of them separately. Luckily I have in the bakery a large plastic box which has periodically served a number of functions, and a roll of eco-wool plastic loft insulation, which I usually use for keeping ferments cool in the summer. I emptied a kettle of hot water into the bottom of the box, stacked some cooling wires on some empty bread tins, and set the loaves to prove on top of the wires. With the lid on the box, I wrapped the whole thing in the ecowool and set the timer.

It was astonishingly effective. After one hour and a half, the water was still uncomfortably hot to touch, and the loaves were ready to overflow their baskets. Handling them onto the peel and into the oven was quite tricky, but not completely unmanageable. For the second oven load, I halved the proving time. They were much easier to handle, and came out of the oven looking much prettier. When I tried the test loaves, though, I thought the first batch had the edge in flavour and texture, if not looks:

I really liked this loaf. I don't think the recipe is quite finished yet, but I thought the flavour and texture were pretty good, it's extremely wholesome, and we're still eating the last of ours 5 days after it was baked.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Another oven

We've been in London and managed to visit the E5 Bakehouse, who bake using an oven using the same principles as ours. Having only met them on paper so far, it was very exciting to see one in action and even bake some bread in it.

Matthew's starting a series of wholemeal specials this week with a wholemeal wheat loaf based on Laurel Robertson's famous Desem bread recipe. There will be two more wholemeal wheats and three ryes to follow over the next few months. With a break for something a little more frivolous over Christmas!

Monday, 8 November 2010

Change of seasons in the Bakery

In the majority of commercial bakeries the changing of the seasons goes pretty much unnoticed as far as the baking is concerned. However, in ours things are a little different. Sustainability is at the very heart of our bakery, and we were determined from the start to find a sustainable alternative to the banks of provers and coolers which are used in most bakeries to control the rising of the dough.

In the spring the change to the hot weather brought some challenges to us, and we began to think about low-tech cooling methods by which we could control the rise of the dough overnight. However, a tiny line in Alan Scott and Daniel Wing's The Bread Builders pointed to another possibility. They mention the practice of traditional French bakers, who used to vary the amount of leaven in the dough depending on the ambient temperature. At once we realised that the dough might hold the answer, we didn't need a low-tech solution, we needed to be in charge of the dough.

Matthew's adaptation of Jeffery Hamelman's DDT calculations provided a critical tool, meaning that the change of season from warmish to cold nights has passed without a hitch. Until fairly recently this kind of skill and knowledge must have been part of every professional baker's trade, but the ubiquity of technical solutions in bakeries of all sizes means these skills have been lost. The discovery that it is perfectly possible to bake without them has been an exciting one for us, and raises the possibility of another exciting prospect - the off-grid bakery.

Of course, this easy transition has not been without its down side. All transitions in the bakery - new oven, new recipes, new flour and (until now) new temperatures - have meant trial loaves. The presence of many half loaves yielded a bounty for our freezer, especially in the form of frozen cubes of bread to add to one of our favourite winter soups - ribollita. I was horrified to find that we were down to our last bag of bread cubes last week. Time to develop and new recipe I think!