Friday, October 10, 2008

This Week We Try Bread, by Mike Pardus

Last week I documented my pizza fiasco. Pizza was pretty stressful, and not conducive to working as a team with a 9 year-old. I think I've got the kinks worked out, and I'm going to throw myself back into the pizza pit again next week. This week we decided to try bread and it was a lot less stress, but not as lucrative - you can charge $15 for a pizza, but only $4 for a loaf of bread. If this were my only means of support, I'd do both - bake the bread in the morning, re-stoke the fire and do the pizza in the afternoon - that would be a good days wage.

But for us, it's a hobby...a way to learn, bond, have fun - and if we make a few bucks, so much the better. My daughter was with me this week as self appointed sous-chef -in-training, working side by side with me on Wednesday and Thursday and, as a result, got a split of the profit and lessons in work ethic and applied economics.

On Tuesday I consulted with my Bread Guru, Eric Kastel - Hearth Breads instructor at the CIA. I showed him Ruhlman's simple 5:3 dough recipe (with my additives of spelt, wheat berries, and flax) and got a revised version which yielded a much nicer texture of both crust and crumb. Here's Eric's tweak on the standard 5:3

  • 50# King Arthur bread Flour 32.5# water 1.5# salt 6 oz. Instant yeast (Saf-instant brand - this is different than "dry-active yeast")
  • 1# wheat berries, lightly crushed in spice grinder 1# spelt, lightly crushed 1# flax seed, lightly crushed Soak in 2.5# water over night

Combine all dry ingredients (including yeast) in mixing bowl, add water and knead with a bread hook for 10 minutes on low speed. Add adjunct (all water will have been abosrbed by now) and continue to mix for another 5 minutes. Remove from machine to a cool place until it has risen once. Punch down, shape and retard in very cold box (34 F) until ready to bake.

On Wednesday, using a borrowed Hobart 30 quart mixer, I mixed the dough in 4 batches (machine couldn't handle 80# at once), packed it in a large cooler, and drove it to the farm.

At the farm Sierra (my daughter) and I set up a table with a digi scale, a knife, flour, corn meal, waxed paper, and 75 small baskets from the local Dollar store. While I cut and weighed the dough into 500 gram masses, Sierra shaped them. Ron and Kate, the farmers, lined each basket with waxed paper and a heavy dusting of flour, loaded the baskets into plastic tomato lugs, covered each lug with towels and stacked them in the produce cooler - cranked down to 34F to slow the yeast growth. Before turning in for the night Ron lit a fire in the oven to begin a slow warming process - we needed it to be up to 800 degrees by Thursday afternoon.

On Thursday Ron pulled the dough out of the cooler at 1:00 pm and stacked them in the barn. It was a beautiful day, 65 degrees and sunny, and the dough began to rise.

By the time I left work, collected Sierra, and drove to the farm, it was 3:00 pm - I had one hour to get the oven completely up to temp, unload and reshape the loaves onto peals, rake out the coals from the oven, and load the bread in.

Using an infra-red laser thermometer, the oven temped at just over 800 and, at 3:45, I began to load the dough. The loading was a ballet in itself. As I loaded one peal in, I passed the empty peal to Sierra who would reload it as I used the other peal to load the next group. Striking a rhythm like this we fit about 40 loaves into the oven in 15 minutes. By 4:00 PM the oven was full, the door closed, and we could relax, set up for sales, eat some apples, and enjoy the beauty surrounding us.

Occasionally I opened the door and shuffled the loaves around in a clockwise direction to ensure even baking, but it became apparent that the temperature was dropping fast and the bread was slowing waaaay down each time I opened the door. Absent the fire, 40 loaves of bread were sucking the heat out of the clay and brick pretty fast.

Getting most of the first load out left room to kindle a small fire in the opposite corner of the oven, raising the temperature, creating infra-red, hastening the baking and enhancing the browning. The remaining loaves baked quickly and were the best of the day.

Meanwhile, Sierra had her sales pitch in full swing and was selling the bread faster than I could remove it from the oven. "Fresh Baked in our home-made clay oven with a mixture of Spelt, Flax, and Wheat berries with King Arthur Flour all the way from Vermont! Only $4 per loaf" "It's still hot out of the oven, don't burn your self and don't carry it away in a sealed bag until it's cool - it'll get mushy".

By 7:00 pm the last two loaves - still warm - were sold - 61 loaves sold in all.

We ate bread ourselves for supper in the barn, eating pears and apples along side, while we discussed the successes and mistakes of the project with Kate and Ron. It was mutually agreed to be a good thing and we vowed to keep up our Thursday night productions until the end of October, when the season ends.

On our way home Sierra asked "Are we going to keep doing this next summer too?"

"I don't know, honey, it's a lot of work" I replied, "Maybe we can figure out a system where we just get it started and then hire some CIA students to do the hard work and the actual baking"

Her response took me off guard, and then just reaffirmed how deeply the "Chef Gene" can run - "Daddy, where's your sense of pride? Doesn't it feel better to look at all of the people eating our bread and know that WE made it with our own hands? Why would you pay some one else to feel that way instead?"

Holy shit...she's got the bug.


craigkite said...

There is something pretty primal about fresh bread. The description of the "terroir" of the baking was pretty stellar. That had to be some petty good eating at the end of the day. Food, environment, company and events surrounding it all make the meal. Amazing thing this $4 loaf.

MessyONE said...

A $4.00 loaf of bread? I'll take a dozen, please! The best I can manage for good bread is at a place called Red Hen Bakery here in Chicago. Their bread runs $6.00 to $8.00 a loaf. No kidding. Even their baguettes (which are only ok) are $5.00.

Mom would be aghast. When I was a kid, she'd make a couple of dozen loaves every month or so and freeze them. I never once bought a loaf of bread until I left home.

blondee47 said...

I think the aroma is creeping through my windows...

Tags said...

I'm proud of that Sierra and we're not even related.

jhenrysmith said...

hey chef,
wait till you start playing with becomes an obsession! and i def agree with tags.

Mike Pardus said...

Thanks for the compliments on Sierra.She's going to be mayor of New Paltz before she graduates from High School...and may take the reigns at CIA after she hones her leadership skills.

Sour dough, not such a big fan. But fermentation r us around here anyway - we bake all of our own bread, yogurt, pickles,vinegars and brew bottle fermented root beer with the neighborhood kids. Our house is a bacteriologic zoo.

Bob del Grosso said...


"Sour dough, not such a big fan."

That's why we are homeboys.

Sourdough bread is way too big for me to be serious daily bread. Its flavor occludes almost everyhting I try to pair with it.

It's way too loud to serve as a foil for most of the things that I like to eat and drink.

Jennie/Tikka said...

My favorite part of bread-baking in school was learning that "pumpernickel" translates to "devil's fart" in English! :D

Mike Pardus said...

Jennie- That's funny. Our friend Krishnedu Ray - food sociologist at NYU - tells me that asofeotida is nick-named "the devils dung" in Hindi.

Rich said...

"Sour dough, not such a big fan."

"Sourdough bread is way too big for me to be serious daily bread. Its flavor occludes almost everything I try to pair with it."

Gentlemen, I have to respectfully disagree. I recently got into sourdough baking. Actually, I only recently got into baking bread at all. I did a ton of research before culturing my first starter. I was actually going for a SOUR dough, but I found when following the daily feeding recommendations it kept the Lactobacillus from going too wild. Once I started turning out respectable loaves most people couldn't tell it was sourdough. Not at all with King Arthur white whole wheat. Then I learned to tweak the feedings to get a more stereotypical SOUR loaf.
Lots of SOUR sourdough, even from artisan bakeries, gets all doped up with ascorbic, or even citric acid. I imagine for large volume production it would be almost a necessity to get a the consistent product people expect.
Natural starters can create a broad range of flavors, and aromas. It's far more stimulating than working with brewers yeast. Certainly worthy of more than an out of hand dismissal.

Mike Pardus said...

Hey Rich....I was using Paul Bertolli's instructions and capturing wild yeast in Napa Vineyards in 1985 to make my own levain and because I was intrigued by the process. I'll ferment just about anything that stands still long enough because I appreciate the microbial side of the process. I don't like the flavor of sour-dough bread. I like the flavor of fresh yeast. You may have a different preference in your taste for bread, but I object to your presumption to tell either Bob or I that we have "dismissed it out of hand". I might be guilty of intellectual laziness from time to time - not in this case - but Chef DelGrosso is most assuredly not.

By the way - if the end result is indistinguishable from regular bread, why bother?

Cameron S. said...

The history of sourdough bread is interesting - I actually like sourdough bread but typically for clam chowders, and a few types of stew. I also love sourdough pancakes. I don't eat sourdough outside of the dishes naturally eaten by miners from the California, Yukon and Alaskan goldrushes though. It overpowers cheeses, salumi, herbs, etc...

Bob del Grosso said...

I think the kind of sourdough that you describe early in your first paragraph is very much like what I make once a week and eat every day. As matter of fact, I have some fermenting in the kitchen now.

I give my daily bread a really long, staged fermentation period in part because I like it to have a slightly sour taste. But I've never thought of it as sourdough and I'm pretty sure that most people would agree that it is to a typical bread marketed as "sourdough" as peach fuzz is to the beard of Wotan.

Rich said...

I was not tying to give you guys a hard time about your preference, but I wanted to stick up for sourdough. It is more than a one trick pony.

An argument could be made that there is probably no such thing as fresh yeast. I would wager that most active strains have been going for quite a long time. When I am on a "loaf a day" tear, you could say my yeasts are as fresh as they come, just wild.

Like you, I did it out of fascination with the process. In doing so I discovered that there is a range of flavor beyond pain au levain, or the tart little boules people serve soup in.

I also wouldn't say the bread was indistinguishable from regular, as much as it was far more than just sour. The point was that I learned from, and enjoyed the process. I'm still learning how to work with the stuff.

I have nothing but respect for you and Bob, and didn't intend to accuse you of anything. I just wanted to try to add a bit to the conversation. Great videos btw. Can't wait till the next one.

Rich said...


What I, inartfully, tried to say was that a starter in daily use can produce the exact type of bread you are speaking of. most of my friends agree with you and gave me the reaction, "This is sourdough?".

The Beard of Wotan version(too funny)is, by my assumption/opinion, usually the doped up variety I mentioned. I have to let my starter get seriously funky to get anywhere near that flavor.
In fact I bet your long fermentation bread is just letting the process go long enough to reach its logical conclusion and start a little lactobacillus bloom.
You could probably pinch off a little at that stage and dissolve it in a flour/water slurry and end up with a decent starter.

I stayed away from baking for years because I assumed I couldn't do it well. I also assumed many things about natural yeast cultures. Now I love the process, and just trying to share a bit of insight. I just really think it is a mistake to get hung up on the word "sour".

Bob del Grosso said...

I did not take offense to you earlier comment at all -not even for a second. So no apology to me is in order.

I cannot speak for Mike, but I think his objection might have been tongue-in-cheek.

In any case, I'm cool with all of it.

Not to worry!

Bob del Grosso said...

You wrote

"n fact I bet your long fermentation bread is just letting the process go long enough to reach its logical conclusion and start a little lactobacillus bloom"

This is exactly right and precisely why I do it. I want a small lactobacillus bloom and no more than that.
I have several times pinched off a bit and kept it for a while, but it's too much trouble to husband it so I start from scratch every time. If I was doing production baking I probably would use a starter to save time. But I'm only making a 3 pound loaf a week and can afford to take 3 to 5 days to do it.

jhenrysmith said...

interesting discussion...chef p can you elaborate on root beer fermented in the bottle in the future? for me sourdough became a game in which i most certainly lost many times. but i learned to be patient and it was the 'gateway' to other fermented foods...