Category Archives: Baking School

Things I learned in KAF baking school, Part Two

Side-by-side taste testing is a gift.

On the last day, we taste a flight of varietals: five whole wheat baguettes, side-by-side. Our “control” baguette contains King Arthur White Whole Wheat flour and the others contain Salish Blue (a perennial wheat in development at the Bread Lab), Sprouted Skagit 1109, Cairn Spring Espresso T-185 and Cairn Spring Edison Unsifted. 

Newbie bakers rarely know the difference between all purpose and bread flour, let alone this wide range of locally-grown wheat varietals with alluring names.  We taste them straight-up without butter, observing crumb, inhaling aroma, analyzing crust and interior, making mindful, slow chews, ruminating on each variety. We dub this our “munch and think” session. One is Mr. Moist, the other Crispy Crust, another so very sweet. None of these baguettes has the loft and rise produced by 100% white bread flour, but all five excel in delivering a unique, wheaty flavour.  

Oh, The Baguette. This long, phallic, day-only-fresh loaf is the epitome of French bread baking and never ceases to send me into performance panic. Despite suffering years of bakers’ baguette trauma (BBT), I’m actually able to follow our instructor Jen’s shaping instruction. She demos once, twice, then for the final demo, she asks us to call out command steps for her to follow: “Place the dough good side down. Deflate. Letter fold, folding top then bottom. Observe the dough lip and seam. Use left hand to turn dough from the top of the lip over your thumb and tap closed with right palm. Repeat turn, twist and tap across the length of the dough. Turn the dough 180 degrees and pull the top side of dough to the table, pulling it over your left, lightly floured thumb and close with right palm tap. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Time to roll. Spread your floured fingers out wide and roll from the middle to the tips of your baguette. ”

Big breath. I return to my bench and practice. Four times. 

Two out of four ain’t bad, right? I’m hesitant to attach my initialized label to the underside of these horrendous duds. 

“There is no bread shame,” Jen assures, after a thoughtful examination of the first 20 baguettes that roll out of the oven. She is about to launch into a frank discussion of the flaws and achievements before her promising not to reveal anyone’s label.  

A tiny, terrified “Eeaak” issues forth,  en masse.

“This snake swallowed a mouse,” she says pointing to my first try. “And this one, well…” She says something way less hurtful than my first baguette mentor did years ago when I was apprenticing at a downtown Toronto bakery.  

“Just stop, Madeleine,” he called out to me shaping at the bench, pointing to my disastrous results.“I can’t sell any of those!”  

Croissants are not easy.

In fact, I’d label them advanced with a capital A.

A truly delicious, flaky croissant requires three consecutive days of attention. It wants butter that contains even more fat than normal, demands lots of finicky measurements, and exponential folding. The goal is flaky, honeycomb layers totalling 54 –  if you get it right.   

I’m thrilled to find “Sprouted Wheat Croissants” in my red KAF folderbecause I came to this course hoping for whole grain solutions to old school deliciousness. To make eight of these crispy morsels, we use 130 gm of sprouted wheat flour and 130 gm of all-purpose (King Arthur’s, of course). 

Croissant Day One, we make a simple yeasted, enriched dough and whack a 100 gram piece of unsalted, 85% fat European-style butter with a rolling pin into a thin, very pummeled five-and-a-half-inch square.  Day Two, we “lock in” our little square of chilled butter, sweetly swaddling it in the dough we made the day before. Then we get violent, methodically whacking, pounding and rolling our dough-butter combo into submission. We chill it, then whack and roll again several times. On Day Three, we roll out our sixth edition of an eight-by-16-inch rectangle, slice it into four equal parts, cutting each in half on the diagonal. Who says bread isn’t a science?

Like kids cut loose in a candy store, we adult learners happily fashion four crescent shapes and four pains au chocolat.  We each sign our name in black Sharpie pen on the parchment paper that holds our creations.  I swell with pride as I watch my croissant offspring enter KAF’s industrial convection oven, so big it can accommodate a six-foot-tall rack on wheels.  Butter aroma engulfs the room and the flaking begins. 

I post my baked beauties on Instagram and a follower asks, “Are these really yours?”

Even flour temperature matters.

“When a recipe says a pinch of yeast, what’s that mean?” instructor Geoffrey asks the class on Day One eliciting a dazed response.  

“I mean, do you want to use two fingers or threeto pinch with?” 

We respond with silence.  Just moments earlier our hallowed baking leader was talking about grams and the scientific accuracy of it all. Now we are pinching, for God’s sake. 

“If your kitchen is hot and humid, you will two finger pinch. But if the room temperature is moderate, go for three. Who can tell me why?” he asks.

One of the brighter lights among us chirps out, “The hotter the room, the faster the ferment.”

“Exactly,” says Geoffrey, “Temperature and time are two big tools for fermentation. Madeleine, I’ve put a thermometer on your bench and would like you to tell me our flour and pre-ferment temperatures.” 

Hands trembling, I insert the probe into the fluffy flour bin then into a silver bowl full of bubbling biga, calling out “66 and 66.5 F” to Geoffrey, who scribbles them on the whiteboard before us.  

At this juncture, my brain fizzles right out. Overloaded with data, my memory stick cannot download another formula or fraction. My screen goes blank during the full 10 minutes we devote to final dough temperature (78F is optimum) and how it can be controlled through a 1,000 – step equation to determine the temperature of water we use to make the initial dough.

Luckily, after days of deliberation, I get it. If we bakers can understand and compute all the variables: temperature, time, flour attributes, leavening strength and the list goes on… we can bake on a timetable producing consistent quality. As a home baker, albeit a serious one, the science of bread can only bolster the magic of my art. 

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KAF Spelt with Honey

Here’s an easy yeasted bread perfect for beginners. This dough is more forgiving if you are just learning to shape a boule or batard. Plus, spelt is an ancient grain with a nice, sweet nuttiness.  

600 g whole spelt flour

200 g unbleached bread flour

580 g water

2 g instant yeast

16 g salt

28 g honey

Scale flours, water and yeast in a mixing bowl, mix until just combined and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rest at room temperature for about 20 min.

Add honey and salt and mix 1-2 min or until the dough begins to develop strength. Cover and ferment for 2 hours, folding every 30 minutes.

On a lightly floured surface, shape into boules or batards an place in floured bannetons. Cover with shower caps and retard in the refrigerator overnight.

Preheat Lodgepan combo cookers in oven at 500 F for 30 min.

Flip each loaf onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet and score.

VERY carefully remove heated combo-cooker from oven, slide loaf on parchment paper into pan, close with lid and return to oven for 20 min. Reduce heat to 460 F, remove lids and bake until golden brown and crusty, 15-20 min.

 

 

Baking at King Arthur Flour, Part 1: The things I learned in baking school

A scraper is your best friend, especially if you have two

First, we bakers need a white, plastic scraper with King Arthur Flour’s logo embossed on the surface. It’s light and flexible, a strong yet perfectly calibrated plastic that bends in the grip while its curved edge scrapes clean each bowl of messy dough we mix. We find it tucked inside our red recipe folders, compliments of KAF. My bench partner leans over and whispers, “Complimentary now, huh? I think I stole one before. Can’t bake without it.”

Instructor Geoffrey intones, “Dough is always sticky” and demos a clean scrape, lifting a mass of Multigrain with Biga dough in big chunks to the bench (a.k.a. our working surface). Once this dough hits the wooden bench it does exactly as expected. It sticks.

Enter scraper number two. It’s a big piece of stainless steel with a wooden handle and a straight, six-inch edge, sharp and strong enough to cut bulk mounds of dough in clean strokes or measure rolled-out rectangles of dough to the required specs. Better still, it cleans off that ever-present mixture of flour and water that accumulates on our wooden benches incessantly.  Wet dough leaves scat. We bakers obsessively scrape it away (following the wood’s grain if your bench partner suggests). If time permits, we use it to scrape clean our white plastic scraper, too.

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A docker has nothing to do with boats
.

A mysterious tool is on display at the front of the classroom. We are watching Geoffrey demonstrate “Caraway Rye Crisps”. It’s our first baking venture on Day One of the KAF course and Geoffrey doesn’t touch the docker, leaving me curious. I drag this massive white roller flecked with nails across a sheet of freshly rolled-out cracker dough. Instantly, this torture device tears my carefully rolled out dough into shreds.  I opt to make lavash and use a fork to finish the work

Dough has muscle.

According to Jen, our Day Four instructor, dough muscle can vary in strength from loosey-goosey to weightlifter tight.  Day Four happened to be Halloween and Jen is dramatically dressed as a pre-Industrial baker in a floor length dress and apron, her long hair wrapped beneath a layered scarf. Jen points to her clenched fist and dabs the pad below her thumb.

“That’s firm,” she says authoritatively.

“But this,” she says pointing to her flabby underarm muscle that’s impossible to see under the billowing waves of her costume’s fabric, “is absolutely not!”

Geoffrey’s approach to dough muscle did not include his or anybody else’s body parts.

Pushing a bowl full of dough towards us, he says “touch it, feel it.”  After another mix, he beckons again “touch it, feel it.” He chants these four words like a mantra all through the course.

“Touch it, feel it,” after a proof. “Touch it, feel it,” after a pre-shape.  We dip thumbs and forefingers into every mass of gunky dough he offers, pulling messy strands, pinching and prodding, disgusted by the gummy residue that clings like glue to our nails and knuckles.

“Dry, never water-wash your gooey hands,” instructs Geoffrey as he dunks his fingers into a nearby bin of flour, a cloud of flour lifting up. He pulls them out slowly, and methodically rubs off all the gnarly bits into a waste-bin below. He waves his dry, but still visibly floury and crusty hands in our direction and chuckles.

“That’s a bakers’ patina.”

Baker's Patina

Dough texture – and dough muscle – changes all baking day long.  Once fermented or proofed, we poke it again to test strength. Geoffrey calls this “the doorbell ring.” Depending on the bread type, we see that poke spring right back up, leave a deep indent, or something in between.

A baker’s touch is as vital as a tasting spoon, worth every sticky, messy, floury imprint it makes on our minds.

Scale it and tare it.

Baking relies on precision. Flour measured by volume (with measuring spoons or cups) is not recommended. Our individual baking stations are each supplied with a big black scale. Geoffrey says he prefers metric since “the math is easier and grams are more precise.” Bakers are constantly making computations, whether it is tripling a recipe or cutting an industrial mix into one-fortieth of its original size. Those 16 Imperial ounces in a pound just add confusion to the tally.

We start every recipe by measuring out all our ingredients on the scale.KAF Day Four

“The tare button is our best friend,” instructs Geoffrey. “Or it can be the opposite.” As soon as we put an empty mixing bowl on the scale, we tare and the screen returns to zero. We spoon in all-purpose flour and tare. We add rye and tare. We rely on the tare button to refresh the screen and weigh each ingredient separately, but if you inadvertently tare mid-stream, or worse still, your scale times out and goes blank, you can find yourself looking at a huge bowlful of  ingredients containing, God forbid, an unmeasured ingredient that can ruin the whole lot.

Scaling liquids is also tricky. The numbers on a scale just can’t keep up with a fast pour. Better to measure liquids separately and slowly. Scaling gooey blobs of honey or molasses is terminally slow and messy. Handy trick? Use an oiled spoon and honey or molasses slides off effortlessly. Worse still, tiny morsels of instant yeast (living time bombs, in the world of leavening) are so light and airy our scales can’t discern their 1 gram increments. As a result, we bakers sometimes have to ditch science and use our senses instead. It’s that combination of these two forces – one scientific and the other learned by the senses—that creates the mighty and delicious alchemy of baking.

(To be continued, next week)

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Rye Lavash with Maldon Salt, Chili Flakes and Rosemary

Adapted from “Caraway Rye Crisps” this recipe highlights rye’s awesome flavour and is a no-brainer, requiring next to no kneading nor any yeast.  Go ahead and cut these into fussy rectangles for traditional crackers but I prefer baking this out in two large sheets and dubbing it lavash.  Once cooled,  break into long, random sticks and serve alongside dips, paté or cheese.

114g unbleached, all-purpose flour

114g  whole rye flour (we used KAF Pumpernickel)

1 tsp baking powder

¾ tsp salt

25g diced, cold unsalted butter

118g water

20g dark molasses

Maldon salt

Chili Flakes

Dried Rosemary

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine all purpose, rye, baking powder and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter until it resembles coarse meal. Scale water in a bowl, tare, and scale in molasses by drizzling from an oiled spoon.  Add liquids to dry and combine with a curved edge plastic scraper kneading into a rough dough. Wrap in plastic, flatten into a disc and refrigerate for at least 15 min.

Place the disc on a lightly floured surface, cut in half and roll out each to 1/16thinch thickness.

Transfer to parchment lined baking sheets. Sprinkle with salt, chili flakes and rosemary and use the rolling pin to press in gently.

Bake 9-12 min or until golden brown.  Transfer to a rack to cool.  Break into pieces, if desired.

KAF Day One