daidoji_gisei: loaves of bread (bread)
July 1 was a big day for me, work-wise, because it was the beginning of our new bread schedule.

This was much more exciting than the previous sentence might indicate. When I became the bakery manager lo those many years ago I inherited a bread schedule that stayed the same week after week as it rolled through the year. I kept to that schedule with only minor alterations because, as received wisdom, it was immune to questions. But this spring I was casting around for ideas to make the Bakery even better and I came up with the idea of adding new yeast breads to the schedule. This led to the following chain of thought: I can't add new breads, the schedule is full already. So take off some of the old ones. But that would change the schedule! And? So? Those breads are good, but people see them all the time. Change things up! But that would change the schedule! Bakery managers have that power, you know. I...I...

After I got over the shock of realizing that if continents could shift, so could breads, I started work on the project. For July I developed two new breads (Sweet Chocolate {yes, that is really a yeast bread} and Apricot Wheat Germ. I brought back a bread we used to make, dropped a few to make room, and shifted some of the breads that were staying so that they appeared at a different part of the week. Then I had to deal with all of the paperwork to support the change: putting up announcements on Facebook so our customers had some warning, getting a new bread schedule sign made, etc, etc. In addition, I had decided this was the perfect reason to kick into gear the new-bread-labels-and-shelf-sign project that has been hovering about my desk for a year or so. Which, of course, generated more paperwork. Not to mention proofreading. (I read the label proofs over carefully several times, then gave them to two bakery staffers to check, and I'm still waiting to see what mistakes got past me. I know there has to be at least one.)

The scariest part of this is that having begun, I must continue. For the foreseeable future I will need to come up with a few new breads each month, so that we have a growing list of breads to rotate in and out as the months go by. It's scary partly because it's something that will have to be done regardless of vacations, holiday baking demands, illness, and missing dishwashers.

But to be honest, the really scary thing is how much I am looking forward to this. I came to this job through bread-making, and yeast breads continue to be my favorite thing in the world to make. Assigning myself the task of creating new bread recipes almost seems like cheating. On the other hand, my boss, her boss, and my staff all think that new recipes are a good idea, so I'll just have to live with the joy of making bread.

Bread!

Apr. 6th, 2011 10:38 pm
daidoji_gisei: (Cooking)
When I got home today I was thinking of doing more work in the garden but then I remembered I was out of bread. One of my current goals is to get back to making all of my own bread (running a bakery had made me somewhat lax on this over the years), so instead of planting seeds I cultivated yeast.

I had a lot of buttermilk on hand, so I chose a recipe for a buttermilk whole wheat. My new mixer (still needs a name!) made pretty short work of mixing and kneading the dough, though when I tried to take it out I discovered it didn't mix all the flour in the bottom of the bowl. There is an adjustment you can make to fix that; I just need to remember to do it in between bread batches. Anyway, I put it in a buttered bowl and set it to rise. Some people are put off of bread-making because they think it takes a lot of time, but though the process can take several hours for most of that time the dough is sitting on the counter doing its thing and you can be doing something else. I put on the Advent Children soundtrack, cranked the volume, and did dishes.

After the first rise I decided to shape into one pound round loaves. It's a loaf size I can easily eat in a few days, while it is still tender, and it means having loaves to give away. Normally I would wrap some and stick them in my freezer, but my freezer is full of frozen veggies at the moment. But that's ok, because it just means I'll have a reason to make bread again.
daidoji_gisei: (Default)
I got up this morning at the highly embarrassing hour of 7 am. Granted, one hour of that is the time change, but I still feel like a slug. It's a quarter of nine and I'm not even dressed yet! Normally I would be breakfasted, dressed, and washing either clothes or dishes. On the other hand, my Saturday was super-productive--I washed a lot of clothes, cleaned in my kitchen, changed sheets, made bread. I didn't get to the point where I could mop my kitchen floor, which was one of my goals, but still.

The thing I am happiest about is the bread. This is the second batch of bread I've made in my kitchen-aid mixer and it worked out really well. The first batch was a learning experience that will have a glorious destiny as bread crumbs--normally my perfectionism would be nagging me at this point, but by now I've trained enough new bakers to know that getting used to a new piece of technology takes practice and that's all there is to it.

The mixer came with a cookbook that included two bread recipes, one with all white flour and one with all whole wheat flour. This is somewhat limiting for my style of baking, so yesterday I used the whole wheat recipe as a guide and put together a batch using whole wheat flour, white flour, a few tablespoons of gluten, and some cooked brown rice that was getting to the end of its safe lifespan. The result is amazingly delicious and I think I should write it down so that I can make it again. The experience pointed out the strength of a kitchen-aid: it allows me to create and knead doughs that are far slacker than I could manage by hand. When my wheat-rice bread finished its mixing it was somewhere between a heavy batter and a soft dough in feel, and I had to scrape it out of the mixing bowl with a spatula. I did that deliberately because my experiences in commercial baking have taught me that doughs firm up while rising, as the yeast works on the gluten, and that I can start with something a bit gloppy and come out with a soft yet workable dough at the end of the first rise.

I got two nice loaves from this batch. I had two slices of one with dinner last night (fresh bread for dinner! Such luxury!) and two more for breakfast. As they say these days, NOM NOM NOM. One loaf was securely wrapped and put in the freezer. Now I want to make bread again today.
daidoji_gisei: (Default)
For the past few years the bakery has offered dinner rolls in the shape of a bunch of grapes. We call them 'bread sculptures', which is something of an exaggeration given my lack of artistic talent--but I can bake bread, so they come out pretty nice looking. Anyway, this year I was organized enough to make some demo models in advance, so that customers would have an idea what they looked like, and to get photographs on the website. Which means, I can show them to my friends. ~linky!~

I love making them because shaping bread is always so satisfying. Next week will be VERY VERY BUSY, but at least I'll get to make bread!
daidoji_gisei: (Default)
I'm having fresh, home-made bread for breakfast right now. NOM NOM NOM.

At one time I made all my bread, but I had drifted away from that over the last ten years--when you run a bakery that makes good bread, there is less of a need. Recently, though I've decided to get back to it, if only because then I have complete control over the flavors. (Hey, I think that anise-scented breakfast toast would rock.)

It is embarrassing to admit, but my first few loaves were...less than stellar. It was frustrating, since my bread at work is of a very high quality. Then I made my decision to ignore the recipe and add water as necessary, and my breads got about 253% better. It was gratifying.

The bread I made last night has whole wheat flour, white bread flour, oat meal, and oat bran in it. I think I'll make this recipe again, though I'll tweak the salt down a bit. (I cook with very little salt, with the result that I'm really good at tasting it.) I scaled out dough for two loaves and had about a pound of dough left, so I made an impromptu coffee cake by patting it into a cake pan, covering it with sliced apples, and covering that with struesel. I had a small slice of it as part of my breakfast to check the flavor (no, really) and the rest of it I'll take to work for my staff and co-workers to munch on. This week and the next will be challenging, and home-made treat is always good for morale.
daidoji_gisei: (Default)
I was training a new baker earlier this week and as a result my sleep schedule is all messed up, and it's going to stay messed up for a few weeks. I hate that. In spite of that I usually enjoy it, because it involves teaching someone to bake bread and I love baking bread. As far as I'm concerned, baking cake and cookies and whatnot is horribly dull. Breadmaking, on the other hand, is exciting because you are dealing with a living organism--yeast--and a complicated mechanical structure--the gluten network formed through the kneading process. These two things combine to make the tasty food we call bread. I love bread. (REAL bread, that is. None of this Wonderbread nonsense.)

Bread-making uses all the senses. You feel the dough constantly to judge how the dough is coming together. You look at and feel the rising dough to determine if it has risen enough. If you think you've forgotten the salt then a taste of the dough is needed--a saltless dough has a distinctive flatness. In baking you look to check the color, to see if it is baking at the right rate. Smell helps you know if it has baked enough--does it smell like bread? Or does it have the alcohol scent of dough? You listen to the loaves as you tap tap tap to see if they are baked through. And all the while your mind is sorting through the information your senses are generating, comparing it to all the batches you've baked before and deciding what to do next. More flour? More kneading? More rising? Slash it and bake now, or wait just a little more? Will it rise more, or just collapse? Bread baking is never dull.

And best of all, and the end of it you have bread.


daidoji_gisei: (Default)
Yesterday I noticed that we had run out of salt-free whole wheat bread. This is a bread we don't offer fresh--not enough demand--but the people who need it, need it, so we keep a supply in the freezer section of grocery and bake more whenever we run out. Thus, my first task today was to bake more salt free. Tara was already busy doing something when I came in (actually, she was busy doing two or three somethings--that's how she rolls), so this time I got to bake it.

Salt has multiple roles to play in bread. The first is, it makes it taste better. Our salt-free whole wheat is identical to our regular in every respect but one, but you can easily taste the difference between the two: the salt-free is flatter to the taste. More importantly (to a baker), salt acts to strengthen the gluten strands and to slow down the yeast. This means several things. The dough for the salt-free whole wheat always feels slightly gummy in the mixing bowl, even when it has enough flour added to it. This makes it hard to judge the water/flour balance in the dough. It also means that the dough will rise very rapidly--and deflate catastrophically if the baker doesn't keep an eye on it. There's really no salvaging a dough that has over-proofed.

As a result, our salt-free bread usually comes out looking slightly short and somewhat more lumpy than our regular whole wheat. Unless I make it.

That last statement sounds vain, but bread baking in the one thing I'm willing to be vain about. When I am in the zone, I am untouchable. And if I'm making bread I'm probably in the zone.

So I mixed up the dough, adding just a handful of extra flour after six minutes kneading. I let it rise until it was a round pillow-form, and then scaled the dough and shaped it into loaves. I prepped the chocolate chip scones and cut granola bars as it rose the second time, making sure that Alex understood that when the bread was ready I was evicting his bread crumbs from my oven. (Over the years I have managed to lay down the kitchen law that bread gets right-of-way with the ovens. Because bakers do what the yeast says, and not the other way around.) When they were ready to go in--I can tell by touch--I docked them and slid them into the oven.

After 25 minutes of baking I pulled them out to rotate them. They were tall and perfectly rounded. "Ta da!" I said to Tara, showing them to her. "So that's salt-free," she said, her voice heavy with mock-skepticism. I grinned. "You saw me put the dough together." She just shook her head. I didn't think to tell her then, but I'll try to remember tomorrow: Talent is good, but skill is better. Skill takes time, that's all. Someday she will be where I am now.

In the meantime, my bad mood lightened up.
daidoji_gisei: (Default)
Hot cross buns is a food tradition the US inherited from England. They are sweet yeast breads baked on Good Friday to celebrate the end of Lent, and probably evolved from some pagan custom or another because the Catholic Church has always cheerfully lifted customs it liked from other religions and applied them to its own ends. They are usually round with a small cross drawn on the top with powdered sugar icing. The version my bakery makes has the cross cut into the top of the roll with a razor blade before baking, and when they come out of the oven the rolls are washed with a mixture of honey and butter that have been boiled together. This makes them somewhat sticky, but utterly delectable to eat.

Our bakery bakes them for both the Friday before Palm Sunday and Good Friday. There are a number of reasons for this, one of them being that I adore making yeast breads so it doesn't take much to convince me to add one to the daytime production schedule--one of my great sorrows as a bakery manager is that I'm now a day-time baker, which means I stuck making things like cake and cookies. We do make French, Pesto French, and Jewish Rye during the day on Friday, but I let Tara, my assistant manager, make those. Last year (or was it longer?) I taught her how to make bread, mostly so that she would be better prepared to supervise night bakers, and she took to it like a duck to water. A lot of my success as a manager rests on my luck in hiring and retaining good employees, and Tara is a stellar employee, so if she wants to make the Friday breads I'm perfectly willing to let her have the fun. Except when it comes to the hot cross buns, which are mine.

Today's batch came out perfect, light little pillows of honeyed bread scented with orange and cinnamon. A customer had previously ordered a few dozen for today, and she showed up while I was still packaging them. She said she'd go up and pay for them while I was finishing, and could I leave one out for her to eat now? Well, I had a baby roll (= a roll made of the last bit of dough, and too small to be sellable) from this batch, so I gave it to her instead. She came back from the cashiers a few minutes later, finishing the roll and enthusing over how good it was. "I love baking yeast breads," I told her. "You can tell! I can taste the love in it," she replied. This, of course, is precisely the kind of comment that makes me go all warm and fuzzy inside. I do not think of myself as a warm-and-fuzzy person, but the thought of people being happy to eat the breads I was happy to make will always do the trick.
daidoji_gisei: (Default)
My new baker took some photos of our first night baking and put them up on his myspace page here. I could have done without a photo of me in the collection, but whatever. In case you are curious, the yellow stuff on the floor is polenta. (Uncooked polenta, that is.) We dust some of our baguette pans with it to keep the bread from sticking, and so when we shake the baked baguettes out onto the rack a large part of the polenta falls off. The morning bagger cleans it up as part of their duties, as I've never seen the point of trying to convince someone that they need to sweep the floor at 4 am.
daidoji_gisei: (Default)
I was very upset with myself and my life in general yesterday, but my mood picked up last night. This is primarily because last night I was training a new bread baker, which means I was baking bread. I love making bread. Checking the dough while it mixes to see if the flour/water balance is right, watching it rise, the *POOF* sound it makes when you scoop the mass of dough out of the bowl and throw it on to the table, the feel as you cut and shape the individual loves...on and on, bread-making is a delightful process.

And, as usual, my bread came out looking drop-dead gorgeous. I realize that statement shows a certain lack of humility, but even my amazing capacity for low self-esteem has its limits, and that limit is bread.

Also good was the fact that my new baker is doing very well. At one point during the night he exclaimed, "Oh, wait! I need to get my digital camera--I need to show my friends all this beautiful bread we've made!" This is what we call a good omen.

None of the problems I was being bothered by yesterday have gone away, but atm I feel less inclined to something self-destructive as a distraction. I'm still faced with being trapped in my apartment with my mother, but whatever. It's times like this I really wish I had a laptop, so that I could go to a library somewhere and write. Then again, I haven't totally lost my ability to compose longhand so maybe I should do that anyway. Hmm....
daidoji_gisei: (Default)
I spent a good part of last week interviewing prospective employees. One of my bread bakers wanted to drop two of his shifts, so I needed to find a replacement. Interviewing ranks pretty high on my list of least-favorite parts of my job, but there really isn't a way around it. I understand that larger co-ops have their own HR departments, and managers never see their new employee until they show up for training. I'd hate that--I want to meet my employees first, and make sure we won't instantly take a dislike to each other.

Another, more pressing issue is that unless HR had a person who had worked as a bread baker I'm not sure they would recognize what it took to be a good bread baker. Bread bakers are called upon to do a complex job at odd hours of the night without a manager or fellow bakery employees to fall back on, and not everyone can do that. All of my successful bread bakers have had a certain quality about them.... I don't have a name for it, which is odd considering how vital it is. After a few years of hiring and training I got pretty good at spotting it during an interview, and so after my interviewee leaves I'll frequently have a conversation with our assistant general manager that goes something like this: "So, how are they?" "Well, they'd make a good employee but not a good bread baker". More rarely I'll announce, "Definitely bread baker material."

Also, the most important thing about bread bakers is that they have to love bread. If the thought of leaving the bakery cooling racks filled with brown, gold, fluffy, dense, braided, round, pan loaves of bread at the end of your work shift doesn't make you excited then you don't have what it takes. You would think this was obvious, but apparently not. Over the years I've had lots of interviewees go on and on about how much they love the co-op and how much they want to work here and never say one word about bread. These people generally end up on my 'do not hire' list. If you do not love bread you will not care if you bake good bread, and if you do not care about the quality of your bread I don't want you in my bakery. I'm harsh that way.
daidoji_gisei: (Default)
I just finished off my breakfast, which included two plates of toast with butter. This is more toast than I normally allow myself; a few years ago I resolved to develop healthier eating habits and so I've been watching my grain and meat consumption and increasing my intake of fruits and vegetables. But yesterday I got a loaf of raisin sourdough bread, made in the European artisan tradition, and the stuff is very tasty and has no shelf life whatsoever--so, toast this morning, and plenty of it.

The bread isn't from my bakery but from a new bakery that started up this summer: "Le Quartier" or some such. Old-school French sourdough breads, made by a man who went to France to be trained in the art, baked with organic flours (purchased from us, natch). I was really happy when we started selling Le Q's bread, because previous to that I had kept getting customer requests for our bakery to make European-style breads, and that wasn't going to happen. We don't have the ovens needed, or the ways to precisely control dough temperature, or the labor hours, or, worst of all, the know-how to make that kind of bread. (Though if the co-op wanted to send me to Europe for a year to study breadmaking I'd be ok with that.)

It might sound odd that I could be so happy about having our grocery sell a competitor's bread, but Le Qu really isn't a competitor: the breads we and they make are too different for that. French sourdough is what you get when you want Bread with Dinner, or when you want a loaf for your loaf of bread, jug of wine, and thou. OH makes bread in the American homestyle tradition, so it's what you buy when you want something for sandwiches for the week, or toast for the week, or sandwiches and toast, or...you get the picture. We have a few niche breads: challah, or anadama, or our own Free Range Sourdough, but the majority of our breads are multipurpose loaves. Having Le Qu around means the store can offer European breads to customers who want them, and we can concentrate on the breads we're good at making.

They also make very tasty pizza crust, which caused the deli to abandon the crust I had been making and start getting Le Q's. This was another cause for rejoicing: I shudder to think of what my November would be like if I had to add pizza crust to all of the other things we had to bake this month.

And so I offer to my fellow bakers a toast. Two plates of it, in fact.

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