SFBI Day 2: Four Ingredients, Three Different Loaves

February 6, 2008

Short Mix Baguettes

Originally uploaded by mdstamps

Another great learning day at the San Francisco Baking Institute. Today we focused on how to manipulate one factor, mixing method, to create three completely different baguettes. The story behind these three baguettes is as interesting as the loaves themselves:

– The first dough was called a ‘short mix’ and represents how bread was traditionally made before the heavy machinery was called in the mid-twentieth century. We still used the mixer, but we only mixed long enough to hydrate the flour before moving the dough to tubs for a long bulk fermentation. The dough was approximately 50% developed when it went into the tubs and we properly developed the gluten by folding the dough every 45 minutes. It was great to see how the dough changed over time, but better yet, how to tell when the gluten was sufficiently developed. This gentle mixing method allowed us to use more water and less yeast, which in turn delivers a more complex flavour.

– the third dough we mixed was the ‘intensive mix’, which represents how dough was mixed after the introduction of high speed mixers. The gluten was 100% developed in the mixer and used less water and more yeast. The end result was a dough which was much tighter and easier to handle, which makes it perfect if we were going to use machines to divide and shape the loaves (we used our hands) at the expense of flavour, texture and colour. There’s a place for intensive mixed doughs, but my preference is for looser doughs and longer fermentations to create a better flavour.

– the second dough we mixed was the ‘improved mix’, which represents how artisan bakers pulled back from the intensive mix in order to extract better flavour while still getting the labour saving advantages of the mixer and shorter fermentation times. This was the same mix we used yesterday — 70% gluten development, more water than the intensive mix but less than the short mix, and an amount of yeast between intensive mix and short mix too.

So much for the method — how were the results?

The intensive mix gave a loaf that was much like I make at home when I don’t use a preferment — even, slightly dull colour, a chewy crust and a tight, white crumb. Not bad, but no real depth to the flavour or aroma.

The improved mix loaf was wonderful — a shiny, crisp, crackling crust, light crumb with slightly irregular holes and a nice creamy colour.

The short mix was a delight as well. I got the best ‘ears’ from my slashes, but that was more due to getting the technique right for a change. The loaves had a slightly chewy crust and a creamy crumb with a wide variety of holes. The smell and taste was nicely complex wheaty flavour.

My favourite was the improved mix because of the crust. I just can’t get enough of it! It’s unlike anything I’ve had before; crisp and easy to chew even hours after it was baked. My supper tonight was a baguette with cheese and an apple and it was superb!

On another note: I ended up with 13 baguettes to take home to the hotel tonight. Let me tell you, I’m making friends in the lobby of the Hampton Inn! If any of my Orange Boot customers are feeling deprived, just head down to the Hampton in South San Francisco around 5:30PM and you won’t regret it!


SFBI Day 1: Heaven on Earth!

February 5, 2008

The first day was fantastic! I’ll post more detail as the week goes on but suffice to say that this is a really special place. We’re learning a ton of theory, our hands on work is being scrutinized in great detail, and the equipment is top notch. I’ve already met some incredibly interesting people, from a hotel chef from Maui to a culinary instructor from Melbourne to an artisan baker from Victoria who’s bakery I know a bit about through our travels.

My first baguettes passed the chef’s close inspection fairly well today. There is lots for me to improve on in the shaping and scoring department but I was glad that there was sufficient goodness in there too.

Oh and in case you still don’t want to be down here too — we get to take all the bread we make home with us! So I passed out four baguettes in the lobby of the hotel when I got back and ate one for supper. It was without a doubt the best baguette I’ve ever had.

I’ve got a few photos from Day 1 on Flickr if you’re interested

Super Bowl in Stockton

February 3, 2008

Mark and MelodieWho’s that old bugger wearing my shirt?

One of my big regrets whenever I come to San Francisco for work is that I don’t get the chance to see my cousin Melodie in Stockton. So Sunday was my chance to make amends. I rented a car, printed out my Google map, sufficiently notified next of kin and, after a quick breakfast, took to the open road.

In fairness, open road is a bit of a misnomer in California, even at 9:00AM on a Sunday morning. The road to Stockton is nothing but US Interstate — four lanes in both directions with bumper to bumper traffic at 70 miles per hour. My first highway, #101, is actually a three lane highway which has been given the odd treatment of expanding to four lanes without having added any pavement. They just tarred over the old lines and put new lines in, so that the outside lanes are right tight against the concrete curb. It was uncomfortably tight.

One particular stretch of highway had me wondering if I was really cut out for this trip at all. It starts with a left turn from the far right lane, the off ramp swooping majestically up and over all eight lanes of Highway 101, before setting car and driver down facing due east. After a half mile or so, I could see the road rising up in front of me, 30 feet or more into the air. Oh, yes, I got to drive OVER the San Francisco Bay! The San Mateo Bridge seems to cover 5 miles with over half the bridge high in the air so ships can go underneath, and half the bridge low along the water. It was quite exhilarating but I suspect Cindy wouldn’t have liked it one bit.

I eventually made it to Stockton and found Melodie’s house without incident. Melodie, her boyfriend Jeff and I had a wonderful lunch at a place down the highway called BJ’s brewhouse (my leftovers will keep me in suppers for most of the week) and then beat a hasty retreat to her house to watch the Super Bowl. What a game! What commercials they have in the USA!! What a way for me to win the Kuhn Bowl with a last minute touchdown!! Oh yeah, the Giants won too.

I was especially blessed to get a chance to visit with Mel’s folks (and my Aunt and Uncle) who as luck would have it were visiting from Michigan. My family is quite small and spread out so we don’t get to see each other very often. I was very sad to leave for the long drive back to my hotel.

Flying to San Francisco to Bake, Bake, Bake!

February 2, 2008

On Saturday I flew out to San Francisco for three weeks of serious training at the San Francisco Baking Institute (more background available at the Orange Boot site.) It was a good flight overall but I have to admit that these frequent flier points programs sure seem bent on punishing their customers. I booked my flight using Aeroplan points and out of 15 possible flights from Regina to San Francisco on Saturday the only one with a seat available involved a 7 hour layover in Calgary. I made the most of it by calling up my aunt Donna for a spur of the moment lunch. Donna, Jerry and their 12 year old daughter Morgan swept me out of the airport for a long, lingering lunch and a wonderful visit. Thanks for such a wonderful afternoon — I can’t think of a better diversion!

In the end, my time at Calgary International Airport was cut from 7 hours to 3.5, but I still had some interesting times. I helped an older couple find their gate for a flight to Las Vegas (I hope they tip their dealers) and watched a delightful group of seniors collect themselves for the flight to San Francisco. These were seriously old folks, all well into their eighties, and it looked like they regularly traveled together. Whenever another traveling companion arrived they were greeted with a loud Whoop! and shouts of “You made it!” I can’t help but hope that will be Cindy and me one day.

I also met a girl from Austria who is working in San Jose at a hotel as part of a management trainee program. She was recruited by the hotel for this 18 month program right out of college. She had spent a week skiing in Lake Louise with her father who had flown over from Europe. Wow.

My Austrian friend was also reading the German edition of the final Harry Potter book. The book looked much thicker than the English version; perhaps German words are longer. My esteem for this girl, who goes halfway around the world to learn how to work in hotel and jets to Lake Louise for a skiing weekend, fell a wee bit as she told me that she was nearly at the end of the book, she thought it was really exciting, then over the course of our flight put the book down at least a dozen times to do something else. In our family, one doesn’t eat, sleep, wash or notice any other family members until the book is finished. That’s just the way it is.

My Introduction to Daring Bakers: Lemon Meringue Pie

January 28, 2008

my first lemon pie I love pie. Fruit pies are my favorite, but I have a special place in my stomach for lemon meringue pies, especially real pie made from real lemons. So when the Daring Bakers, an internet group of amateur bakers which I recently joined, announced Lemon Meringue Pie as their challenge for January, I was very excited. So excited that I actually missed one of Robyn’s hockey games to make the pie without any time pressures.

Lemon meringue pie consists of three distinct layers — pastry, lemon custard and meringue — and each layer has its unique challenges. Will the crust be too tough? Will it leak? Will the custard set up properly? Will the meringue be firm enough to slice without getting all hard and crumbly?

Crust ready for bakingI had not made a pastry crust in quite a while and it took some time to get my confidence up. It took a couple extra mils of water to get the crust to stick together, but it rolled and shaped well, even if it did puff up a little while baking. My happy pie weights didn’t do a complete job this time. Next time I’ll bake it a little longer with the weights and make the flutes a little higher since the dough shrunk back quite a bit while baking.

Custard Ready to goThe custard was a lot of fun to make. It thickened up quickly and the flavour was spot on. There was a little extra which I kept in a bowl to test how it set up.

Ready for OvenThe meringue also went really well, I thought. I don’t really know my soft peaks from my firm peaks but it seemed to work find and looked gorgeous before and after baking.

First try was runnyAfter waiting a loooong 2 1/2 hours for the pie to cool (and Cindy and Robyn to get home from hockey) we dug in. I was stunned that a pie which looked so beautiful had so many problems! Tough crust, runny custard and a meringue that didn’t stay together.

I did a little internet research and have a couple ideas as to what to do next time:

  • crust: Use a little more water early so I don’t have to work it so much. Use the pie weights for another 5 minutes or so when baking. I might even go to my traditional pastry crust with shortening for some added flakiness.
  • custard: chill the pie prior to slicing so it sets up more.
  • meringue: top the pie while the custard is hot so the bottom of the meringue bakes well. Possibly beat the meringue a little stiffer too; I may have only had medium peaks after all.

In the end the pie tasted really good, even if it didn’t look the best. I had enough ingredients to make another pie but life took over and even though my Daring Baker pie was made on January 5 I haven’t had the time for another attempt. Maybe in March.

Thanks to the folks at Daring Bakers for the challenge — I’m looking forward to February already!

Foolin with Flickr

January 9, 2008


Originally uploaded by mdstamps

I just figured out how to blog about a photo that I uploaded to Flickr. So now you all get to see Cindy and me from this summer on Vancouver Island. Not sure which of the kids took it but it turned out OK.

As the kids get taller the angle on the pictures look better too!

What can I cover best?

January 2, 2008

Jeff Jarvis writes about how newspapers are laying off excellent reporters as they stop coverage of national topics to focus on local news. He offers an excellent alternative which preserves the great work the reporters are creating.

Within the post he links to an earlier post which really struck a cord with me. Jeff asserts that a key principle of blogging is to “Cover what you do best, and link to the rest.

I really like that. It ties in well with the “hyper-local” reporting idea I was kicking around last year — forget talking about what’s happening in Regina and focus in on my neighbourhood, or my street, or my front yard. I set up a first prototype on WordPress but it’s a little stagnant right now.

I can apply Jeff’s ideas in 2008 blogging two ways:

  • linking to other blogs a lot more
  • figuring out what I’m “best at” and covering that

So what am I best at? I’ve got a few ideas, all involving what’s going on in my local community.

What are you best at? Please share!

New Year, New Goals

January 2, 2008

It’s been one year since my foray into blogging and I have mixed feelings about my results. I’ve spent far more time reading other blogs (I consider myself a ‘whiz’ at Google Reader and am progressing to full ninja status) than actually writing. I’ve also spent far too long worrying about the focus of the blog than getting my thoughts in print.

So this year I resolve to worry less and write more. My goal is two posts per week. Warning in advance that the topics are going to cover a pretty wide range:

  • observations about my family: growth, change, stirring victories and sad losses too.
  • what it’s like to build a business: as we slowly build the Orange Boot Bakery I’m fascinated by the process of starting and growing a business. I want to put everything I’ve learned in business and life into the bakery and share the foibles. I’m going to write about the process here. The Orange Boot Bakery site (now here but soon to be here is for our customers and I don’t want to clog it up with weird ramblings about being a small business owner.
  • the joys and struggles in building community, be it our local community association, the kid’s minor hockey teams or the various groups I’m involved with online
  • What’s new and exciting (to me) in internet technology. My professional career has been about helping people through the learning curve when it comes to new technology. I spent the early part of 2007 thinking I had fallen way behind the times but I’m still ahead of the curve compared to 90% of people so there’s likely lots to learn here.

My only fear is that the variety of subject matter will turn people off. Well it can’t be worse than not posting at all, right? I’ll make judicious use of tags / categories and if I do find a Voice in all of this, I can adjust later. But the goal for now is to write — two per week, come hell or high water.

Two Programmers, One Medium

October 18, 2007

Alan Cooper has published and excellent article on why the results of software projects are so unpredictable. His point is that there are two types of programmers — design engineers who like to design elegant solutions to problems and production engineers who want to develop code that is rock solid and able to be used by the wider public.

The problem, as Cooper sees it, is that both ‘engineers’ use the same medium for expression — source code. This is different than other disciplines, like bridge building, where designers use paper and computers and production folk use iron, bricks, concrete, etc. When you use the same medium it’s tough to differentiate whether you’re doing design or production work, which leads to problems.

The article is part 1 of 2, so I hope part 2 talks about how to better split up the roles, because I think he’s made a really good point. I’ve certainly been in situations when we thought we were done the ‘production engineering’ when in reality we had only really completed the design (in working code form.) We just launched it anyway and were surprised when the results were less than expected.

If any Agile Programmers are reading this — how does Cooper’s article line up with your experience?

Bakery site is up!

September 29, 2007

Wow, lots of work lately in getting the oven up to speed and the loaves turning out on a semi-regular basis. I’ve set up a web site for the bakery to share what we’re doing, what bread is available, etc. Check it out!