Daily Archives: December 9, 2007

Day 4: Baking Team U.S.A.

Yesterday went well. Many, many improvements were noted during the day, some subtle, some dramatic. What a difference (seemingly) small adjustments can make. For example, the baguettes that Solveig made on the first practice day… used two pre-ferments: poolish as well as a small amount of stiff-textured white levain. She had made the poolish the evening before, adding salt at the rate of 2% of the flour weight. The purpose of the salt was to somewhat retard the activity of the yeast and thereby prevent an over-ripening of the poolish. The effect, however, was to limit the flavor and vigor of the poolish, and this was evident later in the somewhat compromised taste of the finished baguettes. Poolish, well-fermented, adds a most alluring wheatiness and nuttiness to a bread’s aroma, and these attributes were no in evidence with Solveig’s first baguettes. In fact, the absence of the full poolish aromas served to intensify the aromas provided by the levain, and there was a subtle but notable acetic tang to her bread.For the second day’s baguettes, we had Solveig make two batches: one using salted poolish, the second using an unsalted poolish. What dramatically different results! The volume of the salted poolish was at least 20% less than the unsalted one, and it had a sort of inert quality to it compared to the unsalted one, which was lively and lovely and vigorous, with gases still breaking through its wonderfully aromatic surface. Throughout the fabrication of the day’s baguettes, Solveig could tell the difference quite clearly between the two doughs. And these differences, of course, carried all the way through the bake. The visual aspect, interior cell structure, aroma, and flavor, were all perceptibly superior in the breads made with the unsalted poolish. These are the differences that a few grams of salt can make. These are the precise kinds of seemingly trivial refinements that will need to characterize all the endeavors of all three members.

With Peter, the suggested changes also seemed to have a fairly insignificant influence–for instance, we had him pre-ferment 10% of the flour in his brioche dough; we had him add fruits to one of his enriched doughs after it had fermented for 2 hours, rather than as soon as the mix was finished. Again, small adjustments yielding measurable improvements.

We can only be as good as our own tastes, and our own hand skills. For the team members, it was clear that having a few (well, make that four) outside eyes to monitor and evaluate their efforts was very beneficial, and they seemed pleased with the direction of their work. The team members had mid-afternoon flights to catch, so we had started the work day at 6 a.m. By the time we were ready to pack up and leave, the general consensus was that much progress had been made, with much more to come.

In January, Dara, Peter, Solveig, Ciril, and I will return to Johnson & Wales, and another 4-day training session will commence. Meantime, Peter owns a bakery, and Solveig is head bread baker in the one she works at, and Dara is finishing a baking program in Orlando, so all three of them have a considerable workload in front of them before the end of the holiday season arrives. In January, the expectations will be greater, room for error reduced, and the quality of the work must be approaching the level of world-class excellence that is necessary–if the team is to stand on the winner’s podium in Paris.