16 December 2009

The Power of One

Amy Scherber once told me you're not truely a baker until you've baked through all the seasons.  It's so true.  In the summer I have to move at warp speed to shape and bake all the dough before it eats me alive.  The heat/humidity combo is what yeast likes best.  On the other hand, in the winter I have to boil huge pots of water, turn on ovens and burners, mix with super warm water just shy of temperatures that will kill my yeast and wait...wait...wait for the dough to rise.  Based on the 15 degree temperatures and last Sunday's ice storm, we are in the throes of winter.

Some bakeries have a 'proof box'.  Proofing is fancy baker-speak for rising.  They yeast is prooving itself by making the dough rise.  Retarding is refridgerating or slowing the yeast growth.  Really fancy bakeries with tons of money to spend have one unit that can proof and retard the dough.  It's a really cool concept.  You can put dough in at the end of the day, the box keeps it cool then slowly warms it throughout the night so it is ready to bake as soon as you need it to be.  At Amy's we didn't have a proofer and bread was retarded in the walk-in cooler.  We didn't need a proofer because the quantity of dough was such that when the last of the baguettes were shaped, the first were ready to bake.

I could really use a proofer at the Patisserie because I bake small batches of bread.  Last winter it took me eight hours to accomplish what I could in five hours over the summer.  As I mentioned, there were lots of pots of boiling water and several hot sheet pans used to get my bread to rise.  I actually have a proof box but it is supposedly missing it's heating element which renders it useless.  It's not totally useless because it is air tight.  It traps the steam coming off those hot pots.

Last week I decided I had some time to tinker.  Working the night shift at Amy's gave me the opportunity to fix things I never dreamed I'd be able to, like giant ovens and roll dividers.  Not many people make service calls at 2am.  I read a lot of manuals, turned several screws and took some risks but I could get things to work most of the time.  Anyway, I thought maybe I could figure out what was wrong with my proof box.  I started by plugging it in and crossing my fingers in hopes that it wouldn't start a power surge or an electrical fire.  I waited for a few minutes and low and behold...steam!  Warm steam was filling the box!  The thing worked.  I went through an entire winter last year using a cold box that could have been warm if I'd only tried plugging it in.

When Mark opened the bakery, the box really didn't work.  A mechanic was supposed to fix it but he removed the heating element and never was seen again.  The previous owner of the box harrassed the mechanic in an attempt to get the heating element back but no one ever saw him again.  Apparently he either never took the element or replaced it stealthfully because my box works.  Let this be a lesson to never accept that something is broken until you've at least tried to plug it in but don't tell my daughter.  We're hoping she's accepted that the ABC singing toy is really broken and not just turned off!

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