24 February 2010


Graduates of culinary schools are not chefs, they just have the capacity to become chefs.  I will never be a chef because I am a baker and bakers aren't chefs.  My mom always struggled with this titling thing.  She doesn't understand how I can be the head baker but I am not the chef.  Chef's make meals; I bake bread.  I like being a baker.  It's like being a chef without the ego. I have several friends who like to be called Chef on a regular, personal level.  I think it's a little odd.  I like to leave my work at work so to speak.

My step-father has a PhD in psychology.  He insists on being called Dr. Tubman.  He goes so far as to insist that I (his step-daughter since I was 10) call him Dr. Tubman.  My other option was 'Dad' and I only have one of those!  He says he earned his degree so it is only right that I call him Dr. as a sign of respect.  Funny, the people who truly deserve the distinction don't seem to care so much.  My grandfather had his PhD, too.  I first discovered this when I was addressing graduation announcements in college.  None other than my mother told me the fancy letters had to come before his name.  He would never have gone so far as to introduce himself as Doctor like 'Bill', that's Dr.Tubman, does.  Bill introduced himself as Dr. Tubman to my friend, Jai's dad, a bio-chemist, who asked Bill what kind of medicine he practiced.  Bill had to admit he didn't practice medicine and I was mortified after the whole chain of events.  Jai's dad has a PhD as well but I only know him as Babaji, Hindi for father.

This past Christmas, I was addressing cards when I got to my mother's, of course, I addressed it to: Bill & Anna Ruth Tubman.  If he weren't my step-father of nearly twenty years, I would have respectfully included the D and the R.  By the way, his close friends call him Bill but for some reason his step-daughter can't.  20 years later, he must still be upset about the 'Dad' thing.

I was chatting with my grandmother while printing the addresses on my cards.  I got to her brothers' cards and she informed me that they too earned the  'Dr.' in front of their names.  Obviously, I've known my uncles since my conception but I never knew they were doctors.  I wonder how many other relatives I've been offending all these years.

Wow! This post seems a little bitter.  It is not my intention; I only wanted to share a piece of humanity that seems to comes to light often in my day to day!

16 February 2010

The Man

I recently watched a great documentary on the struggle of microbreweries, called 'Beer Wars.'  The microbreweries are going up against the giant beer companies and, for the first time in history, making a place for themselves.  The plight of the microbrewer followed the same line as the artisan bread movement.  The issues are all the same.  Small beer companies, like small bakeries, can't sell their products for the pennies that large corporations can.  Consumers are driven by price more often than quality.  For instance, I have a customer who wants five dozen brioche buns a week.  It's a big enough order but it won't pay the rent, so to speak.  Brioche is by far the most expensive bread I bake.  The dough is nothing but butter and eggs...the flour is simply there to hold it all together.  This customer doesn't think I should be charging $2 for a 3 oz organic brioche bun.  The price haggling has been going on all week and I think the bun is down to $1.25 which remains much higher than Sysco* charges for the same product.  I'm certain the Sysco product is not anything near the quality of my buns but price wins out.  Sysco is getting buns from bakeries who are making such a high volume that they can charge far less than I can.  In fact, if I were making 10 dozen buns a week, I could charge less than I could for 5 dozen.  The more volume I order of things like butter and eggs, the cheaper it becomes for me and I can pass the discount along.  Also, I can bake 10 dozen buns in the same time it takes me to bake 5 dozen thus the labor cost of making the bread comes down.  The customers don't understand this and they don't have to.  They just need to know that I'm not trying to rip them off; I'm only trying to cover my costs and provide them with the same stellar products I always do.

The microbrewers, like DogFish Head (who was highlighted in the documentary) are competing against Budweiser and Coors for market space.  The large companies have so much money to throw around, they are trying to buy up the competition to squelch it before it becomes an issue.  Budweiser owns over 80 different brewing companies like Stella Artois, Kirin, and Rolling Rock.  They are even making their own microbrew-esque beers mimicing the products the little guys are brewing.  They made a pumpkin ale that was priced at $3/6 pack to compete with DogFish Head's Punkin ale at $8/6 pack.  They even created a fake brewing company to label the bottle with so the consumers would think they are getting an craft product.  I have seen this approach a lot lately.  Last week, while food shopping, I noticed a package of ground beef from 'Natural Valley Farms' or something like that.  I thought it was grass fed beef at first but upon further inspection, it was nothing but a clever label to sell the grocery store meat.  Then I noticed similar labeling tactics all around the meat department.  If you're trying to stick to your convictions, be careful when you're food shopping.  It's getting down and dirty out there!

Bakers and brewers have always been close.  I went to a bread convention a couple years ago and I spent three days debating which came first: beer or bread?  In a sense, you need beer to make bread and you need bread to make beer.  There are stories about bakers and brewers trading byproducts to get their batches going.  Wort, a stinky yeast liquid, rises to the top of sour starter.  Brewers use wort in the beer making process but bakers don't really need it.  Barm is an equally stinky, yeast substance created during the brewing process.  Barm is what bakers used, before commercial yeast came about, to  leaven their bread.  There are recipes in vintage cookbooks calling for barm but they don't list a quantity because the barm wasn't consistent in terms of sourcing.  The home baker had to use a trial and error method to determine how much barm to use.  Commercial yeast wasn't readily available until after World War II which is the exact same time Wonder Bread came into the homes of America.  I'm sure you can make the connection.

Beer or bread?  I don't know.  Ancient Egyptians (is there anything that these guys didn't invent?) were the first documented culture to make both beer and bread.  Apparently, they mixed flour and water to make a flat bread.  At some point, the baker accidentally left the mixture out in the sun for a couple days and it fermented.  He still baked his flat bread but it was much lighter and more flavorful.  Then it became the norm to leave the mix out and use a bit of the old mix in the new mix, voila - sourdough!  The same basic thing happened when the Egyptians left their grape juice out too long.  They ended up with wine.  Either the Egyptians were brilliant or they were total lazy morons but either way, I'm glad they figured out these principals or I would be out of a job.

Bottom line, sometimes it pays to spend more. You will get a better product and you can feel good knowing that you're supporting someone like me who is just trying to carve out a little space for a little bit of bread.

*Sysco is a major distributor in the food world.  They are known for selling cheap food.  If you've ever been to a pub and ordered jalapeno poppers or chicken wings after midnight, you've surely eaten a Sysco product.  Often, Sysco is the only game in town, especially small towns like ours.

15 February 2010

Amy's Bread...The Book

Last Monday night, Kevin and I packed up the kids and headed into the city for Amy’s book release event.  She and co-author Toy Dupree were set up in Chelsea Market, signing the re-release of their book, Amy’s Bread.  It was a wonderful evening.  I got to catch up with my former colleagues and friends.  Amy had a huge spread of bread and sweets, representing the recipes in her books.  (She released ‘The Sweeter Side of Amy’s Bread last year)  I was very happy to partake in the coconut dream bars.  I missed them so.
Everything in the bakery had pretty much remained the same.  I was surprised to see the same retail staff as was there three years ago.  It is unheard of to have such low turnover in bakery retail staff.  It speaks volumes for Amy’s culture.  The retail manager, Luke, recently married and bought a corner store on Lake Placid.  He’s moving in six weeks.  I guess I’m not the only one who decided to change things up in a big way. 
Kendall and Ann were busy getting the Thanksgiving lug plan started; just kidding…they were great and I loved seeing them.  I call Kendall whenever I need a pick-me-up or whenever I have a question about weights and pricing.  She’s full of spunk and she’s always laughing.  She and Josie hit it off right away.  Josie, of course, went Mommy hopping through the bakery.  This kid loves Mommies and if there’s another Mommy in the room, she wants nothing to do with Kevin and I.  She hugged and cuddled with Ann and Jessica, the operations manager at the bakery, too.
I spent a while catching up with David, formerly my daytime counterpart.  He’s known as the ‘peacekeeper’ in the bakery.  He was my ‘go to’ guy whenever I had staffing woes.  I have a very big decision to make, which I will write about once it is made; David gave me great advice as he always did.  He’s been at Amy’s for 10ish years now, which means he has seen it all and he knows how to handle just about anything that comes his way.

The Book…
Truth be told, I never read the 1st edition of Amy’s Bread.  It was out of print when I was considering a job at Amy’s and though it was on her bookshelf in the office, I never sat down to read through it.  When I got home from the signing, I cracked open my new book.  I was anxious to read what Amy and Toy wrote and I was eager to see how everything turned out.  I was working at Amy’s during the recipe testing and the re-write process.  This book isn’t just new packaging, Amy and Toy retested and updated all the recipes and much of the text has been completely revised. 
Writers have a voice and every writer’s voice is different.  My style of story telling is totally different than say, Frank McCourt (and hopefully more uplifting).  Amy and I have a very similar voice.  In fact, if I were to write a book about bread, this would be it.  Her way of explaining the bread baking process is unlike any other I’ve read.  It is very down to earth and simplified though it maintains its scientific integrity.  When preparing to write this, I was thinking about what makes us different.  Why can Amy and I explain this process in a way that’s easy to understand and attainable for a non-professional baker?  What sets us apart from Jeffery Hammelman, Joe Ortiz, Ciril Hitz and Michael Suas?  It took a while for me to see the obvious.  We’re moms!  Amy is doing what moms do best…making something complicated, easy to understand.  I remember getting an email from her about a product being ‘yucky,’ and thinking, this is what I love about Amy.  She isn’t afraid to shy away from the technical jargon and put things on a real level.  I’m sure the hardcore, old school men in the business wouldn’t appreciate ‘yucky’ in the same way I do but I truly value her candor.  I didn’t realize how rare these qualities were until I left Amy’s and spent time at other bakeries…she is one of a kind.
Bottom line, if you enjoy reading my blog, buy this book!   It includes my absolute favorite bread from Amy’s, pumpkin pecan.  I think it is my favorite because it was only made in November and I looked forward to it all year.  I actually froze several loaves to eat them throughout the rest of the year.    It also has a recipe for whole-wheat challah which I helped test during the research process.  I’ve been writing this post while watching the snowfall outside and waiting for my mini-batch of whole-wheat challah to rise.  It just came out of the oven and I broke the cardinal rule of baking…I cut it open and at a hot slice.  Hot bread is never bad and this one is no exception.  It transported me right back to Chelsea Market.   I know I’m being a little sappy but I got teary eyed.  I miss the frenzy, the smells, the bakery team, the city life.  Maybe there’s still time…..

10 February 2010

Dexter's Laboratory

When Mark and I were in the early planning stages of The Patisserie, we knew the menu was going to be local.  He is very strong in his convictions about organic, local products.  I wanted my piece of the menu to incorporate as many Pennsylvania traditions as I could.  I found out the Milford, 'Mill' ford, once milled buckwheat flour.  I use a buckwheat flour blend in my seeded wheat bread.  I make an apple bread because we are just a few miles from Warwick, NY, apple capitol, USA.  I use onions and potatoes from Pine Island, NY (check your bag of onions, I bet they were harvested in Pine Island!) in a beer bread which also incorporates, Yeunling, our Nation's oldest brewed beer, from Pottsville, PA.  When we first opened I made pretzels a la the Pennsylvania Dutch.  Of all my attempts at creating local, story based products, these were the least successful.  I thought they were beauties but the soft, salty twists just didn't sell.  I made pretzel kaiser rolls for Mark to use in a roast beef and blue cheese sandwich but he didn't sell enough of them to make it worth the daily pretzel process.

Pretzels are not as easy as you may think.  Mixing the dough is pretty simple.  It is a straight dough, meaning there are no starters, nothing to do the day before.  Everything is dumped into the bowl and it gets the hell beat out of it.  Most of my doughs are gently mixed but this one is mixed hard and strong.  Pretzels are supposed to be chewy and dense, not light and airy like a far less mixed ciabatta would be.  Typically, high gluten flour is used which is the same one would use when making bagels.  I use regular bread flour because I want my pretzels to be a little softer than the norm.  Once the dough is mixed, I divide it into 3 ounce portions and shape it into little logs.  These logs rest for a while before I roll the dough out into long snakey strands and twist them into the pretzel shape.  The resting step is super important in pretzel production because of the intense mixing.  The gluten strands are forming such a tight network, they need to relax before you can roll them into the long strands.  If they aren't given the proper time to relax, they will A. spring back into short strands and/or B. rip and tear.  The pretzel twisting isn't too difficult once you get the hang of it.  They kinda twist themselves if you get the right wiggle going.

The hard part of pretzel production is the dipping.  Pretzels have to be dipped in a lye solution in order to get that nice dark, crisp, salty crust.  Some home recipes say baking soda can be used to achieve this.  It can't, I tried.  I hate working with the lye because it is a hazardous chemical, sodium hydroxide.  Did you ever see the scene in fight club when Brad Pitt sprinkles lye on Ed Norton's hand and it burns a hole in it?  That's what I dip the pretzels in.  The solution is one ounce of lye with one quart of water.  I have seen bare handed bakers dip pretzels in this mix.  Not me!  I wear heavy rubber work gloves that come up to my elbows and I make sure I'm wearing my glasses to protect my eyes.  Carolyn, my dip assistant extraordinaire, says I look like Dexter from Dexter's laboratory when I'm in the process.  Once the pretzels are dipped, Carolyn sprinkles salt on top and they are baked until dark, golden brown.  Yum!

The hotel next door is interested in ordering pretzel kaisers so this week pretzels returned to our menu selection.  They are selling like hot cakes.  Finally, enough sales to make the pretzel production worth while.  I'm sure the Super Bowl helped out with the sales.  Pretzels and football seem to be well paired.  Carolyn and I also played around with filled pretzels and we came up with a yummy, 4 cheese jalapeno concoction.  Double Yum!

09 February 2010

500 Pound Baker

As a baker, the comments I hear most from my admirers are 'I can't believe you don't weigh 500 pounds,' or 'how do you stay so thin,' or 'if I worked here I would gain so much'.  Really, if I had a dollar for every time I heard a variation of this, I'd be rolling in the dough.  The truth is, after I had my babies, I couldn't wait to get back to work so I could shed some pounds.

Baking isn't an easy job.  Working in any capacity in a kitchen, isn't an easy job.  For starters, I bake all the bread at 500 degrees.  The oven is the center of the bakery and I am loading bread in and out all day.  I don't care how cold it gets outside, 500 degrees makes you sweat.  They don't make air conditioners with enough capacity to efficiently cool a space using bread ovens...500 degree ovens + 95 degree weather = more sweat.  I remember one day at Amy's Bread, the ambient temperature rose above 110 degrees.

Aside from the ovens, there's the dough.  My dough tubs are about 20 pounds a piece and I have about 10 of them a day.  This is a very small quantity compared to many bakeries.  I move my 10 tubs around the room several times.  During the winter, I'm moving them from hot spot to hot spot and rotating them to make sure they are evenly heated.  I have to fold all the dough at least once during it's rise.  I stack, unstack, re-stack...lots of lifting and bending.  Each time I need a 50 pound bag of flour, which is about twice a day, I have to run down two flights of stairs and carry it back up to the kitchen.  The flour sacks are just the start of this two flight trip.  I have to go down to storage for all the dry goods...nuts, dried fruits, seeds, salt, yeast....

Energy exertion aside, being surrounded by baked goods day in and day out, doesn't mean they are beckoning.  Yes, I eat a lot of bread but probably no more than average.  The bread I eat is probably a little on the healthier side of average as well.  I don't eat a lot of sweets on the days I am working.  Mark and I were just conversing about this natural diet plan.  On the days I'm working, I am surrounded by sweetness and all I really want is a bacon, egg and cheese.  On the two days I am off, I crave the sweet stuff but the last thing I want to do is make it myself and I'm not going to get crappy store brand sweetness when there's better out there...just two days away.  Sometimes I remember to grab a couple cookies for the road on Sunday before our weekend begins.  Sometimes, I venture into another bakery to get something sweet.  Rarely, I bake a pan of brownies at home.  Mostly, I wait until Wednesday when I can have anything I want and I don't really want it anymore.

That's my story...why I don't weigh 500 pounds.  If you happen to see a 500 pound baker, it must be the boss and he/she can't possibly be doing much of the baking anymore.  

08 February 2010

Confessions of a Desperate Mom

I am a great pregnant woman.  Aside from eating too many sweets, I follow the doctor's advice exactly.  I go so far as to adhere to the maybe's as well as the facts.  If tuna is questionable, no problem, I can give up anything for nine months.  The day I found out I was pregnant with Josie, I gave up my pack a day smoking habit, my gallon a day coffee habit and my pint (or five) a day Guiness habit.  My thought was that it's only nine months, why take a chance on anything that could harm the baby.  I kept up with a lot of mom sites where people write in about their woes and other moms support them.  I never understood the 'I made it down to 5 cigarettes a day' moms and the moms who supported them.  There were also lots of 'I just can't give up my coffee...it gives me a headache' moms.  You think your head hurts now, what's it going to feel like when that baby is born early, underweight and with ADD?  This is the first of many times to come where baby comes first!  It's ONLY 9 months!!!

When I carried Keegan, I was a little more relaxed.  I drank one cup of green tea a day.  Technically, the FDA recommendation is 150mg of caffeine a day which amounts to one cup of coffee.  Tea has about 50mg of caffeine and green tea has even less.  I have to admit, one of the reasons I cut out caffeinated beverages was to keep my conscience clean when I consumed mass amounts of chocolate which also contains caffeine, about 30mg for a 2 ounce dark chocolate bar.

With both babies, I was very strict about the fish thing.  I know there are certain allowable fish but I could never keep them straight.  I cut out fish entirely for both pregnancies.  However, with both children I did have a one time only serious crab feast.  I grew up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, how could I deny myself?  I called my midwife from the crab house and asked if it was okay.  She started flipping through books to find blue crabs on her list.  They were safe! Yes!!!  I probably would have indulged anyway.  I also pigged out on clams.  During Keegan's pregnancy, I bought a bunch of clams to cook on the grill, knowing that Kevin didn't like them.  I had to eat them all myself because we didn't want them to go to waste.  With both kids, I craved tuna melts and I knew I couldn't give in.  This was the first meal I ate after giving birth, both times.  Kevin and I actually packed a cooler to take to the hospital with all the components for after the birth.  With Keegan, it was by chance but much appreciated.

I have to say, the hardest thing of all was giving up coffee.  I really enjoy the first cup of the day.  Being a baker and working crazy hours, I feel I need it to survive.  With Josie, I was scared to drink coffee because I thought it would be harder to stay nicotine clean.  Coffee and cigarettes just go together.  After she was born, I allowed myself one cup of good strong coffee early in the morning.  I was nursing and caffeine still passes through to the baby.  Now that Keegan's on board, I have a few cups of coffee a day.  He's a pretty good sleeper and he's much more calm than Josie ever was so I don't feel it does him any harm.  Leafy greens, however, make both of my kids puke buckets if I eat them and it passes through the breast milk.  I haven't enjoyed a salad in two years.

Back to the coffee...I take my coffee with milk, cold milk.  I hate getting a cup of coffee that is too hot to drink immediately.  Cold milk seems to solve the problem.  Having a toddler in the house means that we go through more milk than I ever could have imagined.  Kevin takes it in his coffee too and he drinks about 25 cups a day.  I would say we use about a gallon of milk a day or at least close to it.  We live 25 minutes from the closest grocery store so we have to be careful to have 'milka milka' for Josie's bedtime bottle and her wake up bottle on hand.  There are times we don't feel like driving into town in the evening so we make sure there is enough for Josie and we plan on taking the trip first thing in the morning.  This means I don't get milk in my coffee and Kevin doesn't get milk in his.  For him, this means that he won't drink the coffee and he will be a total grump until he satisfies his need.  For me, I get creative.  This morning, I stirred whipped cream into my cup.  It's the Cabot kind that is actual cream and not who-knows-what chemical concoction.  I used the last of the bottle and my coffee wasn't quite light enough.  There's peppermint ice cream in the freezer...that may be yummy.  Here's the big confession, there's gallons of breast milk in the freezer, why not?  I haven't tried it yet but I am seriously considering it for cup  #2.  If it weren't my breast milk, it would be in my coffee right now but there's something weird about drinking my own milk, maybe it's just me.   I can't be the only mom, right?  There's got to be a few out there who have already resorted to this.  Let me know if it's you and I'll keep you posted on my desperation level.

02 February 2010

Doubled in Size

ciabatta dough on the rise

That's what she said...he, he, he.  Clearly, my new found love for 'The Office' has gotten the best of me. 

Almost every bread recipe you find will tell you to let the bread rise until it has doubled in size.  I let bread rise every day and this still baffles me.  How are you supposed to remember the original size in order to know if it has doubled?  If you're anything like me, ie impatient, you check the dough every five minutes to see if it is ready to go into the oven.  Okay, maybe I don't check it every five minutes when I'm making a couple hundred pounds of dough but if I'm just making a small batch...I check it every five minutes.  I actually tell my students to find something else to do for a couple hours when they are baking at home.  Forgetting about the dough is the best option, sometimes.

I find the best way to know if the bread is ready to bake is the finger poke test.  This is so easy and it works every time.  Simply poke a fingertip into the dough and watch it spring back.  If the dough immediately springs back and holds its original shape, it's not ready, not even close to ready.  If the dough deflates when you touch it, you have over-proofed dough that will not rise again.  If the finger dimple springs back slowly and still leaves a slight impression in the dough, it's perfect.  You can bake away.  This works every time with every kind of dough.  There you have it, doubled in size - demystified.

Don't worry if you don't get it right.  I still jump the gun.  As a matter of fact, just last week I grossly under proofed a batch of brioche buns.  The hotel next to the bakery wants brioche buns to use for their burgers.  They want them ASAP.  They have, after all, been waiting for a month for the bakery staff to return from winter break.  There was not much wiggle room for product development, just get the buns to the tables.

Last week I had sick babies and my husband's truck is in the shop.  I had to bake extra early in the AM so I could be home in time to get him off to work.  I was pressed for time.  Friday morning, I mixed a batch of brioche for the big bun test.  After 5 hours of poking and waiting, the buns still didn't seem proofed enough.  I should always trust myself but in this case I didn't.  I thought, gee these things have been in the warm, steamy, proof box for 5 hours, they've got to be ready, right?  Nope, they sucked!    I baked them off thinking, well, I don't know what I was thinking but they weren't light and fluffy.  They were dense and they split open because they were, drum roll, under proofed! Don't worry, they didn't go to waste but they weren't ideal either.  Apparently, someone from the hotel wanted to come talk to me about what brioche is supposed to be like.  I am so glad he didn't and I bet he is too.  I will be the first person to notice and the first person to admit when one of my breads doesn't turn out the way it should.  I will also be the first person to correct the problem and send out a stellar product the second time around.

Sunday morning, I mixed another batch of brioche.  I tweaked the formula a little so the dough would be slightly more forgiving than the very delicate brioche I normally mix.  I shaped the buns and let them do their thing.  Five hours later, my baking was done but the rolls weren't ready (yes, I used the finger poke test).  I tagged out and tagged Mark in.  Mark had, after all, proofed and baked thousands of rolls very similar to the two dozen I made, when he was responsible for the 2, 30 pan convection ovens at Amy's Bread.  I left a big sign on Mark's work station so he wouldn't forget the little guys.  Later in the day I got a text message saying that the buns were beauties!  Mission accomplished.

01 February 2010


Just as there is a special place in my heart for brioche, there also lies one for a perfect baguette.  What makes a baguette perfect?  Well, the industry places certain standards on the baguette.  It must weigh 350g, 14 oz pre-baked.  It must be 22 inches long and it can only be scored or cut 5 or 7 times.  Easy, right?  Not on your life!

There are so many opportunities to screw up the baguette along the way.  I'm amazed and excited when mine turn out the way I hope.  It starts with a dough.  As I've mentioned before, I use poolish in my French dough.  The poolish is 50% water and 50% flour with a pinch of yeast (technically 1% of the flour weight).  This mixture sits for 18 hours before it is mature enough to use in the dough.  I know it is mature when I see big bubbles beneath the surface and there isn't too much resistance in the gluten network.  Each morning, the first thing I do is to dump my poolish tub (a rubber maid trash can) into the cold steel mixing bowl.  Then I add the appropriate amount of water and flour for the batch size I'm mixing.  These days my batches are about 60 pounds.  I mix these three ingredients at a very slow speed just until there are no big flour lumps.  I stop the mix, cover the bowl with a garbage bag and wait for at least 20 minutes.

Waiting....this is called autolyse.  Autolyse is a method developed by the grandfather of bread, Raymond Calvel.  He is a Frenchman who wrote 'Le Gout du Pain.'  'The taste of bread,' is a scientific approach to baking and one of my all time favorite books.  At any rate, during autolyse the protein in the flour starts to digest itself lending to a more extensible gluten network.  Extensiblity is important when you're striving for 22 inches! During the baking world cup, Team USA, autolysed their dough overnight.  I have to admit, I didn't think that autolyse was a needed step until I started using it.  My dough is much happier now that I take the proper time to let it do it's thing.

After the 20 minutes are up, I add the salt and the yeast to the dough and continue to mix on a slow speed.  My dough is only mixed on high speed for a minute or two.  I don't want to fully develop the gluten in the dough because I want to leave that up to time.  This method of slow fermentation will help to bring out the flavor and the texture of the bread.  Think- ciabatta versus bagels.  I then cut the dough out of the mixer with a sharp knife, into oiled tubs (again, gotta love rubbermaid).  If I were to pull off pieces of dough rather than cut it, I would be damaging the gluten network.  The dough sits in the tubs for about an hour before I fold it, punch it down, turn it...whatever the lingo, I'm simply stretching out the dough and folding it over itself.  This process evens out the temperature of the dough and gives the yeast a brand new source of food.  It is also a gentle way of developing the gluten a little more.

After another hour passes, I start to divide the dough into it's final portions.  Again, I cut off pieces with a sharp bench knife and weigh them out on a balance scale.  These pieces are then shaped into little logs that rest for 15 minutes or so before I start rolling them out into baguettes.  The baguette shaping is in line for the most difficult part of the process.  If I hadn't spent night after night, shaping thousands of baguettes at Amy's Bread, I would still be an awful baguette shaper.  The shape has to be a perfect line but the propensity to end up with a dog bone where there is less dough in the center, is very high.  Once I shape my perfect baguettes, I line them up on a wooden board, snuggled in a couche , or linen, to rest and rise.  'Coucher' means 'to sleep' in French.  This is where they stay until they've properly risen.

When they are ready to bake, I flip them onto my oven loader with a 'planchette.'  This board is a gentle way of moving the baguettes to a new surface.  I then score them, the other most difficult part of the process.  These five lines are cuts made with a straight razor called a 'lame' (pronounced like the beginning of 'llama' not like the word for 'uncool').  The cuts have to be a an exact 45 degree angle.  They overlap slightly and they run down the exact center of the baguette.  If I get this right, the baguettes 'ears' will open up, yielding a beautiful final product. 

I leave the soldiers in the oven until they are a a little darker than golden brown.  I'd say it's more of a mahogany.  The dark color is the 'Maillard Reaction' which is kind of like carmelization.  If the baguettes are light in color they will have much less flavor.  Think in terms of sugar...plain, white, uncooked sugar tastes sweet but once it is cooked, the resulting caramel is teaming with flavor.

That's it.  A day in the life of a baguette.  I have to mention, my son Keegan was exactly 22 inches long the day he was born.  Is this nature's way of telling me I chose the right profession?