Bread Essentials - The 12 Stages of Bread Production ~ the butcher, the baker

Monday, November 1, 2010

Bread Essentials - The 12 Stages of Bread Production

some finished loaves

    Bread baking is broken down into 12 steps when taught, and to remember them explicitly as a beginning baker can really help your game. Not all of them are necessarily used every time you make a loaf of bread but it's a very useful guideline. Here they are:

  1. Scaling - Mis en place is everything, as with anything else in the kitchen. Scaling is weighing/massing out your ingredients. Let me take this opportunity to send you over to take a look at my Scale Evangelism.
  2. Mixing - Mixing your ingredients together sounds simple enough, but don't be fooled. There are many finer points that come into play with different breads and make a huge impact on the final results in your bread - points like when the fat is to be added, or when to allow an autolyse, or mixing speeds and lengths for different doughs.
  3. Bulk Fermentation - During bulk fermentation the dough gets its motor running as the yeast starts to feast upon the sugars present. It's the baker's job to make sure they don't either eat themselves to death or starve, and that control can be achieved through manipulation of time and temperature.
  4. Folding/Degassing - For many if not most doughs, a long, slow fermentation will yield the best results and when taking this route it is often advisable to fold/degass the dough. I use the word "fold" here, and not just "degass" because Jeffrey Hamelman has thoroughly convinced me in his wonderful book Bread that folding a dough is superior to simply punching it down. The idea is as follows. No matter if you gently fold the dough into a new ball or just punch it down in its place, degassing is a very important piece of the bread puzzle. As the yeast cells chow down they produce lactic acid and carbon dioxide as byproducts, creating sour flavor and gas bubbles. After a length of time the yeast can end up more or less sitting in pools of its own waste, unable to reach enough food or oxygen. Degassing the dough here will gently let out some carbon dioxide and redistribute the food so that the yeast can resume their meal.
  5. Dividing - In most cases, a batch of dough will be divided into several pieces to be made into individual loaves. This may not apply if you were, say, producing a single country loaf at home, and is easily skipped over in such cases.
  6. Pre-shaping - Here the bread is... given direction, so to speak. For instance, if your ultimate intention is to shape a baguette or normal sandwich loaf, here is where you would shape a bâtard, or for a bagel, a boule, and so on. It's a stop-off point on the way to your final shape, after which you can let the gluten relax for a few minutes to allow for an easier time in your final shaping. Some doughs will allow you to skip this step but for most rustic loaves it will be a fixture.
  7. Benching - As mentioned directly above, the pre-shaped loaf generally could use a moment to let the gluten relax so that the final loaf is more easily shaped, and this is that moment.
  8. Shaping - Shaping determines what your loaf will actually look like. Save for scoring, this is usually the last thing you'll actually proactively do other than bake.
  9. Proofing - The word "proofing" comes from the yeast "proving" that it is alive and healthy. This is the final rise the bread will have before it goes into the oven, though the baker should keep in mind that "oven spring" will produce a final quick lift, especially when using a baking stone.
  10. Baking - The moment of truth. Cook the bread!
  11. Cooling - As important a step as any - bread will not be ready to eat right out of the oven! Sure, it smells great, but put it in your mouth and the texture will be doughy and the flavor disappointing; you may even burn your tongue. At least wait until it's merely very warm to warm, like with cinnamon buns or pizza. Breads like the baguette are at their best completely cooled, generally around 4-6 hours after baking depending on who you ask.
  12. Storing - Put the bread onto a rack to cool. If left on a pan or counter-top or, most awful, in a plastic bag while still hot it will generally steam itself into premature moldiness while also ruining the crust. Just allow it appropriate time to come down before packaging, or better yet, eat it all with friends in one sitting.

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