Do You Want To Go To Baking School?

Over the years, I've been so fortunate to learn from some of the world's best bread bakers. But it all started with three intense weeks at the San Francisco Baking Institute. I wrote about the experience in a series of articles where I tried to describe how hard we worked and how much I learned.

If you've dreamed about going to baking school but aren't sure what it's like, read on!

Back Home, and Soon to Bake Again

Whole Grain Bread Display

Originally uploaded by madbaker66

I’m back to the land of ice and snow and honestly, I’m very glad to be home. Three weeks is a long time to be away from my family and friends, even when I’m having the time of my life baking every day.

The Whole Grain and Specialty Flour course at the San Francisco Baking Institute was an excellent end to my adventure. If Artisan 1 was elementary school, and Artisan 2 was high school, then the Whole Grain course was bread university! We had a new instructor (Didier Rosada, a world renowned baker and teacher) and for the most part a new group of students as well. Many more professional bakers in this course so we dove straight into advanced mixing and shaping techniques. The teamwork was excellent so we got a lot done each day without getting all stressed out.

The photo represents all the bread we made during the week. From a simple Wheat Germ Baguette, to alternate grains like Corn Bread, Millet Bread and Spelt Bread, to interesting combinations like Buckwheat Pear Bread, Carrot Rolls and Roasted Pecan and Flax bread, to wild shapes like Sesame Flame and Crown of the Great Valley. My head was spinning with all the formulas, shapes and scoring patterns, but I took excellent notes and will be sharing these loaves with you over the coming weeks and months.

As much as I want to get back to baking in Regina, we’re going to take one more week to stockpile some wood, get some supplies (including a bench that’s at the correct working height) and slowly bring the oven up to temperature. It’ll take some TLC to bring the oven out of its deep freeze without cracking the facade, but it can be done.

The next email out will be a ‘baking this week’ note, I promise!

Bread from the Whole Grain Course

Happiness is Sourdough Bread

Hi everyone. It’s another report from the road as I wrap up my second week at the San Francisco Baking Institute. The Artisan II course is called “Mastering Sourdough” but we did so much more as well.

The bread in the picture is from Wednesday when we made four different sourdough loaves using different formulations. Just like the baguettes we made last week, the baker can make several adjustments to get different flavours from a sourdough loaf. He can use a liquid starter to get more lactic acid development for a yogurty, buttermilk-y sour taste. Or he can use a firm starter for more acetic acid development and a vinegary sour taste. Then he can adjust the number of times the starter is fed, and how much starter is put in the final dough, to manipulate the flavours even more.

The result? A wide variety. The loaves in the lower left are your classic San Francisco sourdough like you’d get on Fisherman’s Wharf. High acid content and a vinegar-sour flavour. The loaves closest to me have a much milder flavour and is closer to the mild sour taste I prefer. I’ll make them both for you when I get home so you can tell me what you like best!

We didn’t stop there, however. There was sourdough rye to make, sourdough whole wheat, and then some variations of regular yeasted dough like Ciabatta (I now know what an ultra-wet dough looks like), olive bread, walnut and raisin bread, and regional decorative breads. I can tell my Vivarais from my Auvergnat, but I can’t always pronounce them properly!

One more week. Just one more week till I’m back home and firing the oven again. But first I need a crash course in whole grains and specialty flours with guest instructor Didier Rosada. The word is that he’s a Very Special Bread Instructor so I’m really looking forward to meeting Didier and learning from him. I’ll keep you posted.

Until next week!


PS — For those of you who can’t get enough dough — Daily updates from San Francisco are at mymadbaker blog. More photos are on flickr. Click the links for more.

Orange Boot Update: Artisan Baking in San Francisco

Day 4

Originally uploaded by madbaker66

Hi Everyone,

Week 1 of my journey at the San Francisco Baking Institute is over, leaving me exhausted and energized at the same time. It was a very good first week — we deconstructed every component of bread making and assembled the component parts in a whirlwind of combinations.

Mixing techniques? Pick from short, intensive or improved mixing.

Flour? Do you mean bread flour, high-gluten flour, rye, or whole wheat?

Water? Simple enough, but do you want a stiff, medium or high hydration?

Pre-ferments? You bet! But should I use pate fermentee, poolish or a sponge.

Even salt was discussed at length — what kind, how much and when to add.

By the end of the week we had created seven different kinds of baguettes, all with the same four ingredients — flour, water, salt and yeast. I’ll never look at a baguette the same way again.

We also made several other types of bread which are in the picture above. Let me tell you, the multigrain batard in the front row is the best tasting loaf of bread I have eaten. Ever. Three days later I get misty when I eat a slice. It’s that good, and I can’t wait to make it for you when I get back to Regina. The whole wheat boules in the background are amazing too.

The best thing about the course so far is that I have a much better understanding of the fundamentals of bread baking. This knowledge builds a platform that will allow me to experiment for years to come. It will take me at least three years to exhaust the potential of this week.

Tomorrow we throw commercial yeast back in the cooler and dive into the amazing world of wild yeast, or sourdough, breads. I sampled some sourdough at lunch last week and I can’t wait to learn more about this complex topic.

I have energy like never before and wish there was a way to bake for you all over the weekend while I wait for the next class to start. I hope you are all well and I look forward to talking with you all in a couple more weeks.

Orange Boot Update: Time to Learn

Hello Everyone,

Last Friday was exactly like the picture I had in my mind about baking in winter. Mild, mostly sunny, but with a delicate snowfall off and on throughout the day. Huge snowflakes piling up on my staging table that were easily swept off between loads. It was beautiful and relaxing – completely unlike the bitter cold, windy mess we have outside today.

We’re not baking this Friday, or for the next few weeks, as I’m off to San Francisco for some serious training at the San Francisco Baking Institute. Serious in that I fully expect a hard three weeks spent investigating each part of the baking process in detail, from the basic ingredients through mixing, fermentation, shaping and baking. I won’t be surprised if every part of our current technique is broken down, modified and rebuilt. It will be worth it if, when I get home, I can improve our existing varieties and bring you some new recipes too. I’ve got my chef’s jacket and check pants packed and ready to go!

My time at SFBI is actually three separate courses:

Artisan I is focused on the basics of bread making and will form the foundation for the other courses. I expect we’ll be making as much bread in the first five days as we’ve made at Orange Boot since October.

Artisan II is all about wild yeast breads aka sourdough. Our wild yeast loaves haven’t scaled up as well as I’d like compared to the small batches we’ve made over the past 5-7 years, so I’m eager to get some good theory and practical experience working with large batches of wild yeast dough. And if you’re going to learn about sourdough, San Francisco is the place to do it!

– The third week is focussed on whole grains and specialty flours. We’ve had several requests for whole grain breads along with lower gluten flours like spelt. Here’s a chance to get skilled in this new and exciting area of artisan baking.

As an aside, have you noticed how whole grains are ‘new’ and the current hot topic of nutrition? That’s one of the ironies of what we’re doing at Orange Boot Bakery — taking ‘old’ ingredients and techniques to make better bread. When you’re not making 50,000 loaves per day you can focus on flavour and nutrition which means going back to the way bread was made over 100 years ago.

My evenings will be spent making some changes to our website and email lists along with sending you the odd update from the field. Don’t worry, I won’t plug up your inbox, but if anything especially interesting goes on I’ll let you know. I’ll be describing things in more detail on my personal blog.

On the weekends I’m hoping to head up to the Sonoma Valley north of San Francisco to see the bakeries I’ve only read about. Places like Artisan Breads, owned by world champion baker Craig Ponsford, Della Fattoria, who use two huge Alan Scott ovens just like ours, and Schat’s Courthouse Bakery in Ukiah, whose owner wrote the best book on running a bakery that I’ve ever seen. There are 6-10 others I want to see too. I’m taking the camera and laptop so hopefully there will be some nice pictures to share with you.

I’ll be back in Regina on the Feb 23rd, hopefully with big burly shoulders and a head full of new ideas. If everything works out I hope to get back baking in time for all your Leap Year parties on the 29th!

Best wishes,

Mark, Cindy, Ben and Robyn
skype: Mark Dyck