The Wood-Fired Blog

Why Supermarket Bread is Awful

I was doing research into gliadin and gluten, the two proteins that make up the wheat gluten that give bread its structure, and I came across a really interesting academic article on the science of bread from the British Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC). Really interesting stuff. I think I will refer back to the later with regard to the chemistry of gluten development, but their matter of fact description of how supermarket bread came to be so awful and so bad for you is really worth noting.

It really isn’t fermented bread; it’s whipped flour. Blah.

The traditional breadmaking process has a serious drawback. After mixing, the dough must be left to prove for at least three hours for the bubble expansion to develop the gluten. The dough is then ‘knocked back’ to remove most of the CO2 - a process usually combined with scaling (ie getting the dough into the right size chunks) and moulding to fit the tin – before being allowed to prove a second time before it goes into the oven. Although this long fermentation develops flavour, it is costly in time, with bakers having to rise early in the morning to produce fresh bread for the day. In addition, the mounds of fermenting dough take up expensive floor space and present hygiene problems. Research efforts were therefore directed to developing a ‘no time’ dough: by increasing the amount of yeast; by mixing vigorously to increase the rate of bubble formation; and by adding oxidising agents to promote disulfide bond formation. 

You should read the entire article. Lots of good stuff. Here is the graphic on gluten development.

DId you know that process of carbon dioxide expanding the dough is considered part of the “mechanical” gluten development process. But for your local supermarket, it’s just too slow and too expensive. You know what they say—time is money.

Innovation, Garages and Pizza Ovens

Mention the words garage and innovation, and many people will quickly conjure up visions of Hewlett, Packard, Wozniak and Jobs. The Silicon Valley success that started in a garage is the stuff of legend—and it’s a well-earned legend. Start-up companies that built their first products in their garage, long before the even had enough money for company offices, have gone on to create some of the world’s most wonderful, and popular products. Today, the HP garage is a designated California historic landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The HP Garage

In our own small way, Forno Bravo is part of this heritage. I built the first Primavera prototypes in my garage (I really built them and I really used my garage) at a time when Forno Bravo was exclusively an importer and we were not set up for manufacturing. It was an exciting time, and I was distinctly aware that my plan might succeed and it might fail. Either way, it was thrilling to go out on a limb and try something new. Happily, it all worked out.

But that got me thinking. At the time, I hadn’t really connected the dots, but my grandfather was also a garage entrepreneur. He was born in North Dakota in 1904 to a large farming family, and in 1922 became the only member of his family to attend college—earning an engineering degree from North Dakota State. While working for the FCC in Sunnyvale, CA in 1950s as a communications engineer, he did his homework and found two spots on the FM radio spectrum that were licensable as radio stations.

To quote Wikipedia:

A broadcast license (U.S.) or broadcast licence (elsewhere) is a specific type of spectrum license that grants the licensee the privilege to use a portion of the radio frequency spectrum in a given geographical area for broadcasting purposes. The licenses are generally straddled with additional restrictions that vary from band to band.[1] In some cases, the FCC does not assign licenses to any exclusive user, but allows qualified users to obtain a license [1] The Radio Act of 1927 established the regulatory premise that persists to this day: the spectrum belongs to the public and that licensees have no property rights to continue using it.[2] Although the spectrum is licensed to bidders, the purchase does not represent ownership or rights, only privileges to using that part of the spectrum.

He received a license for the stronger of the two locations and he built the radio transmitter in his garage. Without any external funding, he launched the radio station in the early 1960s, and by the time I was a small child, he had sold it. He never worked again, retiring in his late 50s. As a child, my main memories of my grandfather were that he liked fishing, Cadillacs, Ham Radio, and the Coleco Adam personal computer. I wonder what would have happened if he had come of age during the Internet era.

Speaking of Silicon Valley, there is one last interesting twist to the story. My grandfather leased a pad from a farmer, who, the story goes, offered to sell him the land. As a childhood memory, I can still picture the transmitter sitting in a huge field of tomatoes. Forget the radio station, five acres in the middle of Silicon Valley is probably worth a fortune today.

So, here’s to garage entrepreneurs in the family.

Technique and a Really Good Baguette

In my quest to learn to make a better baguette (dare I say a good baguette?), I have been experimenting with new techniques, reading about the science, watching videos, tuning my equipment (pizza oven, etc.) and even making equipment (my baguette flipper). I have been deconstructing the process and learning how to make beyond my initial attempts, which I would characterize as follows:

1. Mix 80% room temperature water dough for 8 minutes at low speed.
2. Bulk ferment for an hour or so.
3. Shape baguettes and let them proof on the counter.
4. Transfer them into the pizza oven by hand using the back of a baking sheet.

I would say that my results have been OK, but I want more. My flavor is good, the crumb texture is OK, the crust is only so-so, and my slashing is downright awful. In my defense, my baguettes are still better than just about anything we can buy locally.

So I want more.

Plus, I have always enjoyed learning new skills—it’s what keeps a middle-aged guy going, and I think that being self-taught is the way to go.

My initial steps toward improvement were primarily at the back-end of the process. Improved baguette shaping and a better method for loading my loaves into the oven. And that has been helping. But until I improve the quality of my dough, the back-end improvements will only get me so far. GIGO. Well, not that extreme. MEMO. Mediocre In…

Today’s work is focused on the dough.

To start, I have been reading more about gluten development and working with high hydration dough. There seem to be a number of elements of dough preparation that I can easily improve, without significantly increasing the complexity or time commitment of my daily baking. In no particular order:

1. Temperature control.
I am starting to work with ice-water and overnight fermentation, rather than a short fermentation at room temperature. In today’s batch I mixed an 80% hydration dough using ice water and an overnight fermentation in the refrigerator.

2. Higher speed mixing for better gluten developement.
Wet doughs require more mixing in order to develop the gluten your bread needs for a nicely structured crumb. In my previous ice water baguette batch, I mixed the dough for about 8 minutes on a low setting at the end of the evening. It was basically undeveloped, but it was late, so I put it in the refrigerator, hoping the overnight fermentation would improve the structure. It didn’t. And the resulting baguettes were very flat and did not have very much (if any) oven spring. In this batch, I mixed the dough faster (the 4th speed) and longer—a little more than 10 minutes. I could definitely see the gluten developing and the strand in the dough becoming elongated. Over the mixing time, the dough went from batter, to a sticky mess, and actually forming a dough ball.

It formed a real dough ball by the end.

3. Folding during bulk fermentation for better dough strength.
This is another good way of helping the dough develop a strong gluten structure, without over-mixing your dough during the initial kneading. There has been a lot written recently on no-knead dough (very high hydration, un-kneaded dough left to ferment for long periods of time) and folded doughs (where lots of folding takes the place of a higher speed initial knead), and there seems to be a consensus that folding after bulk fermentation helps build gluten structure without overworking the dough to where oxygen depletes the flour.

I found a great YouTube video that demonstration high hydration dough folding. I really like the instructor’s methodical approach, and I have started incorporating this into my bread making technique. Working with very wet dough is incredibly important if you want to make the traditional light, crusty European breads, including Baguettes, ciabatta and Pugliese.

Now, if I can learn to combine my improved “front-end” techniques with the “back-end” techniques that I have been trying to master, I might get somewhere.

Less-Fuss Paella Arrives in Time for Summer

From the New York Times.

Less-Fuss Paella Arrives in Time for Summer

PAELLA, the classic rice dish from Spain, is considered picnic food — a one-dish meal prepared over a fire at an outdoor party like our hamburger cookout. It is also cooked indoors, but always in a flat steel paellera or in an earthenware cazuela. The main rules are to cook the rice uncovered and, unlike risotto, not to stir once the simmering has begun.

You can make great Paella in a Forno Bravo pizza oven!

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

New Forno Bravo Outdoor Fireplace

Can you leak photos of a new and not yet released, or announced product on your own web site? haha.

I guess you can’t call it a leak. Anyway, this is the base of a new outdoor fireplace that we are working on. There will be many more details to come and we will keep you in the loop as this comes together. It’s exciting, and I think it is a lot of fun sharing inside details with you. That’s what blogging is all about.

Whole Wheat Walnut Boule

60% whole wheat
20% white whole wheat
20% general purpose flour
73% hydration (going a little higher)
20 grams salt
10 grams yeast
40 grams extra virgin olive oil
30 grams honey
110 grams chopped walnuts (I will use more next time)

Mix everything in a stand mixer and knead for 10 minutes on low (the two setting on a KitchenAid mixer). Then a bulk fermentation for about an hour, until the volume roughly doubles. Then I divided the dough into two and shaped two boules. I will be posting a link to a nice video from Peter Reinhart, our very favorite bread and pizza guru, on boule shaping next.

I’m feeling a little better about my slashing technique—working on baguettes recently has definitely helped. I’ve learned a couple of important things. First, my angle was far too flat; the optimal slash angle is a steep 30%. Also, I’ve been a great deal more aggressive with my slashing motion and moving a lot faster (really getting into the slasher aspect of this. haha.

One last note on my oven. These boules were baked in my small Presto oven after I finished baking four baguettes, and before baking a fruit crumble. You can definitely bake a lot of bread and pastry from a single firing in a smaller oven. Which is great!

Undergrad Takes on Food Truck at Cal

From the San Jose Mercury News.

Koh may be the first undergrad to run his own food truck at Cal, but street food fever is taking over not only cities, but also college campuses from coast to coast. Schools in Southern California, Texas, Oregon and Washington have launched their own versions of Off the Grid street food fests, bringing fleets of food trucks on campus. A trio of students at Bowdoin College in Maine launched a food truck in February. And law students in Pennsylvania have begun holding workshops for anyone interested in starting a food truck business of their own.

Photo from D. Ross Cameron/San Jose Mercury News

Exciting. There sure weren’t gourmet food trucks when I went to college (all those years ago).

Check out DoJo Dogs list of Asian Fusion Hotdogs:

Ninjitsu: A Dojo Dog dog topped with shredded nori, flash-grilled cabbage, teriyaki sauce and Japanese mayonnaise, in a hoagie-style bun.

Kendo: Bonito flakes, cabbage, soy paste and wasabi mayonnaise.

Wushu: Pork sung, cabbage, katsu sauce and Japanese mayonnaise.

Shaolin Monk: Lettuce, grilled cabbage and a miso glaze, wrapped in nori rather than a bun.