Monday, January 16, 2012

Barrett Township, a Little Tour

 Our good friend Steve Broderick took these beautiful photos of  Barrett Township, where our shop is located. The tour begins at the old railroad station and ends at the creek on the other side of town. 
Come on, let's go for a drive!












Thursday, January 5, 2012

the Bear Truth

Now and then I need to work a little late, and in the fall it can be after dark when I leave the shop. Something caught my eye as I was coming out of the building one night: a giant bear on top of the dumpster trying with all his might to open it. But it was okay. As soon as we saw each other he took off. Funny thing, though, so did I !

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Farm to Table

This past Fall, Shawnee Inn sponsored a charity event for the Monroe County Co-Op Farmers Market that highlighted locally grown and produced ingredients. I was really excited when they invited me to participate as one of the guest chefs, especially when I got to use locally produced chevre from Cranberry Creek Farm in Henryville, PA.  The silky smooth, delicately flavored cheese made a perfect savory custard with no additional flavors other than stewed local onions and fresh thyme from Shawnees beautiful herb gardens.  Counterpointing the custard was an array of vegetables, simply marinated and grilled, that were gathered from all of the farmers in the market. The Frogtown Inn in Canadensis, PA, was kind enough to let me use their char-broiler to prepare the veggies to succulent perfection.
Now I can't wait for next year's event! 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Aggressive Purchasing

Every dollar that I don't spend on ingredients or supplies is equal to 3 or 4 dollars coming in the front door. I'm taking advantage of being closed mid-week to get the best prices I can for anything we use here at the shop. Some of the savings are shocking. The price of sugar at a local vendor vs our regular supplier saves us $30 each time we buy.
So I made up an inventory list with three columns for price comparisons (did it in MS Word). I do my ordering inventory, email it to my suppliers, get their prices for the week, go to local stores and buy whatever is cheaper, then purchase the remaining order from whichever supplier has the best overall  pricing.
It takes time but saves me more money than I can net in weekday sales. 

Cautiously Optimistic About Future Business

We're pulling out of a nosedive.
The economic downturn has been brutal, especially on a small business like ours. In January, we thought we were done: the shop was closed for three months and we had no expectations of ever opening again. The state tax bureau and health departments were notified that the place was no longer an entity, and we got a giant dumpster to fill.
We had a buyer, or thought we had a buyer, but the banks had other ideas, and it didn't work out for them. Our bank, PNC, gave us a breather those months we were closed with no mortgage payments of any kind. And looking back on it, we can see that that was our salvation. With virtually no expense associated with the place we got through a period of the year's cycle when overhead exceeds income. At the end of it we decided that since we didn't owe anyone anything, other than PNC, we had nothing to lose by opening on weekends. And it worked.
We did retail only, absolutely no wholesale for any reason. And with hindsight, we now realize that wholesale is what got us into a mess in the first place! Wholesale receipts were never enough to service the excess overhead necessary to accommodate wholesale production. It is extremely difficult to tease out exactly where overhead is being used; there are gas and electric bills for the month, not for the day, and if I were smarter I would have figured that out much sooner.  But we were busy and making money for years, until the economic downturn that is. And that is when this problem became an undefinable hemorrhaging of money.
We have slashed overhead by shutting down completely during the week and opening for retail only on the weekends, which is when we do most of our business.
So far so good. We are cautiously optimistic about the future.

We’re still new at this…

…who do we see about a day off?
 (Note: This article was first published in the BBGA newsletter several years ago.)
   It took a frantic amount of organization, physical labor and nagging, lots and lots of firm, polite, incessant nagging to get everything done. There was wiring and plumbing and drywall, there were floors that needed reinforcing, a foundation that needed shoring up. Floor plans had to be drawn for Labor and Industry codes that needed addressing and inspecting, not to mention the health codes with their ensuing inspections. There were benches, walls and shelves that needed to be built, painting, papering, and restoration of the beautiful but crumbling mullioned windows that made the shop what it was. Equipment was purchased and installed, most of it used, most of it needing some kind of special attention. We spent the final week doing basic prep work and overseeing the removal of several dead or dying trees.
   In fewer than ninety days from the time we closed on the real estate and loan, we took down the “coming soon” sign, turned on the lights and clicked the key in the lock to open the door of our bakeshop.
   Nothing happened.
   There I was, lying on the couch recovering from a bit of surgery when Traci came in and announced, “The bakery is for sale”.
  We swung into action. Traci began by refinancing our house in order to free up some cash for a down payment while I began badgering the real estate agent into selling us the property for far less than the original asking price.
   The quaint, albeit shabby, little building with the big windows had never been a bakery, it had been any number of different gift shops, the last of which hadn’t been open for a decade or more. I’d spotted the place in 1979, remarking how like a European pastry shop it appeared; we just called it ‘the bakery’.  
     Taking full advantage of the seller’s foot dragging we worked on a business plan for the bank, then took full advantage of the bank’s foot dragging to cost out formulas.
   In the cover letter of our plan we stated that the reason for going into trade is not to do something for the community or to educate the public, or to do for a living what one loves, it is to make money and stay in business. 
   Our loan officer was impressed.
   There were maddening delays with the title insurance but we used that time to negotiate with contractors doing work on the building.
   I purchased the book “Breads from the La Brea Bakery” and started learning about natural leaven, and made a starter. In the back of the book was a reference to The Bread Bakers Guild of America. Hmmm…they seemed to have the same philosophy about bread baking as we had about cooking. We joined.
   Asking the advice of people we knew, who either were in or peripheral to the bakery business, was another ongoing project. The first question we put to them was ‘why do so many bakeries go bankrupt?’ Every single person had a different answer: location, products, cleanliness, unions, ignorance; there must have been a dozen or more to go around and around.
   If you have ever experienced a tornado first hand, you will know that an eerie silence precedes the actual event.
   At six a.m. that first day we unlocked the door, ready for business, with Jane (Traci’s mom) steady at the counter. Seven o’clock came and still there were no customers. At seven-thirty someone came in, Traci’s sister. Then someone else: the contractor who had built the front steps. Unanimous sentiment in the shop questioned whether the area really wanted or needed a bakery. Then someone, somewhere (not us) sent out an email. By ten a.m. we were inundated. Two newspapers had come and gone with pictures and interviews while patrons jammed the place. The till filled up.
   It was exhilarating and fun. After all, we were no strangers to long hours under high pressure; we’d owned a catering service for nine years. In addition to that, Traci had worked the front of the house for a fine country inn or two, and I’d been a chef for decades. We unwittingly started out in the baking business with a twenty quart mixer for me and a FIVE quart mixer for Traci. That configuration worked in all of those fancy restaurants, didn’t it?
    That first day I worked until three o’clock in the morning and then opened again before dawn, a phenomenon that instantly became my permanent work schedule. The first four months I worked twenty hours a day seven days a week. Traci worked twelve hours a day, afterward going home to take care of our three kids and the house. Then the morning arrived when I came to, shivering uncontrollably on the stockroom floor, completely disoriented. I vaguely remember a lot of angry customers who didn’t get their sticky buns that morning, but it didn’t matter. I still had the best job of my life, even without a paycheck yet.
   A woman came in and told us that the loaf of sourdough she had purchased a few days earlier was so good it actually had her family sitting down together at dinner for the first time in months. (When you hear things like that, remuneration almost becomes irrelevant, but not quite.)
   It certainly helped to ease the workload when Traci got the twenty quart mixer and I got an eighty quart Hobart three weeks after opening, but other businesses were pressing us for wholesale breads and Traci’s fabulous pies; retail customers kept multiplying even though it was one of the snowiest winters on record. I swear they were arriving by dog sled.
  Then summer hit. Hundreds of expensive homes in nearby communities filled up for the season, nearly doubling our business. By then we had acquired a bit of savvy and a couple of freezers, and hired on some help. We paid ourselves one small salary, less than half of what a chef makes in a French restaurant.
   Thanksgiving was the big holiday kickoff, with one of our helpers quitting at just the right moment. Then Christmas came along with the guy who gave us two days’ notice for sixty extra-large baskets filled with all manner of breads and treats, wrapped and tied with huge bows.
   We closed for the first week of January.
   After looking at the books we decided wholesaling was only slightly more attractive than self-immolation; the shop was set up to make money from retail sales. I contacted our accounts to inform them that they would thenceforth receive a discount of fifteen percent instead of the forty percent they had formerly enjoyed. The desired result was immediate: one or two anteed up, but the rest were content to go back to the mass produced stuff available everywhere, quality (or lack of it) be damned.
   Our second year focused on streamlining the workload, chopping costs and improving the quality of some of our breads and pastries. We made significant headway on the first two challenges by setting weekly and daily schedules and by cost-comparative purchasing.
   Improving quality was a bit more eclectic, our semolina bread being a good example. It lacked oven spring, the crust was leathery and the flavor boring. Karen Bornarth’s article in the Bread Baker’s Guild of America newsletter, regarding the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie, mentioned using a preferment and honey in semolina bread. Coupling that with’s biga formula and semolina pre-soak resulted in the finished loaves having deeply fermented flavor and very loud crusts, looking like flexing, oversized biceps tearing through shirt sleeves. Increased sales to existing customers will be the next focus, partly through offering our own par-baked frozen breads for finishing at home.
   So here we go, careening head first into our third year. We’re still barking our shins on the eighty quart bowls and thanking God every day for it. Any regrets? Well, no, actually. 

Monday, May 23, 2011



An artisan is one employed in the manual arts who creates with both skill and dexterity.

Many artisan breads require a rest, or autolyze, during the mixing process, usually before the addition of salt or yeast. This rest, from 20 minutes to 1 hour in duration, helps to develop gluten without mechanical means, and improves the overall quality of many breads, from flavor and texture to their overall appearance.

The importance of proper dough temperatures cannot be overemphasized. Different doughs have different temperature requirements, and the following simple mathematical calculation will determine how to achieve a proper dough temperature. Proper dough temps help ensure consistency and allow us to follow production schedules by removing guesswork from fermentation times.
Dough temperature is calculated by averaging the temperatures of the main ingredients in a dough with the room air temperature, plus an additional one to two degrees of friction heat, depending on your mixer,  for each minute of actual mixing. ( Friction heat is heat added to the dough by the action of mixing. ) For this exercise we will assume 1 degree of heat for each minute of mixing.
Since water temperature is the only variable that can be controlled, we calculate it's temperature in order to achieve a proper dough temperature.
EXAMPLE: A batch of sourdough requires a dough temp of 73º. It will be mixed a total of 13 minutes. What is the necessary water temperature if the flour is 68º, the air is 75º, and the sour starter is 41º?

73º ( Desired dough temp )
- 13º (Degrees friction heat )
60º (Averaged temp of variables: air, flour, water, and sour starter )
60 ( The average temp of our variables )
x 4 (The total number of variables )
240 ( Static Number )

240 (Static Number) minus:
-68º ( flour temp )
-75º ( air temp )
-41º (sour starter temp )
56º = Desired Water Temperature

To recapitulate: We take the desired final dough temperature and subtract the friction heat ( one degree per minute of mixing ). We multiply the result by the number of variables in the formula. ( The variables can be as few as three and as many as five. ) This result is the Static Number. From the Static Number we subtract the temperatures of all variables except water (or other formula liquids). The result is the water temperature necessary to achieve the desired dough temp.
Once a static number has been calculated it should be included in the formula for the dough; water temperature calculation is then simply a matter of subtracting the temperatures of the variables other than water from the static number, resulting in the desired water temp.

Made from sturdy French linen, couches are long pieces of fabric used to cradle delicate breads while proofing, wicking excess moisture from the crusts while helping to retain their shapes. The banneton is a basket used to hold breads while they proof; they may be lined or unlined.

The inside of a bread loaf is referred to as the crumb.

Yeast metabolizes only the simplest of sugars through the use of it's own enzymes and the enzymes present in wheat flour. Diastatic action, through the use of malt products, furthers this process by supplying very strong enzymes capable of breaking starches down to sugars that may then be shortened by wheat and yeast enzymes.
Great caution must be exercised in the use of diastatic malt, as even a slight miscalculation can result in a weak dough so slack it cannot support it's own weight.

The primary reason for docking, that is, slashing the skins of proofed loaves with a lamme immediately prior to baking, is to allow for even expansion of the bread as it bakes. Failure to dock properly usually results in loaves that either burst or collapse in the oven.
A secondary reason for docking is to impart aesthetics to the finished product.

A docker is a small hand-held tool used for imprinting the tops of rolls.

Dough conditioners are essentially powdered acids added to bread dough in order to mimick secondary fermentation. ( See: FERMENTATION ) By adding these chemicals much time can be saved: the dough is mixed, given a half hour rest instead of a proper ferment, then divided, proofed and baked. The result is insipid. There is no place for dough conditioners in artisan baking.

When dough is mixed, it is "bulk fermented", that is, given enough time for the yeast to work. The term "rise" is generally not used by professionals.


When dough is mixed it is allowed to ferment in order for the yeast to leaven it. Yeast cells first scavenge all of the available oxygen in the dough, and then begin to metabolize damaged starches inherant in the flour into water, alcohol, and carbon dioxide. It is owtward pressure from the buildup of carbon dioxide gas that causes dough to expand.
Acid-forming bacteria are ubiquitous, and are responsible for much of the finer characteristics of a superb loaf. The acetobacter present in dough metabolize some of the alcohol created by the yeast into acids, strengthening gluten molecules for better oven spring, and imparting deeper flavor and aroma to the finished loaves. Secondary fermentation does not necessarily impart a sour taste to bread.
When dough overferments a buildup of alcohol begins to kill the yeast. In addition, an overabundance of enzymes begin to break down the gluten structure of the dough, resulting in dense, inedible bread.

The generic term "flour" simply means seeds ground into powder. We can therefore have corn flour, or malt flour, or wheat flour. Several flours are used in the bakeshop; here is a short list:
All Purpose Flour is a moderately strong flour rarely used in a professional setting.
Artisan Flour is sometimes referred to as unbleached all purpose flour, it has moderate gluten strength.
Bread Flour is strong flour capable of withstanding manipulation and long ferment times, resulting in loaves with superior oven spring and excellent crusts.
Cake Flour is soft wheat flour, high in starch but low in proportional damaged starch, sometimes used to weaken stronger flours.
High Gluten Flour is often used for challah bread or breads with a large amount of coarse ingredients added.
Whole Wheat is milled from the entire wheat kernel and can go rancid if not used quickly enough. It adds character, flavor and enhanced nutrition to breads.
Dark Rye is commonly used for rye bread production, although it can sometimes be difficult to work with. Unlike wheat flours, rye does not improve with age or produce gluten.
Pumpernickle is whole rye flour, coarse in texture. Sometimes called rye meal, it is not dark.
Rye Chops are broken pieces of rye grain and are used to impart character and flavor to a variety of breads.
Rye Flakes are extremely coarse pieces of rye grain.

Some artisan breads are given a "fold" halfway through their fermentation times. The dough is turned onto the bench and folded in on itself several times. The purpose of folding is to help strengthen the gluten and equalize the internal and external temperatures of the dough. Folding evolved from the old-time "punching down" of dough.

"Recipes" are known to professionals as formulas.

Wheat is the only grain that produces a gluten suitable for bread production. When the two protiens found in wheat flour, glutenin and gliadin, combine with water and motion they form gluten molecules. With the remarkable properties of both extensibility and elasticity, gluten allows for the manipulation and shaping of loaves without tearing. Gluten traps the gasses released by yeast during fermentation, thus allowing bread to leaven.
Vital Wheat Gluten is a readily available ingredient that is sometimes added to weak dough or dough with coarse ingredients to give extra support.

Judging proper gluten development is one of the most important skills a baker must learn. Gluten becomes stronger the longer or faster it is mixed; the more gluten is developed, the larger the resulting loaves will be, but the less flavor they will have. Further mixing after full development will result in an irreversable breakdown of the gluten structure within the dough.
Most artisan breads are given a "modified mix", that is to say, they are mixed slowly at first, then worked on a faster speed toward the end of mixing. This technique results in full-sized, richly flavored breads.

Breads may have specialty ingredients added to them, ingredients such as dried fruits, nuts, roasted pumpkin or squash, fennel, herbs, spices, citrus, chocolate, cheeses, potatoes, leeks, shallots, roasted onions, ale, wine, etc. It falls to the artisan to determine which basic bread formulas will best highlight a given set of gourmet ingredients.

The stone floor or deck of an oven is called the hearth.

The percentage of water relative to the flour in a given formula is referred to as hydration. A biga pre-ferment, for example, has very low hydration, while the hydration of ciabatta dough is quite high.

Pastries such as croissants and danish are made using a lamination process, wherein yeasted dough is layered with butter, then rolled out and folded, or "turned" multiple times in order to exponentially increase the number of butter and dough layers. The result is a pastry that is rich, buttery, and flaky.
The most important rule to remember during lamination is that the butter must remain cold.

The razor used by bakers to slash bread loaves immediately prior to baking is called a lamme.

When dough has completed it's fermentation, it is turned out onto the bench where it is cut and weighed for proper size, given a pre-shape, a rest, a final shape, and then either placed on peels or in pans.

Malting is the process of sprouting seeds. When barley is malted it releases very strong enzymes capable of reducing starch into sugar; this is called "diastatic action". Malt is available in diastatic and non-diastatic varieties, yet discretion must always be exercized as all malt contains some enzymes. Too much malt will slacken any dough.

Professionals refer to kneading dough as mixing.

When bread dough is placed in the oven the yeast cells warm and begin to metabolize faster, creating a push of carbon dioxide gas within the loaf. This sudden expansion of the loaves is known as oven spring.

Artisan breads may be "par-baked", that is, baked at a slightly lower temperature for a shorter amount of time than necessary to be finished. The loaves are thoroughly baked through, however the crust is not colored. The loaves are then wrapped and frozen for future use. When needed, the loaves are placed frozed in a very hot oven to finish the crust. This process allows bakers to make many varieties of breads in large batches, ready in a moment's notice for wholesale and retail.

The wooden ( or plastic ) boards that hold shaped loaves while proofing are called peels. The wide wooden board used to rotate and remove breads from an oven is also called a peel.

The very beginning of the mixing process when the dough is still an inchoate mass is known as the pickup.

This particular aspect of artisan baking is at the heart of many superb breads, pre-ferments often being used to improve the flavor, crumb, crust and aroma of finished loaves.
The pre-ferment is a technique in which a portion of the formula flour is fermented before being blended into the final mix, where it is fermented again. Thus all of the flavors and benefits of extremely long fermentation times are present, while the drawbacks of overfermentation are absent.
The following is a list of the more common pre-ferments:

This Italian pre-ferment has the very stiff consistency of pasta dough, however a tiny amount of yeast leavens the whole into a very soft sponge overnight. It is used when strength is required, such as in semolina bread.

Primarily used for pan breads, this American innovation combines half of the flour with all of the liquid and all of the yeast in a given formula. It is generally allowed to work for an hour or two before all the remaining ingredients are added and mixed. This sponge may also be retarded overnight.

Simply a portion of bread dough from one day's batch allowed to ripen overnight, pâte fermentée is primarily used in bâtards and baguettes. It may be mixed from scratch if necessary.

Originally from Poland, this French technique uses a variable amount of flour, a miniscule amount of yeast, and water to make a batter. It is fermented anywhere from 4 to 24 hours, 12 hours being average. It is often used in breads such as baguettes.

Often used in rye breads, sour sponge is much like a flying sponge with the addition of white or rye sour starter.

Sour starter, also called liquid levain, is a batter-like culture of flour(s), wild yeasts, and acid-producing bacteria. Dilligence must be used in it's care and feeding in order to bring out it's natural tartness without bitterness or excess enzyme buildup. Liquid levaine is often added direcly to the breads it is used in.
Rye starter is a sour starter made with rye flour in place of wheat flour.

As each loaf is cut from the batch and weighed, it is given a tuck in order to orient it's gluten strands in the direction of the final shape. This makes shaping easier to accomplish without tearing the skin of the dough.

After dough has been cut, weighed, shaped and peeled up or panned, it is then proofed, that is, allowed to rise. The term rise, however, is not used by professionals.

Resting doughs and loaves before final shaping is quite important in breadmaking. As the gluten in the dough rests, it looses some of it's elasticity and gains extensibility, allowing for easier handling and better results.

Retarding dough requires that it be refrigerated sufficiently to slow the growth of yeast. Retarding shaped loaves enables the baker to produce breads for baking the next day. Many sourdoughs are retarded as part of their overall formulas, as a better crust develops over time under refrigeration. Some pre-ferments are also retarded both as a way to prepare in advance and improve their overall quality.

The professional does not use the word "rise", as it can be confusing. Bakers say " ferment" when they mean bulk rising, and "proof " to describe rising loaves.

Breads are rotated, that is, turned and repositioned in the oven in order to ensure even baking.

Salt plays a decisive role in bread baking. Besides bringing out all of the flavors in breads, it also strengthens gluten. Salt's most important function, however, is it's action on yeast. Salt kills yeast, and in so doing controlls it's growth. This indirectly affects crust color by preventing the yeast from metabolizing too much sugar, allowing for caramelization of the crust to occur.

When ingredients are weighed and measured prior to mixing it is referred to as scaling.

Bakers mold dough with their hands into some very specific shapes: bâtard, baguette, boule, pan, roll, etc. Good, proper shaping requires practice and experience.

This old bakers term refers to dough that either has super-high hydration ( ciabatta ) or one that overfermented into soft, weak dough, or a dough with too many enzymes ( from malt, or sun-dried tomatoes, or underfed sour starter ).

This classification of breads, also known as levain in France, uses a natural yeast and acid-producing bacterial culture. San Francisco is famous for their sourdoughs due to the acetobacter native to the area. Regardless of where a starter begins, it will eventually be colonized by whatever yeasts and bacteria are native to the place where it resides.
Sourdoughs lend themselves to the addition of many gourmet ingredients.

Comprising approximately 90% of wheat flour, starch gives bread it's bulk. It is also responsible for crust flakiness. Stronger flours ( flours with higher gluten content ) have a higher proportion of damaged starch than do soft flours. This is important to know, as yeast metabolizes only damaged starch.

Steam injected into an oven full of baking bread gives the loaves a crisp, shiny crust. The white vapor commonly called steam is actually mist; steam is invisible and is extremely dangerous. Care must be exercised when using steam injection.

A straight mix refers to doughs with no pre-ferments. All the ingredients of a given formula are simply scaled into the bowl and mixed.

The branch of artisan baking that pertains to yeast-raised patisserie, most notably croissants and other laminated doughs, is viennoiserie.

Wheat bran is the outside layer of the wheat kernel, and is used to add nutrition and flavor to some breads. It may also be used to garnish the tops of loaves.
All grains are seeds. The whole grains used in baking must contain all the essential parts of the naturally occurring nutrients inherant in the entire seed grain. Some common whole grains used in bread making are: Barley, Corn, Millet, Flax, Oats, Quinoa, Brown Rice, Rye, Wheat Berries and Cracked Wheat, Whole Wheat, and Wild Rice.

Natural yeast is everywhere. In fact, the whitish coating found on grapes is actually wild yeast, explaining why crushed grapes spontaneously ferment into wine.
Many artisan breads are made using a sour starter colonized with wild yeasts. These indigenous organisms are incredibly adept at surviving the low pH caused by their acetobacter neighbors also flourishing in the same culture.

Central to the art of making bread is the lowly single-celled fungus known as yeast. Many strains of yeast exist in nature, and cultivating a local wild yeast for bread production is central to the art of the craft baker. Commercially available yeasts, also used by the artisan, are strains with particular characteristics that have been isolated and grown in mass quantities by manufacturers.
The various types of commercial yeast available to the baker are actually different strains of the organism. For instance, active dry yeast is not simply a dried version of the fresh cake yeast used by bakers, they are different species.

While this yeast stands up to higher sugar content ( raisin bread for example ), it must first be dissolved in 100 degree water in order to activate it. This extra step makes it difficult to control dough temperatures.

Fresh cake yeast of good quality is sweet smelling, friable, and free of mold spots. Fresh yeast stands up well to high sugar content, freezes well in doughs, and posesses a demonstrably superior flavor to dry yeasts.

Added directly to the mix during scaling, instant dry yeast is sufficient for most applications. However, it does not tolerate high sugar levels very well.