Monday, November 2, 2009

Baking with Whole Grains: a Jeff Hamelman workshop the Baking Education Center in Norwich, Vermont.
I had been looking forward to this workshop for months and I wasn't disappointed. Jeff is not only an amazing baker and a talented writer (which I knew already from his book Bread: a Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes) but also an excellent teacher. He is soft-spoken and kind and a pleasure to study with. But beware, his passion for good bread is catching. If you don't have it when you arrive, you'll be hooked by the time the workshop ends! There were only five of us students which means that we had ample opportunities to ask questions and get answers and that we learned a lot not only from Jeff but from each other. What's more, we had a lot of fun doing it. We mixed and baked several formulas from the booklet we received upon arrival, such as...
Carrot Walnut Bread Brown Rice Bread Vollkornbrot
an all-rye bread for which we used this gorgeous starter:
(Jeff has had his rye starter for more than 26 years and during all this time, it has been fed twice a day, seven days a week. I wasn't kidding when I said he was passionate about bread-making!)
Miche Oatmeal Bread
..etc., as well as crackers and lavash (which I forgot to photograph) and Jeff gave us innumerable tips along the way such as:
  • How to check whether or not one has forgotten to put in the yeast (you take a little bit of your dough and you drop it in water. If it rises to the surface, the yeast is there)
  • How to calculate the friction factor for your mixer (click here for the answer)
  • What value should you give to the friction factor when you plan to do an autolyse (click here to find out)
  • How to determine if a preferment is ready or not (all preferments should dome and be about ready to collapse. If they are concave, then next time lower the water temperature, shorten the fermentation time, if possible, and/or use less yeast)
  • Never do an autolyse with a rye or a challah-type dough (rye dough wants to ferment quickly so the dough doesn’t over-acidify, hence an autolyse is unwarranted. And challah, an enriched and sweetened dough, wouldn’t benefit—it’s pretty highly mixed intentionally, so considerations about the carotenoids don’t apply)
  • How do you know when fresh yeast is really fresh (it should be crumbly and break open just as a fresh mushroom)
  • It is better to fold a weak dough (whole grain doughs are weak by definition) on the bench than inside a container (it gives it more strength), etc.
All this info is very valuable and I am glad to have it at hand but what I found personally most helpful is that, on the second day, Jeff had each of us devise a formula that would be used, on the third and final day, to mix and bake a 5 kg batch of dough. We wrote out the formulas, made a list of ingredients and Michele (from the Baking Center) went shopping for us and brought back everything we needed. If you read this, Michele and Susan, thank you very much for your help as well as for the lovely meals! Sandra made a beautiful pumpkin-sage bread...
Monesa's contribution was a fragrant Roasted Red Pepper loaf...
Lori made lovely roasted butternut and onion loaves and rolls...
...and Bill contributed a scrumptious almond-cherry Celtic bread...
As for me, I baked a pear-cardamom-ginger bread...
...which I had made a few times before at home, always winging it (a pinch of this, a fistful of that) and which had always come out fine, maybe because I never made more than a 2-lb batch and knew exactly what to use and in what amount. However writing down the formula was a different proposition and I am mortified to say that this time, the bread came out awful. We didn't get to taste it at the Baking Center: since it was leavened with natural starter with no added yeast, it rose slowly and was baked last. Consequently it was still too hot to cut open when class ended and each of us just took a warm loaf home. I don't know what Jeff and the other students did with their loaves (I suspect they will be too kind to say) but I know mine went straight into the trashcan. It literally reeked of cardamom (a spice I normally love). When I make this bread at home, I use just one pinch but there, silly me, I went for 1%. I should have realized that it was way way too much but I didn't stop to think. What I like is that Jeff didn't say: are you sure you are not going over with the percentage of ground cardamom? He didn't even raise an eyebrow. He let me go on with the formula as I had written it and I am grateful that he did because now I know better than to eyeball percentages for assertive ingredients such as spices. What I should have done is throw 5 pinches of cardamom in a bowl (since one pinch is fine for 5 times less dough), weigh the result, and then calculate the percentage. Believe me, next time I will. That bread is one of our favorites. I was planning to give it to the Man to take to the office when I got home and was very disappointed to have to throw it away (so was he, poor guy). However I liked the way my miche Pointe-à-Callière came out. Small comfort, I know, but better than nothing...
And as soon as I am over the cardamom shock, I'll make the bread again and post the recipe. It is really a good bread when you remember that your brain is one of the main ingredients!


  1. Hi MC, a TFL user, RobynNZ, kindly alterted me of your post, invaluable information here and beautiful photos. Thank you.


  2. Hi, Shiao-Ping! Thanks for visiting. I am glad you liked the post. You would have loved the class!

  3. Great info, MC, many thanks for sharing (and for letting us know we are not alone in the "mistake" arena). Damn, it sure looks good, doesn't it!

  4. Hi MC,

    Did Jeffrey ever showed how he maintains his rye starter once it is fully established? In his book he explains how to make a rye starter, but he doesn't say how to keep it going after it is fully established.

  5. Hi, Carl,
    I think he said it's fed twice a day 24/7 but I'll check with him and get back to you.

  6. Hi again, Carl, Jeff has sent detailed information which you'll find at
    Good luck!



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