Saturday, October 12, 2013

Kneading Conference West 2013: Creating signature breads

Martin Philip, our instructor for this workshop, is a baker and the bakery operations manager at King Arthur Bakery in Norwich, VT. According to his bio on King Arthur's website, in previous lives, he was a professional opera singer and worked in investment banking. I never met him in these past avatars. I only know him as an accomplished baker (the flavor and crunchiness of the straight dough baguettes he handmixed for us the following day while our other dough was fermenting put to rest once and for all any preconceived idea I might have had on baking without a pre-ferment). Martin is also an excellent instructor. A firm believer in the Socratic method, he favors collaboration and the meeting of minds over didactic teaching and magisterial pronouncements, yet he keeps a firm hand on the discussion and never lets it go out of focus. It surely works for me!
The goal of the workshop was to design a bread as a group. Martin explained that before we could even start, we had to make a few choices. What kind of a bread did we want? What ingredients were we thinking of using? What did our production schedule look like? The combinations were almost infinite as Martin demonstrated from the deck of cards he uses as prompts. A baker may want/need to:
  • Showcase seasonal flavors
  • Use grains that are available locally
  • Diversify his or her offerings
  • Satisfy a customer request (for a specific taste or nutritional benefit)
  • Challenge himself/herself by using a new technique or a different type of flour

Based on the flour(s) to be used, the baker needs to make decisions regarding:
  • Type of pre-ferment (if using)
  • Hydration
  • Type of leavening
  • Mixing
  • Bulk fermentation
  • Shaping and scoring
  • Final proof time
  • Bake temperature and duration
  • If using a weak (low protein) wheat flour, the baker might choose to pre-ferment all of it (i.e. to hydrate all of the weak flour with some of the water in the formula, adding a bit of  yeast and salt, and to let it ferment anywhere from three to twelve hours) in order to make the dough stronger
  • If using a strong (high protein) wheat flour, an autolyse is the way to go as it helps boost extensibility. It is highly recommended for baguette dough
  • If a niche flour (buckwheat, einkorn, legume, quinoa, grapeseed, sprouted wheat or spelt, durum, sorghum, kamut, mesquite) is to be used, thought needs to be given to ways to get the desired crumb structure
  • Hydration is pretty much dictated by the type of flour(s) to be used
  • The baker might choose to use either commercial yeast or a starter or maybe both. It all comes down to the kind of flavor s/he is looking for. Baguettes, for instance, have a very different flavor profile when made with liquid levain as opposed to commercial yeast.
  • If using a levain, build schedule needs to be a consideration
  • Liquid levain and poolish are usually made with white flour but some whole flour can be used as well. A pre-ferment containing whole grain will be more active: it might therefore require the addition of a bit of salt. A white poolish or levain is more predictible.
  • An autolyse is an optional step in which all the flour and most of the water in a formula are incorporated in the absence of either yeast of salt until the flour is thoroughly hydrated. This somewhat shaggy dough is allowed to rest for a mininum of twenty minutes before the baker proceeds with the mix proper. The goal is to jumpstart both gluten development and enzymatic activity
  • Commercial yeast is never added to the autolyse but when a formula calls for poolish and/or liquid levain, the poolish and levain are added to the flour and water in the autolyse (flour wouldn't hydrate properly otherwise since they contain a large part of the total water in the formula)
  • Doing an autolyse is highly recommended if the dough is to be hand-mixed
  • But even if using a mixer, an autolyse is an excellent way of developing the gluten without overprocessing the dough and risking loss of flavor
  • What type of mix is best for the bread the baker has in mind? Short? Improved? Intensive?
  • Generally speaking, today many artisan bakers choose to mix the dough very gently and to rely on folds to develop the strength of the dough during fermentation
Decisions need to be made regarding:
  • Time: if the dough is machine-mixed, total fermentation time might need to be reduced
  • Number of folds (usually based on an evaluation of the dough consistency)
After this short recap of the considerations a baker needs to keep in mind when designing a bread, Martin invited all of us (I would say we were about fifty, half professional bakers, half home bakers) to pitch in with ideas and suggestions. The only non-negotiable condition was that a pre-ferment had to be used. Also, it soon transpired that beautiful dried figs had been purchased for the purpose of this workshop and the idea of a fig bread was quickly adopted by consensus. 
The back and forth was most informative. For ease of reference, Martin's comments are presented in bold and in a different color. Please keep in mind that all percentages are given in relation to the amount of flour, always expressed as 100% (for more on bakers' math, please refer to the post entitled BreadStorm)
  • Participant: Could we make a 100% whole wheat bread?
    Martin Philip:  Since we are going to use figs (a heavy ingredient) it would be preferable to use a fair amount of white flour in order to optimize crumb structure. Going 50% white 50% whole wheat would be a good compromise

  • Participant: What proportion of figs should we use?
    Martin Philip:  Since the figs we just bought are moist and don't need to be soaked, we could go anywhere between 25 and 35%. Back home it might be worthwhile to try and make one bucket of dough with 20% figs and another with 30% and then decide which one works best. If opting for another dried fruit, keep in mind that raisins, currants, pears and apples all pull water from the dough unless quick-soaked in boiling water before incorporation

  • Participant: Could we leaven the bread entirely with liquid levain?
    Martin Philip:  Sure! Back at home or at the bakery you can, but because of time constraints during the Kneading Conference (due to limited oven space), we will need to add a bit of yeast. Another reason to add yeast is that figs have a high sugar content. Sugar being hygroscopic, it tends to slow down fermentation by pulling water away from the yeast
    Tip: if you are making one single dough with different breads in mind, take out the portion you need to make the fig bread and add a bit of yeast to that, keeping the rest of the dough yeast-free for other purposes

  • Participant: How liquid is the levain we are going to use?
    Martin Philip:  We will be  using a levain hydrated at 100% but at the King Arthur Bakery, the liquid levain is kept at 125%-hydration

  • Participant: Could we use a firm levain?
    Martin Philip:  The bright acidity of a firm levain might be a bit assertive for a fruit bread but it might be interesting to mix and match liquid and firm levains or to use a liquid levain and a biga. All elements need to be balanced. Is the levain acidity kept in check by the sweetness of the figs? Experimenting is the way to go

  • Participant: Could we add in a bit of rye levain?
    Martin Philip:  We certainly could but if the levain is going to sit all night before we mix the bread tomorrow morning, it might be best to stick to wheat (rye develops faster and may cause the levain to peak before we are ready for it). Another consideration to bear in mind that a sour rye would add acidity

  • Participant: How much levain should we use?
    Martin Philip:   The percentage of total flour used in the pre-ferment affects both the functionality of the dough and the flavor of the bread. It is one of the most notable feature in any formula. A high proportion of levain tends to make the bread denser. The ideal in this case would be to use about 18% levain although at the Kneading Conference we will have to use 30% because of time constraints

  • Participant: Could we make miches?
    Martin Philip:  Better go for a smaller shape in order to maximize caramelization. A tear-drop shape that would emulate the contour of a fig would be visually pleasant for this bread

  • Participant: What hydration should we go for?
    Martin Philip:  No need to reinvent the wheel. The best way to determine hydration when creating a new formula is to look at existing formulas for similar types of breads and see what percentage of water they use. A good starting point for this particular bread would probably be 74-75%. In any case, the baker needs to monitor dough consistency throughout the mixing, keeping a container of water close at hand

  • Participant: Could we use a soaker?
    Martin Philip:  A soaker would be a great addition. If you opt for soaking grains such as wheat, barley or rye chops for an extended period of time at room temperature, bear in mind that you need to use a bit of salt or the soaker will be off by the time you are ready to mix. For best flavor, toast the grain, then let it cool, crack it in your mill, add water and soak overnight. In this formula, we are going to use wheat because that's what we have available but back home you may want to try other grains and see which one works best for you 

  • Participant: How much water should we use in the soaker?
    Martin Philip:  A good ballpark figure for hydrating cracked grain is 120% (meaning a baker needs to use 120 units of water for 100 units of grain). The water  used to hydrate the soaker comes out of the total dough water. Same thing for the water used in the levain

  • Participant: If using a spice such as anise seed, what percentage should we go for?
    Martin Philip:  One percent is usually the way to go. Remember to always toast aromatics  before incorporating them in a dough. Use a heavy metal object to bust up the anise seeds a bit after roasting

  • Participant: How much salt should we use? Two percent?
    Martin Philip:  Because of the high percentage of figs and cracked wheat, 2% salt might be a bit low
The (almost) three-hour brainstorming ended too soon for my taste. I could have gone on listening forever! Martin explained that the next step would be for him to work out the formula on his computer based on what had been discussed and to feed the levain. He would mix the dough the following morning, so that dividing, shaping and baking could start in early afternoon.

See Fig-Anise 50% Whole-Wheat Bread for the completed formula and more photos.


  1. Wow! What a lovely detailed account! I hope Martin Philip gets to read your blog too, MC!
    When you were at school, I bet kids wanted to copy your notes!
    Thinking of you,

  2. Hi MC,
    Thanks for the great report. It's almost like being there, especially the comments in the discussion. Such a great blog!

  3. I'm always lurking on her blog, it's where I get all the good ideas! ; ))
    Thanks for the nice write-up MC.

    1. Martin, you crack me up! Thank you for your kind words and for an amazing class.

  4. Hi MC,
    Thank you so much for providing these details of Martin's class at KCW!
    I've tasted two of Martin's breads, both amazingly delicious - he is an expert at developing formulas and flavors.
    Thank you for sharing Martin's thought processes and considerations for formula development.
    :^) breadsong



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