August 28, 2012

Baker's math

To paraphrase a famous political commentator: "I got into baking bread because I was told there would be no math. Boy, was I misled."

I'm joking, of course. I happen to think math is beautiful and that using math in baking enables us to achieve high quality, consistent results time and again. One of the best tools we have for writing and/or communicating recipes and formulas is what is generally known as "baker's math" or "baker's percentages."

Before I start glossing about baker's math, here's Rule no.1: Baker's math only works when measuring ingredients "by weight," rather than "by volume." Serious bakers generally prefer measuring by weight, because this method is a lot more accurate than measuring by volume. After all, everybody has a different way of measuring a cup of flour. Not to mention that not all cups are created equal.

So, there's an extra incentive for measuring by weight: you get to use baker's math! And by using it, you can better communicate with other fellow bakers half a world away. A 68% hydration baguette should be the same no matter where one happens to be in the world.

Baker's math expresses each ingredient in a formula as a percentage of that ingredient's mass to the total flour mass. Which means, the total amount of flour in the formula will be expressed as 100%, while all the other ingredients will represent fractions (or percentages) of the total amount of flour. A simple example should make it even easier to understand. Here's a very basic baguette formula: 1000 g all-purpose flour, 680 g water, 5 g instant yeast, 20 g salt. Using baker's math, this formula would look something like:

Basic Baguette Dough

1000 g all-purpose flour (100%)
680 g water (68%)
5 g instant yeast (0.5%)
20 g salt (2%)

Please note that with a formula written in this way, one can easily scale a batch up or down to suit one's needs. One can start by deciding what amount of dough/number of loaves one wants to produce, and easily figure out the amounts of all the ingredients necessary; or one can do the opposite, determine how much flour one has available and from there figure out the amounts for all other ingredients and how much dough will result in the end. The possibilities and variations are endless, and quite fun to play with. In other words, here we have a method of writing our bread formulas that is simple, intuitive, and elegant.

Or is it?

It can all get a little bit more complicated and even confusing at times when the formulas are more complex, particularly when we start using pre-ferments, soakers, and mashes. In fact, I have seen the same formula written in three different ways; all of them correct!

Let's take the above formula as an example and assume we are planning to produce it by pre-fermenting and soaking part of our flour. Let's say we'll do a 6-hour sponge, a 12-hour poolish, and a 12- to 24-hour soaker as part of our final dough. We might have something that looks like this:

Sponge (6 hours at room temperature):

150 g all-purpose flour (100%)
93 g water (62%)
1 g instant yeast (0.66%)

Poolish (12 hours at room temperature):

200 g all-purpose flour (100%)
200 g water (100%)
1 g instant yeast (0.5%)

Soaker (12–24 hours at room temperature):

150 g all-purpose flour (100%)
105 g water (70%)

As we assemble everything into our final dough, the formula will look like this:

Final Dough:

500 g all-purpose flour (100%)
282 g water (56.4%)
3 g instant yeast (0.6%)
20 g salt (4%)
244 g sponge (48.8%)
401 g poolish (80%)
255 g soaker (51%)

All of a sudden, this type of formula isn't that straight forward and easy to read, nor is it as simple as before to scale your batches up or down. No matter; this is still a valid way to communicate formulas and a very useful tool indeed for any baker.

And what is the point of all this little exercise, you might wonder.

The point of it is that in the past we've had "consistency issues" in the way we've written our recipes, not just on this blog, but also when developing new formulas for ourselves, or for our workshops. So this was something that was nagging us and didn't let us sleep at night. I'm not sure if this whole rant is completely intelligible, but if you have questions, don't hesitate to give us a shout.

And to end this: I've always found it very useful to have a recipe expressed both in "Total Formula" form, as well as in "Final Dough" form. Something similar to the example bellow:

August 17, 2012

Falling In Love

There isn't a lot of baking happening with me these days. Instead, I am still in Germany, traveling, visiting friends and family all over the place, and getting to explore some new places. 

And I have a confession to make: I am in love. And this time around we are not talking about Florin or Vancouver (we know about all that already), but rather about Munich. During my stay the city was bathed in bright sunshine and the sky was clear and blue. Perfect conditions to enjoy the beautiful English Garden with the Eisbach, a fast creek that flows through the park, and invites you to jump in to refresh yourself and drift downstream, and then walk back and do it all over again. And when you've had enough of that, you can just take a moment and watch the surfers on their boards, riding the Eisbach's man-made wave. Pretty cool!

Traditional food in Bavaria: lot's of meat, but apparently as a vegetarian you can't go wrong with Obatzter, brezen, and maybe a beer or two. Obatzter is a delicious cheese dish, made with camembert and lots of different spices, such as onions, paprika, caraway, etc. Mmmm. And brezen, of course, are pretzel, and often they are quite humongous, at least 15 inches wide. I would love to get into pretzel baking, just because they are so beautiful and so special. Maybe I'll give it a shot when things are slowing down, and I finally get to spend some time baking again.


Ripe camembert
Fluffy beaten butter
Finely chopped onions
Lots of paprika
Some salt and some pepper

Turn all your ingredients into a spread, or firm dip. Season to taste.  Ideally, you should have it outside in the sun, with some Bavarian lager and freshly baked, oven-warm pretzel. 

August 2, 2012

German Rye

So long, Vancouver; I'm back in Germany for the next little while, visiting family and friends, working, and, of course, baking and taking pictures.

I took some of our two sourdough cultures in my luggage with me, and they seem to adapt quite well to their new home. Both cultures are pretty happy, they just need to be used a little bit more often. But, these days, I tend to get sidetracked with all sorts of different other things.

Florin is staying in Vancouver and he will continue to bake all his amazing breads as well.

However, for today's post, and awesome results, neither of us can claim any credit. The baker in today's story is Henning, my dad. Baking his own bread at home has always been a point of pride for him. His parents did all the bread baking for the entire family themselves, as well. Years back, when we moved into our new home, he built a little wood-burning oven for himself, just for private use. Ever since, he is baking all our bread in it, and he seems to have lots of fun doing it. Whenever he fires it up for baking, we have a little pizza party beforehand.

Even though my mum and dad have always baked all our bread themselves, I had to go all the way to Canada and meet Florin to really get into baking. Now I am very eager to try out my dad's oven myself, since I've never baked in a wood-fired oven before. I'll keep you posted about the results!

The recipe we are sharing with you today is for my dad's staple loaf, that he's been making since forever. It is a fairly dark rye sourdough, made of two thirds rye and one third wheat.

For two large and two medium loaves

(prepared 12 to 24 hours in advance and left at room temperature)

100 gr rye sourdough
1 kg medium coarse rye meal
1.2 kg water

Mix the rye meal and water until everything is well incorporated and the mixture has a pasty consistency.

Final dough

1 kg whole wheat flour
1 kg whole rye flour
1 kg water
50 gr salt

Add the water to the preferment, then add the whole wheat flour, the rye flour and the salt. Let bulk ferment at room temperature for about 8 hours, then shape the dough into loaves and let them rise in proofing baskets (for as much support as they can get). Let proof in final shape for about 4 hours. Bake the proofed loaves at 480 F (the temperature in the oven will slowly drop over time) for about one and a half hours.

Shared at YeastSpotting.