All Things Bread No. 22

Hello Friends of Sourdough!

It’s been so long since we spoke. I’ve dearly missed writing this newsletter and sitting down today to write felt SO good. 

I logged back in to mailchimp today and found so many new subscribers from a small reddit ad campaign I ran months ago. To all of you who signed up from around the world, thank you and welcome! And I apologise for the prolonged silence.

As advertised, this newsletter is about bread in general and sourdough in particular but today I’d like to share some personal news and thoughts. If you’d like to get right to the sparkling bread content you were promised, please skip down to the hot dog 🙂

 Dear Diary
Having lost my job as an airline pirate this October, all my thoughts on ‘what next’ were forced to the forefront. What used to be relaxed and laid back discussions with Sah and our friends and family about our options, hopes, fears and dreams suddenly took on a more urgent, time constrained tone. 

@balajis started sounding the alarm about COVID on my twitter feed very early on, so I knew this was going to be trouble before a lot of other people started taking notice. (I ordered a box of 3M N95’s on Feb 5th, a month later they had doubled in price and a week after that they were sold out. They are not even listed anymore)

Despite being ‘early’ on the virus I wasn’t able to extrapolate the fact that just a few months later, me and thousands of other airline colleagues would lose our jobs to the COVID related fallout.

I did suspect it was a possibility though, and so with Saher’s blessing I diverted a large part of my time away from our new baby bun and directed it towards the zoom classes and my baking practice. The response, as a lot of you know was fantastic.  

One of my favourite ways to think about 2020 has been through the lens of acceleration. And as with so many other things in my life, I find this applies all the way from the global to the personal. I’ll explain. 

Trends such as remote work and the shift from physical to virtual stores were already happening, 2020 simply accelerated them. As an example Nike’s direct to consumer sales now account for 30% of their revenue, a target they originally set for 2023! (They’re now going for 50%)

‘Zoom’ing in from the global to the personal, trends in my own life have been accelerated – and how! That diffuse dream I had to ‘someday quit flying and build my own thing’ is now not even a choice. I started 2020 with a plan to write more, bake (and teach baking) more and get fit. It’s all happening faster than I could ever have imagined!

What has 2020 accelerated for you? I’d love to know.

The last newsletter I sent out had a somber tone. A friend of Saher Bakery replied with this wonderful nugget of German wisdom:
“Life’s little hurdles are like sausages : there is a beginning and an end” !!

“I guess it’s some form of German Wurst Philosophy” she concluded! So here’s to switching from worst case to Wurst Case Scenarios!

In today’s All Things Bread we take a look at the famous and inspiring ‘P’ scoring on Poilâne’s miche and in Bread Briefing we discuss techniques for baking bread in a Combi Oven.

All Things Bread  

Gilbert Bochenek

In the picture above, you’re looking at the famous Poilâne miche, a 2 kg loaf of pure sourdough heaven. This isn’t just a loaf of bread folks, it’s an important cultural symbol. It helped make honest, rustic sourdough bread great again. The kind of bread we worship at Saher Bakery.

The Scoring Pattern
The scoring pattern you see is made to form a ‘P’ and it’s a show of strength! I would compare it to a potter being able to throw the exact same piece over and over again 100’s of times. Skill and mastery. For the ‘P’ to come out Perfectly each time, the bread has to rise in the exact same way each time. The dough has to be developed to the same level each time. Now the hilarious thing is, this kind of repeatability is easy for the evil bread factories with their machines and chemicals but its QUITE another thing to do at scale by hand, which is how Poilâne’s bread is made. If that don’t impress you much, consider this: Poilâne uses wood fired ovens!
For comparison, here’s my attempt at an ‘S’ shape for Saher Bakery. As you can see, I have a long way to go.  

Bread Briefing
Baking Bread in a Combi Oven
A combi oven is an oven that combines 3 cooking methods in one: Convection cooking (using circulated heated air), steam cooking and a ‘combi’ of these two. 
They are most commonly used in professional setups but more and more home cooks are having smaller scale versions (from Bosch or Miele for eg) installed in their kitchens. 
To get the most out of your combi it’s useful to know what kinds of breads are best suited to their unique capabilities. 
Luckily for us, Nathan Myhrvold, the mad scientist behind Modernist Bread has 2 commercial full sized Rational Combi Ovens installed in his home kitchen (as you do) and has published a handy combi oven guide in Modernist Bread!
Here’s the gist of it: Enriched Breads (Brioche, Pannetone, et all) are better suited to the Combi oven’s capabilities than non enriched ie, ‘rustic’ breads. 

Why don’t rustic breads (breads with flour, water & salt) do so well in a combi? 
Nathan’s tests show a smaller loaf and tighter crumb compared to a deck oven.
This is due to the fact that the convection heat circulation in a combi has a rapid heating and drying action on the crust of the bread which prevents full ‘oven spring’.
There is however, a way to approximate deck oven results in a combi Oven : ‘Ladder’ up the temperature gradually : 
0 to 10 mins 120 degC
10 to 15 mins 140 degC
15 to 20 mins 160 degC
20 to 25 mins 180 degC
25min until desired crust colour achieved : 220 degC

Needless to say, steamed breads such as Bao are perfectly suited to the combi oven!