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Heavenly loaves

Heavenly loaves

STRETCH IT OUT. Chef Eric Kastel pulls apart a multigrain rye dough during an artisan bread baking class at the CIA to show students the development of the gluten structures.

GIVE IT A REST. During fermentation, the sugars in the dough convert to alcohol and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide makes the dough rise.

JUST LIKE A TOWEL. Doughs are folded over when they reach maximum height. The folding expels gas and introduces oxygen, moves yeast cells to a new food supply and equalizes dough temperature.

Rustic shapes, hearty crusts, and perfectly baked interiors—you can't get much better than that.

Current bread trends are turning an eye toward more traditional methods of bread baking that emphasize quality of ingredients, slow fermentation, hand shaping, and baking in small batches. This back-to-basics movement harmonizes with the current popularity for all things organic, natural and health-conscious.

Uniquely, artisan bread is the perfect platform for this trend. Artisan breads are typically hand-made and individually shaped. They have a more rustic crust and flavor than a plain white sandwich bread, for example. More importantly, artisan breads highlight the intricacies of the crusty ciabatta of Italy, the flours and sours of Germany, and the delicate baguettes of France.

The European tradition of bakers as craftsmen continues as masters pass down their skills to apprentices over years of hands-on experience. One craftsman, Chef Eric Kastel, Associate Professor, Baking & Pastry Arts, Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, NY, shared some insider tips for artisan bread baking with FM.

What makes artisan bread unique?
"In its purest form, bread, artisan or not, is composed of flour, water, salt, and yeast; these ingredients are mixed and kneaded, fermented, then baked. For artisan breads you have to alter the fermentation times, the kneading and the folding techniques to yield the proper results."

What's are the benefits of baking your own?
"For one, the aromas of fresh bread will surely draw customers. Also, some breads, like a multigrain rye or the whole wheat, can be used as sandwich bread or as part of a special theme meal or promotion. Handmade artisan breads don't have to be everyday menu items, but when incorporated sparingly, they boost the perceived value of a meal."

What are some of your favorite tricks-of-the-trade?
"Always pay attention to the time of fermentation. Fermentation begins during kneading and lasts until the dough reaches a temperature of 138° F in the oven. At this point the yeast is killed and fermentation ceases. The length of the fermentation period depends upon the amount of yeast in the dough and the temperature of the room; the lower the temperature the slower the fermentation.

"That's where temperature comes into play. Make sure you control the temperature of the water you add to your dough. This will control the dough temperature and ensure consistency and quality.

"Pre-ferments are the mixtures that are made prior to the final dough. They are allowed to ferment for a period of time and then added to the final dough. Pre-ferments produce acidity, alcohol and gases, they help to develop aromas and flavors, they increase the strength and structure of the dough as well as increase the shelf life. Plus, they take little work and yield a big benefit."

How do you take a small batch recipe and expand it?
"Scaling dough up or down works for the most part, but what will change is the time of mixing dough as well as the temperature of the water that is added to the dough. The key to making great bread is keeping consistency with temperature and time. Obviously, smaller dough will mix in a shorter amount of time and larger amounts will take longer. With a longer mixing time you will need lower water temperature."

How would you customize a traditional bread to make it a signature item?
"First, try adding fresh herbs— around 1 oz. per 10 lbs. of dough. Second, try adding cheese with jalapeno, roasted garlic, or sundried tomatoes. If you add cheese, add about 2.5 lbs. per 10 lbs. of dough. For jalapeno, garlic, or tomatoes use 8 oz. per 10 lbs. of dough. The breads best for these alterations are usually the semolina, baguette, Italian, or sourdough."

Where should operators go to find the latest bread trends?
"Modern Baking magazine, Bread Bakers Guild of America, Culinary Institute of America, and the San Francisco Baking Institute are great places to hear about coming trends."

In terms of bread, what's hot?
"Whole grains, sourdoughs, flatbreads, and gluten free breads are all in the spotlight, so to speak. After the Atkins diet faded, the industry looked for ways to make bread more healthful. So anything with a healthful profile is still quite popular."

What is the next big thing?
"Breakfast pastries and sweet breads are getting more attention. Also, the use of dry yeast instead of fresh yeast, which has always been the standard in the industry. I would be willing to bet that in five to ten years fresh yeast will be obsolete. It has too short of a shelf life."

What tips could you offer readers who don't have a dedicated onsight bakery?
"Take a continuing education class either here at the CIA or at a local culinary school to start learning more about different kinds of baking techniques. Then slowly apply what you've learned to your operation in whatever ways are doable without overwhelming other foodservice priorities."

What if an operator only has a combi oven to work with? or a wood fired oven?
"If you only have a combi oven to work with you can bake good pan breads, rolls, sandwich buns, and focaccia. However, you'll need to reduce the moisture setting. Wood fired ovens are great for bread, and the aromas that come from them are a sure customer-catcher, but you will need to bake at lower temperatures than a pizza."

The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY offers a wide variety of continuing education classes for chefs and bakers of all levels. Visit for more information.


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