Travel Log - SFBI Whole Grain Breads and Specialty Flours

This summer, I returned for a week to the San Francisco Baking Institute to take the whole grain breads course.  I have been waiting to take this course for quite a while and frankly knowing that I was scheduled to go, kept me going over the last couple of months.  It was a great 5 days of leaving work behind, working with my hands, and interacting with professionals.

This was my fourth trip to SFBI.  As always the arrangements and facility were without fault and everyone was very friendly.  The workshop was taught by Mac McConnel, and like my past instructors he was extremely knowledgeable and helpful.  The class was smaller than my past workshops but that was OK since over the 5 days we would bake 21 different breads.  Also unlike past workshops, we were in the bakery mixing within the first hour and that was just fine by me.  My table partners for the week were Juan from Columbia and Marcio from Brazil.  I enjoyed their company and collaboration very much.  

One disappointment for the trip was the photos.  I didn’t want to deal with my big camera so I just used the one on my cell phone.  I hope the engineering team that worked on the camera for the Motorola Droid Bonic has been re-assigned to make the “Snookie Limited Edition Baby Monitor”.  As such, the quality of the pictures is not the greatest.

Monday - Three Breads

  • Baguettes with Wheat Germ
  • Pear Buckwheat Bread
  • Semolina with Fennel and Raisins

To get things rolling, we started off with what would turn out to be the of the more straightforward breads of the week.  The “Baguettes with Wheat Germ” was a classic pre-fermented baguette made with a little high extraction flour and some toasted wheat germ for texture.  “Pear Buckwheat Bread” is a formula I have tried before and was anxious to try during the workshop. As would become a theme, I was not mixing it with enough water when I attempted it at home.  Mac also demonstrated a different technique to make the pear shape to the bread.

"Pear Buckwheat Bread" on the loader going into the oven
The last bread for the day was “Semolina with Fennel and Raisins”. This was my favorite for the day and easily in the top 5 for the week.  It was sweet and yet could easily pair with meats or sausage.  I am looking forward to making it at home.  The rest of the day was spent on a bit of lecture and prep for the following day.  Like other workshops, there was a tasting table at the end of the day.

Tasting table for Monday
I am not the party animal and especially on this trip I wasn’t planning on making many excursions into the city.  Most of the time after class I would be tired, and would just head back to the hotel to make a sandwich with some of the wonderful product from the day.

Fixings for dinner back at the hotel

Tuesday - Five Breads

  • Oatmeal Pan Bread
  • 100% Whole Grain
  • Corn Bread
  • Flax Seeds Bread
  • Millet Bread

On the second day we kicked into high gear.  Of the five formula, the “Oatmeal Pan Bread” was the most straightforward, and in many ways the most “pedestrian” but still far better than any grocery store pan bread.  The “100% Whole Grain” was a hearty loaf that was still very soft due to a double hydration method of mixing.  The yeasted version of “Corn Bread” is another formula that I have tried on my own but now I see that tweaking how I approach the mix and shaping will improve the results.

"Corn Bread" on couche proofing
I really liked the “Flax Seeds Bread”.  It was basically a whole wheat ciabatta style with flax seeds and currents.  This was the one that ended up being my dinner for the evening.  The winner formula for me was “Millet Bread”.  The formula was complex and the dough was hard to mix, handle, and shape but the end result was just astounding.  The dough had a mix of seeds and honey and was baked in a flat shape that gave it a wonderful crust.        

"Millet Bread"
Tasting table for Tuesday

Wednesday - Five Breads

  • Crown of the Great Valley
  • Sesame Flame
  • Prairie Bread
  • Two Castles Rye
  • Finnish Rye

By the third day Juan, Marcio, and I were starting to get into a rhythm of working together.  Wednesday was by far the day with the most work to do given the complexity of the formula.  The “Crown of the Great Valley” and the “Sesame Flame” are both formula that were developed for competition in the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie or World Cup of Baking.  I found the “Sesame Flame” interesting and the shape was fun to play with but probably not worth the effort to do at home.  I really liked the taste and texture of the crown and may try it at home but again the complexity of the formula is a detractor.  

"Sesame Flame" ready to go into the oven
The overall group favorite for the day was the “Prairie Bread”.  The formula was full of different grains and we shaped it using a technique I have not seen before to form a square “pillow” form.  A formula I will definitely want to try on my own.

"Prairie Bread" cooling
I have baked “Two Castles Rye” previously several times at home with good success, but it was good to experience the formula in a different setting none the less.  My personal favorite for the day was the “Finnish Rye” formula.  This was the classic deep hearty rye one would expect but as with the “100% Whole Grain” it had a lightness again from a double hydration mixing technique.

"Finish Rye"

Thursday - Four Breads

  • Whole Wheat Soft Rolls
  • Carrot Rolls
  • Oatmeal Date Rolls
  • Honey Rye

On Thursday, we changed gears a bit and explored some sweeter breads.  The “Whole Wheat Soft Rolls” was a good dinner roll formula and we explored a couple of different 1-strand knotted shapes with it.  The “Carrot Rolls” formula was interesting.  It was a ciabatta style bread with seeds and shredded carrot.  While I enjoyed it, it was the kind of product that one either liked or didn’t and there was little in between.

"Carrot Rolls" in the oven
The standout for the day and the week was hands down the “Oatmeal Date Rolls”.  This was another Coupe du Monde formula but unlike the others is well worth the extra effort to try at home.  The combination of oats and dates made for a soft and sweet roll that was perfect for morning with coffee or afternoon as a pick-me-up.  Mac showed us the competition shape but for practicality, we shaped most of the dough into little round batards.  

"Oatmeal Date Rolls" in the competition shape for Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie 
The last bread for the day was a hearty 50% rye.  Since we were a small class, Mac asked if there was a particular style we were interested in.  Several of us wanted to try another rye.  The “Honey Rye” was a standard formula that resulted in a nice deep flavor with a good texture and crust.

Tasting table for Thursday

Friday - Four Breads

  • Pave au Levain
  • Toasted Pecan and Flax Seed Bread
  • Sprouted Whole Wheat Pan Bread
  • Power Bread

The last day was more about experimentation.  On Wednesday, Mac had started soaking a large bucket of wheat berries and by the end of class on Thursday, they had started sprouting.  Mac had also received a shipment of special sprouted grain flour the teams spent the day mixing and contrasting the results from the two methods.  The “Pave au Levain” was OK but though a stocking mistake that we didn’t catch during prep, we made it with whole wheat flour instead of the high-extraction like the formula called for.  The “Toasted Pecan and Flax Seed Bread” was excellent and a recipe I want to try at home.  The nuts and seeds gave it a nice texture and a deep flavor.

"Toasted Pecan and Flax Seed Bread" coming out of the oven
Our group's experiment with the sprouted grain flour was the “Sprouted Whole Wheat Pan Bread”.  We had to tinker with the hydration a fair amount but the result was interesting.  Marcio and I experimented with a couple of free standing shapes as well.  My favorite of the day was the “Power Bread”.  A hearty formula made with the sprouted grain, nuts, and raisins.  It was almost a power bar in bread form.

Close-up of "Power Bread"
To wrap up, Mac pulled out some saved samples from the week and we put together a display table.        

Final Display
The founder, Michel Suas stopped in at the end of the day to hand out certificates and wish us all well with some kind words.  I always leave SFBI with new energy and a feeling of accomplishment having used my hands to make something tangible.


Bread Porn - Spring 2012

The last couple of months, career things have left little motivation to write about bread. For sanity reasons, I still found time to bake it however.  I also upgraded my camera to improve the quality of the resulting bread porn.  

Things have settled down a bit and wanted to take a moment a post some of the loaves that turned out especially well.  Enjoy!

The new camera allows for nice close-ups.  A whole-wheat / whole-rye sourdough from January.
Seven-Grain Sourdough and Baguettes from January.

I had a nice success with a 70% rye in February.
Some Challah in February.
Cranberry-Fenney Rye from February.
Two-Castle Rye from March

Some caraway rye from April.
A stiff levain based sourdough from April.