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Bakery Benchmarks
Edited 2 April 2016

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"This is labour mind....but what is exercise other than labour? Let a  woman bake a bushel [of wheat] once a week, and she will do very well without phials and gallipots."
(William Cobbett, "Making Bread", Cottage Economy, 1823,p 103, Google facsimile)

"Who would ever think of trying to fatten a pig on white flour?"   (H.S. Joyce,  I Was Born in the Country, 1946; cited in Elizabeth David, English Bread and Yeast Cookery, 80)

"Industrialization of milling and baking was nearly the death of bread in England, as it was here [USA] and threatens to be in France, where it is called Americanization.", Karen Hess, "Introduction and Notes for the American Cook",  in Elizabeth David, English Bread..., 1980, vii.

''The whiter the bread, the sooner you will be dead'', Michael Pollan,  Food Rules (2009)

''...if you strip out just one letter from a banker, you get a baker.'' Jonathan Kent, theguardian.com, 21 May 2012

Celebrity baker - oxymoron?

Facebook doesn't make bread

'Jake the baker'
 The long-time cartoon (anti) hero in Bakers Journal. He is regularly portrayed as a super- sized, servile simpleton. 

Artisan bread
 flim flam designation of neoliberal marketing

Last four items contributed by  the North Head Baker, April 2014

Grand Manan mill stone
Mill stone ( the top, rotating one, judging by key ways) behind the bushes of the front wall of the GM Museum; photo 3 April 2010 by the baker.

<<Le pain français ne supporte pas la médiocrité>>
Raymond Calvel, 'Fidèles au bon pain', 1987, p 4.

Hearth Bread, Craft and Community, since 1988

Poilane dough fermentingmanuel kneading in pétrinMiller over stones
L=Poilâne dough fermenting; Middle=Manual kneading in pétrin; R=Miller over stones. Illustrations from Jérome Assire, The Book of Bread (1996).

Bakery Benchmarks:
  • Bread Nomenclature in Canada is a puzzling subject. There is neither  remembered tradition, system of  2nd ed p.classification, baking schools of stature, body of relevant literature, nor a pan-Canadian association representing the interests of bakers (as distinct from the major bread corporations).*  Anyone can denominate breads, with the caveat of commercial patenting, e.g. "Wonderbread". Bread in the general economic sense in Canada is industrial, and it would appears to have been so 'time out of mind', generally meaning the last quarter of the19th century. By the turn of the 20th century, the  elements of industrial bread production were well launched, based on western and central Canadian wheat, railway transport, capital intensive roller flour mills in the East, development of factory production of yeast replacing sourdough leavening, and early bread factories featuring mechanized kneading  and ferris-wheel ovens.
  • Traditional French bread, as laid down in the French  decree of 1993, comprises unadulterated flour (farine de tradition française), water, salt and leaven (yeast is permitted in pain au levain up to 0.2% by weight of flour;  yeast levels were not specified in pain courant).  By and large, the decree simply laid down legal definition to best practice, in France. In Canada it is significant that basic bread is widely assumed to contain significant amounts of sugar and fat, which in the longer historical view makes our bread more  cake than bread.  Fat makes bread soft, by producing a regular cell structure in the crumb (the Wonderbread test of the squeeze). In factories, fat  makes dough machinable. The other major additive, sweetener, is fine for cake-like breads, but has a negative impact on what we consider as basic bread because  it propels fermentation forward on sweeteners, rather than on wheat sugars. Fermentation, when properly conducted, on wheat, or rye, gives flavour, aroma, texture and durability. Good for body and soul.
  • Mass production and mass marketing bread have fundamentally broken links between agriculture, milling, baking, consumption -  by region, province, nation, and, especially, by community. These segments are themselves organized for profit and low price of goods and or services [not real cost, since ecological and social costs are not accounted for].  There are of course signicant cultural and ideological dimensions in the dominant discourses, players and theories, that only occasionally break through everyday activity, such as in the marketing labels of bakery products,  'artisan breads', 'artisan flour' and 'authentic baguettes'. The terms simultaneously appeal to an indistinct, roseate handicraft past, and hurl a competitive harpoon at current artisanal bakeries. To crown phoniness of the labels, such breads being factory produced are a long way from anything that might be called artisanal.
  •   From the baking and nutritional points of view, the two biggest differences in flour are between roller-milled and stoneground, and between wheat and rye. Roller-milled flour, sometimes called steel milled or cut, is the fundamental definer of modern, industrial flour. By virtue of the large scale of 2nd ed p.production, provenance of the flour, by farmer, region and harvest year is extinguished. Furthemore, the zillions of wheat berries are broken or cut down into various streams, according to particle size and heft. Essentially, germ and bran are removed. The remaining elements are blended in proprietory formulas, as patented flours, sold according mainly to protein levels, as strong (ie high protein, for bread lines), bread flours (medium protein, 12-13%), all-purpose (11-12%), pastry (9-11) and cake (5-9%).  Bleaching of flour is generally done in North American flours, not mainly as whitener, but as  maturing agent, so that flour can enter manufacturing processes immediately. The essential thing to know about whole wheat flour is that it is not whole wheat flour, unless in a minority of instances it is defined some such as whole grain whole wheat, suggesting mental foot and mouth disease. Whole wheat is  another reconstituted flour, a proprietory mixture of white flour, some bran, and no germ.  Then there is the question of additives. White roller-milled flour in Canada is required by law to contain a small list of mineral and vitamin additives (industrial derivatives). This regulation  came into force, so we might surmise, as a preventive sop in case any serious popular opposition should ever arise to the bread manufactures and millers (often same class of people) for having denatured flour in the removal of bran and germ, let alone the general practice of bleaching flour with chlorine and or sodium benzoate.  As a Québécoise might say, <<Ça prend pas la tête  à  Papineau >> to know how blondes are made, or how deadly chlorine was in World War I. There are dozens of other, permitted additives, a veritable chemical thicket, in which the non chemist is hard put to detect the thorny from the benign. Some are there as aids in bread making such as amalyses (enzymes) and adziocarbonimide (conditioner and replacement for the notorious potassium bromate), but most are there for extending shelf life. The roles of flour mills and bakeries in their corporate entities  are serious matters in national nutrition, but rarely if ever objects of  academic and or public inquiry.
  • Stonegrinding of flour is a far different and simpler operation, that historically, in Canada, in the forms of windmills and water-driven grist mills, can be understood as artisanal operations. The miller was  likely either owner  in freehold parts of the country, or lessee in seigneurial areas.  Flour coming through the process was unadulterated (save for bits of stone, dirt, insects and residues of little sleeket creatures), and such treatment as given was a matter of sifting out by progressive particle size, from large down to tiny, or cracked grain, meal down to dark and then light flour. Stoneground floured doughs  -containing wheat berries and  bran-  mix, knead and ferment very differently than roller-milled doughs, due partly to variation in particle sizes  and the presence of bran, which is initially abrasive and moisture resistant, and, subsequently, becomes progressively highly moisture absorbant. Such doughs expand less, and over-all fermentation is robustly variable. A prominent and clearly positive characteristic of stoneground flour is its affinity with natural leavens, in part because the particles of flour are often damaged (allowing early penetration of moisture and leavening) and in other part due to the comparatively rich nutrients for the ferments found in the wheat germ and bits of aleuron (outer) layers of wheat berries. Lastly,  stoneground wheat and rye bread making are much more closely allied, then their industrial-flour counterparts, marrying well together in many traditional breads.
  •        Perhaps the hardest part to learn in the making of bread is kneading, in which process there are two  stages: the initial mixing together of flour and water (frassage), and the later  kneading(petrissage), the development of the gluten which subsequently retains the gases of fermentation and baking. Broadly speaking there are four methods of dough kneading: intensive, improved, long fermentation, and slow mixing and long fermentation.  In general, industrial bread production is fast, and artisanal baking  slow.  Furthermore, stoneground flours perform very differently in kneading than do roller-milled flour, as they do in their differing responses to yeast and to natural leavens. Taken together, these considerations call for much experience and keen judgement on the part of  the baker if s/he is to routinely bring several doughs along together to succesful outcomes.
  •  The experience of the North Head Bakery has mimicked, as it were, the return of good bread in France,** as well as a certain flowering of small, sometimes French bakeries in Canada and the US, a sort of anciliary to the 'Slow Food' phenomenom. Our conversion to slow mixing, slack doughs, low rates of leavening, and long primary fermentations took a decade and more, and was partly sparked by a  meeting in Montreal with Raymond Calvel and reading his books, especially on his innovative rest between mix and kneading (autolyse),  for that insight signaled  the way to gentler kneading and wetter doughs,*** in this bakery and  beyond.
         *    Baker's Journal, "The voice of the Canadian baking industry" [April 2016]
         **  Steven Kaplan, Le retour du bon pain (2002).
         *** Raymond Calvel, Le gout du pain(1990), p. 62, note 2. A summary of Calvel's autolyse is               given by Hamelman, Bread: A baker's book of techniques and recipes, 2 ed. p 10.

© 2016 North Head Bakery, 199 Route 776, Grand Manan, NB, E5G 1A4  506-662-8862