Call the Doctor    

September 8 1998
Working the Ovens
is a grueling experience

The task of the day:

Basic Breads

Today started my basic breads course. Chef Grewling made some jokes about it being a difficult course because of his name. The reality is that it's going to be quite a bit of fun.

We mixed what are called "lean doughs" today, which are the basic breads. Very little sugar or oil (none in the case of the baguette recipe). We made baguettes, boules (round loaves), and batards (thick stick loaves). Plus about a thousand hard rolls.

These doughs are mixed by the "straight method" which means that I can't wear black jeans while doing it (ba ha ha). No, actually, it means that you just toss all of the ingredients into the mixer, fire it up for about eight minutes, let the dough rest twice, and then form into the shapes you want. It's pretty quick to do, and not very complex.

Skipped lunch today so that I could help bake off the stuff in the oven. This was way way cool, so I just couldn't resist. Our oven has four racks, and goes from the floor to the ceiling. Each rack has a stone floor in it. Loading them is by far the coolest thing I've done here. It's referred to as "shooting the couche." (CEW-shhh)

In front of the oven is what looks like a large stretcher (called a "couche"), like you'd use to load an ambulance. In fact, it's about the size of one that would hold a person. It's as wide as the oven (about three feet), and long enough to hold two lengths of baguettes. You set onto it the loaves that are ready to go into the oven. You raise the couche to the height of the oven, locking it in place "wham!" Then you push a bar forward, ramming the entire couche into the oven, automatically opening the door as you do so, until it locks home "wham!" Then the bar is pulled back, and the couche slides out from under all of the loaves, leaving them deposited on the oven floor, and closing the door. Fourteen loaves of bread into the oven in five seconds! A press on a button and steam is injected straight into the oven.

The steam injection, hot oven, and circulating air give you an excellent outer crust, and a very nice "oven spring." Oven spring is the final death throes of the yeast as it expands in a last gasp in the hot air of the oven. The resulting bread comes out exactly as you'd expect a baguette to be. Crispy on the outside, light and large holed on the inside. When you remove the bread from the oven, you hear the crust crackle in the moist outside air, like Rice Crispies.

Two young boys were watching us pull bread from the oven today, their mothers holding them up to the window. They were totally fascinated by it, so I walked out there and gave them half a baguette. Their eyes went as wide as dinner plates, it was very cool. Too bad they didn't get to see us loading it!

* * *

Tomorrow we start "pre-fermented" doughs, which are the class of bread that includes sour doughs.

past home future


Copyright 1998 Tom Dowdy