|How we make our breads.
All of our breads are made with four basic ingredients: flour, water, salt, and yeast. To these four ingredients we sometimes add such ingredients as walnuts, olives, herbs, and cheese. Our breads contain no preservatives. However, some do contain eggs, butter and/ or oil for flavoring purposes, which also extend shelf life.
All of our breads begin with a pre-ferment. A pre-ferment is a portion of fermented dough that is mixed into each batch of bread dough. Some bread is made with pre-ferment that includes commercial yeast. Our sourdough starters contain only natural yeast strains and get their sour flavor from a friendly bacteria unique to our part of California.
We use three basic types of pre-ferments: poolish, biga, and sourdough. Poolish is used exclusively in our French bread. It is an extremely wet mixture of flour, water, and yeast. Poolish is allowed 12 hours fermentation time before being mixed into the dough. Our other commercially yeasted breads use a biga, of which we have two types: white flour biga and a whole wheat flour biga. A biga is essentially bread dough with a small amount of yeast and no salt. Finally, there are two types of sourdough starter: white flour and what we call our sour country. The sour country is a mixture of whole wheat flour, rye flour, bran and cracked wheat. Sourdough starters are given between 24 and 36 hours of fermentation time before being mixed into the doughs.
When we make sourdough breads, flour and water are mixed together and the natural yeast and bacteria present in the environment grow and multiply creating the leavening for the bread. Sourdough is a living thing that needs food, water and oxygen to grow and live. Everyday we feed our sourdough starters with flour and water so that they can be used for doughs the following day.
Fermentation is what gives bread flavor. But more than flavor, using starters favorably affects crust (thickness and color), crumb (texture), and shelf life. Good bread takes time! A loaf of our bread takes from 30-40 hours to make. This includes a brief mixing time followed by a 3-8 hour fermentation period. Loaves are then shaped by hand and given a 1-6 hour proof before being baked. Nearly all of our bread is baked directly on the stone floor of a large deck oven. A few of our breads (French rolls and some baguettes) are baked in a convection rack oven.
How we make our laminated doughs.
Laminating is accomplished in our croissant and danish doughs by encasing a 3/4" x 12" x 14" block of butter in dough creating 3 layers, 2 of dough and 1 of butter. This is then rolled out and folded several times creating a total of 81 alternating layers of butter and dough. The key to success in this process is maintaining the integrity of each layer. If the lamination is successful and the layers are maintained the product will be light and flaky.
The leavening in laminated doughs is derived mainly from the steam generated by the moisture in the butter during baking. As the steam expands in the oven it lifts and separates the individual layers. While croissant and danish doughs do contain a small amount of yeast to aid in leavening, puff pastry relies solely on steam and requires a higher percentage of butter and a more elaborate folding process that creates nearly 800 layers.
There are other factors that affect the success of the lamination. The dough must have a well-developed gluten structure to be able to support the expansion in the oven. The fat must be rolled evenly in continuous layers. To accomplish this the butter must be in a "plastic" state when laminating. That is, able to be rolled out easily without breaking into pieces (not too cold) but firm enough that it won't squeeze out of the edges of the dough layers or allow moisture to seep into the dough (not too warm). The butter and dough should be at approximately the same temperature, and the layers of each must remain distinct from each other or the product will resemble brioche more than delicately layered and flaky laminated dough.
Allowing the dough to rest between turns allows the gluten structure to relax, making the dough more extensible and less likely to tear. Puff pastry, lacking yeast and its dough conditioning benefits, is more susceptible to tears and shrinkage during baking. Since it is also laminated to a further degree, the rests between turns are even more critical to ensure extensibility. If any of these doughs are overworked without being allowed to rest, the gluten structure will tear, the dough will become tough and the finished product won't have the desired volume or texture.