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Taste of Bread photos

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Hello James,

First thank you for your work in bringing about an english translation of "Le gout du pain".

This is a minor issue, but one I hope you could explain. The majority of baguettes

pictured in the english version appear to have been baked with little or no steam, especially in comparison to the bread in the french version. Is this a reflection of how you prefer them to be baked or is there some other story?



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There are a bunch of reasons why:

----- The team unit in our old and defective oven never quite worked the way it was supposed-to, so that at times even moderate amounts of steam had, curiously, the same effect as too much steam: the slashes were sealed shut and the loaves under-developed

-------- I have never been a fan of very steamed, very shiny loaves

________ Garfield Peters did a terrific job shooting the photos, but the budget was minimal, we were in a rush, and all we could do is do what we could. The original French photos were ( understandably) unacceptable to the U.S. publisher and the task was dropped into my lap ( gratis). As a result, the French edition sported lousy photos of many great loaves, but the U.S. edition had some pretty good shots ( once again, thanks Garfield!) of loaves which were at times less than perfect

The whole book project was a labor of love ( you would laugh if you found out how much money we made), but Ron Wirtz did a wonderful job and remains a great friend, it seemed a good idea at the time, and on sunny days, still seems so.

Thank you. There has been no feedback from the book, and your question/comments are a nice surprise.

Best wishes,


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No feedback from the book? I find that astonishing. I can sit and puzzle over that book for hours, trying to make sense of what

had previously seemed like an easy thing to do, make a loaf of French bread, only to find that the complexities quickly brought

me in over my head as far as technical details go. My guess is that the majority of us who have access to large mixers only have

planetary mixers and the subtleties of the mixing methods are a little hard to finesse. I used to have to make baquettes by the

intensive method and the dough was hot, sticky, and would come apart in chunks during makeup. I've made the rustic bread a

number of times and figure if I can come close to what the picture in the book looks like, I've done all right. I actually built myself

an Alan Scott oven, but have yet to have the serendipitous confluence of fully proofed dough and the right oven temperature for

baking it. I would really like to see Prof. Calvel's videos.

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A tag-on, specifically to McDuff, but hopefully of general interest:

I puzzled my way through the Calvel philosophy and methods for the longest time,too.

Planetary mixers are not ideal, but that's what I used for all of the bread photos in the book ( other than 1 or 2 credited to other sources). Calvel himself says that any machine will work as long as you know when to turn it off. That said, some people take Calvel's admontions about overkneading so seriously that they don't knead at all, and at the same time exaggerate fermentation times or percentages of preferments in the dough ( the old North American numbers game: if 25% is good than 50% must be better....). Calculating water temperatures for proper finished dough temperature works pretty well, by the way. It's worth a try.

I dig your take on the challange of having the timing right when using woodburning ovens. Did you read the other question about them?

We worked hard on the translation of the book, but nothing, NOTHING, can replace witnessing the process being done by someone who really knows about it.

Best of luck.


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The problem of timing with the oven is sheer inertia---bodies at rest tend to stay at rest. I have no doubt that I could pull it off, in fact I did get one perfect loaf out of the oven and in a sense, that was all I came for. So there it sits, 20 feet from my back door, $1000, a whole summer's worth of my day's off, and 5 tons of rock, brick and mortar.

The bakery where I was forced to make the crummy baquettes was one of those Great Harvest ripoffs where we milled our own whole wheat flour and I learned to appreciate that. We had a 4 step process for figuring water temps, which in the hot weather, with the flour coming out of the mill at about 100 degrees and sitting in a 30 gallon container overnight, sometimes the water temp would need to be in the teens. I found Wayne Gisslen's ice water formula handy. It worked well and we could do it on the fly as we were making up to 21 sponge and dough breads every night.

We also made a sourdough using Hansen Lab's cultures, but I don't think they make them anymore and in any case since then I've learned how to make it from scratch. That was another dough that got a 15 minute ride on speed 3 in an 80 qt Hobart so I know well the phenomenom of whitening that occurs to a dough that's kneaded that long. We used Bouncer, which I think is bleached, and at this point I won't use bleached flour for anything anymore.

Thanks for participating here.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I don't find it too much of a challenge to have dough and wood burning oven at the right stage.

The oven, once you have removed the fire and let it stabilise, stays at working temperature for at least couple of hours, or at least mine does.

The easy way with dough is retardation. I tend to bake from cold anyway, as I find it gives me a better spring, and with retarded dough time is not critical. Thus make the dough the day before, and retard in the fridge overnight. Next day light the oven, and four hours later take the dough out and bake.

If I'm doing it all on the same day, then for my sourdough

- the oven takes 4 hours to heat and stabilise

- I use 4 hours for the bulk fermentation, and about 3 hours or the second, plus about an hour of amylisation and make-up time.

Thus I start the dough eight hours before I want to bake, and light the oven 4 hours before, or just about the time I shape the loaves

Let me add my congratulations on the translation, and on the videos.

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Huge Thanks to you both, and the other diehards who have kept this thing going.

Pain Rustique: What an honor to see photos of peoples' efforts!

I am a huge fan of rustique. It was hard at times to refrain from inappropriate comments as I looked into the technical side of things, for Calvel is the author, will always know more about French bread than I, and has been the great defender of the good stuff.

I do feel that the fermentation times listed in the book are minimums, because the professor knows that French bakers are in a hurry because theirsn is a tough market where one can only charge so much for a loaf of bread, and despite supermarkets and a general decline in pop and mom bakeshops, there are a bunch of artisans around.

My own experience has been that because the loaves aren't shaped, the bulk fermentation must be prolonged to compensate, otherwise the loaves spread and do not "spring" well.

Give it a try, and if this Q+A is still around, let me know how things went.

Wood oven stuff: Retarded loaves is certainly a clever solution! Did you know that in early Quebec history, they tried to set up the same seigneurial bread ovens as in France ( i.e. everyone brought the loaves to be baked in the lord's oven, with some form of recompense to the lord) but this failed because in wintertime, the raw loaves froze en route !

Anyway, I feel truly amiss for nor having looked into woodburning ovens more than a time or two, not only for the socio/historical kind of thing, but also because of what that great Jeffrey Hamelman had to say about his experiences in Germany ( this appears as an add-on elsewhere in this Q+A)

As the French would say, je vous tire mon chapeau ( I tip my hat to you), but not for too long because I'm pretty bald!

My best to you all, readers and especially correspondants


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