Bearded Baker MasterClass: Bread Part One; Starter At the Beginning!

By Baker/Chef Adam “The Bearded Baker” Majewski

Welcome back to the Bearded Baker MasterClass, what we are intending to discussing in the next few masterclasses, is to help create a resource for new bakers, as well later on seasoned bakers to the professional Baker/Pastry Chef. Though normally I would not suggest starting with bread to most beginners, mainly because as a career baker I know the complexities and frustrations of making the perfect loaf of bread and developing the skills to be consistent in developing bread. My reasoning though now that I’m getting back to developing the Bearded Baker MasterClass, under current pandemic situations both here in the States, as well around the world, it has made me need to rethink my reasons for leaning more now towards bread as a place to begin baking as a skill due to, though bread can be difficult to make, it is how ever a necessity whether as a bakery staple or a home cooks arsenal of knowledge and skill set. So I’ve decided to come back strong to create this specific series on bread and it’s effects on humanity as a staple food.

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The best place to begin learning about bread is with just a bit of history and science, and yes I am truly sorry if you don’t like history or science, but it really does help bring understanding and perspective to the learning process of bread as well it helps dispel misinformation around food in general. Historically I’d like to begin with how far bread goes back in our evolution first, up until recently, specifically until 2018, through historical records and carbon dating the thought was believed that humans started baking because of the advent of cultivating agriculture in human daily life as a regular source of food. However, in recent years, specifically 2018, an article published in the Academy of Science by a team made up of researchers from the University of Copenhagen, the University College London, and University of Cambridge, detailing their discovery of the oldest made bread at an Archeological dig in the Black Dessert(Northeastern Jordan). Check out some information here: http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/worlds-oldest-bread or original Article https://www.pnas.org/content/115/31/7925. What this tells us is that first humanity has been processing flour and eating it in the form of bread for 14,400 years according to current findings from the Black Dessert, and secondly it also throughs in to perspective how we approach cereal grains as a part of our daily diet, especially within today’s day and age, with there being so much information on whether humanity should be ingesting flour as a good source of nutrients or not. Though the health ramifications of whether or not to eat flour is a great topic to discuss it’s not the main subject matter for today and can be touched upon in another MasterClass. For the purpose of this series I would like to focus on the fact, that we now know that humanity has been making and developing bread as a food staple, for 14,000 Plus years. Why this is important? Is because from what we know about bread during the first agricultural-revolution and bread made now, is that the structure of the bread, and the amount of each ingredient with in the bread is vastly different from the bread we make today. With that said, when you add on an extra 400 years to the development of bread, you can until other evidence comes forth, can conclude that bread is predating the first agricultural-revolution, and with the information the researchers have been able to collect, humanity can safely speculate that bread is very different in how the bread was made 14,400 years ago.

Why this is important to learn, while learning to bake, is that though many things have changed over time, this change gives perspective of how food shapes our daily life now and through history, it also on the creative spectrum, gives a knowledgable baker a larger canvas to shape their art to feed themselves and others. Also a lot of our understanding about yeast and its daily use for our bodies nutrition comes from the development of bread and how it can help create a healthy digestive Biom in your gut. Lastly it puts in to perspective that bread is not just something that people have been making for ever, its been something that humanity as a group has been perfecting over thousands of years and will continue to develop as long as humans need food.

Now on, what to expect at first, is that we have learned that the first breads made in early society from the pre agricultural revolution, only have three basic ingredients; some form of wild cereal grain native to the region of the Natufians in Jorden, water, and salt. So as you can conclude is, the first where flat breads, not yeasted breads, not chemically leavened bread. Only steam risen breads, similar to a grainy Tortilla or precurser to Injara. How ever we do know that in Egypt at the time of the agricultural revolution they were baking sourdough bread of some kind with the help of a sourdough starter containing water, flour, and natural wild yeasts which have grown in the flour mixture over a period of time. However, most exact dates for the time do not have exact start dates for now, due to our current dating technology and written accounts for the time period. So with that said, and as you start to ramp up to making bread at home you truly need to keep an open mind as to what bread “Is”, because when you keep a unwavering idea that is unwilling to learn and change as more knowledge comes forward as to what bread is and can be, you will disappointment everytime.

Next, on learning bread you’ll need to understand that there are three major types of bread, these include; Yeasted Breads, Chemical Leavened Breads(quick breads), and Steam Leavened Breads(majority are flat breads). Here in the west the majority of commercial bread are either savory yeasted bread or sweat chemically leavened breads. Flat breads in the west are usually produced in immigrant communities, and do make up a big part of the diet for many immigrants here in the states, but are only a small size of the general market in comparison to what are considered commercial producers of baked bread products.

What most don’t understand when first learning about bread, and many become confused by is that there are only two methods to make bread, and you will need to learn one in order to feel comfortable baking bread. These two methods are the; Old World Baking method which uses mostly Starters, and/or steam, or the British Industrial Mechanized baking method which was developed in the mid to late 1800s with the introduction of commercially produced yeasts, and is a much quicker way to making bread, cutting out a matter of days worth of work waiting, down to a matter of hours. Old World baking methods especially with bread, in terms of techniques which have been around the longest, are the oldest form of baking in human history, and wild yeast starters have been developed for thousands of years, through the passing on of knowledge by the way of apprenticeships.

No matter what kind of Baker you want to be, the bases of all bread is yeast in todays age of baking, which many don’t know or understand is a living organism. When you start ramping up to make bread you will need to figure out which baking method you’d like to use in order to plan which kind of yeast you will be needing to use. If you choose to go with the old world baking method you will need to learn how to make what’s called a bread starter, which is what’s called in the culinary world “wild yeast”, and can’t contain any commercially produced yeast depending on where you are in the world and who you ask. In some countries, especially in Europe there are actual laws which regulate the use of commercially produced yeast in what would be classified as artisan bread here in the States. If you choose to use the Mechanized British Baking(MBB) method you’ll normally be using some form of commercial yeast which don’t contribute much flavors to the bread you produce. Though many professional career artisan bakers look down on the MBB Method, most do accept it as an easier way to learn bread for newer home bakers, and for producing large amounts of bread at a commercial level, is more economical for the food industry at large. The reason I say this how ever is because, though you do not need to know all the in’s and outs of either method, the recipe you choose to use will be in the category of one of these two methods and there is no other way around it. If you only take one thing from this introduction to the Bearded Bakers MasterClass: Bread Part One, is that Baking in terms of science it is one that is most scientific, and what I mean by this is that in a human’s understanding of the world around us, we know the most about the cooking processes of baking then we do the cooking processes of a chef on a hot line, and so there is a specific mystic around that career path of a chef, where in baking we are viewed more as scientists doing experiments in a food lab.

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Thank You and come back for part two of the Bearded Bakers MasterClass on Bread.

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