Guest Blog: Temps Gone Wild

Paul McCool is a baker and teacher from Lawrence, Kansas, who’s been a long-time voice of reason on my favorite (well, second-favorite) bread site, Recently, he sent me this tale of what can happen (and indeed, has happened to me more than once) when one loses their focus during bake time. Fortunately, this cautionary tale also contains its own redemption. Lemonade, anyone? And many thanks, Paul.

You’ll probably enjoy this.  I have been preparing for another rye breads class this Friday which includes the Rustic Pumpernickel from Inside the Jewish Bakery.  Since the class runs from 10:00-3:30, lunch is provided for the students.  What I do is bake a batch of each of the breads being taught (this class also includes a Vort Limpa and Eric’s Fave Rye) in advance.  This lets me give the students a visual of the finished breads and plenty of material for lunch-time sandwiches.

Everything was going spectacularly well with the Rustic Pumpernickel this weekend.  Fermentation, shaping, final rise, docking, steaming; I had it all together.  Everything, that is, until I opened the oven to check the loaf’s temperature before calling it done.  At that point I realized that I had missed the step which says to turn the oven temperature down from 470 to 300 after the final steaming.  Oops!  It spent the entire bake at 470!  The loaf is a deep mahogany brown, with just the tiniest bit of charring along the edge of a natural ear where the top of the loaf fissured from oven spring.

Instead of panicking, I brushed the loaf with a generous amount of boiling water, let it cool, then wrapped it in a towel for the next 30 hours or so, then bagged it in plastic.  All the while I was kicking myself for having made such a bonehead mistake.  Finally, I resolved to bake another but take this one along as an object lesson.

Just for grins, I cut into the loaf last evening.  The crust had softened from being in the plastic bag.  The interior was moist and cool.  The flavor!  Oh, the flavor!  It’s as good a rye as I have made in a long time.  Lots of that weirdly good earthy/spicy combination inherent in the rye, a gently assertive tang (mostly lactic but some suggestion of acetic, too), hints of citrus.  This is seriously good bread, in spite of my screw-up.  Norm would probably give me a whack for messing up the bake but I think that he would love it, too.  So, in case you or your students ever make the same mistake, know that all is not lost.

2 thoughts on “Guest Blog: Temps Gone Wild

  1. Professor Calvel used to say that you can’t burn bread. While one of my night balers proved him wrong, generally that’s true. Especially for Americans. We tend to horribly underbake our breads. The bulk of the flavor is in the crust, and that comes from the Maillard reaction, or caramelizing the sugars. Browner bread is more flavorful.

    His suggestion was to bake your bread for 5 minutes more than you usually do and see if you like it better. Next time, add another 5 minutes. Keep going until you no longer like the result better, then back off a bit.

    Sometimes when I share this information people get upset and say things like, “you want us to burn the bread!”. Nope, not at all. I just want people to get as much flavor out of their bread as possible.

    Temps gone wild was a bit extreme….. but Professor Calvel would have been proud!

  2. This happened to me (of course) too, especially with Pain a l’Ancienne, forgetting to reduce the temperature from 550ºF to 475ºF. But each time I could salvage them, too, because I always check after half the baking time to remove the steam pan, and rotate the breads.
    Mike’s comment about underbaked American bread is right-on. When I moved from Hamburg to Maine I was amazed that people would buy those loaves, that looked so sickly and pale (not to mention the complete absence of a crust).

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