Old Dog: Episode 1

Reinhart Focaccia 1

Been stricken with leg ulcers for the past six months. It’s not just the pain that does you in it’s the pain killers that turn your brain to mush. My baking for sale was down to once a month – that’s had to come to an end for the moment as have baking courses after a great run of getting on for a dozen earlier in the year.

But, as they say, it makes a girl think (once you’ve got the pain killers out of your system). I’m not giving up baking for sale but it’s going to be revamped and smaller. Now the wounds are starting to heal I need to do some planning.

But it’s great that after 25 years of baking the interest doesn’t wane and there are plenty of avenues still to be explored. Two new stimuli have popped up in the past few weeks: I bought a little mill and a sack of grain; I’ve been playing with Peter Reinhart’s recent book on pan pizzas and focaccia.

I started developing my own style and range of focaccia over ten years ago when we began introducing flatbreads to supplement the loaf breads we were offering customers.

Various Fougasse & Focacce – Bethesdabakers style

All flat breads were scaled to be baked on pizza tins that could be proved in a pizza rack – a crucial space saving device in the smallest of microbakeries.

I’m sure a lot of people would say this is not authentic focaccia but I’ve never been interested in authenticity. One of the great things about sourdough is you can develop it in your own style, mould it to suit yourself and your requirements, put your own stamp on it. When you bake for customers you need uniformity, to be as efficient as possible so that your orders are ready when the customers are due and produced in a way that does the least damage to the baker. These focacce were developed within these parameters. The size and weight are determined by the size of the pizza tins and this weight allows them to prove on the tins in two hours (after bulk overnight fermentation in the fridge, one hour of proving, add the toppings and press out the dough to its full extent + second hour of proving) as opposed to 3.5 hours for loaves. They also bake in about 25 minutes as opposed to 50 minutes for the loaves. This all means they can be slotted into odd but convenient times in the baking day. Then there is the rather important consideration that they sell for a good price!

Reinhart Focaccia 2

I’ve never baked pizza for sale but I’ve developed my own methods over a long period and I’m pretty happy with what I make. As with other types of bread I came to the realisation that that if you’re baking in a convection oven there’s no point in trying to imitate a deck oven still less a wood-fired pizza oven. So out went the baking stone, the peel and attempts to create steam – total waste of time. Out went the concept of a 90 second bake. In came the pizza tins, a much wetter dough that needed to be stretched and pressed out on the tin and an acceptance of a 12+ minutes bake. You’re talking about a totally different animal to the Neapolitan pizza but not one that’s in any way inferior.

So, when the latest edition of Breadlines, the Bread Bakers Guild of America quarterly magazine, flopped onto the mat, I was fascinated to read an article by Peter Reinhart about Detroit style pizza – timed to coincide with the publication of his book, Perfect Pan Pizza. Some aspects of the methods were familiar to me since I already bake on tins and stretch out the dough by dimpling with my fingers. Also his sourdough formula is virtually identical to mine (https://thepartisanbaker.com/80-hydration/) and I use a similar long cold fermentation. From there on it is all very different.

Motor City Hawaiian fully loaded and ready to bake

His basic method is to scale the fermented dough into a well oiled square tin and over three 20 minute periods to press the dough out by dimpling until it reached the edges of the tin. A lot of cheese is used – it is cut into small cubes and half is spread over and pressed into the dough at the start of the prove. The dough is proved for four or more hours before the toppings are added.

And there is a lot of dough as you can see from the photo above, 1.5-2 inches.

The other main feature of Detroit style is the frico. The first half of the cheese goes in the dough. The second half goes on with the topping with a big emphasis on the edges for that it browns and goes crisp against the tin forming the frico. Got it half right in the photo above!

So, right now I’m playing around with his methods and adjusting tin sizes and dough weights. I’ve even worked out a dough weight and a cheese weight per square inch and had to go back to my “O” level maths, A=πr ² , (I confess, I Googled it) so I can do round tins – current working assumption 7.2g per square inch dough, 2.8g cheese.

I’m already thinking that, apart from focaccia, this amount of dough is to much (even if that’s what passes for authentic in Detroit), but it’s definitely making me think through my approach to pizza and focaccia.

Most happy with the focacce right now.

More to follow plus the changes having a mill is going to make.

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