John et al,
I'm gutted, I feel like I've been kicked in the teeth and I hurt. I'm really very offended and have spent many hours awake when I should be sleeping, thinking about this.
I started at Natural Tucker at 17 in '93 (not the heyday but not as it is now, sort of in the middle when they still used the wood-fired oven instead of now when they have put the electric one in front of it) working one night a week. I didn't know it then but it was to become my career and whether I like it or not now it is what I'm passionate about. Baking bread. We'll leave off the 'good' for now.
I'm one of "those" bakers in Melbourne that uses vitamin C or ascorbic acid, whichever you prefer. It's taken me a couple of days to be anywhere near calm enough to write this and not to have it yanked for offensive reasons, so I'll try and not make it a diatribe against everything that's gone before on the vc subject. Please stick to the end, I have been thinking a lot.
We, 'Dench bakers', have been around for just on 3 years. I along with my two other partners and countless staff (much golden, plenty of chaff) have built a bread/cafe business that has just hit the three tonne of flour/week mark, that's over 6 tonnes of dough a week. All hand moulded, the bulk of it baked in a stone floored electric oven (the other's a MIWE gas roll-in. bam pow shock horror). We, I, have had the temerity to call myself an "artisan" baking "sourdough" bread, even though I add vc, and I believed in that enough to have it as a by-line on our packaging. "Dench bakers. Artisan Sourdoughs". How wrong I was.
I worked at Natural Tucker full-time after dropping out of uni, jumped at the offer after spending three years dawdling. Babka, il Fornaio (Melbourne, Aust.), Daniel Chirico's Baker, Laurent, 2 days in a baker's delight, even Natural Tucker in Sydney (no jokes, although it was a joke, we'd make Genuwine (sic) sourdough loaves and then yeasted hot-dog rolls for sandwiches in petrol stations later in the shift. HA!). I've seen many different styles of bread, machines, mixers, bakers in 11 years and now have my own bakery after busting a nut working 14, 18, even the full 24 hours for other people and myself to make what I saw as my best shot at bread. All of it was good; good experience: learning how not to do things, how to rescue a bad situation, handling other work colleagues, running a bakery and how to make great bread.
Or not. The time I put ice in the leaven! The bakery I was in got so hot it was sweltering during the day while the levain sat around. I thought it was a good idea. Perhaps 3 bags was a little too much! Woh, I never saw bread that slow or flat, but the leaven came back after a little rest and much hand wringing and castigating, but the days' bread was harrowingly embarrassing.
Returning. We make a gamut of varieties at Dench, a modern day Snazzy Hot Bread Kitchen. There's mostly bread made with a stiff wheat culture that I grew myself with the aid of an organic apple 3.5 years ago and a rye based wet culture from an organic potato. We bake white (unbleached); light rye with orange zest; a coarser plain loaf with wheat bran, rye and unbleached wheat;a grain bread with organic sesame and organic linseed and sunflower (ubiquitous in Melbourne, not necessarily with the organic seed elsewhere, but it's a winner, our biggest seller); yeasted ciabatta; spelt with a rye culture; walnut and apricot; on the weekends we do potato bread - chunky with four sorts of coarse ground pepper; beer bread with Cooper's stout, barley mash leftover from the local brewery (Mountain Goat not Carlton United) and home brew concentrate for hop flavour; brioche using organic flour, Girgar butter and free-range (hmm more nomenclature) eggs; lots of Viennoisserie - this is my one concession for flour I use a conventional flour and yes, gluten as well as vc; however I offer some pastry made with ORGANIC: flour , butter and milk powder, (tried organic raw sugar to disastrous results) and the other usual conventional ingredients that are unable to be sourced readily. And many other bread shapes and flavours. All of these, excepting the pastry, brioche and ciabatta are made solely with a culture that is recognised as a sourdough levain elsewhere.
Christ, even the flour we dust the benches, boards, dough with is a special blend (of mine ) after Dan Lepard's comment that white flour is so boring for this. It's 1/3 wheat flour, rye flour and wheat bran and a couple of big scoops of rye bran if you can get it.
ALL of these breads have vitamin c/ascorbic acid
added. I list it. If any customer were to ask I would tell them openly
and honestly, I make no secrets about it. I have made bread without vc
unintentionally, by the time you cut it out and rest it on a board and come
back to it, it's a single sloppy dripping mass again and it's so obvious that
it had been left out. When it goes into the oven, as it had to, it collapsed
with a scratch on the surface and looked and tasted horrible. Yes, it does
change the taste, but my experience is not as yours.
A teaspoon to every 15kg of flour or thereabouts. This tightens the dough, lets you add more water than you would normally, not so we can cheat the unsuspecting customer but so we can make a dough that will spring in the oven. Veritably burst in the oven, with the help of steam. A full loaf, the ripped parts colouring wonderfully. The cut edges black and the rest a lovely dark, almost burnt tinge. This is how I bake my bread, always. Well coloured, dark. It's not the same as a wood-fired but much healthier for the bakers who have to use it and breath in the wood smoke. (Cue John) Let alone the council, that's a page to themselves.
I'm not going to leave out the additive, it's 0.03 of a gram per loaf, maybe. Does that make what we do wrong? Do we Cheat? Do we deceive the customer and try and get them "hooked"? We make the best damn bread we can every day; every day of the year, (they especially appreciate the xmas day bread and pastry, not to mention the caffeine fix when there is no other). The small amount of vc means we are not "Artisans" and our bread, well, to quote a phrase "was that supposed to be a sourdough?" is perhaps not sourdough; if by adding 0.03 of a gram per loaf to organic flour, water, levain and salt renders it not, then so be it.
We service the hospitality industry, some very good cafes, outstanding restaurants, Organic retailers and many satisfied, if duped, punters. Our quality and consistency is something I take a very personal interest in and if it's not good enough it's either not sent out or remade. No compromise. We wouldn't survive a week of rough bread with most of our wholesale customers while we work out that the flour has changed and things need to be adjusted this way and that. I have two bakers with many years experience, the other 5 are keen novices but very good bakers with maybe a year perhaps two behind them. Will they cover my bank loan when the bread looks shaky and the customers dwindle? Will they make the adjustment in time? Should I be there guiding them every day? I am forced to run a business and then a bakery, in that order, and be a baker third; that's what I have time for. Ascorbic acid is a small compromise for me. Yeah, it's in improver, it's an additive, it's vitamin c.
I don't know if I could make bread without it, most likely. But to remove it from my production would be concerning. We don't make Perfection sourdough (ed's note: Graham, can we add this to the list?) but we do make one style of sourdough that is pretty common and a little recognition of the hard work that goes on by the many bakers who make an effort to make good bread, would go a long way.
"These fashionable dudes have everybody hoodwinked,and i just think that if they cant make sourdough bread without ascorbic acid,well get a job!"
As a parting glance (I could not help it, I'm so angry and upset all at the same time); I did employed a baker not long ago who had bought some old dough troughs. Quite big they were, big enough to lie in. He was going to make ULTRA sourdough (Graham) the ARTISAN way, not with this E-lec-trizity stuff that seems to be the new fad. Does that mean we all need to conform now? He opened WILD FLOUR, another Melbourne bakery using a culture to construct bread units, but he didn't last. Decided on a Tuesday that he was bored and needed ideas and left for Germany that Thursday night. We got quite a few of his confused customers. I don't think he pursued the troughs though, didn't have the back/spine for it. He was a little ego-maniac and utterly impossible to leave among the pigeons, a very passionate, capable baker, but no artisan. He loved his yeast bread too much.
Ouch! That was as tame as I could do, I have more to say but this is a discussion page not a rhetoric-page, I'm boring/insulting you.
John, you are more than my peer, you are a mentor, to many of us. Go easy with your scorn of the ignorant please, we are but fragile sponges (the fluffy, floury sort) and have few additives to hold us together. Your comments are taken to heart all to easily.
sincerely although a little tongue in cheeky