Minor variations in the way bakers combine ingredients can greatly impact bread’s aroma, flavor and crumb. Lionel Vatinet addressed modern mixing techniques and philosophies during a recent Bread Bakers Guild of America class.
Click here for additional photos of the Bread bakers Guild of America’s Advanced Mixing Methods class.
A capacity class of rain-soaked bakers dodged thunderstorms and floods to get to Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts outside of Atlanta one Saturday in September. The occasion was a Bread Bakers Guild of America Master Class focusing on advanced mixing methods. Lionel Vatinet, a French master baker who coached the gold medal-winning Bread Bakers Guild Team USA 1999 and now owns La Farm Bakery in Cary, N.C., instructed the class.
“It was an excellent experience,” Vatinet says. “It was a good mix of people, and we were able to address both professionals and experienced home bakers. Some knew some of the mixing techniques, and they were able to learn new shaping techniques or hand skills. It was a very positive thing to see the different levels of bakers as they learned different things, even some things that weren't necessarily part of the lesson plan.”
The class focused on three modern bread-mixing techniques — the short mix, the intensive mix and the improved mix. Each method has a unique suite of characteristics, benefits and deficiencies. But ultimately, each technique is judged against the traditional hand mixing technique that bakers relied upon before the advent of the electric mixer.
Traditional hand mix
“Hand mixing is kind of a lost art, and that's unfortunate. As a baker, your hand is your memory, your hand remembers how dough should feel, how tacky it is, how well developed. It's your hand's memory that checks the consistency of dough and makes a change if you need to make a change,” Vatinet says. “Hand mixing teaches a baker about his dough and connects him to his dough.”
Vatinet also stressed that bakers need to be versatile and think on their feet. Equipment sometimes breaks down, so it's dangerous to be entirely reliant on one piece of equipment. “A baker has to put out a product no matter what. We can't blame the equipment when something goes wrong, we can't blame the ingredients. Sometimes the conditions are less than ideal, but customers still want bread,” he adds. “Hand mixing is a necessary skill for bakers, even though electric mixers are now available.”
The class was structured to include a section on hand mixing not only to encourage bakers to practice the skill, but also to provide a control to which the products of other mixing methods could be compared. Vatinet demonstrated a traditional dough kneading technique in which bakers use their thumbs and index fingers as scissors to continually slice and shear through the unfinished dough, thereby arranging glutens and developing the dough structure.
Hand mixing is a slow process. The speed is limited to the speed of a baker's hand, and not a lot of extra heat is created from friction. So, to attain the ideal final dough temperature of 72°F to 80°F, warmer water needs to be added at the outset, as water temperature controls the temperature of the final dough.
“The more water you use in a hand-mixed formula, the less yeast you need. This is because the dough is fermented for a long time to develop flavors and aromas,” Vatinet says. “The more yeast added to the dough to begin with, the shorter the necessary fermentation, so less water is needed. This is more or less the rule of thumb.”
The reason for this lies in dough strength. A baker's hand cannot possibly impart the 120 to 160 rotations per minute mixing power of an electric mixer, so much of the dough strength and gluten development occurs during fermentation instead of in the mixing bowl. And because of the length of this process — often three hours — a comparatively small amount of yeast can yield quite a bit of flavor.
Hand-mixed dough uses a high hydration formula of 75 percent; bakers can go as high as 80 percent with less yeast and a longer fermentation. “The flavor of the end product really is decided in the first fermentation,” Vatinet says. “That's where you get the flavor profile, and all the aroma is developed by the first fermentation.”
The crumb of hand-mixed bread tends to be the richest in color, either yellowish to a rich, ivory color. Hand mixing is so gentle that yellowing carotenoid pigments that exist in the flour remain intact throughout the mixing process and are visible in the finished product. The volume is low, as very little oxidation occurs to increase the final crumb volume. This results in the loose, open crumb commonly associated with artisan breads.
Despite being the only game in town with respect to bread baking for thousands of years, the fact is hand mixing is impractical and prohibitively labor intensive for most modern production bakeries. Electric mixing technology has been around for 80 years, and it is too efficient to ignore. Plus electric mixers are able to produce a very close approximation of a hand-mixed final product, so close in fact that few people would be able to tell the difference.
The short mix technique, similar to hand mixing, uses a long fermentation to develop flavor and aroma. Because the dough doesn't spend much time in the bowl, not much heat is created from friction. Therefore, relatively warm water is needed to bring the final dough to the ideal 72°F to 80°F. A long fermentation period and high hydration allow a modest amount of yeast to create a very rich flavor. Of all electric mix methods, the short mix best mimics traditional hand mixing techniques because it is so gentle on the dough.
Ingredients go into the bowl and are mixed at first speed for five minutes. More of the glutens develop in the bowl with the short mix than do with hand mixing, but the long fermentation, complete with a punch and fold or two, is still responsible for a good percentage of the dough strength. The slow, short electric mix doesn't bleach the flour or allow much oxidation to take place, so finished product volumes are relatively low with a loose, open crumb and good color, flavor and aroma.
Though the short mix considerably saves on the labor of hand mixing, it still is a long process. By the middle of the 20th century, bakers interested in quickly churning out high volumes of dough began to realize that they could develop the glutens completely in the bowl.
“Bakers looked at electric mixers and began to dream about the hours of labor they could save by strengthening the dough in the bowl,” says Jeff Yankellow, co-owner of Simply Bread, Phoenix. By developing glutens via the mixer, they could eliminate the hours of fermentation, resulting in the intensive mix.
With short first fermentation, as little as 10 minutes, bakers need to use a large amount of yeast in order to quickly achieve good gas production. So much yeast is used that fermenting for too long will yield unworkable dough.
The intensive mix consists of five minutes on low speed, then five to 10 minutes on high speed, depending on how long it takes for the dough to develop. The extended exposure to the high-speed hook whips and oxidizes the dough similar to stiffening whipped cream, resulting in a high volume finished product. “You lose color because you are going to have excessive oxidation that bleaches the flour,” Yankellow says. “The crumb is very tight and fine and is best exemplified by plain white American pan bread.”
The intensive mix technique, able to produce large volumes of dough with short fermentation, became popular in France and America as the countries industrialized throughout the 20th century. Bakeries were able to produce unprecedented volumes of bread quickly and without much labor. But for all of the intensive mix's benefits, the finished product lacks flavor.
“This is the technique to make pan breads, where you develop gluten as much as you can. The flavor profile is diminished, but you can always experiment with sourdoughs and preferments to replace flavor,” Vatinet says. “That's one thing we didn't approach in the class — changing the water and yeast amounts or adding different preferments to play with the flavor profiles. But with just straight dough, and for the purposes of learning, you are generally going to see a big volume that's low on flavor with the intensive mix.”
Dough made using the intensive mixing method contains substantially fewer organic acids than dough made with the short mix technique. These organic acids help create classic bread flavor and aroma. The short fermentation used in the intensive mix doesn't allow the organic acids to accumulate naturally during the ferment as a byproduct of yeast. Also, it was revealed that the dough's acidity had an affect on the dough's strength, and higher numbers of organic acids helped bolster gluten development. This explains why the long fermentation in the short mix, coupled with a few folds, served to strengthen weak dough.
“In France, bread consumption began to go down. Consumers may not have been able to put their fingers on why, but they weren't buying as much bread as they had in the past, and it was because the flavor wasn't there anymore,” Yankellow says.
Bakers recognized the trend, and began searching for a compromise between the time-consuming, but flavorful, short mix and the fast, but flavorless, intensive mix. The result was the improved mix, developed by Raymond Clavel and other French bakers at the helm of the French bread baking renaissance.
This mixing method combines the long fermentation of the short mix with the in-bowl dough strengthening of the intensive mix. Ingredients are mixed for five minutes on first speed, then for two minutes on second speed.
“When you use intensive or improved mixing methods, now you use the second speed, that creates friction,” Vatinet says. “Also, the dough is stiffer, so there is more heat from friction on the hook and the side of the bowl. How much depends on the design of the mixer, the hook design, the rotations per minute — all of this comes from trial and error and really knowing your machine.”
The additional friction heat requires cooler water to be used to achieve optimal final dough temperature. After mixing, the fermentation is roughly halved compared to the short mix, usually one to two hours. Still, this time is adequate time to develop strong flavor and aroma. The flour in the dough experiences some oxidation and bleaching, so the end product has a larger volume, but the color isn't as rich as the hand- or short-mixed bread. The crumb is open, so combined with the developed aroma and flavor, a bread dough from an improved mix does a good job of mimicking the short-mixed and hand-mixed doughs while taking advantage of the convenience of the electric mixer. That is not to say that the improved mix is necessarily the best mixing method.
The four mixing techniques discussed are simply benchmarks with hundreds of permutations in between. Vatinet mentioned preferments, but double hydration formulas, poolishes and soakers also can give a wide range of flavors to dough regardless of mixing method — and that is without even beginning to add sugar or fats to the dough.
“These are all tools that should be in every baker's ‘toolbox.’ Even the intensive mix can be used in artisan baking,” Yankellow says. “People need to understand all of them are different steps along a continuum. Flavor and aroma are important to consider, but it's also about volume, crumb texture and what kind of shape you're looking for in the final product.”
No single mixing technique is perfect any more than there is a single perfect dough. What's ideal for baguettes is not ideal for pan bread, and what works for ciabatta isn't going to work for sourdough. Each technique offers advantages and disadvantages and is merely a means to an end — achieving the best dough for whatever a baker's purposes might be on any given day.
Formulating to plan for differences between mixing techniques
|Sea salt||0.32||9.07 g||2|
|Total appr. wt.||1||12.37||804.21 g||177.3|
|Method: Mix by hand until glutens are well-developed.First fermentation: three hours|
|*Batch weights reflect comparatively small batch sizes in hand-mixed doughs.|
|Sea salt||12.16||344.73 g||2|
|Total appr. wt.||63||12.02||28.918 kg||167.8|
|Method: Mix at first speed for five minutes, second speed for five minutes. First fermentation: 15 to 20 minutes|
|Sea salt||12.16||344.73 g||2|
|Total appr. wt.||64||13.24||29.406 kg||170.6|
|Method: Mix at first speed for five mintes, second speed for two minutes. First fermentation: 75 minutes|
|Sea salt||12.16||344.73 g||2|
|Total appr. wt.||67||5.98||30.56 kg||177.3|
|Method: Mix at first speed for five minutes. First fermentation: three hours|
|Mixing method||Water temp.||Dough temp.||Final mix||First fold||Second fold||Divide, rest, preshape||Shape||Results|
|Hand||84°F||75°F||9:25 a.m.||10:25||11:25||12:35 p.m.||12:40||Best flavor, rich color, open crumb|
|Intensive||60||80||11:10||n/a||n/a||11:35||12:10||Closed crumb, white color, good volume|
|Improved||64||78||10:25||n/a||n/a||12:20||12:40||Good flavor, open crumb, good volume|
|Short||78||78||9:50||10:50||11:50||12:50||1:00||Very good flavor, rich color, open crumb|
A window into gluten development
The mixing process develops gluten by arranging individual gluten strands from an initial, haphazard grouping to more integrated structure. Bread bakers approximate gluten development during mixing by using the window test. Remove a small piece of dough from the bowl and hold it lightly pinched between between the thumb and forefinger of both hands. Gently pull the dough apart, also using remaining fingers to tease the dough into a windowpane shape. Dough with low gluten development, like dough coming out of a short mix, will tear easily and have an inconsistent appearance. More developed dough from improved and particularly intensive mixes will form uniform membranes, eventually thin enough to see through.