Fail Log: Bread

I started working at a bakery in August, and the production was hectic and quality frequently shoddy from the start. My co-baker happily left the bakery for semi-unemployment in October.

A month prior to his leaving, the bakery had received some comments saying that the bread was too dry. To alleviate this, we began baking the bread at a higher temperature for a shorter amount of time, hoping to trap more moisture in the loaf. This seemed to help the dried-out taste, but our loaves were still often messed up -- loaves that didn't rise enough, or that had a significantly amount of air holes or bubbles in them. When my co-baker left, the owner of the bakery decided to become my co-baker. He had typically found our doughs to be too dry, so during the mixing process, he was adding between 3-10% of water by weight. Also, because we were not selling enough bread, he decided to add day-old bread to the mix; this is a practice (commonly?) used in industrial baking -- the addition of a coarse meal to the dough. We were adding about 2.5% of meal by weight. This would ideally save the bakery some $ in ingredient costs. Well, for a month stretching from October into November, we were making some very funky bread, and when I say funky, I mean funky smelling. After 3-4 days, the added water in the bread combined with the shorter cook time at the higher heat meant that not all the breads were being baked sufficiently. This would cause the moisture in the center of the baked loaf to cause the loaf to ferment and mold quickly. Our loaves typically sit on a supermarket shelf for up to a week. Within days, these loaves were going bad, and some were bad and doughy in the center from the start. At first, the coarse meal, or day-old bread was suspected as the culprit. But given the lack of quality control at the bakery, it was weeks before this practice was ended. But then, the bread continued to be fucked up, which was both embarrassing, and bad for business. The bakery received complaints. At that point, the general manager told us to go back to the way we were baking previously -- a longer bake time at a lower temperature. Now the loaves are more or less normal. It was only yesterday that I realized what the problem was from the start: prior to my arriving at the bakery, the recipes, which had been used for years, and possibly decades, were monkeyed with by the owner. Then, these largely untested recipes were assumed to hold well for every batch size. The recipe book was updated. As far as I knew when I started working, the old orange recipe binder contained the same recipes as the new, but it was old, worn out, and created with a poorly formatting version of Excel (like from '98?). I only found out in the last week that the recipes had been changed in the recent past. And so yesterday, I sat down with the two recipe books only to find that for every dough, the water content was higher in the old recipe book. This meant that the problem from the start with the dry loaves was not the cook time or temperature; it was that the recipe didn't call for enough water relative to the other ingredients. We have been adding an additional 5-7% of water by volume, and due to the guesstamation process, some of that adding comes during the middle/end of the mixing process, when the addition of water can leading to overmixing and too-strong or too-wet doughs which in turn lead to small, undesirable loaves, sometimes with air holes or bubbles in them.

So the short version is that, in the end, it was the recipes' fault. We are in the process of retranscribing the old recipe book, which is yellowed, scrawled upon with notes, and covered with crud. Once this happens, the doughs should be mixed properly from the start, with little seasonal variation relative to the humidity of the air.

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