Not Bread Alone!
Traveling through the world of yeast...and then some!

May 2018
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An answer to some questions.
Filed under: General
Posted by: @ 3:32 pm

Hi Chef…

Lots of stuff here…

First of all, the perfect loaf is luck. We shoot for 110%, we hit 90%. But we never stop shooting for 100! And as Chef Hamelman says, “there is always tomorrow!”

There is no reason why you can’t bake great breads at home. And I’ll be everyone one this thread is either baking, or capable of baking world class breads right in their home ovens.

I don’t remember where I got the cast Iron frying pan idea. Talking with Cyril Hitz, I remember him saying “you need mass.” That made sense to me. And the cast iron pan is fairly indestructible.

A trick I got from Jeffrey (Hamelman) was to have two containers in the oven at home; one, the cast iron pan, and two, a small baking pan. This allows pre-steaming for levain breads, along with the main steaming. Actually, levain bread could use a second steaming somewhere around 3 minutes into the bake. We’ll get into that later!

The couche material I purchase in bulk is from Utrecht the artist supply store. Remember that couche material is raw, unbleached, untreated linen. The stuff you see on canvas’s that artists use is this linen, but they process it so it is white.

#215 Belgium Linen
Weight = 11.75 oz per square yard
Threads per inch = 64
Single weave medium rough texture.

I buy a rather large piece and cut it up into 25 X 42 inches. This allows me 9 baguettes or 6 batards on a proofing board.

At home you need much less and it does comes in smaller sizes. If you have friends that bake, purchase a large enough piece and share!

Internal temperatures…well…I was taught the “feel” or “thump” test and never knew about internal temperatures. I was speaking with Chef Jeffrey one day and asked what the finished internal temperature of the loaf should be and I will swear, after giving me “look”, he said I don’t know!

I would watch Jeffrey test the bake. He used his eyes and his hands.

For me, I watch the break in the bread…the part you scored. That has to have color. If it’s white…we’re not there yet. Also, if you squeeze a baguette, it should be very firm…so to with the batard. A larger batard and boules can be thumped on the bottom. You get to know the difference in sound between hollow and not. Also the heat on your hands. Before the bake is done you can easily hold the loaf. When the bake is done it’s not so comfortable.

I tested my finished loaves when someone asked me what the temperature was and my finished loaves hovered around 205-208F

I discovered that the temperature test was a great way to learn. If you felt a baguette and you thought it was done, and you had no one over your shoulder to tell you, then the thermometer became that check. But in time, you will learn when the bake is done without the fancy instrument.

Commercially, you load with a “loader”, but if you want artisan and consistent results, you unload with a peel. Some parts of the oven are hotter than others. Your eye and hand become the controllers of the bake.

The best thermometer is one that is easy to read. You don’t need a high end, laboratory grade instrument, and I don’t care if you like digital or analog. As long as they are accurate…we’re good. You need it for the calculation of desired dough temperature anyway.

And by the way…in our list of tools, a timer is essential to scream at us, especially if you have 4 or 5 different dough’s going, or at home, with one loaf going and doing other stuff!!!!

The definitive bread book…OK…that’s a loaded question. For everyone, their favorite bread book is the best one. But I like the line in the movie “The Karate Kid”. The master looks at the teen and says, “you no learn karate from book”.

For this I have personal knowledge. I studied karate for decades. My sensei was one of the most respected in the world. He wrote a book and he said to me, “the book is good, being here is best!” He also said that learning karate took two lifetimes and we have but one…so we better get started! That applies to any hand/eye/head art…plumbing, carpentry, bread baking and brain surgery.

For me, as an instructor, I like the book that aids in the learning process, is not pretentious, speaks to the target audience, and gets the job done in as little words as possible. For me, that would be Jeffrey Hamelman’s book, “Bread”. The book is written for commercial bakers as well as the home baker. There is enough science to speak to the gearhead in anyone, and simple enough to just, “get to the bake”.

The book isn’t fancy, but artistic, it isn’t glossy, but focused. In fact, looking over baking books on the shelf, this may not be the one that catches your eye.

The book is about bread, and the person who creates it…you!

I have just about every bread baking book out there, and this is the one to which I refer now and again.

Jeffrey’s talents come honestly. He had his own bakery for decades, taught at CIA, won the coup de monde in France in 1996 for the world’s best bread (I hope I have that correct) and heads the bakery and Professional Baking Education Center at King Arthur in Vermont.

In fact, if it still stands, it is Jeffrey through whom you have to go if you want to go to France to compete. In short, “he’s the man”

I found a couple of others most fun: Maggie Glazer’s Artisan Baking, and Dan Leader’s Local Breads. They were a trip through the world of baking more than a teaching instrument, although Leader’s book was very informative regarding many techniques.

OK…visuals are best for shaping and other hand arts, and I found Cyril Hitz’s videos not only informative, but you can watch them over and over if you need. I suggest them all the time for first time shapers if you can’t get that “over the shoulder’ mentor.

Both Hitz and Hamelman are accessible via email…at least they were. Once at dinner after the Atlantic City Baking Expo, Cyril said to Jeffery while nodding in my direction, “Does he (meaning I) email you? He (meaning I) used to email me every day, now no more. He must know it all now! We laughed! I bought more beer and scotch!

The truth is, I baked and baked and baked for years, but until you have a mentor over your shoulder, and I had the best (Hitz and Hamelman) you are never sure!

So…the book for me: Bread and the tapes, Hitz.

Look, bread is exactly rocket science. It’s doesn’t take an Isaac Newton to bake. But it does take an intelligent, caring, diligent individual that doesn’t mind doing the same thing day after day.

Once Jeffrey said, and this really hit home, “Baking for the community is a responsibility”. I really liked that and it meant a bunch to me.

It’s not about the gold medals and the accolades. It’s about the responsibility, and you may think, “well as a home baker, that doesn’t apply to me”. I beg to differ. You are using natural resources: flour, water, salt, and yeast, produced by people and nature so that you can make food, even if you are baking for you, your family, or the community. It is a responsibility.

One more thought on the book: Bread. Notice there is only one. When you do it right, one is enough.

There is nothing new in bread except new formulas. The 11 steps is all you need to understand and there is sooooo much to understand. Know this, European artisan breads came long before the knowledge of the bio-chemistry, Those folks knew what worked even if they didn’t know about bacteria!

Is the book necessary, no. but it helps! The book works better after you have had your hands in dough thought. Approaching class with experience always results in a better class.

OK…enough serious philosophy.

Your last point: Something fun in bread to share.

I have a French Apple bread with inclusions. For our purposes, and inclusion is something that does not disappear in the mix, like olives, or raisins, and in this case dried apples.

However, indulge me here. We were having a party. My wife asked for French Apple for an event the next day. I said, “sure hun” and began scaling for the next days mix. We had just had a party, around the winter holidays, and we made wassail. Wassail is an old mix of apple cider, a floating orange or two riddled with cloves, and some cinnamon sticks. It is kept hot in a crock, served in mugs and maybe…just maybe laced with some…stuff…like rum, or whiskey.

The next day I started my bake and realized the there was no unfiltered apple cider left. I used it all in the wassail. My wife said, “there is plenty of wassail left, use it”. Was she kidding?…wassail in my magnificent French apple bread. She said once again…USE IT…I said, yes dear.

Well, this is one of the best doughs I make and everyone goes bonkers over it. It has dried apples as the inclusion, and ground cloves, ground cinnamon and orange zest. I must say…it’s a keeper.

We can do this two ways, I can put it on here…but it will be difficult, or I can email it to you if you like. It is the same excel spreadsheet. It is an easy bread to make, and I promise you, one loaf just isn’t enough.

Let me know!


Let’s do a little more laminated dough
Filed under: General
Posted by: @ 11:20 am

OK…where were we…oh yes…we have a pan of over-night fermented dough and a butter block in the refrigerator (retarder). Let’s get them out but first…let’s talk turns!

Turn…is it a bird, a place in line, or a way to fold laminated dough? Answer, all three but it’s the last one with which we are concerned here.

A single turn, and that’s what we shall use, is a tri-fold. If you roll out your dough to 18 inches by 10 inches, a single turn would have you take one end, let’s say the left side and bring 9 inches over on top of your dough. You will be left with 9 inches on the right which you fold over on top…simple. You now have three layers of dough/butter/dough.

Question…how many layers in laminated dough talk is that? Answer 7…WHAT? We have dough/butter/dough/dough/butter/dough/dough/butter/dough…that’s 9. Oh no….where dough touches dough it counts as one.

So that single turn gives us 3 (dough/butter/dough) time 3 layers = 9 minus 2 = 7

A single turn of three layers = 7 final layers.

You can do whatever you like, but in my croissant I use 3 single turns…so how many layers is that?
Turn one: 3 x 3 = 9 – 2 = 7
Turn two: 3 X 7 = 21 – 2 = 19
Turn three: 3 X 19 = 57 – 2 = 55

Three single turns equals 55 layers of dough/butter/dough
Here’s a problem: when we perform a fold, by virtue of that fold we have a crease where there is no butter…cry foul!!! We do not want dough without butter in between. I call this dead dough. It’s not the same as the pate morte in decorative bread that has no yeast…but to me it means the same…why?

What makes puff pastry puff? Steam trapped in the layer of the dough sealed by butter.

The difference between laminated dough and puff pastry is the yeast. However, we still use the butter to seal in the moisture in the dough so that when we bake, the dough “puffs”. If we don’t trim the outer edges of the roll out to expose the butter in between, we risk having, “dead dough”.

What do we do with the scraps we trimmed? If we’re baking croissant at home, once in a while, you can toss them or twist them and bake them. If we are commercial bakers doing this all time, day after day, we put that trimmed dough in the next day’s mix. My mentor Jeffrey Hamelman says, “It pays the taxes”.

OK…let’s go get that dough and butter block and get to work!

The butter block which we made pliable is nothing but. How do we work with it? We make it pliable again. Lay it flat on your work surface and tap it squarely with the rolling pin to soften it. We want it cold but pliable. Once you think you have it pliable, roll it over the edge of the table to make sure it bends without cracking. If need be, whack it some more. The butter needs to be as pliable as the dough for obvious reasons. The dough should be twice the size of the butter block.

There are a few ways to trap that butter between the dough, but for our purposes we’ll do this: strip the paper off of the butter and place in on the dough on one side. Fold the remaining half of the dough over to sandwich the butter.

We will assume for our purposes again that we do not own a sheeter, which makes this so much easier, but we are baking at home. You commercial bakers use your sheeters and leave us poor home bakers to our own devices. You home bakers be jealous in silence…we’ll do just as well!

Let’s take the fold of dough/butter/dough and roll it out to about the same size we had it when we started…about the size of a half sheet pan.

Time for that first turn…left to the two thirds point, and right to the left end.

The more precise you are with this process, the better off you will be at the end. Is your first turn perfect? Only by luck…This takes practice as does the manufacturing of the butter block.

Let’s do that again for the second turn. Roll out the dough enough to do just what you did a minute ago.

You now have two single turns completed. But what’s happening here…it’s getting warm…danger Will Robinson.

What to do? Let’s put that dough in the freezer for about 30 minutes to get rid of some of that heat. If the butter gets warm it will ooze. We don’t want that. Remember…pliable but cold!

See you in thirty!

While your dough is chilling, go back and watch the master:

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Time to make Croissant…
Filed under: General
Posted by: @ 7:40 am

Ok…here we go…please keep your hands inside the ride.

First: ingredients. It’s not so much about the ingredients as it is about the process!

My formula:
Bread flour 100% 1.00
Salt 2.5% .025
Sugar 10% .1
Yeast (Fresh) 4% .04
Butter, Pliable 10% .1
Water 28.5% .285
Milk 28.5% .285
Butter Block 58% .58

Total 2.415

This my friends is baker’s math.

The formula: Flour = total product divided by the total

Example: 1 roll @ 125 grams is the total product.
125 divided by 2.415 = 52 grams of flour

This is the number against which we apply all of our other ingredients.

Example: we want to make 12 croissant at 125 grams each 12 X 125 = 1500 grams of total product.
1500 divided by 2.415 = 621 grams of flour.

So how much salt? We said our salt is 2.5%
621 (flour) X .025 = 15.5 grams of salt.

We do this for each ingredient. Or, like I, we make an Excel spread sheet and do the work once. Then we just plug in the amount of croissant we want and let the computer do the rest!

Ingredients one by one:

Flour: When I say bread flour I mean something around 11.8% protein and certainly not more than 12%. We do not want any more than this. High gluten flour will make for a tough roll! King Arthur All purpose, Cerasota all purpose, or any equivalent, always unbleached and no bromide!

Salt: just regular table salt, sea salt, kosher salt…as long as it’s fine.

Sugar: Granulated

Yeast: Fresh Baker’s yeast. Ok…at home we’re not going to use fresh baker’s yeast because we don’t bake enough and it goes bad in about three weeks. We use instant. And the multiplier for this is 0.33 times the fresh yeast.

Example: yeast = 20 grams. Instant yeast = 20 X .33 or 6.6 grams of instant.

Remember, fresh yeast is mostly water and instant yeast is dry and more potent per gram. Although in my opinion, fresh yeast out performs instant. If you have a particularly cold kitchen, go to 0.4.

A word about instant yeast…we don’t “pre-proof”. We just toss it in with the other ingredients! There is no good reason to give the yeast warm water and sugar. That’s a meal for which it hasn’t worked. The only good reason I can see for proofing yeast is to see if it’s still good! I buy instant yeast by the pound and keep in a mason jar in the refrigerator with its own plastic spoon. It stays cool, dry and fresh for over a year. If I think it’s “iffy” I toss it and use a new batch. Or, you take teaspoon and some 100F water with some sugar and if it wakes up…go ahead and use it.

Butter: European style like Plugra. Regular butter is 80% fat and European is an average of 81%. It’s not the 1% that is the big deal, it’s the method by which they got that extra fat that makes the real difference!

Further, we want the butter pliable not warm. How do we get it that way? We beat it with a rolling pin, we do NOT let it get warm!!!!!!!!

Water: regular tap water

Milk: we can use all water at 57 %, but I find the substitution of half of that in milk makes a nicer dough. And I have used from no fat milk to whole milk with little difference. I use whole at home if I have it or 2% or skim.

Butter Block: here again, European style like Plugra…pliable not warm!

So…let’s make some croissant!

The mix: We scale all of our ingredients except that butter…we leave that in the fridge to remain COLD!!!! After we have all of our ingredients ready to go, the butter comes out, measured, and we literally beat it with a rolling pin, folding it over on itself until it is pliable.

I place the cold, wet ingredients in the mixing bowl first, then the dry and butter chopped in cubes.

We mix all on slow (Kitchen Aid number 1-2) until all ingredients are incorporated.

We mix on second speed (Kitchen Aid number 7-8) for no more than 2 minutes. The mix is done when the dough just comes together and NO more. The dough is weak, weak, weak. This is just enough to be able to roll it out and no more. If we mix the dough like we mix for bread, the croissant will be tough and misshapen because of over development of gluten.

Gluten starts as soon as flour hits water. Gluten gets stronger as we knead. Gluten gets stronger when we let the dough bulk ferment. Gluten gets even stronger when we roll it out. So we will depend on our roll outs to develop gluten!

Next step…shut that darn mixer OFF and roll out the dough. For home baking we will use a half pan for about 12 rolls at 125 grams. The butter block will be half of that. Roll out the dough to fit that pan, more or less. Don’t work the dough…just get it somewhat flat, place it in the pan, cover it with plastic and in the refrigerator it goes over night.

OK…what’s happening here? In the refrigerator, more aptly named the “retarder”, the dough will ferment slowly. This is cold, bulk fermentation. This is where flavor in the dough is developed.

Now…the butter block.

We take that butter from the fridge, scale out whatever 58% comes out to be in your formula, and beat it just like we did the détrempe (butter in the dough). This dough goes between two pieces of parchment (one piece folded) and rolled out to about half the size of the dough.

Actually, the process is, once the butter block is made (about a quarter inch thick and square) the dough is rolled out about twice that size.

Example: we will make a butter block about 10 X 10 inches and the dough rolled out 10 X 20 inches.

Take your time with the butter block to get it even and uniform. Once done, it goes in the refrigerator with the dough overnight.

OK…now it’s time to take a break and go look at this:

This is my friend Cyril Hitz going through the entire process. STOP when you get to the butter block if you like as I am going to describe what’s going on blow by blow.

Pay particular attention to the weak dough, and the butter block process.

Enough for now…questions?



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South Philly…or as we say, “Sout filly”.
Filed under: General
Posted by: @ 8:09 am

South Philly…or as we say, “Sout filly”.


My mother’s side of the family started with the import of grand pop…from Palermo, Sicily. There he was a lineman…and electrician of sorts. Coming here offered no employment for a Sicilian speaking electrician in those days…what to do???


The Pellicano family did not land at Ellis Island as I understand it; instead…straight to Philadelphia. The Italian section of the city seemed to be the place to seek out refuge. They came with the clothes on their backs, very little else, including money and the stick. The stick was that piece of fig tree limb wrapped in a moist towel that survived what was, back then, a two or three week ocean voyage. Not having a fig tree was like not having your name end in a vowel…you just weren’t Italian. They lived in a typical row home just off Ninth Street (nint shreet) on League. There grand pop bought a pound of pasta (macaroni) for a penny and sold it for two…a billionaire in the making. He also bought and sold pastries. He soon got the bright idea that he could make the pastries himself…why not?!


Why not is that he couldn’t bake, that’s ‘why not’. There were no pastry schools in Philadelphia for Salvatore Pellicano and he couldn’t afford to go even if there were. Another bright idea: he bought pastries…why not buy (hire) a pastry chef. And that’s when the ad hit the newspaper: “Wanted: Pastry Chef, Philadelphia, PA.” Now I promise you, all this is second hand knowledge as I, of course, wasn’t around yet, so you’re getting it third hand via Aunt Agnes, the oldest child, 97, still alive and still checking Gretchen’s work…and it had better be good…more on that later.


I’m not exactly sure how that ad made it to Chicago, but it did. There, living and working, was to be my future Uncle Tom (Miceli). Tom also came from Sicily but he was already a master pastry chef. As soon as I learn how to put pictures on here…I’ll dazzle you with his sugar work. Tom took whatever means of transportation he could afford and wound up in the employ of grand pop in the Pellicano Pastry Shop on Mole and Dickenson in South Philadelphia. Hiring Uncle Tom wasn’t enough…grand pop had to learn the trade too…and he did, and he became quite good.

It was on the third floor of the pastry shop that I was born…just like the actors, born in a trunk, I was born in a 60 quart, Hobart, planetary mixer…a metaphor…don’t get literal on me here.


And the story goes on from there.

Filed under: General
Posted by: @ 10:48 am

Yesterday, Chef Gretchen, my fiancée had a gig in Broomall, PA. It was an after party for a bar mitzvah.


The crowd was to be for 45 or so.


Gretchen artfully prepared a lovely chicken salad, fruit salad, a comprehensive crudité, etc.


For my part…I was the sous-chef. My job was to cut, chop, arrange and say, “what’s next chef”, “yes chef”, “no chef”…you get the picture.


My “cheffing” for the party was done at the shop. Chef said, “a bar mitzvah isn’t a bar mitzvah without challah, and a great, seeded, sandwich rye. “


Both of these breads are fairly easy. The rye has caraway seeds and is “lighter” than a real rye. It’s about 40% whole rye, fully soured the day before, and the rest high gluten flour. I use high gluten because rye doesn’t get that lovely “lift” of wheat and something around 14% protein really helps get that lazy loaf off the ground.


For this I go to King Arthur Sir Lancelot flour…not bleached, not bromated!


The sour happens the day before. I keep but two sours going at all times; wheat and rye. We’ll go into pre-ferments soon if you wish.


The rye loaves were formed into blunt batards and baked on a hearth with steam.


The challah is firm dough with the idea of braiding in mind. For this formula the hydration is a bit less and includes whole eggs and egg yolks. There is no preferment as the added sugar gives the bread taste and keeping qualities.


You have to bake at a lower than normal temperature than non-enriched doughs as the sugars will burn. Double panning for these loaves is never a bad idea. There is no steam in this process.


I like to present challah in a traditional two-strand braid. However, if you’re making challah for sandwiches or French toast, consider using loaf pans for a more consistent shape. The two strand braid ends up in a lovely loaf that is large and bulbous on one end and tapered down to about half that size on the other.


This loaf should include an egg wash; 5 parts whole egg to one part water…or about 1 tablespoon of water to a large egg.


The wash happens just after the proof and loading. Wash thoroughly, but make sure you don’t leave a puddle of egg in the seams. The water helps lower the viscosity and increase the flow. Bake at 380F until you can see a “toast” color (golden brown)  where the loaf expanded and there is no egg. This usually takes about 30 minutes.

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Do NOT overmix
Filed under: General
Posted by: @ 4:12 pm

I’m on a bulletin board on

If you go to the “laminated” dough section, or “I’m having issues with my croissant”…I’m there with help.

Well…I’m her too.

So let’s talk croissant…lesson one: do NOT overmix. Remember, gluten is formed when flour hits water and when kneeded. Over mixing laminated dough will end up in a tough, mis-shapen roll. Mix just long enough for the dough to come together to handle and STOP. Gluten development will continue in the refrigerator over-night and in the roll out process!

Questions…let’s have ‘em!

happy baking!


Bread…bread…bread! If only I had known!
Filed under: General
Posted by: @ 2:43 pm

If only I had known the affect bread had on women…I would have saved money on chocolate. Actually, men are not immune! Good bread…WHERE?!…right here.


What a title!


“Not Bread Alone” and I mean it!


You can usually find my comments regarding yeasted products on or There they ask…when…when will you have your own blog? Now…I guess.


This will be a tour of my life growing up in the pastry business in South Philadelphia, starting with my grandfather on my mother’s side of the Sicilian cliff, to his son-in-law who came to this country a master pastry chef, to my grandfather’s eldest son Michael who hated the business all his life, tried to rid himself of it, and finally…died a baker and a darn good one at that.


There is a difference between the terms “baker” and “pastry chef” as I understand it. A pastry chef is just that…the maker of pastries. The “baker” on the other hand, I think, is more specific to yeasted products…you know…BREAD…but…not bread alone.


I’ll intersperse my offerings among stories of the pastry business, tips and techniques on how to make all kinds of yeasted products from the typical baguette to brioche, to laminated doughs that turn into Danish and croissant, to challah.


If you have issues with pastries…bring them on. Anything I don’t know, my able partner does and I promise I’ll get you the answer.


This blog will allow comments and questions from all…home bakers, professional bakers, and plain old bread lovers.

So please keep your hands inside the ride as we journey from wheat berry to Brioche a tête.


Above all, this blog is about fun and baking. And a good baker is never afraid to share secrets…which, of course, make them tips and not secrets.


Take this as an introduction and I promise to try, at least, to be diligent in my postings.


Ciao and happy baking,




Filed under: General
Posted by: @ 1:11 pm