baker's problem, chef's solution

Sundays are my bread baking day. Well–the bread making begins the night before, on Saturday evening, but Sunday is when I put the bread in the oven. This is my one day off, and you might think baking bread is too much like work, but I have it down to a system. Let the dough rise during a leisurely breakfast. The oven is already hot from crisping the breakfast bacon, so crank up the heat and it’s ready for bread.

The bread has gotten better with each week. With the advice of some friends who are expert bakers, I developed my sourdough starter and learned how to “read” it and make good dough from it. Lately I have been working with a very wet dough that gives me a great finished loaf: even distribution of bubbles, elastic but tender texture, and a crisp, chewy crust. But then I ran into an unexpected problem.

I have been making baguettes in my nice USA Pans baguette pan. Like all USA Pans, it’s coated in silicone to be nonstick, but it’s perforated to help you get a good crust. When I lay the raw dough on the pan, it is so wet that it seeps through the perforated surface and keeps on expanding out the bottom of these holes as it bakes. Imagine the bottom of this pan with a 5 o’clock shadow made of bread whiskers. The only way to remove the bread from the pan was to scrape off the bread beard, leaving a hundred little bread dots everywhere. It had become a sort of little tradition for my girls to ask me about all the little bumps on the bottom of the bread, which is cute. But cute or not, I was sick of the “whiskers.” I tried a number of approaches, including over-spraying the pan with cooking spray, but didn’t find a good solution.

Finally, I thought of my training behind the line. What would I do to prevent food from sticking to a sauté pan? I would heat up the pan for a fast sear. So last weekend I tried it: I heated up the pan in the oven before putting the dough on it. And it worked like a charm. No little bread dots, no sticking, no problem. And the girls didn’t seem to miss the whiskers when they were eating a hundred pieces of bread… I wish I had thought of this sooner.

I wonder if commercial bakeries handle this problem the same way, or whether they encounter this problem at all. I’ll probably find out one day, but in the meantime I’ll try to use my experiences behind the line to help me become a better baker.

Happy baking, and buen provecho!

bread dough for baguette loaf doesn't stick to pre-heated pan
This is one of the baguettes that I made in the pre-heated pan. The bread was not stuck to the pan at all–you can see the surface is perfectly clean. It’s too bad I don’ t have a photo that shows the bread “whiskers”–especially now that they are HISTORY!
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