Reflection for the three weeks’ learning of fermentation

My exploring for fermentation in VCC program is ending, but my learning of fermentation will continue for a long time. No one can be a good artisan bread baker in three weeks. To be honest, I don’t think I did very well in these three weeks. To be frank, with so many mistakes I have made,  I almost lost my confidence on the last day of this course. That’s the bad news. However, the good news is I have learned a lot from my failures. Let me talk about the failures which I have got during these three weeks first.

First of all, bakers must remember what kind of doughs they are handling at all times. Lean dough and rich dough need different treats. I’d like use a chart to show how different between them.


It’s not easy to remember the every detail. I have made same mistakes again and again. For example, when I was making Rye bread (no sour), I forgot to score four cuts for each bread. Do you think they are Rye breads?


I steamed the Rye breads, but I forgot to open the bumper ten minutes later. That’s why these breads were little soft with the right color outside. I had to put them back to the oven for a few minutes. Dry them a little bit.

The best way to make bread is to be familiar with recipes of these products. For beginners as us, we should check our recipe books as often as possible, don’t assume to anything. It happened often that I saw French bread in one oven with 190℃. And someone put the Gugelhopf in the same oven which some Rye bread already were in. They were not supposed to be put in the same oven. But some classmates only thought about the space and didn’t think about their bread’s special needs.

The second problem for me is that I misunderstood how to use the recipes. They are just guidelines. We have to adjust any factors when we are making baking products. My experience of making Cheese bread can prove this idea. The recipe says bake products at 205℃ for 45 minutes. I set the time cautiously for 40 minutes. I thought the five minutes shorter could let me have enough time to check if the goods were done or not. But I was wrong. When the time was over, it was too late to take these cheese breads out. They were already burned.


The Cheese bread on the bottom of the rack meet standards. Mine were darker. I was so sad and didn’t take pictures of them.

Even though the oven temperature was right according to the recipe, but the five minutes shorter couldn’t save my breads. My instructor said the safe way to bake items is to cut the baking time longer. If the recipe calls for 45 minutes, we’d better set 35 minutes. In that case, we will have much leeway. If those goods are under baked, we can continue to bake them. But for over baked goods, we can do nothing to save them.

The same tragedy happened to my Stollen. The recipe says double panned at 190℃ for 40 minutes. I reduced the baking time. I set 30 minutes for those items. And I put them in the rack oven instead of deck oven. Before I took the breads out, raisins in the surface were too dark. I’ve been thinking about this problem for a while. I am still confused why I failed. If I have a chance to do it again, I will bake Stollen in deck oven at 180℃ instead of 190℃.


The raisin in the outside was  bitter, and inside of the bread was under baked. We couldn’t sell the Stollen. Next week, we will try to use the bread to make Bread pudding.

The next, I want to talk about yeasts. They are alive, so they don’t act like common chemical substance. Many factors can affect their function. For instance, the dough’s temperature, the amount of yeasts, the bulk fermentation time, the proof time, even the folding style can make a difference for these yeast doughs. I have made French bread twice. The first time, I prepared the dough for next Tuesday, but I made it on Friday, and put the dough in the fridge. Before we left our kitchen lab, my instructor suggested me to remove the dough into the freezer. I did that. On the next Monday, I took out the dough and put it in the fridge. Many classmates warned me that it was wrong to make the lean dough ahead. At that time, I doubted my decision and regretted to mix the dough so early. However, the result exceeded expectations.


These are my French bread. My instructor gave these breads highly praise. I was so proud of them.

However, it was too early to happy about that. As our instructor said just one or two times’ success doesn’t mean that you master the skills or you already know how to make the  bread. It only proves that you are lucky. That’s all. My following experience explained this idea clearly.

I was overconfident to make French bread again on Thursday. I took it for granted that I could mix the dough on Thursday and made the breads on Friday. The only different way was I didn’t put the dough in the freezer. I put it in the fridge. The ingredients were totally same comparing to the first time. I also reduced the amount of yeasts. I found something wrong after I checked the molded breads which were in the proofer. They were supposed to be bigger after the certain time of proofing, but they were not. They just spread out. At last, I had no choice, and I put them in the oven. Unfortunately, this time I wasn’t as lucky as last time.


Till now, I am not sure where I was wrong. There are some factors I have to count. Like the fermentation time. For first time, the fermentation time is longer than the next one. And the dough was resting on the bench for a while after I took it out from the fridge. For the second time, I didn’t give the dough same fermentation time. Maybe this was the key point that I failed. It’s hard to say accurately that where I can fix the problem. I have to try more times.

Once, I asked the instructor why it’s so hard to do successful on making yeast breads, and why it’s easy to make quick bread or cookies. He said the reason is yeast. For baking soda or baking powder, they are not alive. The leavening action is from the chemical reaction. On the contrary, the yeasts are alive. They are sensitive for the environment. That’s why it’s not easy to control their behaviors. One interesting thing he mentioned was that long ago students in VCC learned how to make yeast bread first then learned how to make quick breads and cookies. It was crazy, right. Even though I have learned in this program for six month, I still feel not very confident to make artisan bread. I don’t know what my bread will look like next time. I am not sure everything will go well.

OK, I have talked too much about my failures. I won’t let them beat me down. I will seek more chance to learn more. Besides, there is another important thing I want to discuss. It is the teamwork. Each week, we would work with different classmates. We know our instructor arrange this issue on purpose. They hope that we can cooperate with all kinds of people. If we just work with our own friends, we can’t learn how to compromise. I have to admit that there are some classmates I don’t like to work with. It’s hard to communicate with them or reach consensus. I know that I can’t choose my co-workers when I work. So it’s very essential to get along with my colleagues. Generally, I didn’t face big troubles with my teammates. If I have to say, I will say in the second week, there were some misunderstanding between me and other team mate. I thought I already clarified my opinion, but she misunderstood. The consequence was both us made the same type doughs. So, in the future, I will double check to make sure there aren’t any misinterpretations in our working group.

The last week, I worked happily with my team members. There were four members in our group. I learned some skills from the other teammates. One of them worked very efficiently. Maybe she equals triple of me. Sometimes, I focus on details which aren’t important. Or, maybe I need more time to practice how to use my two hands to mold the doughs. Sometimes I was cheating to use two hands to round dough instead of two doughs. Our instructors always ask us to do things use two hands. One instructor made a joke about that. He said the boss would pay half wages for those guys who only use one hand to work. Another team mate is good at making fancy buns. Those strands turned into very beautiful buns in her hands easily. I should watch and learn more from her. I am not a handy guy, but I can improve my skills through learning or copying.


My bagels look like buns. Those bagels have normal circle are from my teammate.

Meanwhile, I want to say good communication and cooperation are very useful for our work. For example, there weren’t enough certain size mixers in our kitchen lab. If one of my teammates uses 12 quart mixer to mix French dough and I am going to make 10 loaves of Baguette, I can use the same mixer after she finishes. In this case, she can save time to wash the mixer, and I can save time to look for the suitable mixer. Another good example is about when we were making the Stollen. Because it took long time to proof Stollen dough, we had to save more time on mixing or molding time. So one of us made the sponge before the day in which we were going to make this item. At the beginning of the class, three of us delegated the task (one teammate was absent at that day). One was scaling the filling and molded them into the desired shape. Another was creaming the butter, sugar and eggs. The last one scaled the left ingredients. We completed our Stollen in time.

Lastly, what I want to talk about is some my successes. I said I had made a lot of mistakes, but I still did some things very well. I was so proud of my Cheese & Onion buns.


Their color was very attractive and their taste was good.

One classmate told me it was the best Cheese & Onion bun he ate. Anyway, it was my first time to make such item. Maybe I was just lucky. If next time I get the same results, I will believe I can handle this product successfully.

There is no doubt that I have gained some knowledge of baking during these three weeks. And I really enjoyed the experience. Our instructors are humorous. Even though someone said workers could work fast when they felt pressures, I still think I can learn more in a relaxed atmosphere. I hope I will have the same feeling in the future’s learning.

Baking happily is what I want!


(photocopied from

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2 Responses to Reflection for the three weeks’ learning of fermentation

  1. Lisa
    Outstanding reflection. Great pictures. But more importantly you answered my suggested ideas about dough types, teamwork and successes/difficulties. You showed that you thought deeply about your experiences. Your challenges were met with realistic expectations of learning from them. Your greatest success was that you learned a lot, even from “failures”. Great teamwork, organization and work ethic.


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