Begin With Everything In Its Place

Begin With Everything In Its Place

Focaccia with mise en place.

A well-planned recipe and bake yields results like this beautiful Stuffed Croque Monsieur Focaccia

For Labor Day, I planned to write about my experience with a stuffed Croque Monsieur focaccia, but instead, I got a lesson on mise en place Oh I did bake a focaccia today, but I assure you it did not look anything like this one:

Mise en place ​[mi zɑ̃ ˈplas] is a cooking theorem that if I had followed, I might have shown you a proud picture of my focaccia. The reason mine did not look great, was simple I was neither focused nor organized.

I must have checked my Kindle in another room three times for the recipe, when what I should have done is taken this advice from Peter Reinhart:

“In the context of bread, it means to weigh or measure the ingredients (bakers call this scaling), read the instructions, and get organized both externally and internally. I consider it the single most important of the stages [of bread making] because without organization and correct scaling, the chances of success are greatly reduced.[1]

His first point is to get “everything in its place” before you bake, which would have saved me from my mistakes. He says the term “‘mise en place‘ may be the most often used term in any culinary school. It means ‘everything in its place,’ and it is the first stage not only of bread baking but of all cooking…”[2]

The French phrase mise en place is used most often in the culinary arena. Literally it means setting up for the recipe but includes the concept of putting “everything in its place” before baking or cooking and thinking the whole thing through.

While it is most often used in professional kitchens referring to arranging the ingredients that chefs would need for menu during their shift, mise en place has a role in home baking. At least for me, it does.

For example, today, with fingers deep into dough, dimpling a focaccia for our outdoor birthday gathering at 1 PM, I realized I had not painted the dough with Dijon mustard. 

Yet if you look at Emilie Raffa’s recipe from Artisan Sourdough Made Simple to the right, it is certainly listed. Then there was the whole thing of needing to pull open kitchen drawers for tools with hands covered in wet sourdough. What a mess I had when I was done. 

“If you don’t clean as you go it is a mess!” says Wylie Dufresne, an award-winning chef/owner in NYC. “And that’s another thing you people at home could do: Because isn’t the worst thing at the end of a successful dinner party doing a whole bunch of dishes? Wouldn’t you rather break them all and buy new ones? It actually saves time if you clean as you go. It makes life so much easier.”

So the whole idea of mise en place might be more than having your ingredients out and ready, your tools at hand and organized, it may be a mindset that controls every minute of time in the kitchen to put a complete meal served right, and on time.

For me, today, I had taken too much on. I was baking bâtards, this week’s country loaf, I had pulled pork in one crockpot and baked beans in another, and a variety of salads on the menu and in various stages of getting made.

Somewhere in that mess, sat the Dijon mustard I  purchased; it was somewhere on the counter. So who could blame me for the mistake?

If I had just set out a basting brush, that might have triggered my memory of what was missing. So in all, my mise en place was much more like a mess all over the place.

Luckily I had made a checklist to stay organized and had listed the importance of each menu item.  The beans were baking, the pulled pork was already pulled and resting warmly in BBQ sauce, the corn was shucked and in the water ready to go on the stove, the potatoes were sliced as were the eggs for the potato salad, the cucumbers and tomatoes were sliced for the sourcream and vinegar salad. All that going on and bâtards baking in the oven, finally baked I turned off the oven to allow them to cool slowly.

Then an hour later the focaccia was ready to bake, so I turned the oven to 500°F (260°C). Minutes later I smelled burnt bread. Yep, I had left those bâtards  in the oven while it was preheating for the next loaf of bread.

The whole thing was near disaster, but somehow it all worked out. No thanks to my preparation; it was a kitchen in chaos and this was the sad looking result (below).

Oh to mise en place now and always!

Stuffed Croque Monsieur Focaccia

Emilie Raffa, asks: “Have you ever tried a Croque Monsieur?” I have and I love to make and eat the rich, luscious toasted ham and cheese sandwich. 

So when I came across this recipe in her book, Artisan Sourdough Made SimpleI was game to try my hand at the recipe. She promised this:

“It’s a crisp, buttery, fried ham and cheese sandwich popular in French bistros. Here, thin slices of ham and Swiss are layered between focaccia dough for the ultimate stuffed sourdough sandwich. The surface is painted with piquant Dijon mustard and dolloped generously with creamy ricotta to finish. Serve warm, and invite everyone you know to gather round for a thick-cut wedge straight from the oven. This, my friends, is sourdough heaven.”[3]

She advises, “the trick to making stuffed focaccia is all in the sandwich-style shaping. For best results, as you layer the dough, make sure to stretch and dimple as evenly as you can. This will avoid any large, cavernous air pockets and promote even cooking throughout the dough.”

I really worked hard on this step, but I guess the pan was too small leaving the dough too thick. Perhaps you will have better luck with this:

Stuffed Croque Monsier Focaccia Recipe

Focaccia ingredients for mise en place

Click on image to enlarge

To make the dough, begin the evening before by whisking the starter, water, and honey together in a large bowl.  To this add both flours and the salt.

Mix to combine making sure all the flour has been incorporated with the water. You may do this by hand to form a rough, shaggy dough or in a mixer. And as always be sure to replenish your starter with fresh flour and water, then store it in the fridge or place it back on your counter.

For the Bulk Rise, cover the bowl and set it aside to rise overnight. (Somewhere in the house where it stays near 70°F [21°C],  for about 12 to 18 hours.) “The dough is ready,” Raffa says, “when it has doubled or tripled in size.”

In the morning, Divide the Dough, on a lightly floured work surface, cutting it into two equal parts with a bench scraper or wet knife.

Then coat a rimmed baking sheet with 30 grams (2 Tbsp) of olive oil. Pour the remaining 15 grams (1 Tbsp) onto another sheet pan. Place one piece of dough each.

Cover them with a damp towel or plastic wrap for a Second Rise. Let the dough rest for about 1 to 2 hours until it has gotten puffy.

Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C) for higher altitudes increase heat by 25°F (4°C).

Assemble the Focaccia by gently stretching the dough into a large rectangular shape on one baking sheet. Shape it to about 14 × 9 inches (36 × 23 cm) or larger. Using 4 slices of Swiss and 4 slices of ham evenly layer them on top.

“Lift and stretch the remaining piece of dough and place it over the toppings to create a sandwich. Stretch and dimple the surface, docking the sides with your fingertips to seal the dough and to evenly distribute the weight.”

“Brush the dough generously with Dijon mustard. Tear the remaining slices of Swiss and ham and arrange over the top. Dimple the toppings into the dough so they do not pop out when baked. Dollop with the ricotta cheese.

Bake the focaccia for 30 to 40 minutes, or until deep golden brown. The cheese will bubble, the ham will get slightly crisp, and the ricotta will become warm and creamy. It will smell amazing. Cut into wedges or squares. Serve warm. This focaccia will last up to 2 days, wrapped in foil at room temperature. Reheat to serve or enjoy at room temperature.”[4]

In most kitchens, the phrase mise en place may be used as a noun, describing setting up an array of ingredients, or as a verb explaining the process of preparing for baking, and also a state of mind, as Dan Charnas describes in his Work Clean.[5]

Put Your Tools in Place

These are the basic tools for bread making I have used, but not always. (Counterclockwise from left working toward the center): stand mixer with hook and paddle attachments, oven mitt, cast-iron cookware, silicone spatulas, mixing bowls, dough whisk and strong mixing spoon, lame (scoring blade), instant-read food thermometer (dial or digital),  metal pastry bench blade, plastic bowl scraper, and digital electronic scale.

However, all you really need is a good mixing bowl, a plastic bowl scraper, and a pair of hands to mix bread. And by no means am I recommending that you buy or use any or all of these tools. Still, if you like using them, get the tools of the trade just make sure they are ready and in their place and for quick use.

Assemble the Ingredients

Unless your bread is going to be enriched with butter, milk, and eggs, this list will be simple. Flour, water, salt, and an active start.

But whatever the ingredients you will be using, get them out onto your work area, mise en place.  I cannot tell you how many times after an autolyse is complete and I have added the sourdough starter, I have forgotten the salt.

These days I get everything I will be using out on the counter. All the flour pre-measured in one container, all the water measured and ready in another, and the salt, not in a salt shaker, but measured and ready.

This one simple lesson, everything in its place has made me a more successful baker. Now the challenge is for me to really know a recipe before I begin—dough on my phone or iPad is just not acceptable anymore. It is time to get my mind mise en place.

How about you? How are you going to keep things in their place when you are making bread? Tell us in the comment section below.

Peter Reinhart. Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads. Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale.
Emilie Raffa, Artisan Sourdough Made Simple. Page Street Publishing.
5  Dan Charnas, Work Clean: The life-changing power of mise-en-place to organize your life, work, and mind. Rodale, 2016

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