(This article appeared in the Winter 2023 issue of Pastry Arts Magazine)
Romain Dufour is a problem solver, part ‘MacGyver’, part ‘Shell Answer Man’ for the high-end baking industry, where one bite of a croissant or pain au chocolat is worth a thousand words. As R&D Master Baker at Eurogerm KB, a French- American company specializing in dough conditioners and pastry mixes, Dufour uses his extensive training and production experience – along with his innate creativity – to help clients with everything from recipe development to improving product shelf-life to equipment modification. Every day brings a new set of challenges for this ambitious young baking pro, and he eagerly confronts these challenges with the same passion that has guided his successful career for the past two decades. Here he discusses his career journey, the finer points of using dough conditioners, his best croissant-making tips and what he considers to be on the horizon for the industry.
What inspired you to pursue a baking career?
As a nine-year-old boy, I was fortunate to start playing with flour and dough in my uncle’s bakery. When I was 12 years old, I started to work for my uncle on every school holiday. I would do the crazy shifts from midnight till noon, and then 4 p.m. ‘till 7 p.m. right alongside him. He would try and have me sleep, but I would just wake up and join him. It was when I turned 15 years old that it was very clear that I wanted to be a baker.
What was a profound moment in your career early on that placed you on your current path?
My experience working at Plaza Athénée definitely shaped me as a young chef and baker. I started to learn the world of gastronomy. I would often hide in the chiller just so I could sample some of the most incredible petits gateaux in all of France. I had the opportunity to work with some of the most incredibly passionate chefs who made me understand the meaning of hard work and determination to achieve your dreams. I think that I will always remember the advice of “an organized table makes for an organized mind.” Bakers have a tendency to be messy, and to work surrounded by pastry chefs, I quickly learned the benefits of keeping my workspace clean and incredibly organized.
How about a mistake you learned from early on?
Everyone who has worked with me in the past knows that I have one saying that I will always stand by, which is “Learn from your mistakes. If you want to grow, you need to fail.” In 2011, I became head baker of Intercontinental Hotel in Dubai, and I was only 21 years old. I had a team of five bakers, and I thought that to be a chef, you needed to be rude to be respected. I was the arrogant French chef stereotype. And it was of course the wrong approach to leading my team, and I quickly realized that I had zero respect from my team. I have since then changed my leadership style.
What made you decide to focus on bread and viennoiserie?
Early on, I was attracted to the science and chemistry that makes bread and viennoiserie much more difficult than patisserie. And while I have always been a lover of beautiful petits gateaux to taste and experience, the art of making cake involves dealing with much more mess. Your hands always have something on them, your apron or chef jacket is never white. For me, my hands feel better in dough.
As Master Baker in R&D at Eurogerm, you chose an atypical career path for a baker. What does your job entail, and what’s a typical day like for you?
The beauty of my job is that there really isn’t a “typical” day, so to speak. I think that is why I love it, because there are no two days that are the same. As a R&D master baker, I develop and work on recipes and processes for our customers. Sometimes that is creating new recipes or helping to make their existing recipes work better for their production and overall quality. My work in the Eurogerm Lab is focused on laminated products, bread, donuts, brioche, muffins, and even tortilla. Another big part of my job is traveling to the customer and making sure the recipe is working in their own kitchen or lab. I feel very privileged to travel inside the U.S., as well as Canada, and the Caribbean. To be able to see the finished product reach the public after months, or sometimes even years, of being a part of the developing team, is unbelievably satisfying. I am thankful for my job, which allows me the opportunity to be creative, make incredible product, and continue to learn in my field.
What are some of the products and services that your company offers?
Eurogerm is offering:
- Formulation improvement (cost saving, from chemical to clean label, etc.).
- Troubleshooting solutions, where we travel to the customer.
- Being innovative is one of the main drivers of Eurogerm. We are offering constantly to our customers new product ideas for retail and food service.
- Classes in collaboration with Retail Bakers of America where we make some laminated products and artisan bread.
In dealings with your clients, what are some of the most common production or efficiency problems you see?
Most of the time, when I visit a customer, I see problems at the mixing stage. A dough could be over hydrated because the customer wants to save some money, or a dough under hydrated to avoid stickiness.
The mixing is underrated – if you don’t control the dough at the mixer, you can’t have a good bread or croissant.\
Dough conditioners can be very beneficial, but I believe it is very important for the customer to be able to understand the ingredient list of their bread item they are buying at the supermarket every week.
What are some of the differences among dough conditioners, and what are the benefits of using a good one? Also, what is the right situation in which to use a bread or pastry mix?
First and foremost, dough conditioners are meant to help you achieve the result you are looking for in your product. It could range from softness, a good chew, shelf life, freezer to oven, and the list goes on. I think the question of “why do I need this dough conditioner?”, should be asked much more often.
Dough conditioners can be very beneficial, but I believe it is very important for the customer to be able to understand the ingredient list of their bread item they are buying at the supermarket every week. And that means that clean label dough conditioners need to be used more often to ensure not only better quality for the consumer but typically a better-quality product overall. Oftentimes, you look at the ingredient list of your bread and you might read DATEM (Diacetyl Tartaric Acid Ester of Mono and Diglycerides) which is an emulsifier, or SSL (Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate) is also an emulsifier. You could also read, L-Cysteine which is used as a reducing agent. It might seem self-explanatory, but if you cannot pronounce it, or it is way too long and complicated, then it might be best to try and move away from using that conditioner in your product, if possible.
What are your top tips for making perfect croissants and Danish? Is it possible to make a decent vegan croissant? What about gluten-free?
In order to make great croissants or Danish, you need two very important ingredients, flour and butter. I like to work with flour that is around 12% protein. I steer away from high-gluten flour, which can bring a nice volume, but I find always increases the “chewiness” of the croissant. I love using a French butter for the lovely flavor and also the plasticity. I will always highly recommend Isigny Saint Mere butter that can be found here in the US. If I cannot use French butter, I like Plugra butter. When it comes down to the layering you would like to incorporate for your croissant’s lamination, it is important to consider how much volume you are looking for and how that will relate to overall pleasure of biting into the croissant. For me, there isn’t a perfect croissant. Some people or bakeries prefer a flakier croissant, where others will prefer a sweeter and less flaky one. As a baker, it is important to be able to make adjustments to suit the request. A layering system to create 12 layers, 16 layers, or even 27 layers of butter will obviously offer varying results from volume to chew.
Vegan baking is coming up more and more in the bakery world. Unfortunately, I have not been so overwhelmed by the taste and flavors of the vegan croissant as of yet. However, I think that we will soon be amazed by vegan croissants in the near future with the offerings for vegan butter solutions getting better and better. Gluten-free croissants is a whole other story, and as of right now, I have not seen or tasted a decent gluten-free croissant. Although if it can be made possible, I am all for it!
I steer away from high gluten flour, which can bring a nice volume, but I find always increases the ‘chewiness’ of the croissant.
Are you surprised by the recent popularity in the U.S. of sourdough bread and enriched doughs like brioche?
I am not surprised at all. Who doesn’t like a good brioche or a sourdough? I would say the only thing that makes me a little bit sad is the lack of rules sometimes. We can find the most amazing brioche out there, as we can find a brioche without eggs and butter. I have even come across sourdough bread made without sourdough! Perhaps with the surge in popularity, we can try as a group of bakers and bakery enthusiasts to seek out the quality brioche and sourdough.
Another item that has become very popular is the bi-color or tri-color croissant. Do you have any tips on how to get the best color retention and contrast between the doughs?
To make a beautiful double color croissant, then you need to make sure to not fold the colored dough with the butter. This means that you fold your dough with the butter and just before to do your final sheeting to shape your product, you will apply the colored dough.
After the croissant comes out of the oven, then I would recommend applying a sugar syrup on top of the product and the color is going to remain super bright. Sometimes to avoid using a syrup, I like to use some oil to avoid any stickiness on top of the croissant. The oil won’t give you shine for a long time, but then it turns out to be a matte color and it is still pretty cool.
The mixing is under rated, if you don’t control the dough at the mixer, you can’t have a good bread or croissant.
What do you see on the horizon for the baking and pastry industry? Where do you think we are heading from your vantage point?
I think the pastry industry is going back to the roots. We seem to be seeing less fancy shapes, colors and flavors. We can see the pastry world is becoming purer compared to five or 10 years ago. The aim is a product that is tastier with great texture.
I believe the bakery world is heading in this direction as well, with the usage of sourdough, of ancient flours, and reviving older recipes. I think this resurgence of the traditional also shows off to the world that simplicity is the hardest technique.