Externally we observe there is a loss of bread shape but only at the sides of the product. Internally we may see the formation of dark-coloured, dense seams, often referred to as cores. The centre crumb may be more open than we normally expect for the product concerned.

Why has this happened? Clearly we have no problems with gas production since there is no evidence for slow proving and the bread had good volume. We have clearly retained the carbon dioxide gas produced, otherwise the bread would have low volume as described above. In this case the excessive centre crumb expansion leads us to the view that in fact the gas retention is excessive.

Thus, the primary cause of the problem is excessive gas retention arising from a number of potential individual causes or combinations. The contributing factors may include:

improver level too high;

• incorrect improver;

• combination of improver and flour too strong for process;

• enzymic activity too high;

• energy input during mixing too high;

• mixing time too long.

From the foregoing examples we can see that observation and reasoning are key elements in problem solving. The former can be readily systematised while the latter will rely heavily on the availability of suitable information to use as the basis for comparisons. The potential sources of such information are discussed below.

It is interesting to consider the process by which one might set about identifying the particular cause of a problem, such as the keyholing (excessive gas retention) of bread discussed above. The most likely mental process is one associated with probability achieved by matching the pattern of observations with ones previously experienced and remembered. When we recognise a general similarity between observation and stored image we are likely to explore in more detail the factors most likely to contribute to the pattern we observe.

One potential analogy for how we problem solve is that of a tree. The main line of observation is via the central trunk with the potential to explore branches at many points. In the case of our bread problem if we fail to identify the cause of the problem from our first consideration then we will close down that line of reasoning, go back to the main theme (the trunk) and then set off on another branch of investigation. Our route through the branches of our reasoning tree is complex and occasionally we may jump from branch to branch rather than going back to the trunk before continuing our investigation.

The length of time that we take to identify the cause and the corrective actions needed varies considerably from occasion to occasion and from individual to individual, and is more likely to be related to our accumulated knowledge and experiences rather than logical reasoning. Our abilities to recognise and match subtle patterns are probably so intuitive that we are seldom aware of them.

Continue reading here: The record

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