First bread class
On Saturday from 9:30 to 4, I enjoyed my first of five artisanal bread classes. I enrolled in the class at the last minute, and I spent the last few days getting my uniform and paperwork together. I have no baking experience to speak of except a mini class I took a few months ago and a year spent baking bagels at Einstein Bros. in the mid-nineties.
Bread bakers have a reputation for being the most generous and friendly of all culinary artisans. They pretend that bread is simple, but every step of the way you can see that it’s not. It’s true that a baguette has just four ingredients, but it can take a lifetime to master mixing them correctly in the right proportions. It’s equally scientific and artistic, and it’s physically demanding.
Our teacher swears by these crazy old scales, which she says are indestructible. One of our most important and complicated lessons yesterday was learning how to use these beasts, with their counterweights and hoppers, to measure our ingredients. At home, though, she recommends a digital scale, since the quantities will usually be too small for one of these to be useful.
A few of the breads we made yesterday used the giant, $10,000 mixer, which can give you Six-Feet-Under-style nightmares if you think about your arm getting involved with the hook. But we also hand-mixed a few baguettes so that we could see the difference and truly taste the fruits of our labor. Hand-mixing, though messier, is much more satisfying. Half way through the process, when I could feel the gluten developing but I was making a mess, I asked why my dough was crumbly and stringy. She replied that it wasn’t a dough yet, and that I should keep working it. Sure enough, it eventually became homogenous and smooth, and I turned it into three delicious baguettes. Here is one along with a boule of pain bordelais:
There was a lot of information to take in yesterday, and these are some of the most interesting and useful tidbits:
- You shouldn’t eat bread that’s still hot from the oven. It is full of CO2 and can give you a stomach ache. It’s better to let it cool and then rewarm it.
- There is no quality or flavor difference between fresh and dry and active dry yeast. Dry yeast is three times as strong as fresh, and active dry is twice as strong as fresh (and must be dissolved in water before using).
- Lean bread should be stored in a paper bag or a towel rather than in plastic, which would soften it and then harden it. Enriched bread can be stored in plastic and refrigerated. All bread freezes well for about a month.
- Morton kosher salt takes forever to dissolve, and it’s no good for bread.
I look forward to my next four classes! Mommy: I will have an armload of bread for us to enjoy when you arrive next weekend.