Friday, November 13, 2015

Artisan Bread Baking Class

As I drive to Vermont on Monday morning, all sorts of worries plague my brain. I'll be late, the class will be cancelled and they didn't tell me, the class will be too advanced for me. As is usually the case with my obsessive worries, none of these concerns prove to be true. I walk in to the King Arthur Flour Educational Center, and meet our teacher. Everyone is very welcoming. The class members have a wide variety of baking experience but we all have one thing in common. We love to bake bread and we want to learn how to do it better! 

It doesn’t take long for the class to get down to business. We practice weighing our ingredients. We learn a bunch of techniques for handling doughs of different consistencies. We make an onion tart, and breadsticks, and get the preferments ready for the breads we will be baking the following day.

It's a beautiful day in Vermont but the leaves haven't changed much yet. Norwich is a sleepy little town. Right across the Connecticut River is the bustling college town of Hanover, where Dartmouth is located. I go to the grocery store there to get wine, water, and goat cheese for my breadsticks. 

I'm staying at the Norwich Inn, an OLD hotel, built in the late 1790’s. I have a cozy room on the top floor. There is no elevator but I don't mind. Later I go sit at the bar and have a salad and some sangria. They have their own brewery and I wish I liked beer more but I just don't so I give it a pass.

In the morning I go for a short run about town. My run is only 30 minutes because it's the week before my next half marathon. Norwalk is very very quaint. At the end I run into some people on a bike tour and get their information. We're thinking about doing a bike tour in Italy next year and we're researching our options.

This is a busy day in baking class. We are making so many different kinds of bread at once it's a little confusing. We take our preferments from the previous day and turn them into the dough for ciabatta, brioche, baguettes, and roasted potato bread. Each bread calls for a somewhat different technique of kneading, proofing and forming into loaves. 

The ciabatta is a loose sloppy dough, slightly sticky, but we learn how to get it on the peel and then into the oven without wrecking it. The brioche is more stiff, we learn how to form little rolls that are squeezed together in a loaf pan to rise. We learn how to form baguettes, and hurray! How to put bread into a banneton and get it back out without it sticking! I've tried it at home before and just made a mess but now I know what to do.

We learn more about baker percentages and how to use them to change the amounts of a recipe successfully. We are even learning how to create our own bread recipes, although at this point it's hard to imagine I’d ever want to do that!

We start working with sourdough starters late in the afternoon and will do more with them tomorrow.

Wednesday is sourdough day. We finish the bagels from the day before and make our sourdough loaves. Two of the loaves we bake on Wednesday, two are retarded in the fridge to be baked the following day. We'll compare the flavor and texture of both loaves.

We also start our rye flour loaves and create our own bread recipe using the bakers percentages and other things we have learned in class.

I discover how and why we slash the tops of our loaves. It's to help them rise, and if they aren't over proofed it won't make them fall. I also learn how to form a boule, or round loaf; how to get it to stand up properly and roundly on its own. 

The rye loaves we start for tomorrow are very sticky; I’m curious to see how they perform. The sourdough bagels are good, but I think I like my bagel recipe better.

I like knowing how to use bakers percentages to scale a recipe up or down, usually down for me, so I can make one loaf instead of two. But making up my own recipe? Not convinced yet that this is something I would ever do, although I could see me trying to use those techniques to take a volume based recipe and convert it to weights. We'll see.

All day during class it simply pours down rain. By the end of the day the rain has stopped, so I take my camera and wander around Norwich taking pictures of the leaves and such in the fading light. Then I go to the Inn's bar one more time for dinner and drinks and end up talking to the town planner and the owner of the inn. I drink a too much and have fun. It is a little out of character for me, but when you’re on your own in a little Vermont town you might as well get out of your comfort zone!

This baking class exceeded my expectations. It was really fun, I learned a lot, and I’ve increased my bread baking confidence. I’d love to take another class there someday. They offer all sorts of classes, I could take my pick!

If you think you might be interested in one of their classes go to their website. You won't be disappointed!


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