The moment I walked into Bon Vivant’s Smart Bread Baking (which I have renamed Bread Baking 201), I was put to work. Apron on, recipe in hand, ingredients, KitchenAid mixer, and go! I was paired up with a perfect stranger – everything started so fast, I’m not sure I ever caught her name. We bonded over the wheat berry bread, contemplating whether or not we mixed enough flour into the dough. The instructor was scurrying about the kitchen, shoving recipes and ingredients in other students’ hands, so we just took a guess with the flour and rolled with it.
In the hustle and bustle around me, there were five different kinds of bread taking shape: Wheat Berry Bread, Brioche, Stuffed Bread, Italian Bread from the Puglia Region with a Starter, and Boule, a five-minute, no knead bread. We all took turns preparing different stages of each recipe, whether it was mixing, kneading, shaping, sliding into the oven, or eating the creations of our combined efforts.
Brioche is beautiful bread, yellow from the eggs in the recipe, with the texture of cake. After my partner in bread crime and I finished up the Wheat Berry Bread, the whole lot of students was given a lesson in brioche pans and shaping. Small ball of dough in hand, pick up the sides and bring together in the middle; repeat round and round the dough until a smooth round bottom is formed. Pick up another small piece of dough and form a pear shape using the same technique, then roll one end so it looks like a small light bulb. Cut a “+” in the larger piece of dough, peel back the corners, and plop the small end of the light bulb into the hole. Voila! Perfectly shaped brioche!
We also experimented with kneading cubed ham and Swiss Emmentaler cheese into the dough, creating the perfect breakfast bread. Yum!
The only involvement I had with the stuffed bread was getting to taste after it was cooled. I caught a few peeks while it was being made – eyeing a fellow student as she rolled out the dough into two large flat round discs. The host’s young daughter and up and coming chef mixed the filling with her dad and the instructor directed another student to spread it across one of the discs of dough. The second disc was layered on top and the two pieces were pinched together. They cut heart shapes out of extra dough and placed on top of the stuffed bread for a delicate decoration.
The bread I was most looking forward to was the Italian recipe. After conducting baguette tests in my own kitchen, with mediocre results, I was looking forward to a formula that was easier to tackle. The instructor made the starter and different stages of dough prior to class. Prior to looking at the ingredient list, the first task we performed was shaping the pre-made dough into loaves. Some were placed on pieces of parchment paper, others in beautiful bread-rising baskets.
All were covered with kitchen towels and scattered wherever there was table and/or chair space throughout the house. Towards the end of our three-hour class, when the dough had risen for the proper amount of time, it was ready for baking. We each took turns scoring the bread and sliding it onto a baking stone that was pre-heated inside the oven. The finished product was molto buon!
Conduct a Google search for “artisan bread” and you will quickly find the last and final recipe of Bread Baking 201, Boule, or artisan bread in five minutes a day. The five-minute bread recipe was created as a mix it and forget it method. The very wet and sticky dough sits in your refrigerator for up to a week. Take what you need from the bowl, ship-shape it up, and bake fresh bread every single day. How easy is that? The longer the dough sits, the more the flavor develops, so your Sunday bread will taste flat compared to your Thursday bread. I tried bread baked from dough two days apart – everything got a little mixed up in the kitchen, so I wasn’t sure which bread was from which day, but I could definitely taste the difference.
At approximately 9:59 pm, one student piped up and said she had to run. The instructor and her assistants threw finished baguettes and bags of dough into her arms. Student after student followed, picking up dough and fresh bread. I was not about to leave, there was still bread baking in the oven that I had yet to try. I was the first person to arrive and now I was the last person to exit the makeshift classroom. No worries, because I feel like I got the full extent of bread baking from the first mix to the last bite of baked bread. The icing on the cake was that I got to take home extra dough to bake. I quickly called my husband and instructed him to place the baking stone in the oven and heat it to 450°. I finally arrive home, dough in tow at 11:00pm, exhausted, but I stayed up until after midnight bringing that bread to life.