Bread Basics, a Baking Class!

Wow, can I just say, I had one of the most amazing experiences over the weekend...! I tend to over dramatize and exaggerate (ask my husband, or quite possibly anyone who knows me), but I have to say my baking class this weekend was really wonderful and eye opening. Let me recap:

After I put it out there in this space that baking, more specifically owning a bakery, is my far-off pipe dream of a career goal, I really wanted to look into it more. Partially out of curiosity, and partially for research...mostly for fun.

So, I looked up a few baking classes in the area and signed up for 'Bread Basics' at Cookology, out in Dulles Town Center in Sterling. I had no idea what to expect, but the class was advertised as baking for beginners, so I figured it would be perfect (outside of the occasional cupcake or dessert for a birthday or work party, I've never really baked seriously) for my skill level.

I arrived at the class to find out that I was the only student, but that they wanted to hold the class so they wouldn't cancel on me--this translated to a 3 hour private lesson with a chef who had spent 14 years in restaurants in New York and DC, with his last position being Zaytinya, one of Jose Andres famous places in DC. Wow. To say I was both excited and intimidated would be an understatement.

We started off with foccacia dough, and used this recipe as a chance to master the basics such as measuring each ingredient on the food scale (only use grams, never oz or cups!), the chemistry behind the reactions in the dough, the purpose of each ingredient... and, most critically, the importance of proofing vs. double proofing vs. resting.

We got to cook in a professional kitchen, with a staff that cleaned up after each of our recipes, which is another plus that doesn't necessarily translate to reality, but I digress..

Anyways, we let our foccacia dough rise for its first proof (which takes about an hour), while we worked on our next recipe: whole wheat dinner rolls. Whole wheat requires 60 percent more liquid than regular flour, so it was really interesting to see the difference in the ingredients, and also the process--for example, we let the wheat be worked in the Kitchen Aid mixer for quite a bit longer than we did with the foccacia, just so it would absorb and emulsify.

I learned the importance of measure out each roll--2 oz!--in order to guarantee even baking. And then we let them rest before we scored the top of each roll (by cutting a shallow X) in order to let the moisture escape, and then popping them in the over a short twenty minutes later.

I only remembered to snap a pic after we had cut some open to sample!
Finally, we readied our foccacia--which required loads of really tasty olive oil. He described foccacia like a fry bread made in the oven, as the olive oil gives it that nice golden color and crunchy exterior. After our bread was shaped and coated in oil, we let it rise another twenty minutes before topping it sparsely with sea salt and fresh rosemary and thyme. During the course of the class, the chef kept throwing in cool facts like 'always use fresh herbs for their medicinal purposes, like anti-inflammation and antioxidants.'

Finally, we got to work on our pizza dough, which was the same recipe as the foccacia, but with only half the proofing time! We decided to go with a rustic pizza dough, one that is thicker and full of delicious bubbles that rise to the crust. We made a simple topping of chopped marinated tomatoes, olive oil, and tomato sauce, plus fresh mozzarella and sauteed mushrooms (another tip, always cook each pizza topping before putting it on your pie, to ensure that the water that escapes for your toppings doesn't ruin the integrity of your meal).

At the end of the 3 hours, we had a golden, crusty foccacia, coated in fresh olive oil and herbs; a fresh-out-of-the-over mushroom pizza, and warm yeasty whole wheat dinner rolls. We sampled everything and enjoyed some down time with the kitchen staff... it made me reflect on the 'family dinners' that are famous in some restaurants (where the staff eat together and discuss the menu... or maybe that's a scene from No Reservations!)

My favorite part of the whole class, was talking with the chef, who told me about what it takes to make it in the restaurant world. He said it was HARD WORK, a lot of long hours, missed occasions (he worked every holiday and birthday, only taking a week off when his daughter was born), and minimum wage... but he also ended with, 'and I can't imagine doing anything else with my life.' The chef gave me some good tips on how to move forward if I was serious about baking, or entertaining a career in the field. Beginning with practicing on my own, and eventually reaching out to bakeries to set up a stage, or an unpaid internship opportunity. He talked all about how he didn't even go to culinary school until 6 years after he had worked in the business, and instead learned everything there was to learn from doing different unpaid and paid jobs in the best French restaurants in NYC! Learning from the best chefs!

Granted, he told me I'm romanticizing the idea of the restaurant life, but I still walked away with my dream in tact, and a little baking experience under my belt...


Popular Posts