This summer I baked a lot of bread at the restaurant, I must have made at least a ton of foccacia and a half ton of everything else. Baking bread is soothing and satisfying and makes the kitchen smell great. It’s sort of the flip side to the coolness of molecular gastronomy. But, I have questions about bread baking and an invitation to a free bread class seemed like a pretty painless way to solve some of bread’s mysteries.
So, Tuesday night I was back at the gorgeous new space (seriously, if you need a professional kitchen, a party space or an intense wine tasting room, this is the place. The wine tasting room has individual sinks for washing away that unwanted wine, and light boxes at your seat for viewing the wine color…however, it does make for some strange wine photos!). Richard Bertinet was giving the class; he’s a Frenchman by birth, but apparently British by choice, which leads to a very endearing, but confusing accent.
We settled into our seats with a nice glass of wine, a little plate of nibbles and some outstandingly good bread.
Richard teaches classes in Bath, England and if his classes on his home turf are as relaxed and as fun as this class was, then as soon as I figure out where/when and how, I want to go to Bath. However, Bath is really a silly name for a city, it’s like it’s missing something…like Bathville, or Bathtown or even Bath Water….something. He’s also have two lovely books about baking bread at home: Dough and Crust.
Back to bread. Richard’s theory about bread kneading is that you don’t knead, you work the bread, and since he likes really wet dough, this is a messy prospect. I gave it a whirl in the class and managed to send the dough over my head onto the top of the cabinets. However, as the man turns out really tasty bread, he may know what he’s doing working that bread.
He demonstrated making foccacia, how to cut those damn epi shapes that I CANNOT master, and we happily munched on his bread creations as he generously answered our questions.
Cut to my kitchen: I spent all day Wednesday restocking my kitchen, and along with staples like paper towels and cat food, I bought flour and yeast and salt. (You know the kitchen is really empty when you don’t even have salt.) And then I started the pre-ferments: a beer based ferment and a more classic poolish that I would use for ciabatta style bread. A pre-ferment is a batch of flour, water, yeast, salt (optional) that you let sit and ferment for a few hours or overnight, and then later you use that preferment as an another ingredient for the finished bread. By Thursday evening I had started to pull the finished breads out of the oven. I like the breads, but they aren’t ‘there’ yet, and as Chef Bertinet said, “Practice.” A lot of bread knowledge and expertise only comes from the continual making of the bread, recognizing and reacting to what your fingers are telling you about the dough, teasing the dough to do your bidding. I’m still at the apprentice level, but I’m working the dough! Any my gorgeous new, autographed copy of his book Crust? It is already full of crumbs and flour and I think it’s much better this way.