Monday, October 02, 2006

Sweet and Savory Breads: As week two of Classic European Breads opens at the French Culinary Institute we are coping with some of the typical New York obstacles – there’s a film crew tying up pedestrian traffic on Crosby Street and construction in the building forces us to enter for the week through a service entrance around the corner, and carry our lunch through a small obstacle course before we are able to eat.

We are introduced to the Maitre Boulanger for the first time, a solemn German gentleman who began baking as an apprentice in his teens. Even though we have a week of experience under our belt, the pressure of a new instructor has an effect on us. “A” can’t remember the technique for shaping loaves, and “E” and I must deal with several casualties. A number of baguettes are sent to that great bread basket in the sky as we repeatedly botch the necessary steps for precisely loading the loaves into the oven. I take on the job of removing the finished baguettes from the oven, but some are under baked. The Maitre Boulanger is patient, but I suspect his tolerance for our incompetence will not last for long.

Despite the baking mishaps, I am struck by the enormous versatility of bread. On Friday, we baked “Kugelhopf” from the Alsace region of France, a tall feathery yeast cake, laced with butter and rum-soaked cherries, which is crowned with a beautiful ring of almonds and baked in a bell shaped tube pan. It makes a fine dessert or a decadent breakfast. Today, we mastered “Fougasse” a dense bread of white and rye flour filled with briny black olives and succulent fresh thyme. We cut hash marks in the loaf with a sharp wheel cutter and spread the wet dough like a butterfly before putting it in the oven. The result is a rustic open leaf pattern with a crispy crust and savory bread that is almost like a pretzel in consistency. It’s good with a strong cheese and a smooth glass of red wine, particularly as I decompress after another day in the orifice of the bread oven.

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved


Alice Q said...

Wow this sounds fantastic! We baked bread in my culinary basic baking and pastry class this week, and I was shocked by how easy it was (though what we made was nothing near as fantastic looking as your pictures) We made baguettes and yeast rolls (3 shapes). I was so proud of my self for learning how to roll the balls of dough and stretch the tops with one hand! I need to try it at home before I forget it all!

T.W. Barritt said...

We are rolling balls of brioche dough this morning, so wish me luck!