Thursday, October 05, 2006

Man Does Not Live By Bread Alone: We near the half-way point in our bread baking immersion with certain daily rituals and do’s and don’t becoming clear.

Shortly after 8 a.m. each morning, a number of the chef instructors at the school gather in our kitchen for bread and coffee. They toast dense, dark, square German bread the color of molasses over the burners of the gas stove and gossip about school issues, often in French so we students can’t understand what they are saying. By 8:26 they are off to their various classrooms.

I’m becoming more comfortable with the Maitre Boulanger, and it’s evident he has a distinctive culinary ethos, not to mention a sense of humor that is perhaps as dry as day-old bread crumbs. Today, he suggested that we place a sign on the door to the bread kitchen that reads “House of Pain,” which is pretty funny if you speak French or if you’ve rolled a thousand baguettes over the last two weeks. The other day, he worked quietly in one corner all day building a three-foot tall clock tower out of bread dough – my first encounter with bread sculpture. I was terrified I would sneeze and knock the whole thing over.

I love the insight into regional country breads in France, many made with ingredients that are indigenous to the region. Pain Normand, uses cider and the apples that are prolific in Normandy. Pan Citron is bread infused with abundant lemon zest, and Pain de Provence is packed with olives and a mix of Herbes de Provence which includes lavender. Brioche is one of the oldest breads of France, and the large amounts of egg and butter in the silky dough make it a joy to work with.

Each morning I silently recite my “Dos and Don’ts” of Bread Baking:

  • DO remember to hit the steam button on the oven or the baguettes will look like shriveled old hot dogs.
  • DO roll back the canvas on the loading tray each time you remove it from the oven. If you don’t it’s very hard to rearrange the baguettes again after you’ve already laid them on a reversed loader.
  • DO slash deeply when you score the baguette – it feels like a criminal act, but scoring is essential to allow the baguette to expand in the oven and develop that lovely braided pattern on top.
  • DON’T measure twice the amount of flour for a recipe. It can really screw up the consistency of the dough.
  • DON’T over-handle or fuss over the dough. Each time you touch it, you suck a little bit of life out of it. In other words, keep your big klutzy hands to yourself, and practice economy of movement.

Right now, we’ve got croissant dough resting in the refrigerator which we will shape on Friday. Saturday breakfast is going to be outstanding!

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

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