Thursday, April 16, 2009


Back in February I had the pleasure of taking a 2-day class in artisan bread making. I can’t believe it’s taken me until now to write about it, but life has been busy. :) Anyway, the class was fascinating.

My hope was that the class would cover sourdough since that’s my first love in bread, but instead it covered five varieties of artisan bread, all requiring a long first rise. We made up the "bigas" (a really fancy word for flour, yeast and water) at the Friday evening session, and then Saturday morning we turned them into bread, baking everything before the class was over that afternoon.

The instructor was a stickler for details, carefully measuring all ingredients by weight and using a timer for mixing times and rises. Frankly, she was too picky for my taste and so I got a real kick out of what happened to one of the other teams. The instructor sent home a biga with a member of each team and threatened them with certain doom if they didn’t refrigerate it promptly at 9:30pm and then take it out of the fridge by 6:00am. The next morning, everyone brought back their bigas and they all looked about the same except for one. A sheepish-looking lady had forgotten to put hers in the refrigerator at all, and her biga was so large and puffy that she couldn’t hide what she had done. The instructor tsk-tsked, but it was too late. Success was futile – the bread would collapse. A member of my group whispered to the mortified student that she should just punch it down a little. When we baked the bread, no one could tell the difference between hers and the rest.

I recognize the importance of exactness in the baking of bread – probably – but it doesn’t fit my personality. I’d rather work by feel or estimate, and since I’ve never had a loaf fail I don’t see a problem with my approach. Out of the five recipes we used in class, I found one that suits my style perfectly. It’s called a boule and I’ve now made it several times to rave reviews.

The friend who took the class with me purchased a fancy mixer and a beautiful large baking stone, which I’ve priced out at kitchen stores for about $40. With them, she bakes fantastic bread. When I use a mixer, I use one that used to belong to my husband’s late grandmother (the thing outlived her!). I drooled over the expensive baking stones in the kitchen store and then I went to the local hardware store and bought an unglazed stone tile for $3.79. I could have purchased it for $2.49, but I wanted the pretty one.

The class was worth it for a lot of good tips and I’ll probably never walk through the bakery stands at the farmers’ market and look at the bread the same way ever again. Now, I see loaves of artisan bread and think, "I could make that!" I’ve put in a hint for the bread baking book that the boule recipe came from for my birthday, and a co-worker of my husband’s has offered me some sourdough starter. I think with the book and the starter I can adapt what I learned in the class to the baking of sourdough bread. I can hardly wait!


kale for sale said...

I'm impressed and inspired. That's a beautiful loaf of bread. And I love that your $3 stone worked so good. That's the best. Care and intention are not something that can simply be purchased at the store. Good luck with the sourdough.

Donna said...

Thanks, kale. I'm hoping to get the starter some time next week -- I can't wait to try the same recipe in sourdough.