On the menu for Week 3:  Butter Crust Bread, French Sticks and Croissants … well … maybe not.

The Art of Bread

Thursday night’s class got off to a busy start as I was once again without partner. Prior to the first demo, our instructor took some more time to talk about the ingredients of bread baking.

I am completely fascinated with what I’m learning. Last week we learned about the basic relationship between yeast, flour, sugar and salt. We learned that you can use sugar to feed your dough and you can use salt to control fermentation (but never let the salt come into direct contact with the yeast). The instructor reinforced a fact that I am coming across more and more:  all-purpose flour is not necessarily the best flour to bake with. In fact, many baked goods are far superior if you use bread flour.

In the case of bread flour, it’s a type of flour that is high in protein because it has been produced from what that is high in protein. Because it has a higher protein level, bread flour helps increase the level of gluten produced in a recipe. Gluten, as I understand it, is what helps give baked goods that elastic quality and it also helps baked goods to rise.

In this week’s class we were also introduced to malt. Using malt is another way of adding sugar to your dough. We learned that since sugar feeds the yeast in a dough, adding sugar and malt to your yeast mixture will help your dough rise even more.

Fascinating stuff.

We put this knowledge to use with two recipes:  Butter Crust Bread and French Sticks.

The Butter Crust Bread is a very basic sandwich loaf that is brushed with clarified butter and slashed across the top before going into the oven. Once out of the oven, it is brushed with more clarified butter.

The dough for this bread consists of water, yeast, bread flour, salt, sugar, malt and milk powder. The sugar and the malt both help to feed the yeast and this was evident in how well our bread rose while it was proofing (the school has these very cool proofing machines that will proof your dough in a fraction of the time it would take at home).

By contrast, the dough for the French Sticks only contained malt and Dscn3184 that dough did not rise nearly as much as the first. This was appropriate as we were using this dough to make baguettes and Vienna rolls which don’t need to rise as high as, say, a sandwich loaf.

In both cases, we got to practice our kneading motion again. I find kneading one of the most relaxing and enjoyable exercises. I just love feeling that raw dough in my hands and the pleasure you receive as you shape it. Granted, my shaping skills are sadly lacking. I need practice. A lot of practice. But just as I learned to make pie dough I know I’ll get the hang of it. If you’ve never tried making bread at home I highly recommend it if only for the experience of kneading dough.

After our doughs were proofed, we sent them off to the ovens to bake. The instructor placed pots of water in the ovens along with the bread. Apparently the steam that rises from the water helps the formation of the bread crust. I’m not completely sure why this is so more investigation is required on my part!

The Butter Crust Bread was unbelievable. Since I had no partner, I took home four loaves of bread and brought two to work the next day. I served them with maple butter and with Nutella. They did not last very long. The bread had a firm enough crumb that you could toast it or spread a topping on it, but it wasn’t too dense either. And the crust was pleasingly buttery.

I was less impressed with the French Sticks dough. Our instructor explained that we could use this dough to make pizza, but I can’t see myself doing that. The bread wasn’t bad. It’s just that it wasn’t particularly flavourful. It was a bit too bland for my tastes.

One thing is certain. Kneading dough is a great upper-body workout. My shoulders and arms were mighty sore the next day!

Breakfast Breads

This was supposed to be all about the lovely croissants that I baked and brought home. But it’s not. In last week’s class we prepared a croissant dough and then sent it off to the freezers to be thawed and baked in yesterday’s class.

Just one problem. The school’s freezers broke. And so we bid adieu to all that lovely dough!

Actually it wasn’t all that bad. Our instructor (who is amazing) had us prepare a new batch of croissant dough and we all welcomed the practice. As soon as that was done we prepared a batch of danish pastry dough. Both of these were frozen and will be baked off next week (barring any further freezer issues!). Because we will have so much work in next week’s class, we’ve been asked to arrive a half hour earlier than usual. But I don’t mind. I’m absolutely loving this class and surprisingly, the scaling of ingredients wasn’t the vicious battleground it’s been in past weeks.

So stay tuned for next week when you’ll get a write up about croissants and danish pastry.