Vanilla_nuts_004

A new year always brings with it a sense of starting fresh. Perhaps this is the reason why I have a tendency to do my "spring cleaning" in January. Apart from recovering from the excesses of December including attempts to regain a waistline, January is the time that I like to clean, sort, organize, alphabetize, plan and declutter. Of course these good intentions don’t last long and I’m usually back to my messy self by February, but a girl can dream. Perhaps this will be the year that I finally fulfill my inner neat freak.

Not likely.

Anyhow, I do feel the need to tie up any loose ends from 2006 and this very need led me to realize that I never completed my recaps of baking class. As many long-time readers know last summer I began taking courses at George Brown’s Culinary School in the hopes of obtaining a Bakery Arts Certificate. Last fall, I enrolled in a Breakfast Breads course and in an Art of Breads course. While I told you about the Breakfast Breads class, I didn’t finish telling you about Art of Breads. Since I’m beginning my fourth course this Saturday (more on that in a post to come), I figured I’d better get my act in gear and complete the bread-baking story of 2006.

On the menu for Week 7:  Rye Bread and Cheese Bread

Vanilla_nuts_006Week 7 began with instructions for rye bread that involved creating a "sponge." Breads made with a sponge or starter are very flavourful and have great texture. The sponge for our rye bread consisted of rye flour, water and fresh yeast. We mixed the ingredients and let them stand in a bowl for an hour. After the hour had passed, our sponge had grown considerably and had developed bubbles all over the surface. The bubbles represent the gas that the mixture has produced and are an excellent sign as those gases produced are what will help your bread to rise.

Once our sponge was ready, we added rye flour, bread flour, salt, shortening (not too thrilled about the shortening), water and gluten powder, also known as vital wheat gluten. Because rye flour has a lower gluten content, our instructor explained that adding some gluten powder will increase the gluten in the bread which will help you get a loaf that’s light and chewy. On its own, rye flour will produce a denser, darker bread.

After forming a dough, we shaped it into a large round and let it rest for 20 minutes. We then shaped the dough into loaves and sent it off to the proofer. In class, we are able to use large proofers which release steam and allow the loaves to rise at a much faster rate than if we left them covered on a work surface. While it’s unlikely that you’ll ever go out and buy a proofer for your home, our instructors explained that you can recreate the effect by briefly heating your oven and then turning it off. Once it’s cooled a bit, place a pan of hot water on the bottom of the oven. Place your bread in the oven and then close the oven door.

Once out of the proofer, our loaves went into the oven for 30 minutes at the equivalent of 400 degrees F. The end result were nicely browned loaves that had a strong rye flour, but that weren’t hard or too dense. While I wasn’t thrilled about the use of shortening in the bread (shortening will make it a bit more tender), overall I was pleased with the rye loaves.

Vanilla_nuts_010The second part of Week 7′s class was spent making cheese bread. For this bread we returned to the very basic formula of bread-making. We created a slurry of water and fresh yeast. To the slurry we added bread flour, sugar, shortening, salt, milk powder and malt. After forming a dough, we added grated cheddar cheese and swiss cheese. We removed our dough from the stand mixer, formed it into a ball and let it rest for 15 minutes.

After the rest period, we shaped our dough into four loaves. After a trip to the proofer, the loaves were baked for 30 minutes at 375 degrees F. Of all the breads in class, this had to be one of the ones I enjoyed the most both for the ease of preparation and the flavour. It’s hard to resist a bread full of melted and oozing cheese. However, if I make this at home, I will most certainly replace the shortening with butter.

On the menu for Week 8:  Italian Bread and Focaccia

We began the eighth class with a basic recipe for Italian bread which, our instructor explained, could be Pics_004_2used as a standard for both bread and pizza. Most of the Italian bread that I enjoy eating usually begins with a biga or starter, which contributes to great flavour and texture. This bread, however, followed the basic formula that we’d been adhering to all along. We mixed a slurry of fresh yeast and water, added bread flour and a mixture of malt and salt dissolved in more water. We formed a dough, let it rest and then shaped it into loaves. I chose to shape my portion of the bread into rings. The rings were baked at 400 degrees F. for 30 minutes.

They looked nice but to be honest I was unimpressed. There was very little flavour to the bread and you would most certainly have to eat it with a spread or use it as a base for pizza to truly enjoy it. On its own, it was boring. I really can’t see myself using this recipe to make something as sublime as pizza.

The second part of class, however, was far more promising. We prepared focaccia bread which we Pics_007_7 then transformed into stuffed focaccia. The bread began the same way the Italian bread did with a slurry of fresh yeast and water. To that mixture we added bread flour, salt and olive oil. We formed a dough which we let rest for 15 minutes.

After the rest period, we divided the dough into four parts. We used two parts to line the bottom of greased 9-inch cake pans. We brushed the dough with olive oil and then added the toppings of our choice which included sun dried tomatoes, rosemary, sea salt, Parmigiano Reggiano and olives. We took the remaining two parts of dough and used them to cover the toppings, in effect forming a focaccia pie. With our fingers, we sealed the edges of the dough carefully to ensure that the filling would not leak out into the pan and cause the focaccia to stick. We brushed the tops with more olive oil and sent our little babies off to the proofer. Once out of the proofer, we baked the focaccias at 375 degrees F. for about 40 minutes (until the focaccia tops were golden).

This bread was so flavourful! And I loved the idea of using cake pans to create a stuffed focaccia. While I haven’t had the chance to make this since class, I will definitely try it at home. It was a pleasure to use so many fresh, natural ingredients and clear proof that creating a delicious baked good isn’t rocket science. You need good ingredients, some time and some effort. In the end, the results are so rewarding.

Ciao!