On Saturday, I will be attending the first class of the fourth course that I am taking as part of my work towards a Bakery Arts Certificate from George Brown College. I have enrolled in my third compulsory course:  Art of Pies. As with my previous baking classes, I look forward to sharing my experiences with you. Prior to beginning that journey into the world of pies, I’m left with the final two classes of my Art of Breads course to recap for you.

On the menu for Week 9:  Raisin Bread and Easter Bread

Our second last class began with a bread that we were all looking forward to. Who doesn’t like raisin bread? By this point in the course, everyone is working together so efficiently. It becomes routine to get to class, scale off your ingredients, gather your equipment and utensils and stake out your favourite stand mixer.

Pics_015_2The raisin bread began with a slurry of fresh yeast and water. We added bread flour, eggs, sugar, shortening, whole milk powder, cinnamon and salt.

Once a dough was formed and processed in the mixer until it formed a smooth ball that did not stick to the sides of the bowl, it was time to add the raisins. Unlike other breads where you might add a filling ingredient directly to the dough in the stand mixer, our instructor recommended we add the raisins and knead the bread by hand as the mixer may crush the raisins.

We added the raisins by flattening the dough and sprinkling the raisins on top. We then rolled the dough up, jelly roll style, and made four or five deep slashes to the dough. After making the slashes, we began to knead the dough by pushing it away and then pulling it back in towards the centre. Because of the slashes, the raisins began to fall out but were slowly picked up as we kneaded the dough and, as a result, the raisins were distributed evenly throughout the dough without being squashed.

After forming the dough into a ball, we let it rest for 15 minutes. After the rest period, we returned to the dough and divided it into four pieces. We shaped our pieces into loaves and set them in tins. We applied an egg wash and sent the dough off to the proofer. Once the dough had doubled in size in the proofer, we baked our loaves at 350 degrees F. for about 30 minutes.

The end result was four nicely browned loaves. It was hard to resist the urge to rip right into them in class thanks to the aroma of cinnamon. The loaves were light and flavourful, although I think the flavour would be greatly improved with butter as opposed to shortening. The raisins were also nicely dispersed through the loaves thanks to the technique our instructor showed us. When making breads filled with raisins or other dried fruits, I would definitely try that technique again.

The second bread we made is called Easter Bread. This was a rich, eggy bread that resembled panettone in appearance and in taste. We began by making a sponge of fresh yeast, warm milk and bread flour. We let our sponge rest for about 30 minutes.

While the sponge was resting, we mixed together butter, sugar, vanilla, rum, lemon zest and salt until we had a light and fluffy mixture. One by one, we incorporated eggs into this mixture. Once that was done, we added bread flour. At this point our sponge was ready so we added the sponge to the mixture as well.

We mixed all the ingredients for about 5 minutes, until we had a cohesive dough. We removed a small piece of the dough and set it aside. We removed the rest of the dough and added raisins in the same way that we added them to the raisin bread above. We rounded off the dough and let it rest for 15 minutes. After the rest period, we divided our dough into four pieces, which we then placed in cake pans pressing down on the dough so that it covered the bottom of the pans evenly.

Pics_010We took the dough that had been set aside, and divided it into four smaller pieces. We then further divided each piece into six. We rolled all the pieces into strands and taking three strands at a time, we made braids. We then applied the braids to the tops of the dough in the cake pans in a decorative manner. We applied an egg wash and sent our bread off to the proofer.

Once out of the proofer, we baked the bread for 30 to 40 minutes at 350 degrees F. This bread was incredible! The combination of butter and rum made made for great flavour. It had an eggy depth that made it taste very much like panettone. The bread also looked very pretty. This is another recipe that I’m looking forward to adapting for home baking.

For our final class, the tenth one, the course curriculum directed that we learn how to make a bread basket. This particular project involved making a bread dough and creating a number of long braided strands. The strands are then braided around the base of a large bowl, wrapped in aluminum foil. This is baked until the outside has set and turned golden. The basket is removed and very gingerly flipped off the base of the bowl. It’s then placed inside the bowl and put back into the oven so that the inside of the basket can bake. You can get quite creative with these baskets including adding little feet so that it looks like a pedestal basket or adding handles. The basket is not for consumption, but rather it’s for decorative purposes.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t want to make the basket. While it was interesting to watch the instructor demo the project, for the life of me I couldn’t imagine why in the world you’d want to make a basket out of bread. To me, it bordered on the edge of tacky. Fortunately, our instructor gave us the option of watching the demo and then baking another bread that we’d made in class. My partner and I very happily made cheese bread instead.

When I enrolled in the Art of Breads course, which is compulsory, I didn’t think I’d enjoy it as much as I did. Instead, I greatly enjoyed learning about yeast and how it can be manipulated by adding sugars. The information we learned about flour was also helpful. It finally clicked that all-purpose isn’t necessarily the best flour for everything. In fact, it may be quite the opposite. I was introduced to bread flour, which I’ve begun using at home to great effect.

But without question, the greatest lesson in this course for me, was the lesson on kneading. Prior to this class, I thought I knew how to knead dough but I quickly learned that I was mistaken. Kneading is a gentle art, even though at times it can be quite intensive. Believe me you can work up a sweat kneading. But it’s such a wonderfully calming motion and I’m happy to say that I’m kneading dough more and more all the time.

While I never imagined I’d say this, I can see myself baking a lot bread in my own home.

But now we say goodbye to bread, and hello to pies!