The time has finally come. Long before I even started the program, people asked me what I was the most excited about learning in school. My answer was always laminated doughs and breads. They’re some of the things I love to make (and eat) best, but I also know that there is so much expertise and experience needed to really master them. While I came dangerously close to complaining about cake decorating and macaron making, doughs are my jam. Certain components of pastry get too fussy for me, but working with doughs requires confidence and speed that I can get behind. The first week (of three) of bread was intense and overloaded with information, so I’m trying to soak up as much as I can. We spent a lot of time talking about the ins and outs of different styles of breads and varying techniques, and we spent even more time mixing, baking and eating breads.
On Tuesday we spent the whole day with Mike Kalanty as a guest chef, which made for hours of laughter and so many memorable lessons about sourdough breads. Mike is a great teacher and teaches many recreational classes for home chefs at SF Cooking, so if you’re interested in breads I highly recommend looking him up! He’s passionate about bread (especially sourdoughs!) and definitely made me fall in love with the process even more. One comment Mike made that really struck me was that while bread baking falls under the pastry category, he often thinks of it as related to culinary. So much of pastry is incredibly precise, detailed and requires a specific method. In the culinary world, chefs have more flexibility and often adjust their ingredients and techniques as they go. Since there is hardly a right or wrong way to make bread, baking offers that same flexibility as bakers can experiment, adjust, and bring their own flair to how they make bread.
All our days were filled with bread projects, including pretzels, bagels, brioche, focaccia, fougasse, babka, and PIZZA (you know how I feel about pizza). My very favorite bread? Pain Rustique. The simplest rustic loaf of bread, but it’s the kind of thing I could eat with boatloads of butter until the day I die. Pain Rustique is made with a poolish (a type of pre-ferment – the same one typically used for baguettes) and this week solidified that poolish based breads are my favorite. I’m not against a good sourdough, but the sweet nuttiness of a baguette makes me warm and fuzzy inside.
Another non-bread project we worked on this week was experimenting with types of alternate flours in a chocolate chip cookie recipe. It was an exercise for the sake of getting more familiar with unusual flours, but I loved it for a million reasons. The flour I used was made from spent barley, a byproduct of beer making. In other words, the barley used to make beer that would otherwise be thrown away, was dried and ground into a fine flour. The spent grain flour gives a unique flavor and I think it’s such a cool concept to utilize the grains. Once again, props to SF Cooking and Chef Nicole for exposing us to one-off things like this that spark ideas in me.
We’ve got more breads and laminated doughs on the agenda next week, along with not one, but two field trips up to Central Milling in Petaluma. We’ll learn more about flour milling and get the opportunity to work with some of the bakers up there. I’m pretty sure I’ll be flush with everything from baguettes to croissants next week, so free baked goods to anyone who wants to come pick them up at our house…