Yoozer. I don’t know where to begin following last week’s Bread 101 class at Braise. We learned so much, then we made so much. I went home and ate so much and now, poof! It’s all gone.
Yes, I snarfed all the delicious breads I brought home, but the lessons learned from this class are definitely ones that will take practice to be ingrained in the cooking files of my brain. Reviewing my notes days later made me wonder if I was even in the room.
Let me preface any more of this post by saying I’m not going to give you one of the bread recipes we got from Chef Dave during class. I’ve got a recipe for you, but to best learn how to make bread, you’ve got to hear it from a professional firsthand and get your hands (your clothes, your cellphone and somehow, behind your ears) dirty with a little flour!
There are three basic types of bread dough: no knead, kneaded, and enriched. You may also hear the term “lean bread”, which has nothing to do with the calories. Well, I guess it does, but not how you are thinking. Lean bread is mostly just a combination of water, flour and salt, whereas an enriched bread may have butter, milk, cream and/or eggs. During class, we made dough for each of the three types, letting us see the differences in rising times and methods.
Between the three we made, ciabatta (no knead), focaccia (kneaded), and brioche (enriched), the ciabatta was my favorite. It was dense and almost salty. More neutral than the other two, but hearty enough it would be great for a sandwich or with soup. The brioche was almost cake-like. Perfect for my Sunday morning French toast, but a little too sweet to serve with dinner.
To make bread at home, you need some basic tools and ingredients. Chef Dave recommended instant dry yeast vs active yeast. This yeast is a little different than what you typically find in the grocery store as it doesn’t need the initial testing stage. Also, he recommends good quality all-purpose and whole wheat flours. You want to find a company that doesn’t process the flour to death, leaving some of the body of the grain to pump up the volume of the bread. King Arthur is a good brand of flour that can be found in most grocery stores. All that is left (minus some salt and a little olive oil) is the water. My classmates expressed some fear over getting the temperature right to make the yeast work. This leads me into some thoughts on the environment.
We all know that things like elevation play a role in baking times, but I didn’t realize that outside temperatures and humidity can also affect the bread. The cooler the weather, the warmer the water should be, but it should never go below 90º or above 110º. Also, if working with a starter, you may still need to add a little yeast to a dough since the yeast in the starter doesn’t have the proper warm and humid temperature to do its magic. And if you brought home a starter from San Francisco, don’t expect to get the same bread in Madison, WI since there are different bacteria in the air here and…
Ah! My head hurts!! You really need to hear this live (more than once?!) to make sense of it, no??
You don’t need a fancy mixer, but it sure does make this a much easier process. A kitchen scale is necessary since ingredients should be measured by weight, not by cups or tablespoons. Also, a small instant read thermometer will be helpful for water temperature and to tell when the bread is done baking. A wood surface (like a cutting board) will make kneading the dough and forming rolls happen faster.
I just typed up another three paragraphs here only to realize it really doesn’t make sense unless you already know what you are doing or were in the room to here Chef Dave speak. There isn’t one on the schedule right now, but I really recommend you watch the Braise cooking class calendar for the next time they do a bread making class. You won’t leave hungry, nor uneducated.
Secret to Perfect Butter
I can’t leave you without a recipe on these Braise recap days, so here’s one to add to your Thanksgiving menu. The butter at Braise is almost as good as the bread and in class we learned the secret – lemon. Just the zing you need to make the creaminess pop. Chef Dave wouldn’t disclose the official recipe, so here’s my take on it. This is enough for a large group and can be modified to use whatever herbs you’ve already got in the kitchen.