Rustic Bread Baking Workshop
Learn to Make Bread at the Foot of the Rockies
A couple of years ago I decided I was going to learn to make bread. I picked up the highly recommended book The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread and set to work learning how to make chiabatta. In hindsight that wasn't my best idea (I've recently heard that one called "the anti-bread" since the dough is so unlike any other type of bread.) When I came across the Culinary School of the Rockies and their Home Cooking classes I figured taking a hands-on bread class was the way to go. I was right, in a recent two-day session I learned more about bread than I would have by reading the book 20 times. Not that the book was bad, now that I have a grasp of the details I should be able to whip out new loaves with ease.
I've decided to write-up my experiences with the "Rustic Bread Workshop" in hopes others will be convinced to give the class a try as well, I highly recommend it!
Personally I think a required component for being a good instructor is passion for your subject. To that end the head instructor of the Rustic Bread baking class, Chef Elizabeth Perreault is perfect. Every two weeks Chef Elizabeth makes three loaves of multi-grain wheat bread for her personal consumption, which indicates a certain dedication (you can buy wheat bread just about anywhere, but she still makes her own every two weeks.) Combine this with the fact she is still experimenting with bread making (during the class she had two other instructors trying out new recipes at the same time just to see how they worked) and was dedicated enough to take a "Master Bread Baking" course at the Culinary Institute of America.
Chef Elizabeth was also assisted by other instructors, all graduates of the Professional Chef program at the CSR. One of the assistants has a new pastry-focused magazine coming out in April. Another instructor taught a pastry class at the school. The third instructor was being groomed to also teach his own bread making classes. All in all a very competent group with an excellent focus on making the students successful while still having a good time. The relaxed atmosphere along with the knowledge of everyone involved went a long way to making sure that everyone learned, even from making mistakes.
The mix of students for the class I took was just about perfect. Ten students, evenly divided between men and women, attended my particular class. The range of experience was from someone who had never made bread before at all to someone who had experience but had recently moved to the area and wanted to refine their techniques for high altitude baking. I fell into the middle, having made some bread in the past but it never quite came out the way I wanted it to.
Since the class was ten hours total split over two days we had to get going pretty fast in the morning to get the dough ready for its first rise. We paired up (to share the kneading duties as well as the ovens), selected two breads we wanted to make from a list of four options, and began preparing our mise en place. The first two doughs my partner and I made, a fougasse and naan were completed pretty fast, then the classwork began. After we discussed everything from correct ratios of flour to water to preferred tiles to line the oven with it was time for lunch! Being this was a cooking school we had a truly fantastic soup, fresh bread (they make baguettes every single morning at the school), a mixed-greens salad, and white wine. *This* is why you take a cooking class at a cooking school! After lunch was baking off our breads and prepping the bigas and poolish for the second day's bread. Five hours in one shot might seem like a lot of time but when you are making bread that needs a couple hours to rise it can go by pretty fast.
Day two was finishing the prep on our doughs and getting them to start rising. Again we were able to pick two of four breads to make that day. My partner Kirk and I chose Chef Elizabeth's multi-grain wheat and potato-rosemary. Since this day has more spare time than the first (you've already finished most class discussion and there isn't any more prep to get ready for) Chef Elizabeth taught us how to shape doughs into batards, boules, rolls, and even baguettes (one group quickly made a baguette dough and we were able to see how to shape it not long after). All the ovens were firing as we baked off the day's dough, filling the school with a wonderful smell. Breads were put into foil slings (don't fully wrap the bread until it fully cools (and as Chef Elizabeth said "never ever never cut into warm bread, let it cool fully first"), and goodbyes were said. Since I was travelling the next day I ate some of my bread at home and put the rest into the freezer.
The School Setup
Since the Culinary School of the Rockies normally teaches professional chef programs they were well-stocked with "professional" level utensils and supplies. I only wish I had a broiler like that at home, but it would fill about half my kitchen there. One of the things I really appreciated about this bread making class was that it was fully hands-on, there was no standing around watching a lone instructor do everything while you desperately hope to remember it for later. And since we were paying for the priveledge of being taught, there was no washing of dishes even! Everything you needed in one place to learn in a very friendly environment.
I enjoyed the bread making class very much and would highly recommend it to anyone looking to either start making their own bread at home or an experienced baker refining their technique. The classes were well put together, the staff was fantastic, and the results were delicious!
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