Four afternoons of hands-on baking--that's Hands-on with a capital H. We started with first steps for making croissants, and sourdough levain, went on to bake lavash, classic baguettes (poolish), sunflower sourdough bread, rye fougasse (w/preferment), miche, and pizza. The latter two were baked in a wood fired oven; all our other dough were baked in the KA Bakery oven.
The class uses a simple format: one of the teaching bakers demonstrates what's to be done; immediately following the students do what they observed, with guidance and critique by the roving teachers. Short lectures, followed by Q's and A's round out the teaching. The ratio of doing to demonstration and talking was roughly 7 to 1.
Two, sometimes three doughs were in various degrees of completion at any moment. For example, on day one we were given a small portion of sourdough seed starter, which we fed and set aside to be fed again the next day. We had just finished making the croissant's dough and butter block, which were chilling overnight.
We also made the poolish for the baguettes, and finished the day making whole wheat lavash--a spicy, whole-wheat version, peppered with mixed whole seeds, and salt. We got our first exposure to the commercial oven baking the lavash.
Day two was devoted to baguettes, but first we completed "le beurrage" rolling out the croissant dough, encasing the butter block in the dough, shaping the first tri-fold, and returning our efforts to chill overnight again. Following, we made our baguette dough, hand kneaded and stretched-and-folded once. While our baguette doughs proofed, Sharon O'Leary, the baker responsible for KA Bakery's daily output of baguettes demonstrated the preshaping and final shaping of baguettes. The school bakers had prepared a large batch of baguette dough for our practice. Consequently, we each got to form three baguettes--the first one or two directly under Sharon's guidance, and and the balance on our own--before shaping our own doughs. Our baguettes proofed, while we listened to a short lecture on scoring, then off to the oven where we scored and baked both the practice and our own baguettes.
On day three we completed our croissants, tri-folding twice more, and book-folding once; fifty-four laminations resulted. Micheal, the youngest student, a teen attending the class with his mother did the math. After chilling we each rolled out a sheet adequate to create eight shapes of either croissants, bear claws, or pinwheels. Chocolate batons and almond cream were provided. We also did some freeform shapes with the scrapes, and sprinkled them with cinnamon sugar. Properly baked croissants finish with a much darker color than the many insipid faux croissants offered in supermarket bakeries. We finished the day making the fougasse preferment.
Each day, we aslo fed our sourdough starters, discarding half each time. The Vermont weather was unusuallly hot and humid, so our teachers kindly fed our starters during the hours we were absent.
Day four we finished our sourdoughs: pain au levain-like with sunflower seeds. The teachers demonstrated forming boules and batards, tightening the dough's outer surface relying on the friction between the dough and the unfloured butcherblock table. Susan Miller, our sourdough instructor, beginning the day before making a stiff levain, made a large batch of miche dough--enough that each student shaped and scored a 3.5 pound loaf, later baked in the bakery's oven. We finshed the day hand-tending our fougasse, and then pizzas (the teachers made the pizza dough) in the school's large, wood-fired oven. I shared a bottle of my home vinted 2007 Pinot Noir with my classmates.
Although, some of us were disappointed Jeffrey Hamelman, King Arthur's Bakery and Education Center Director, neither taught nor made an appearance, the bakers, Jessica Meyers, Michelle Kupiec, and the previously mentioned Sharon and Susan were superb. Collectively, they share over sixty years of experience baking artisanal breads. The atmoshphere was informal, and relaxed.
I bake alone like, I presume, many other TFL members. There is no one, neither home baker or professional near at hand I can learn with, share ideas with, nor smell, taste, poke or squeeze their doughs and breads. This class, a birthday gift from my wife, helped fill that void.