The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Teaching and learning

Yundah's picture

Teaching and learning

I would like to thank everyone who weighed in when I was looking for advice for the class, "Chemistry and Culture of Bread" that I co-taught this spring.  It was an amazing experience.  We had 15 students in the class and the local Congregational Church allowed us to use their kitchen with two regular ovens and two huge convection ovens.  (I have to admit here that I think convection ovens are an arcane form of magic which I have yet to master, but at least I got enough of a sense of how they work that no bread was burned in the baking of this class.)  We started out dividing our time between a class room in the academic building across the street (for the lecture part) and the kitchen.  We ended up, as all aspiring bakers should, spending any time not requiring computer displays in the kitchen.  The class was heavily weighted towards bio and chem students with two sociology/anthropology students and one insurance major.  It was fun watching the hard-science students try to get into answering questions like "What effect do you think the development of neighborhood bread ovens would have in your community?"  On the other hand, reading the answers my non-bio/chem students gave trying to explain the chemical reactions that were occurring at different times within the bread baking process was likewise interesting.  Each set of students had to stretch to get their minds around not one, but two, new languages as they learned the language of bread and baking.  Only one of the 15 had actually baked and only 3 had bread bakers in the family.  

We used the Science of Bread by Emily Buehler and Peter Reinhart's The Bread Bakers Apprentice.  Students made no-knead bread, sourdough loaf, soda bread, pita (huge smiles as they watched them puff up), and Reinhardt's Poor Man's Brioche (we couldn't afford the butter for the richer version.)  In addition, we visited a wonderful grain mill in Argentine, MI, Westwind Milling Co. (where I spend too much money buying some boutique flours... I'm going for a Spelt bread this weekend.) We also ate at an Ethiopian restaurant, Altu's, in East Lansing, so the students could try Injera bread. 

For their final the students had a practical and a written exam.  They had to bake a bread on their own for the final.  It could be one we'd already made or, they could work with a formula we hadn't worked with.  Half the students worked with formulae we'd already made but the other half went out on their own and found family recipes or something they found in the Reinhart book.  One of the students did the Rich Man's Brioche and ended up with nothing to take home.  The students agreed that it was delicious as it disappeared quite rapidly during the tasting.  For the tasting, we invited the college community (and the church folks) to bring soup and share a bread and soup lunch with us.  We numbered the breads and asked our guests to judge them on form, crumb, color, taste, etc.  We had a big turnout, a lot of soup and a lot of bread, and a wonderful lunchtime (followed by our last faculty meeting of the semester but then you can't win them all.)  

The class was a learning experience for me as well.  I've taught friends and family how to bake bread before but never in a structured, "school room" way.  It was hard not be able to just get into the zen of bread and pay attention to what everyone, including my colleague (who had never baked a loaf of bread in her life) was doing.  I became aware of many more levels in the process and had to work out how to explain how to form a loaf, how to knead, how not to brutalize the dough!  I'm so glad I did this.  I'm not sure I'll do it again, it was sort of like running a marathon.  

I'm not sure how to attach photos to this and I have to run, but I'll try to get a couple of photos up later.  Again, thank you all for your help, all of you.  


LindyD's picture

What a wonderful experience, Yundah. Thank you for sharing the event!