The Fresh Loaf

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Teaching young people about baking bread

foodslut's picture

Teaching young people about baking bread

I'm a bit torn, and I'm hoping for some advice.

I've been asked to teach young people attending a youth drop-in centre how to bake bread.  The youth are in their mid-late teens, and I've been told I have a 3-hour window to teach.  The centre has a kitchen that reportedly cranks out daily meals, but I haven't done a reconnaissance of the facility yet.  I've read up a bit on this here and here.

Part of me wants to take a very, very basic approach - think 5-minutes-a-day, with a donation of a dough whisk and a plastic container to house the dough that's made after the lessons are done.  I'd talk a bit about what's in mass-production store-bought bread (having them go through the ingredient list), a bit about ingredients and very basic baking chemistry, have the students mix up a batch of dough, then shape a batch that's gone through a pre-proof and bake some bread immediately.

Part of me would like to do something more holistic - show them locally milled whole wheat flour, talk about the U.K. Real Bread movement, etc. - but I don't think I can cover that AND have the kids eat their own bread in 3 hours.

Pro's of the first approach:  the kids eat their own bread before they head home; simple, non-exotic, easy-to-obtain ingredients (some of these kids may be from single-parent-social-assistance homes); easy-peasy, so should encourage kids to try at home; even with unbleached all purpose flour, the bread has GOT to be better than "Wonder-what's-in-it" bread.

Pro's of the second approach:  generally better for the kids; leads to far better bread than 5MAD.

I'm strongly leaning toward the initial approach, but what do you think?

cranbo's picture

approach #1 is probably better; if the goal is to get kids to experience baking and eating their own bread, this seems like the way to go. Sounds like there is still some opportunity to integrate some concepts from approach #2. 


pmccool's picture

Same general idea as your first approach but bring dough for the same bread that you mixed up and allowed to bulk rise at home.  You could then have the students do basic shaping and set the dough for its final ferment, then bake.  That will fit much better in the 3 hours you have available.  You can still have them mix and knead dough while there so that they know how the dough you carried in was achieved. Those who have the ability to bake at home can carry home the resulting dough for fermentation/shaping/fermentation/baking at their homes.  You might even give them disposable foil bread pans since that would be easier for most than trying to wrangle a baking sheet or stone at home, particularly if they are disadvantaged.  If done with a simple white or honey whole wheat bread, the exercise should be doable and result in a bread that they are likely to eat.  

I've used this approach when teaching bread-making at my house.  It gives the students a finished product as a guideline for their own baking, plus they can enjoy it during class time, plus the "I did it myself" pride when they finish their bake at home for their family.  Those who can't bake off their dough at home will still get to participate in all phases of the process during class.  If the facility hosting the class allows, perhaps they could stick around to bake it on site.

When you do your recon of the facility, check temperatures (since that affects fermention speed and time), oven capacity, equipment, tools, number of mixing bowls, etc.  When choosing the bread to make, you may also want to "cheat" a little bit with extra yeast in the mix and warmer temperatures, if you can arrange for that.  Since time is not on your side, you need to focus on a fast process rather than extolling the delights of extended ferments.  The time will go much faster than you expect.  You still want to have material to cover during the lulls in the actual bread-making process so that you keep their attention.

Sounds like a wonderful opportunity!  Have fun with it!


Chuck's picture

I'd suggest sticking with the very basics, as in your approach #1. Why?

  • these days teenagers have an extremely short attention span (even three hours can be too long:-)
  • the smell and taste of fresh bread is what will reach them - hands-on gets their attention much more than anything that even smacks a little bit of lecturing
  • if a teenager gets really interested (inevitably most won't), they'll dig very deeply on their own - they'll circle back again and again, they'll find other sources of information too, and they'll explore on their own situations you never even thought of
  • even for adults, if you try to teach too much all at once you'll just turn people off and they won't remember (or even grasp) most of it

If you have one convert out of a hundred, you've succeeded wildly. Take a bow. And don't beat yourself up over the other 99; they're inevitable, not any reflection on you.


PeterS's picture

seconded. KISS ;)

mcs's picture


0:00-0:30  Intro and mixing dough with students
0:30-1:15   Dough they mixed is rising, more about ingredients, techniques
1:15-1:30    Scaling, Shaping
1:30-2:15   Final Proof, more material you want to cover
2:15-2:45   Baking, material you want to cover about U.K. Real Bread Movement
2:45-3:00  Eat and wrap up

-mix it warm so the dough 'stays on schedule'
-have each student shape small loaves so they aren't only doing one shaping, plus the baking time is shortened
-make an enriched/soft dough since they are more forgiving as far as flavor and skill are involved
-show up with a finished product so they see what their bread is supposed to look like when it's done

*A simple observation garnered from quite a few years of working with teens.  Teenagers will listen to you if they know that you know what you're talking about.  If you lecture for the first 15-30 minutes without showing them that you are more skilled than they are, you will have tuned-out teenagers for the next 2:30 hours.  Therefore, bust out your skills early (during the mixing portion) to show them that you are the 'expert'.


foodslut's picture

A few comments in response.

1)  I was planning on bringing in some pre-proofed dough to save time/effort, but I hadn't thought of bringing the "after" to their "befores".  I was also thinking of getting the students to do smaller buns for the class - speeds up the baking, and it's a bit easier than shaping larger loaves.

2)  I figured I wouldn't make a ton of converts, but if even a few get "bitten", I'll be happy to keep in touch to help them learn more.  All they need is for one or two to get bitten  to keep the container in the fridge full o' dough and hot buns coming out of the oven.

3)  Thanks, PMcCool, for the recce checklist - I was thinking more specifics about the stove (size, check temps, etc.).  In fact, since we're looking at the fall, I may try a "test bake" to see exactly what comes out based on what's put into the oven.

4)  Never even thought about playing with the formula to allow for a compressed timeframe - thanks Mark (thanks, also, for the suggested timeline).

LOADS of grist for the mill - thanks again all.  I'll keep you in the loop re:  how my thought process evolves and how the class eventually (aiming for ~ September or so) goes.