The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Beginning bakers

pmccool's picture

Beginning bakers

Today was, well, not your ordinary Saturday.

Instead, the morning was spent in the company of 9 beginning bakers, ages 5-9 (and their adult "assistants").  Off-hand, I'd estimate more of the bakers were closer to the age 5 end of scale.  There were three dad/daughter combos, a couple of grandmothers with grandson or granddaughter, and the rest were mom and child.  All in all, some really nice kids.  We baked two different breads; one a cheese and onion scone (some opted not to use the onions) and the other a Cape Seed Loaf.  

One of the things we talked about was the importance of bubbles, and how those make the difference between a risen bread and a flatbread.  We talked about how sometimes we make bubbles in bread using a reaction between baking powder or baking soda and some kind of acid (a la the scones), and how we let growing plants (yeast) make the bubbles for us (as in the Cape Seed Loaf).  And we covered a lot of other territory, too.  Like, "What do you do when you make a mistake?"  Luckily, I had a real-life mistake to point to: someone, probably the assistant I have yet to hire, had forgotten to include the onions in the scones that were baked for demonstration and snacking purposes.  That gave us the chance to talk about how mistakes can often be corrected or, if they can't, that they usually taste good anyway.  And it gave a good segue to talk about mise en place.  Lots and lots of teachable moments.

After I demonstrated the scones, including the kind of textures that they should be looking for, the chef/assistant teams took their places at their work stations.  The kids had fun cutting the butter into the dry ingredients for the scones.  Some also plunged hands-first into mixing in the buttermilk/egg mixture with nary a thought of "Ooh!  Icky!"  And no, that wasn't just the boys.  One young chef said she would prefer not to cut up the dough into scones, so we baked hers as a bannock.  Once we bundled all of the scones into the ovens, we took a breather to talk about what we had just done and to answer some questions.  Someone asked about oven temperatures and their effects.  Once again, we drew on a real life example (not a mistake!) to show how the scones that were baked on the bottom shelf of the oven were darker than the scones baked on the middle and top shelves of the oven, indicating that that specific oven was hotter at the lower level than it was in the upper levels. 

From that, we moved to a demonstration of the Cape Seed Loaf, which is simplicity in itself.  Though yeasted, it is a batter bread.  All one has to do is mix everything together, scrape it into a greased baking pan, let it rise 20-30 minutes, then bake it.  Because of time restraints, the young chefs needed to bake the bread at home.  Two who weren't able to do so simply mixed all of the dry ingredients together and bagged them for later final mixing and baking.  For the others, we made sure to mix the batter with ice water to slow the yeast growth, which, I hope, gave them time enough to get home to bake the bread before it over-proofed.

It was a very busy, active morning.  I'm interested to see if the hockey game we will go to with friends this evening will be as stimulating.



dmsnyder's picture

Five year olds are delightful. They still take adults seriously and themselves not too seriously.


pmccool's picture

My granddaughter will reach that milestone later this year.

It's fun to see how they are able to be both playful and earnest in the same moment.  Too bad that so many of us lose that capability as we "grow up".


Faith in Virginia's picture
Faith in Virginia

Nine 5 year old's.   Sounds like fun.  I had a great time teaching my nieces 4 and 5 at that time how to make bread.  I had flour on the counter, walls, floor, and on them also, but it was fun.

Having nine at one time my hats off to you.  I think you will sleep well tonight.

Great story Paul, thanks.

pmccool's picture

so that makes a difference.  Weirdly enough, there was less mess after the kids were done than there has been in some of the adult classes I've taught.  Maybe because kids "need" to be cleaned up after whereas adults leave the cleanup to the paid staff?

My real assistant did freak out slightly when I mentioned to the kids that they needed to keep the poppy seeds corralled at the workstations so that they wouldn't act as tiny ball-bearings underfoot.  She quickly revamped the ingredient distribution to minimize the possiblity of spills.

Sleep came very easily. :-)


proth5's picture

man than I am, Gunga Din.

That early morning mise will get ya...

But seriously, I do wonder about the constraints that wouldn't allow you to bake the bread.  Not to accuse or anything, but just wondering why the class was formatted in that way,  Just thinking things through, as it were...


pmccool's picture

The class was scheduled for 10:00-12:30. 

The seed loaf needs 20-30 minutes ferment and then nearly an hour in the oven.  If it had been made first, it would have been perhaps a third of the way through its bake when the scones needed to go in. 

Rather than mess up the scones by letting them sit for a longish time, we made and baked those first.  While those were baking, we had some Q&A and then I demonstrated the seed loaf.  The scones were just coming out of the ovens at the end of that demo.  Then the students went back to their workstations to mix up and pan their own seed loaves, except for the two who simply mixed the dry ingredients because they could not go straight home for baking.  By the time everyone was gathering up their things and heading out the door, it was after 12:00, with the last departing at nearly 12:30.  That wouldn't have left time for baking the seed loaves on site. 

My evolving rule of thumb is that it takes a group of students somewhere between twice and three times as long to do something as it would for me to do it by myself.  There are things that I can do, and am doing, to smooth out process wrinkles.  There are other things, like group dynamics, that can be influenced but not controlled.  Time has to be built into the schedule for instruction and for demonstrating techniques.  And, we move at the pace of the slowest students so that they aren't left behind.  By slowest, I simply mean those that take longest to perform the tasks. 

It's a bit of a stretch to attempt two breads in the allotted time.  By having the final bread baked at home,  we move a protracted bottleneck out of the flow.  And it gives the students an "I did it myself" experience with their families.