The Fresh Loaf

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A question for new bakers

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PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

A question for new bakers

I am in the process of designing a Bread 101 class for bread novices.  While I have a good idea of the material that I think should be included, I want to solicit feedback from TFLers (and maybe some lurkers, too) about the kinds of things that they would like to learn if they attended this kind of class.  There might be some things that really ought to be included but haven't occurred to me.

Just to give you some parameters, the class will meet on a Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.  While there will necessarily be some lecturing and some demonstrations to give the students the background that they need, the heart of the class will involve hands-on work by the students as they put their new information directly into practice.  I expect that we will make up at least one yeasted dough in the morning for baking on-site in the afternoon, and another yeasted dough in the afternoon for the students to take take back to their homes and bake there. 

Whether or not there will be a place in the flow for a non-yeasted bread (muffins? biscuits? scones?), I don't yet know.  At this point, I'm treating that as an option, not as the primary focus of the class.

Things that definitely need to be part of the class include measuring by weight, bakers math, hydration and its effects, temperatures, autolyse, mixing, kneading, fermentation, shaping, baking.  It won't be practical to address sourdough in this class.

I've seen similarly-titled classes that are effectively a "breads from around the world" shotgun blast, with the instructors taking up the bulk of the time with demonstrations and the students getting very little hands-on work of their own.  That doesn't seem to me to be very helpful.  From what I see in other classes I teach, one of the most daunting things for a new baker is judging dough consistency, followed closely by understanding fermentation progress.  Consequently, the more time that I can give the students to have their hands in the dough during class, the better they will do in their own kitchens later on.

Now that you know my ideas, I'm very interested in hearing yours.  All suggestions will be valued, even if I can't put all of them into play.

Paul

CAphyl's picture
CAphyl

Paul:  Your outline sounds excellent.  I am a big sourdough fan, but totally understand how this would be difficult to cover in a class from 10 - 3.  As a fairly new baker, I think it would be very helpful if you explain most common mistakes and the associated outcomes....too much/too little hydration....common kneading mistakes....the proper way to work with yeasts...under and over proofing...and what happens if you don't shape properly.  It sounds like you will cover a lot of this as you talk about the proper way to do things, but I think it always helps to have a "common mistakes" section.  Good luck. It sounds like fun.  Phyllis

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Talking about common mistakes and their outcomes is a great idea.  Those are so much more memorable than successes!  

I had the opportunity to use a mistake of my own this past Saturday as a teachable moment for the class.  The dough was much drier than I expected it to be and just about the time I wondered why, I noticed the eggs and butter sitting right where I left them, waiting to be added in.  So I asked "Can anybody tell me what I've done wrong?"  That got a couple of deer in the headlights looks, then a scramble to their printed copies of the formula.  It didn't take long for them to pipe up with "You left out the eggs and butter."  Then I showed them how to work those in and save the dough, instead of throwing it out and starting over.  I'm sure most of them will be very focused on including their own eggs and butter at the right stage whenever they make the bread next at home.

Thanks again,

Paul

Postal Grunt's picture
Postal Grunt

You are truly a glutton for punishment. I understand the pain as I lesson plan for an extension service class.

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

This is just part of the fun, trying to anticipate the students' needs and questions so that I'm prepared for them.  Like anything else, it gets easier with practice, PG.  Go ahead and sweat the details now so that you don't find yourself totally flummoxed by perfectly reasonable but unexpected question.

Happy planning!

Paul

Petek's picture
Petek

Is this just a one-day, one-time class? Some suggested topics: Using pre-ferments (biga, poolish, etc.), working with whole wheat/ whole grain doughs.

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

While I would like to address pre-ferments, I am concerned that it may be asking a lot of some novice bakers who are trying to trying to get their bearings. 

There is a broad interest in whole grain breads, so it makes sense to include some time for that topic.

Thank you for your suggestions.

Paul

gerhard's picture
gerhard

I would say keep it simple, if you scare new students with calculation for hydration and such I think you lose 1/2 the group.  Have a recipe that pretty much guarantees a successful loaf, nothing will strengthen the interest more than initial success.  The students have to  understand the function of time, yeast, water, salt and fats just don't try to make them understand how to change a formula to achieve predictable change in your product.  I guess what I am saying is teach the big picture and leave the details for further down the road.

Gerhard

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

For this type of class.  I do want to get the concept of hydration out in front of the students, since it has such a profound effect on the dough and the bread.  Combine that with showing them how to measure by weight and I'll have laid the foundation for a bakers math discussion in a future class. 

Thanks for your thoughts about focusing on the basics; it reinforces what I had been thinking.

Paul

aptk's picture
aptk

When I first visited this page I was quite intimidated by all the terms, percentages, precision measuring, exact conditions for rising, proofing that I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to bake bread again, and I've been baking good bread for 30 years!!

It's fun to throw around fancy foreign and specialty terms, but if no one understands than all that fancy info is lost.

 

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Thank you for your suggestions.

Paul

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

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run4bread's picture
run4bread

what I needed most in my first class was what to look for and what the dough should feel like at different stages, so I agree with your hands on approach. Measuring by weight, the impact of temperature on yeast and fmentation, kneading techniques, the feel of dough when properly kneaded (+windowpane), preshaping and shaping, poke test, steaming methods, monitoring the crust color (temperature) in a home oven. These are better learned through experience.

I agree with the previous comment about skipping baker's math. It can be intimidating and there is plenty to absorb without that.

I vote for staying focused on yeasted doughs unless you find yourself with lots of soare time. Lots of peoole are intimidated by yeasted doughs and are fine with quick breads. I suppose you could include someting that contrasts the role of baking soda vs baking powder vs yeast, so students understand the options for making dough rise.

An option is to spend time talking and demo'ing increasing the percent of whole
wheat/grain in the dough. And enriched doughs.

How fun, thinking of the options! And the students who will have their baking world grow exponentially!

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

than just about anything else, so your thoughts parallel what I hear on a regular basis.  That's one reason that I bang the drum for weight measurements (just ask Postal Grunt what he heard), since it is such a simple way to get close to the desired dough consistency.  I think that I can cover that via some simple demos without getting lost in the equations, then turn the students loose to find out how the dough feels in their hands.  If we do that with white and whole grain doughs, they will have good contrast.

I think that I will skip the non-yeast option entirely.  It could turn into a distraction.

Thanks!

Paul

Windischgirl's picture
Windischgirl

I wouldn't omit baker's math completely--just understanding how to read a professional recipe and why percents are listed and what they mean is important to know. I think it can be helpful for a newbie to understand why the texture of a traditional sandwich bread is so different than a ciabatta, and by extension, what is meant by 65% hydration versus 80%.  But I do agree that trying to teach students about adjusting a recipe using baker's math is just overwhelming--I have been a baker for nearly 40 years and math still sends my head spinning.

My gut response on thinking of a baking class is what should NOT be done!  I know I've whined about this experience before: my daughter and I attended a baking class at the local library.  The instructor didn't really have a recipe, and what did pass for instructions listed cups, not weights; she had us start out with a whole wheat dough; and she told us to knead the dough until it "felt right."  I wonder how many participants took bricks out of their ovens that evening.

Argh!!

So if there is any way that you can teach the opposite--weight measures; starting with white flours and gradually increasing the amount of whole grains to see the changes; windowpaning and what "feeling right" feels like--you'll be perfect!

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

isn't a bad response, so long as you have something on hand that does feel right so that the students know what they are aiming for as they practice in class.  Of course, they should already have watched the instructor do it the right way so that they understand the process.

I can see mixing up a range of mini doughs based on 100g of flour with hydrations running from 50% to 100% to demonstrate how dough consistency changes with hydration.  That should be much more informative than a simple discussion  of hydration.

Thank you for your comments.

Paul

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

Hi Paul,

I have not taught any baking classes in a few years but when I did the one thing that drew the most positive comment was appreciation for the amount of printed information that I handed out.  It was about a 10 page piece that included a basic description of a wheat kernel,  the various types of wheat, the different flours available including their characteristics and uses.  Salt, the different types of yeast and water are also covered.  I include the recipe to be used in the class, a couple of paragraphs on sourdough (even though it is not a part of the class) and finally a reading list.  Everyone was quite happy to have this information in hand.

If you would like to see one of these, send me your email address in a PM and I will send you the pdf file.

Jeff

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

I like having more reference material than less, so I've already started pulling together some material.  I'll be happy to swipe whatever you have to offer.

 Thanks,

Paul

barryvabeach's picture
barryvabeach

Paul,  I think your general outline sounds good.  While I primarily bake 100% whole wheat, I would stay away from that for an introductory class. I think that bakers percentages are not that hard if you only deal with the flour and water - the concept of hydration is pretty important.   Whatever you do, I would avoid the "until it looks right" .   I have heard that about adding water until the dough is the right consistency, but there is an extremely large range whether you are making bagels or ciabatta, so I think the percentage is more helpful. If you have the opportunity to be mixing and kneading several batches at the same time, consider whether you want to deliberately introduce mistakes -  for example,  start baking one sample a half hour before it is fully proofed, one at the correct time, a half hour after fully proofed - so they can see the effects of each.  Another example would be one at correct hydration, one at 15% less and one at 15% more -  to show that even if it is slightly off, it can still be enjoyable.      

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

previous suggestions, Barry.  And for the notion of demonstrating a range of proofing levels, too.  That was something that had not occurred to me.

Paul

Heath's picture
Heath

Keeping it simple at first is definitely a good idea.  I'm a fairly new bread baker and my first loaf was a very simple panned white sandwich bread.  My success with this fuelled my interest and enthusiasm much further.

I don't know if you're teaching a single class or a course, but if it's the latter maybe you could introduce and create a sourdough starter and have the students maintain starters outside of the class and bring them in after one and/or two weeks to compare them.  They would then have the opportunity to start baking sourdough bread after the course is finished, putting their newly gained knowledge to further use.

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

For exactly the reasons you mention, Heath.

No time for sourdough in this one day class, unfortunately.

Thanks,

Paul

embth's picture
embth

Hi Paul,  I agree with Heath….simple is the best approach.   Your goal in a one time class would be to encourage your students to try handmade bread and not be intimidated by the process.  As we all know, it is not difficult and it is lots of fun.  Once you get their hands in dough, they will learn quickly.

I work at a historical site, baking on a early 1900's wood fired range.  Many visitors tell me, "I have always wanted to try baking yeast bread."  

I reply, (since luckily we are not in "first person") "There are wonderful books and websites (TFL is one) that you will find helpful .  You will make mistakes at first but most of those "mistakes" will be edible.  If you really have a bad bake, you will have some lovely door stops. <G> Then you try again.  Bread making was a routine part of life not so long ago….if those folks could do it, so can you."

Several times  I have had kids, pre or early teens, ask to write down the recipe for the bread they were tasting.  It is wonderful to see youngsters interested in homemade foods.

I suggest choosing one basic (straight dough) recipe and making that bread until you feel very comfortable with the process and your results.  Then start branching out, reading and researching the different formulas, processes, and flours as you go.  

A list of books and websites could be a page of your class hand-out.

Best of luck with your class….you will have a good time with your students, I am sure.

Embth

 

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

what I want to achieve, embth.  Thank you for your insights.

Paul

gary.turner's picture
gary.turner

You mentioned small batches for the students to work with; I'd suggest making at least 600g of sandwich bread dough. 100g of flour in a dough feels a lot, different from the 'same' dough made with ~375g of flour. A 600g dough is about right for a lightly enriched sandwich loaf in a 4½×8½in pan. Plus a nominal 1+lb loaf is still small enough for easy kneading.

cheers,

gary

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

The idea about the small doughs was simply to show how a small percentage shift in hydration has a large effect on dough texture.  I didn't Intend to take those samples all the way to full development, just to show the difference between dry:stiff and wet:gloopy while letting the students see how the numbers translate to reality.  If I were to do a side by side with white and whole wheat flours, that would be even more interesting.  For that matter, I could even let them sit for a while to demonstrate an autolyse.

Your point about larger doughs is well taken.  The students will definitely get to mix and knead their own full size doughs.

Thanks,

Paul