The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Taking the plunge: 2 weeks at SFBI !

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bikeprof's picture

Taking the plunge: 2 weeks at SFBI !

I'm rather geeked after just signing up for (what were formerly referred to as) Aritsan I and II workshops back to back at SFBI in May.  While the cost is a bit daunting, that has been tamed quite a bit by renting a room in a house nearby through AirBNB - that is my tip for those looking to save some money ($50/night in SF!) - we'll see how it goes, and I'll try to report back in a way that isn't too redundant with previous posts. 

Feel free to share tips or ask questions (but don't expect an exhaustive blogging).

dmsnyder's picture

You are going to have a blast!

Advice: Make plans for distributing some of the breads you make, unless you are bringing a crowd with you. 

Looking forward to your reports! Do you know who your instructors will be?


bikeprof's picture

Thanks, don't know who the instructors will be...and renting a room in a shared house, I definitely plan to share some bread.


emkay's picture

The classes at the SFBI are a great experience for all bread and pastry geeks. If it's too much bread for you to take home at the end of each day, you can trade with the pastry students. 

This is just a very small sampling of what we made during my Viennoiserie class. It would have been nice to trade some croissants and sticky buns for some artisan bread, but there wasn't a bread class going on at the same time.


Have a great time in class!


bikeprof's picture

looking forward to breakfast at SFBI!

chouette22's picture
chouette22 on the workshops. I so very nearly signed up for the second course on May 12th, but then dropped the idea (again), because with air fare and hotel, one week is really expensive. What a great idea to rent an apartment, I never even thought of that. I just checked and there are still 8 places available for that course, you'll be in a real small group. Maybe I should reconsider!

bikeprof's picture

yes, it is a splurge, but I'm driving to SF (11hrs), and renting a room in a shared house to reduce costs (there is another room left, I believe, for those dates). In part because of costs of traveling, and my desire to really build some skills, I doubled up on the courses, rather than making 2 trips.

bikeprof's picture

OK, so here are a few reflections on my 2 weeks at SFBI, taking the Systematic Approach to Bread, and the Sourdough classes, back-to-back (henceforth A1 and A2, respectively).

Key positives for me:

  1. Mack McConnell is a great teacher. He is very knowledgeable, highly skilled, well connected to folks in and the workings of the industry.  Perhaps more importantly, he is very approachable, even-keeled, positive, and responsive. He not only did a pretty amazing job of orchestrating what was occasionally intensive logistics of multiple groups doing multiple mixes/rise/shaping/baking, but would throw in extra demonstration batches of breads we were interested in himself.  We had a few total grain and bread geeks in the classes, and he was happy to support us ratcheting up the discussion of bread esoterica.  He also gave great individual instruction/support.
  2. The setup/facilities at SFBI were very nice and they did not skimp on ingredients or equipment.  It is geared toward a production environment, but I enjoyed getting to use it all.  The general atmosphere at SFBI, along with the food an general helpfulness of the staff, were all really great.
  3. Content/curriculum: The A2 class in particular had great content for me, mostly because the breads we were making were one’s I’m very interested in making (extended nicely by Mack adding some breads into the mix).  We made some really killer breads that week.  Further, although I have been an avid reader and student of bread baking for some time, I learned a number of valuable pieces of information about bread.  But the practical skills were certainly the most valuable, and I’m hoping will really transfer to improved baking at home.  From appreciating the value of good pre-shaping, to just what constitutes sufficient gluten development or bulk-fermentation, to how aggressive I can be in rounding, I came away with some significantly improved knowledge, skills and confidence, particularly in handling dough.

The few reservations I had center on the content of A1.  I do understand that there are reasons why the A1 course covers what it does, illustrating a number of basic principles and factors in baking, but I really didn’t need to actually do an intensively mixed white baguette to believe it is a bad idea and why that is so.  I did learn such things in a new and experiential way, but I think they could lean much further in the direction of artisanal bread, particularly in the A1 course curriculum.  If I had just taken the A1 course only, I would personally have come away a bit disappointed, given the very heavy focus on yeasted white baguettes.  I do feel much more confident in shaping and scoring a baguette, and using a couche, however.  Dialing back on what I consider the less artisanal formulas would also address the other niggling issue I had: the occasionally intensive schedule of scaling/mixing/shaping/baking.  Particularly with a larger class, the logistics involved can be a bit daunting at times, and the pace occasionally leaves little room for reflection.  I was with a generally great and competent group of students for both A1 and A2, which meant efficient work and few consequential mistakes.  Without that, I could see getting pretty frustrated during the more intensive periods.

Overall, I had a great experience, and recommend the SFBI workshops. I am considering going back for the whole grain course.

bikeprof's picture

barryvabeach's picture

Wow, those loaves look great.  

angiechia's picture

wow! It's nice to see these comments. I will be heading to SFBI in June for the courses too, and am taking them back to back to back - yes, all 3 - I am filled with excitement I can hardly sleep of late! Even dreams are of bread!

shansen10's picture

Thanks for your post.  I'll really look forward to your report on the room rental through Air BnB.  Sounds like just what I want.