The Fresh Loaf

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Teaching bread making - anyone do this?

Lazy Loafer's picture
Lazy Loafer

Teaching bread making - anyone do this?

I've had a few inquiries from customers and friends about me teaching bread-making classes in my home. Does anyone do this? Any advice? I'm thinking it would be a bit tricky, considering that most of my breads cover at least a day from mixing to baking. Add to that anything to do with sourdough starters and there's a bunch of short lessons over several days! It would also have to be a very small group (space issues) and people selected according to their interests and knowledge / experience with baking bread.

jimbtv's picture

There was a recent discussion on the forum about this same subject. I too have thought about teaching a class.

Most folks who taught said that they try to keep it simple, already having levains ready to go and having the ingredients pre-measured. They also had bread either proofing or retarded so that when the mixing was done, the class could make believe the long fermentation/proofing times had occurred and move straight into the bake. You might also consider having a ferment already in progress so that it could be divided, shaped, then proofed and baked. If your intentions were to go from mix to bake in a single session, this would probably be the only way it could be accomplished.

Other than that you could do a class on starters, levains and poolishes. You might do a class on fermentation, shaping and proofing. In other words you may have to teach a series instead of a single class. In any case it would be up to you to have the ingredients or dough prepared in advance so that the class could have a hands-on experience.

The 3-day class I attended at King Arthur Flour had two instructors working the front-of-house and a support person preparing support materials. It was apparent that a lot of prep work went into the class long before we started, and continued all the way through the session. As they say, the trick is to make it look easy and the best way to do that is a lot of work in advance, and in between daily sessions. Personally I think the teaching is the easy part.



Lazy Loafer's picture
Lazy Loafer

That's about where my thinking was going - not lessons working through from start to finish but having starters and dough at certain stages and teaching certain concepts during separate lessons. It might also make sense to start with shaping and baking a finished dough, at least for people who haven't baked bread before, to get them excited about it and be able to 'make' something themselves right from the get go! Lots to think about...

Gill63's picture

After baking a selection of breads for a couple of parties over the summer I was asked to do a lesson for a few of my friends, and did it on Sunday morning at a friend's house, as she has more room than me. Everyone enjoyed themselves. Previous experience ranged from absolutely nothing, through packet mixes done in a mixer to 'tried a few times but couldn't get gluten development.' There were 5 friends plus me. I arranged dough scrapers for everyone, as even the regular cake bakers who told me they had scrapers were actually referring to ones more suited to icing. We stuck to a straightforward white yeasted dough, handled in the Bertinet way (I did and loved his 5 day course). Everyone made  dough using 750g of flour. We all made fougasse from my dough, and others chose whether to do loaves and/ or rolls from theirs. Some added dried fruit and nuts or topped with seeds.

Trying to keep an eye on 5 people either making the dough or shaping kept me fully engaged, and even with 3 ovens working the final loaf to go in was a little over-proofed. Overall, good bread made and everyone very positive about it. Talked a bit about sourdough, but in a morning only time to do the basics.

The 3rd oven is a stream oven, which my friend doesn't really feel she knows how to use, and I have no experience of. We're going to have a bit more of a play with that at some point. I'm going to go back with a couple of shaped sourdough boules to have the final overnight proof in her fridge before baking, one in the steam oven and the other in my usual Dutch oven type way.


Lazy Loafer's picture
Lazy Loafer

Ah, fougasse is a good idea. Relatively easy to shape and bake, fun to eat and impressive to look at (makes people happy to think they baked such a thing). It might be interesting to do a lesson in the morning, break for lunch during the first rise / bulk ferment and then finish the shaping and baking after lunch. Better not have wine with lunch. :)

pmccool's picture

Teaching bread making is loads of fun but does require some creativity if the subject bread is anything other than a straight dough.  Even those have dead spaces in the schedule.

Most of the classes I teach run 3 hours.  That isn't enough time to mix, knead, ferment, shape, final ferment, and bake during class.  Consequently, the students make up the dough, bag it, and take it home to shape, final ferment, and bake.  I'll often have dough made up in advance of the class so that the shaping and baking steps can be demonstrated during class.  This lets the students understand how those steps work and see the finished product.  Most classes also feature two distinct breads.  This fills the gap that occurs when the first bread is ready to bulk ferment and gives the students better value for the time and money they spend on the class.

In some classes, the second bread might be chemically leavened; scones, biscuits, etc. 

Longer "all day" classes run about 5 hours.  Those are useful for something like a sourdough bread or a bread that requires some other preferment or soaker.  I'll make up the levain or preferment or soaker the evening before and portion that out for the students to work with in class, taking care to explain what's been done already and why.  The longer classes usually allow enough time to bake a straight yeasted bread during class.  The slower-fermenting sourdoughs get bagged for take-home shaping and baking. 

The biggest value for most students isn't the recipe--it's finding out how a dough behaves and what they can do to influence the dough.  I always teach use of weight measurements.  For many people, it's a first-time thing to encounter.  Some are initially put off because of a long familiarity with volume measurements but you should see the lightbulbs come on as I discuss and show hydration and bakers percentages.  A lot of people are afraid of sticky dough and are then surprised to find out that their definition of sticky is really only slightly tacky.  It's a huge confidence booster once they find out they can handle a really gloopy dough without additional handsful of flour.

Start small.  It's much easier to teach 2-4 people than it is to teach 15-20 people. 

Start simple.  A simple white bread is an excellent teaching tool for the novice baker, since it covers most of the techniques that are required in more complex breads.

Make sure your recipes are 100% linear; that is, the ingredients are listed in the exact same order as they are used in the dough.  Write out every step, especially the steps that "everybody knows already". Include plenty of "why" explanation in the recipe, as well as the "how". 

Mise en place is essential.  All ingredients and tools should be within easy reach of the students and yourself.

Make up a schedule for the class, breaking it down step by step.  Assume that if you can do something in 10 minutes, your students will require 20-30 minutes to accomplish the same thing.  If they have to share something, like a scale, that will slow them down, too.

If your first few classes feel like a Keystone Kops film, take note of where things didn't go as planned and adjust them for the next class.  My rule of thumb is that if people leave with smiles on their faces, it was a good class even if it didn't go quite as I intended.  You might even want to practice with some friends as "students" before taking on paying students, so that you can work out some unforeseen kinks.

Every time I have to lug 20-30 pounds of levain into a class (along with everything else), I ask myself why I'm doing this.  And then I find out, again, just how much fun it is.


Lazy Loafer's picture
Lazy Loafer

That's a lot of excellent advice! If I do this in my home the classes will have to be small, for sure. I like the idea of two breads during a class. I do have some good recipes for soda bread, for example, that would be fun. And an interesting idea, to have them bag up their dough and take it home to shape and bake. Do you ever have panicked phone calls when they are doing this? :) I tried to teach my husband and my daughter how to shape a loaf (tightening it into a round) and the results were kind of funny. I didn't realize how much of what I do is only 'easy' because of my experience doing it. It's difficult to explain to someone else!

pall.ecuador's picture

When I've done this in the past I charge everybody a bottle of wine for the price of admission and if they intend to keep baking I also charge whatever the cost of a scale is (around $20) because the majority of people in the US still don't bake by weight. That way during the class people can learn how to use their scale and also be ready to take it home. I try and start the class with a proofed loaf, a fancy ready loaf (cheddar and bacon, or olive, or something else that can be eaten out of hand) and also a loaf that has been initially mixed but not folded. I then show how to prep the oven and throw the proofed loaf into the oven. Then I move on to folding the mixed loaf and then have people do an initial mix of their own bread. 

After that the bread is normally about ready to pull out of the oven. I take that out, do the first fold on the students loafs, and open a bottle of wine and take some questions. 

Normally that can get us to the second fold of students bread (and 3rd fold of my bread). A little more discussion and more wine and then I divide and shape. 

This is significantly shorter than I take for a normal bread of mine but it shows students all the important parts and I can send students home with the basics of how to do a stretch and fold basic loaf from start to finish. They get to take loaf that they started home and bake it at home.

There are always more questions about shaping but I've found that the easiest thing for people starting out it to get a banneton or brotform and start there and learn fancy shaping as you go along.  

Lazy Loafer's picture
Lazy Loafer

I especially like the wine part. :)

The staging is a good idea for a single class, for sure. I think I'll go that way, and maybe also plan out a multi-class (on different days) one for people who want a little more in-depth learning. I like the 'bring-your-own-scale' idea too. I have a couple but it would be good to get people to buy their own if they are serious about making bread.

Do you do these classes with yeast bread (straight dough) or is the dough made with a levain (or pre-ferment)? I'd like to introduce people to the benefits (and differences) of long, slow-fermented bread versus fast bread with lots of yeast. And maybe send them home with a small mother culture to get them started.

pall.ecuador's picture

I normally use a pre-ferment of about 15% of the flour for these demonstrations in line with Hamelman's recipes. This lets you get from start to shaped bread in about 3 hours and then a retard overnight in the fridge before baking. When I bake for myself I tend to do between 5-12% depending on when I have planned my bake the next day or more. 

IceDemeter's picture

and won't be able to come and learn from you!

I've obviously never been involved in teaching baking, but have many, many years of teaching various industry courses under my belt.  One highly important thing is one that you've already touched on - which is restricting small classes to people with roughly equivalent background knowledge and skill levels.  I always liked to put together a questionnaire listing various activities / skills and asking for prospective students to prioritize what they are most interested in learning.  There were a number of times that I was surprised to discover that my students thought it critical to learn things that I either hadn't considered, or that I figured that they should have been born knowing... ;)

One thing that I find missing from almost every course on anything, is what the actual, real-life, consequences are for "screwing up".  I would bet that a lot of folks shy away from bread-baking because they've been told that it is "a strict science" and that "yeast is tricky" and, honestly, there is a lot of time and effort and materials involved so a lot of folks feel that the "risk" isn't worth it.  I personally would have loved attending a class where I could experience that too dry can be fixed with water, too wet can be fixed with flour (or squishing it in to a tin), underproofed and overproofed will give different textures, BUT they ALL give you good tasting bread in the end!  Worst case scenario is bread pudding or croutons or altus - and the experience and knowledge to do better next time.  You might find it worthwhile to your students to include some "this is what is wrong with this dough" situations - and then let them have the hands-on experience of either correcting it or seeing what the resulting bake comes out like.

If you want a rank beginner to bounce ideas off of, then please let me know --- I'm totally game for some long-distance learnin'!

Lazy Loafer's picture
Lazy Loafer

With some of the bread you've been baking, I wouldn't call you a rank beginner at all! And you've got way more knowledge than a lot of people do. That's something I'll have to find out for sure - what do people already know about baking, especially baking bread. And what they want to know. And how much knowledge of the background-science type they want as opposed to the hands-on-experience type. I know I like to understand how and why things work the way they do, but not everyone wants this. Baker's math is one of those things - I think it's absolutely critical to know how this works, while other people just want to mix up and bake bread, using a standard recipe that they can use all the time.

I'm thinking of a combination of "get in there and start baking" mixed with a bit of "and here's the science - terminology - book larnin'" you need to know. And probably some eating involved too. :)

Some day you can come and visit and we can bake together. Not sure there is anything I can teach you though! The Fresh Loaf has probably taught both of us an awful lot. :D