Swedish Bread Class
Although this past Saturday morning was wet and dreary outside, things were lively inside the Culinary Center of Kansas City. Twenty students showed up to try their hand at a Swedish-style bread and practice several shaping techniques.
One student arrived a few minutes early. She has attended other classes that I have taught, too. While we were chatting, she said to me "You've created a monster, you know." I asked what she meant. She said, "Well, I bought that book (meaning ITJB) and I've been baking a lot from it." When I replied that that sounded like a good thing, she said she had killed her Kitchen Aide double ovens and had to replace them. Apparently her steaming method had cooked the electronics and the cost of replacement was high enough that she figured it would be better spent on a new appliance, so she bought a high-end prosumer brand. Since she bakes for markets, it's probably justifiable but her husband has apparently been grumbling somewhat.
Other familiar faces included Fuzzy Whiskers and her daughter. The rest were as new to me as I to them but it didn't take long to break the ice and start having some fun.
The bread itself is lovely, rich with milk and eggs and butter and redolent of cardamom and cinnamon. Just for good measure, some almonds made their way into the mix, too. Contrary to most American sweet breads, this bread is just slightly sweet, making it an excellent accompaniment for tea or coffee.
As part of preparation for class, I had made up a double batch of dough and baked it off in four different shapes so that the students could see how the finished product looked. And then, of course, we served it up so that they could see how it tasted, too. There were only a few pieces left by the end of class.
Class began with a demonstration of mixing and kneading the dough while fielding questions from the students. One part of the demonstration included the slap and fold method of kneading, since the dough is quite soft. It's almost magical to see the dough firming up and gaining body after just a couple of minutes of this treatment, while losing its stickiness at the same time. The students then went to their workstations and set to work with a will. As they worked, I moved from station to station to answer questions and offer tips. It's in this stage that I am often reminded of just how many small things we learn as we develop our skills. Examples: "See how the dough sticks to your hands less if you pick it up with your fingertips instead of in your fist?" "Yes, slapping it down is necessary but look at how we stretch the dough outward, too." "It's okay that the butter isn't perfectly dispersed at this stage of mixing; you will finish blending it in as you add the flour." And, always, reading the dough's consistency.
Once the doughs were prepared, I had the students leave them on the bench, covered with the mixing bowls. Then it was back to the teaching station to demonstrate four different shaping techniques. The first was just a simple, three-strand braid. Everyone felt confident that they could handle braiding without practicing in class, so we moved on to the next shape, which was the epi. Although the epi is usually associated with baguette doughs, it makes a lovely presentation for a cinnamon roll, too. Everyone wanted to try their hand with this shape, so it was back to the workstations for practice. None of the practice shaping included the filling, since I wanted the students to gain confidence with the mechanics of the shaping method rather than having to worry about spoiling their bread. I noticed that a few went ahead and made some braids, too.
The third shape will be familiar to anyone who has made Floyd's Blueberry Cream Cheese Braid . As before, I demonstrated the method, then the students went back to practice it with their own dough. It is pictured, below.
The fourth shape was inspired by breadsong's A Rose for Christmas  post. For the class, I treated it as a simple twist rather than coiling it into a rosette. Following the previous pattern, I demonstrated the technique and then the students practiced it at their workstations. It is also pictured, below.
What I heard, repeatedly, was "I had no idea something that fancy was that easy!" People were surprised, and impressed, that they could turn out some very pretty breads all on their own.
At the end of the shaping practice, everyone's dough was bagged up so that they could take it home for shaping and baking as they wished. We concluded with some further Q&A and then our time was up.
Since I had some take-home dough of my own, I baked it that afternoon. Here's a picture:
Most of it went to friends at church this morning.
The other thing that I did this weekend was verify the formulae and run some test bakes for an upcoming class on October 14. Here's a preview, PG: