"Bread and baker: From the Source" - podcasts
For a while now I've known about the existence of a set of three VHS tapes: "Bread & Baker: From the Source". It is a 3 tape set (VHS) which has Prof. Raymond Calvel teaching, in detail, the production of various types of bread as part of his visit to the Culinary Institute of America. It was co-produced by the BBGA (Bread Bakers Guild of America).
If you look around the Internet you'll be able to find them for sale (although not easy to find). Right now, there is a set available on eBay for $135. Problem is that many of us don't even have a VHS anymore. Second problem is that $135 may be well over most people's budget, and that is a "good" price. In the past the BBGA made it available to its members only for $150!
CIA comes to the rescue. They have taken the most important segments of these videos and made them available as video podcasts. While this section is about book reviews, I decided these videos should be of enough interest to warrant review here.
This is really a little bit of a misnomer. Podcasts are typically streamed to your computer and loaded on your iPod. These are basically MPEG4 videos you download. You can, however, put them on your iPod if you wish. They are 640x480 resolution, which means they are nearly the resolution of Standard Definition TV. Image quality and sound quality are very good.
The good thing is that you can selectively buy any of the 9 segments (varying in length from 5-17 minutes) for $4.95 each. Here is a description and brief review of each:
- Introduction (Size: 52.3 MB, Length: 6:41)
An introduction to bread and Prof. Calvel and his life and work. Introduction to basics of French Bread baking, technique and quality requirements. Interesting background material. Not much technical information.
- Ingredients and Mixing (Size: 96.4 MB, Length: 11:46)
Gives detailed information about ingredients and their properties. Discusses why you want to use unbleached flours, milling, resting period, baking performance, gluten water absorptions. Water quality is not important except for chlorination (undesirable), or too high mineral content. Amount of water needed and environment. Yeast and its role. Salt and its role. Additions such as ascorbic acid, malt and lecithin. The importance of proper mixing and over oxidation (improved mix vs. conventional mix) and the use of autolyse. Presents his philosophy on great bread. This is all still background material, but well worth knowing.
- Fermentation (Size: 38.7 MB, Length: 5:46)
Importance of correct (and long) fermentation. Direct method with intensive or conventional mix versus using pre-ferments. Discusses poolish, sponge (levain), and pâte fermentée. Short mix. Does not show technique, but teaches the difference and importance between mixing techniques.
- Division, Molding & Baking (Size: 43.9 MB, Length: 5:32)
This is the first segment where you can learn technique that may not always be obvious. Not everything is explained, but watch the hands at work and learn. Discusses purpose of bulk fermentation vs. proofing. Humidity and its importance. Scoring and baking. Crackling or "singing" crust.
- Baguettes (Size: 134.8 MB, Length: 16:31)
While dedicated to a particular bread it shows much generally useful material (fermentation, keeping quality etc.) and useful tips (e.g. put dry yeast in at beginning of mix, before autolyse, but fresh yeast after). It shows the complete process from start to finish. Also shows making of the "Pain Rustique" and "Parisienne", made from the same dough. This segment is really half of a set of two as the formula is not presented until the end of segment 6.
- Pain de Campagne (Size: 82.7 MB, Length: 10:20)
Country bread is the sister of the baquette and is baked in many different shapes. Includes "Pain Fendu," "Couronne" (ring & horse shoe), and "Bouton d'Or" (Butter cup). Comments about excessive application of flour on the outside. Finishes up with the formulas for baguette and pain de campagne. Other comments are similar as to the baguette section.
- Pain au Levain (Size: 125.8 MB, Length: 15:31)
This is the first of three segments belonging together: Specialty Breads. This segment is about the French version of sourdough bread. Shows all steps in producing and refreshing a (stiff) starter and introduces correct terminology (Seed culture, Mère, elaboration, tout-point, Levain). Shows the shaping of the boulot and boule. Other comments are similar as to the baguette section.
- Pain de Seigle (Size: 47.7 MB, Length: 5:46)
Rye bread, eaten in France with seafood and charcuterie (cold cuts). Discusses formula (and use of viral wheat gluten). Other comments are similar as to the baguette section.
- Pain de Mie (Size: 68.6 MB, Length: 8:07)
Pulmann bread, or pan bread, also known as sandwich bread. Includes formula. Shows three different shaping options: round ball shapes (5 balls), pan roll, and "twisted" shape. Advantage of machine shaping: uniform texture. Even shows a bread with a small defect: "Even a pro can good up!" Other comments are similar as to the baguette section.
All together 691 MB of video, just under 90 minutes in length. If you don't want all segments, or can't afford them, I'd suggest getting 2, 3 and 4 together for basic explanations and techniques, and only getting any of the others if you have a particular interest in those breads. Segments 5 and 6 can be used individually, but are part of a combined section. Segment 5 is also useful as a single segment extension to 2, 3 and 4, showing the whole process.
The CIA's online shop is found at: http://www.ciaprochef.com  and these videos are found on the podcast page . You may want to explore the online store: there is a lot of other material available. After you order you'll receive an email with links to download the segment(s) you bought. The servers are quite slow and, effectively, you will only be able to download one video at a time. For all 9 videos, and on a very fast Internet connection, this took me about 70 minutes. So beware! (Tip: Download each next segment while watching the previous one).
Conclusion: Great buy for anybody that wants to learn more than baking one recipe all the time and wants to venture into a couple of different styles of bread. Any or all of the segments are well taped and digitized with as good a quality and resolution as may be expected from an original VHS production. The material represents classic knowledge about french techniques that have wide applicability to all bakers. As video material, this is necessarily less complete than Calvel's seminal work "Le Gout du Pain"  or its english translation "A Taste of Bread" , but at the same time it is much more friendly to the beginning or home baker that wants to learn more. Well worth the money, in my opinion, for each segment that is of interest to you, or for all of them. Unfortunately there is no discount available for getting all of them.
See my My Bread Adventures in pictures