Lessons 26-29: Simple Complexity

I absolutely love bread. I could eat it for every meal. And it’s seemingly simple to make: Flour + Water + Yeast = Bread. However, when I picked up my new class binder, in preparation for the start of Module II, I became a little anxious.

The first recipe, for semolina bread, read:

  1. Mix (straight dough method, by hand).
  2. Ferment
  3. Deflate
  4. Divide
  5. Shape 
  6. Proof
  7. Bake

I wondered, “Is that really how you make bread? Seven one-word instructions?” In my experience, something that appears that simple is always quite the opposite. Chef Instructor Scott McMillen began by introducing us to the vocabulary, processes and basic steps of bread making. Yeast, a primary ingredient in bread, changes everything.

Working with a living organism that requires food, moisture, warmth and time to flourish is different from working with straightforward ingredients like butter, sugar and eggs. To understand this living ingredient better, we each prepared a wild yeast starter that would become our child for the next few weeks, requiring daily feedings of equal parts water and flour. I mixed the ingredients together to create my rye starter child, named her Rye-Anna and fed her as instructed by Chef Scott. Rye-Anna thrived and grew so fast that she exploded out of her container on the sixth day (unfortunately, in my suitcase), giving birth to a second starter, Ryan.

At the rate that she is growing, I will have 10 starter children by the end of the month! Our class is continuing to feed our “children,” giving them daily doses of nourishment until they are strong enough to leaven bread. Through exercises in class, such as making two batches of baguettes over a two-day period, we have had the opportunity to explore the many elements that affect the end product. For example, we all agreed the baguettes made with dough that had rested overnight were more flavorful, butthe flavor could also be attributed to a longer baking time on the second day. That’s the thing with bread — there are so many variables to consider; from how you prepare the dough, to the fermentation, deflation, rounding and shaping, all the way to the final proofing and baking.

Small variations in the equation can produce dramatically different breads such as the ones we made in class: baguettes, olive bread, fougasse and American black bread. I never thought bread, something I have probably eaten close to every single day of my life, could be so complex. “Don’t be shy about having your way with dough,” Chef Scott told us. This is what I think is particularly intriguing about bread making; it requires a feel and understanding of the dough that is difficult to explain or teach in four lessons. Very simply, it is a complex craft and one that takes years and years to master. I look forward to getting some more experience over the next two months in both patience and in the art of baking delicious and beautiful bread!

Next up: bread sticks, pizza, bagels, pretzels, doughnuts and brioche — all things that I absolutely love to eat! And hopefullylove to make!

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