For as long as I can remember, I have had a love affair with bread. Growing up Italian, good bread was compulsory at every meal. Some days, my after school snack was a hunk of Italian bread and a Big Gulp of orange soda (don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it). Since those days, bread has been a mainstay in my diet. As a vegetarian, it’s sometimes the only item I can eat on the menu—and you won’t hear me complaining about it.
So why would a self-proclaimed “avid home baker” and bread lover never make bread? That’s right, this baker—who has laughed in the face of the French macaron and homemade puff pastry—has run away from bread-making like I was the only woman left in the zombie apocalypse. And the reason is yeast. Yeast has always scared the daylights out of me, because yeast is, after all, a fickle mistress.
So, just imagine my shock, awe and utter trepidation when I heard our first class at ICE was Bread 101. Not only would I have to use a scale for the first time and make sure that all of my measurements were perfectly accurate, but I would also have to face my greatest baking demon head on. (Secretly, I was hoping my first day of pastry school would be like the first episode of Top Chef where you make your signature dish and show your point of view. Ah, not so much.)
Luckily for us, our chef calmly walked us through the process of making bread. It didn’t look that hard, and I was fascinated by what I was learning about my former foe; who knew that sugar feeds yeast, while salt slows it down? I was starting to feel slightly more excited. But first, I had to create the perfect temperature for my yeast in order for it to bloom (and figure out what an ounce is using the pesky scale).
At home, I’m pretty fast and loose in the kitchen, so the concept of exact measurements is a bit foreign to me. I need structure and technique to stay on task, which was part of the appeal of culinary school. As it happens, my scale is actually pretty cool and does all the thinking for me! So I follow the directions and I bloom the yeast, scald the milk, cube my butter and measure out a combination of bread flour and whole wheat flour, plus a little honey for sweetness. I give it a whirl in the mixer and out comes this gorgeous, warm pile of silky dough. Whoa, did I maybe actually do this right?! I set my dough aside to proof and while I wait for it to rise, I start dreaming of all the kinds of bread I can make now that I am a “master” bread maker. (One loaf of bread hardly makes one an expert, but a girl can dream.)
When my bread comes out of the oven, it feels like life is in slow motion, and the song “We are the Champions” is playing in my head. It is golden, delicious, smells like a dream and the texture is in this magical place between spongy and dense. This, of course, opens the flood gates. Since then I have made white bread, wheat bread, cinnamon bread, focaccia bread, dinner rolls, rosemary bread, challah bread–which I made into banana foster french toast—and I am now a woman completely obsessed with bread in all the right ways. Despite all my worries, making bread never felt so right. The one challenge I haven’t faced? Sourdough. Anyone have a starter I can borrow?
Click here to learn more about ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program.