1B: Lean Breads

Lean breads have the minimal ingredients: flour, water, salt, and yeast. The French baguette is the classic example. The opposite of lean dough is enriched dough, which contains fat and, sometimes, sugar. The fat can be from oil or butter or some other fat, or it can be contained in another ingredient, such as eggs or whole milk. Brioche is made from enriched dough.

Slices of some of our bread

Slices of some of our bread

The class started with a lecture about flour, yeast, and dough and the stages of bread production. Flour can be made from soft wheat or hard wheat, and the characteristics of each kind are different. Flour made from hard wheat is better for bread, and flour made from soft wheat is better for cake. All-purpose flour is a mixture of half soft wheat and half hard wheat. Baker’s yeast comes in three different forms, each with its own characteristics that require you to handle it differently. There’s a lot of fiddly technical stuff to memorize, and I’m really enjoying that. For example, when the dough is rising, that’s “bulk fermentation,” but when the formed loaves (rolls, whatever) are rising, that’s “proofing.”

After the first part of the lecture, we moved right into the kitchen to get our bread going because we have to give the dough time to rise. In this class we had seven different recipes, and we did make them all. One was whole wheat without added vital wheat gluten, and I was dying to see how that worked. Unfortunately, we let the loaves proof too long, and they didn’t rise very well in the oven (insufficient “oven spring”). One was rye, and that turned out well. There was also a country loaf that was half rye and half white that was formed into boules and rose upside down in baskets; those were pretty.

The other bread recipes were all white. Naturally, we made baguettes. We also made hard rolls with high-gluten flour, which I realized later could’ve been turned into Kaiser rolls. Chef Delphin suggested we snip the tops with scissors; those rolls were adorable! There was a traditional French bread that was like the baguette dough but was destined for a different shape.

Aren't they just adorable?

Aren't they just adorable?

The seventh recipe was Pullman bread. I’ve seen photos of the Pullman pans, and I understood the concept, but I’d never seen the dough and pans in action. A Pullman pan has a lid, so the loaf is flat on top or, to put it another way, the slices are square. The loaf is 4 inches on a side and 16 inches long and weighs 2 lb. Unfortunately it reminds me of disgusting white supermarket bread, so although the process was interesting, I just can’t work up a lot of enthusiasm for Pullman bread.
Pullman bread

Pullman bread

I got a good lesson with the baguettes. At home, I’m all about the scale, but I suspect we’re not supposed to obsess about that yet. When we were told to divide our dough, we were allowed to weigh it but we were expected to just eyeball it. Stress time! If I can use the scale, I know. If I have to eyeball it, I’m guessing. I hate that. The corollary is that I want my dough to have a regular shape. Chef Delphin gave us pieces of dough to practice forming into baguettes. My piece was more trapezoidal than rectangular, and I couldn’t get it to form a nice rectangle, so I started to fold it in half. Big mistake! “No,” said Chef, “you’ll overwork the dough.” Then he rolled out the baguette, and voilà! What had started out in an irregular shape turned into a perfectly even loaf. So my lesson is that I’m obsessing about the wrong thing here. You can make a perfectly shaped loaf even if the dough doesn’t have 90-degree corners to start out with.
The class's output

The class's output

By the time we got to the last batch, traditional French bread, Chef Delphin told us it was also good for pizza dough, so we raided the walk-ins downstairs and made three large pizzas with onions, green peppers, red peppers, black olives, prosciutto, Gruyère, and mozzarella.
Not bread, but pizza

Not bread, but pizza

While the pizza was in the oven, we had more lecture, which included review of things that will be on the first quiz. We have a lot to memorize! Protein content of different types of flour, conversion factors for different types of yeast, different washes and what they do to the crust—and that’s just what I can remember off the top of my head. Fortunately, I’m already familiar with a lot of these concepts, so it’s not as hard as it could be.


About linguina

For most of my life I've loved to read and to make stuff. My mother says I taught myself to read when I was 4, and I never looked back. I also liked fooling around in the kitchen, but my mother wasn't really into cooking, so I learned a lot of that on my own, too. My sister and I had the Betty Crocker New Boys and Girls Cookbook (1965), and naturally I had to make the Enchanted Castle Cake. I learned how to bake bread when I was 14, and I bought a copy of the Joy of Cooking when I was 17. My aunt and uncle gave me Mastering the Art of French Cooking for my 19th birthday, and the first thing I made was soufflé. I've always been more of a baker than a cook, though. When our niece used to visit us during her breaks from college, she'd get me to show her some cooking things (including soufflé, of course!), but I kept having to tell her, "This is just how I do it. I have no idea if it's the right way." Finally, I took a basic cooking class, and that changed my life. After that class, I signed up for a 4-day baking class at King Arthur Flour. That's when I knew I was really a baker. Now I'm taking the professional pastry program at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. With this training, I'll become a pastry chef.
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One Response to 1B: Lean Breads

  1. Annie Wynn says:

    Wow, what a great lesson on breads! And yes, those little rolls are cute, they look good enough to eat 🙂 You make me want to bake some bread this weekend – it’s the one thing about the kitchen that my mother taught me and I’ve used over time. When I cooked on a boat, I made some kind of bread or rolls every day and the crew loved it. Haven’t baked much since then… maybe it’s time this winter.

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