Saturday, April 6, 2013

Q: What Did I Learn In School Today?

A: Bread baking basics!

I had a baking class this morning, April 6, 2013, at Le Pain Quotidien and for three hours I was a student again for the first time ("for the first time" because this was the first formal baking class I've ever taken). Exciting! But let me back up and give you the history of this little adventure.

In January, Michele and I went to Portland, OR to visit with her brother and his family. In an effort to be proactive in seeking out interesting things I wanted to do while there, I did a little reading on the local bread culture. Since Portland is a foodie kind of town I figured there would be some good bakeries from which to sample bread. I was also hoping to talk with some of the bakers to get some tips on technique. Well, the sampling happened but the talking did not. The bakeries were top-notch but none of them seemed conducive to picking the brains of the bakers.

Fast forward to last month. Michele and I went to see Eddie Izzard workshop material for his next tour (my sides hurt from laughing so much, by the way) and while we were walking around the neighborhood, waiting for the venue to open, we passed the Le Pain Quotidien on Bleeker Street. You can look in one of the windows to check out their kitchen set up. I did that very thing and noticed a sign that mentioned they taught baking classes there! Now, I'll admit that I'm not the biggest fan of chain restaurants in general, and I'd never eaten at any of the L.P.Q.s anywhere in the country but seeing that sign changed my opinion of them by more than a little bit!

Advance the disc slightly to last night. We had dinner with friends but I was a bit preoccupied because I couldn't stop thinking about the class. Surprisingly, I was nervous! I understood that it was a basics class and that no one was going to be judging my work; it wasn't the C.I.A. or Peter Kump's for crying out loud! I kept bumping my head against that case of nerves until the answer fell out: I was nervous about being in front of a professional baker (a job do not in the least aspire to have) but more than that I was afraid that I would get more deeply bitten by the bread baking bug. Why? Even from my admittedly limited experience, I understand the commitment it takes to become a great bread baker and how obsessive that goal can become for some folks. I swore to myself that I wouldn't go down that road. The rewards are great but the challenges are many and I shuddered at the limitations of my kitchen and my equipment. And I just couldn't imagine myself in the same company as the bread bakers I've been reading about lately.

Creep into this morning. I made sure I was at L.P.Q in plenty of time to get a cup of coffee, which i enjoyed.

Coffee in a little bowl! And a picture taken with my iPad camera!

I also enjoyed the fact that the late morning wasn't wall-to-wall customers; I was able to sit quietly and try to chill out my anxieties before the class started. The other element of the class that made me nervous was baking with/in front of other people. I'm kind of a solitary baker. I'm not used to having a whole lot of people watching me as a wrestle with a recipe or breeze through prepping a dish. With the class, I'd have to contend not only with the eyes of my fellow bakers (and the instructor), but the eyes of anyone who passed by the giant storefront window! Ack! Just drink the coffee. Chill out. Breathe.

Brie, the baker who would be teaching us called the class together, issued us our aprons (I brought my own hat, of course), went over the syllabus and some baking terms then got us started. Three hours and five different breads later, all my anxieties proved to be unfounded or highly-manageable and we were sitting down to a lunch of pizza we'd all made for ourselves (mine was artichoke hearts and bacon). We baked two styles of baguettes, raisin and sunflower seed batards, chocolate-, and butter-, filled French dinner rolls, a dough we could save and bake later, and the pizza. Brie was an amazing teacher and even though she probably didn't know it, she gave me confidence that I could become whatever kind of bread baker I want. There's nothing like learning from someone who loves what she's doing!

All the bread in my world (this afternoon, that is).
The épi de blé baguette and one of the French dinner rolls.
The raisin and sunflower seed batard, a roll and the baguette. All were such fun to make!
It was great to have some practical, in-person, instruction in some of the techniques I've been reading about in Peter Reinhart's books and that was well-worth the price of admission! All that and a nifty handout to refresh my memory from time to time! I'm looking forward to taking Part 2 of this class!

Currently listening to: Joan Armatrading - I'm Lucky

(I'll return to my handheld pie adventure in the next post.)



  1. The raisin bread was delicious, and artichoke bacon pizza sounds like something you need more practice at. At home. For dinner. :D

  2. Oh! How lovely! I adore hearing that you, Mr. Cool, were anxious about something! You got me on the edge of my seat with your story too...don't forget to post about the second class.
    And the items you made looked scrumptious! I have never seen a baguette like the one you made that looked like leaves...and chocolate butter dinner it as good as it sounds?

    Thanks for the fun read! Love you!

    1. Well, Gert, how do you think I became, Mr. Cool? Facing down anxieties,that's how! lol! You can be sure that I'll post about the second class when I take it. I have to do some practicing with the techniques I learned in the first, though, before I move on.

      I'm much more partial to the butter-filled dinner rolls than the chocolate-filled but they're both delicious! And I'd never seen the épi de blé before either.

      I'm glad you're enjoying the blog! Love you, too!