Regular readers of KitchenSavvy will know that one of my quests is to make the perfect loaf of bread. You may have read some of the articles and maybe even tried my Breadmaker Jewish Rye Bread recipe (Hint - you don't need a breadmaker. It is just as easy to make by hand or with a mixer).
Well, I just spent four great days at the King Arthur Flour Baking Education Center in Norwich, Vermont taking their Artisan Baking at Home class. I honestly can't say enough about how much I enjoyed the class and how much I learned.
The content took us through focaccia and lunetta (made from the same dough), ciabatta, lavash, baguettes, croissant, pain au chocolat, bear claws, sourdough, rye fougasse and pizza. With the exception of the ciabatta, which was demonstration only, we made every one of these items. We learned how make the dough, how to shape the various loaves, including baguettes (a skill that had previously defied most of my attempts), and how to slash the loaves prior to baking. We saw how the bread was loaded into professional ovens, and helped a little, too, and we even got to use their wood-fired oven to cook our own pizzas. Now, if I could just convince Pat that I need one of those!
The class was well designed in two important ways. First, there was a good mix of demonstration and hands on. For each item we made there was an up-front demonstration by the instructor, followed by hands-on at our benches, learning by doing. For most recipes, there were two or more up front demonstrations. For the focaccia and lunetta, there was one on mixing the dough and one on forming the bread. For croissants, there were more since we needed to prepare the dough and butter, bring them together, roll them to form the final dough, and then roll, cut and shape the pastries. I found the movement between demonstration and bench was just right for me to learn the steps in chunks that were easy to remember.
Second, as you know if you have made bread, there is a lot of down time while dough rises, loaves rise and breads bake. The flow of the class was well planned. We would prepare the dough for one item, move onto learning or preparing for another, getting a demonstration and hands on, and then return to the first dough to take it to the next step. This alternation kept the class active and informative. Never once in the 20 hours did I feel bored, at loose ends, or over-stuffed with information.
I also appreciated that when it came to shaping baguettes and boules, the instructors brought in pre-made dough for us to practice on before we shaped our own loaves. When we were doing the baguettes, for example, we each got three or four practice loaves first, and we did them two students at a time so that the instructor, Amber, could coach every one of us.
Our up-front instructors had an easy and informative style that kept the class engaged. They all were quite knowledgeable and experienced, and seemed genuinely enthusiastic about our learning. Kudos to them, and to the instructors at the back of the room who helped in so many ways, from supporting the lead instructor to helping during hands on and making sure we had the ingredients and equipment we needed, when we needed it. And when they weren't doing all of that, they were cleaning bowls, loading the washer, and generally taking care of all of the mechanics of keeping the class running smoothly.
Thank you Jessica, Amber, Robyn, Michelle, Karen, and Susan for making the class so much fun and so informative. If I missed someone, my apologies.
In all ways this class met or exceeded my expectations. If you are a bread enthusiast, this is the class for you, too.
Oh, and King Arthur, I hope to visit again soon in your new facilities for Artisan II.