Thursday, January 12, 2012

Still So Much to Learn

I am still floating on cloud nine, a starchy, airy but crusty and warm cloud. Although this is from last night, I still cannot stop thinking about it. I am having dreams of baking more and more bread. I now have 4 freshly baked loaves in my possession, don’t worry I am not a bread hoarder, I am going to share.


My bread with some of my Christmas presents, measuring spoons and oven mitts.

La Farm Bakery is a bakery and café in Cary, North Carolina. Cary is right outside of Raleigh and is a fairly diverse town. Although it took me about an hour and forty-five minutes to get there, it was definitely worth the drive. In Lexington, there is no comparison.

The class that I attended was called “Italian Bread Night” and was a Christmas present from Jerry’s family.  The description of the class was that we would make ciabatta and focaccia bread. I didn’t know what to expect and though I was extremely excited (heightened by the fact that I arrived in Cary over an hour early), I was very intimidated. Would I be the only person there alone or would everyone else be an expert baker?


The Italian batard, we got to shape them and use a razor to cut the top. I left with two loaves!

When I showed up, I immediately loved La Farm. The layout of the bakery is very rustic and European. There are huge crusty loaves lined up in the windows. A large counter curved towards the cash register and drinks with bread and pastries behind it. In the middle of the room were packaged items like sweet breads, hot chocolate, and granola. There were samples of the bread of the day (pan white bread) with honey butter, granola, pumpkin bread, and some type of crusty bread with spinach dip. I bought delicious-looking croissants and pain au chocolat for some friends. When I checked in for the class, I was given a complimentary cup of hot green tea (coffee, sweet tea, and soft drinks were available too).

After waiting at the café tables until 5:30, we were led back into the kitchen. I was in awe as I saw the inner workings of the well-loved bakery that has recently been featured in Food & Wine magazine. I love going behind the scenes at restaurants or cafeterias, etc. I see a tangible connection to my food and how it is prepared. Thankfully, seeing how clean and orderly the kitchen was made me feel confident in the establishment and the wonderful food prepared there.

The Master Baker Lionel Vatinet is French and although he is a very well-known baker all the world over he was extremely congenial and friendly. This was obvious when he told us not to be intimidated or give up after some difficult dough shaping because he had only been baking for 6 months. I think that a few people actually fell for it at first. But his talent as a baker comes through in his teaching as he took us through all steps in the bread baking process. He made things easy to understand (after we got used to his French accent) and didn’t overwhelm us with unfamiliar baking terms or techniques far beyond our skill.


This is the Asiago Parmesan Cheese bread, the loaf that I chose to take home (from the bakery, I can take no credit for it).

First, we learned how to shape a batard. This is like the love child of a baguette and a boule, with a compromise of crumb and crust. (Look up what “batard” is translated to in English and you will understand the analogy.)  It took several tries for each of us to get it right, although our loaves were not nearly as tight as the ones that Lionel demonstrated. One thing that was definitely obvious from the class was that it takes A LOT of practice to become good at any and all parts of the bread baking process. Then we shaped a bread that looked like four fingers of a hand. The name escapes me but I tried some when it was hot out of the oven and it was divine. We also mixed a ciabatta/focaccia bread dough. However, it was unrealistic for us to be able to mix, bulk rise, proof, and bake a loaf of bread in the three hours we had. All of us were grateful for the individual attention that we received from Lionel. However, when I asked for help I learned that I was being too gentle. I thought it was funny that he said to not be afraid, that I wouldn’t break it. Oops! I might have been slightly timid because I didn’t want to mess it up. However, I learned that agility is important and this doesn’t work well with timidity. Before, folding the dough, we got to see the five ton European Hearth Oven that our French breads were put into to bake. Later, we learned about the ingredients that went into each bread. While our bread was baking and our dough rising, our class of fifteen was treated to an assortment of baked goods including Apple Spice Cake, Blueberry Raspberry Cream Tart, and Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies. Of course I tried all of the above. When in Rome…. They were all delicious, the cookies were chock full of dried cranberries and very chewy, some of the best oatmeal cookies I have ever had. Also, the tart was like a very fresh cheesecake but wasn’t overpoweringly sweet. There was lots of fruit. The final part was Lionel retrieving the bread from the oven. It produced an intense aroma and picking out our hot golden loaves to put in white paper bags was an experience that called forth all of my senses, especially after trying the first bite.

This class was an experience that I will never forget. The three hours passed by very quickly and I learned so much that I hope I won’t forget anyone. Everyone in the class was extremely friendly and nice, helping each other out and laughing at our inexperience compared to our teacher. Although I have so much to learn, now I definitely know that I want to learn and try to become a better bread baker. Although I will never reach perfection, I think it might be one of those things that is more about the journey than the destination.


The focaccia bread that I baked at home, with basil olive oil, dried basil, and tomato on top. The top might have gotten a bit too brown, but I have high hopes that it will taste pretty good.

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