For me, one of the things I like most about bread is seeing the transformation - watching it go from a big, shapeless mass to a fairly nondescript lump on the tray to something crispy, warm and beautiful when it comes out of the oven. We made all sorts of bread this week - from your basic baguette, to a heartier pain compagne (country bread), to a white pain de mie we baked in a mold, to a fougasse filled with olives and herbs, to a chewy, doughy bread filled with figs...
...and each time it was just magical to see it transformed in the oven.
Our chef instructor for the week, Damien, was quite the character - energetic, always cracking jokes - and quite the baker as well. He was quite patient, teaching us all the basics and making sure we all felt comfortable with the process. Here he is below, giving some of his more elaborate breads the final dusting of flour, for that "rustic appeal"...
Some of my favorite breads for the week were the brioche and tresse (or challah) - rich, eggy doughs that were shaped into molds, cut to make special shapes or braided. All of these doughs get a rich egg-wash before heading into the oven, so they come out looking shiny and ready to be eaten! We made a "big head" brioche (I'm sure there is some fancy French name for this, but that's what Damien called it!!)...
...as well as the braids and shapes that we are used to seeing. (BTW - don't look too closely at the braid in the back of the picture below - he's a little lumpy - it takes awhile to get the hang of these things, you know!!) Interestingly, the French typically garnish these breads with large grains of coarse sugar and almonds - slightly different than what we do in the States.
In addition to simple molds and braiding, Damien showed us how to do some fancier work with this dough using scissors to cut it...it really looked amazing, especially when decorated with the large grains of sugar. Suffice it to say, however, that this is definitely one of those techniques that looks easier than it really is...this is one of those times that you aren't going to see a picture of my creation (or should I say creature?)!!
And, what would a French bread class be without croissants - those lovely, flaky creations made with lots (and lots and lots) of butter between each layer!
If you are wondering how you get all those layers - its from folding the dough over a very large slab of butter - and then folding it over and over again on itself. Lucky for us, this is one of those times where we got to use a piece of equipment to help - below is chef Damien demonstrating the sheeter for us. Using this handy-dandy machine makes rolling the dough a breeze - I don't know that I will be making these in my kitchen at home without the benefit of this lovely piece of machinery!
Once we had mastered the basic technique of croissant dough, we made several different types - plain, with chocolate (pain au chocolate), filled with a pistachio paste...all of them flaky, golden and lovely!
As you can see from the picture below, I was a happy girl! I really loved the week I spent working with bread!