Anyone who saw me on the Woodley Park-bound Circulator bus last Saturday saw a guy holding a death grip on a plastic bag filled with bread. I was guarding that steaming bag like it was a small child. After spending almost six hours at CulinAerie’s artisanal breads class, I’ll be damned if anyone was stealing the fruits of my labor.
I loved the class. LOVED it. Learning how to make bread on a relaxed Saturday? What could be more fun?
Nice setup at CulinAerie. 16 students, several assistants, the instructor, and a TV monitor so that people in the back could follow along with what he was doing. Our instructor, Chef Matt Finarelli, was great: articulate, laid-back, patient and knowledgeable. The man knows his bread.
Over the course of the class we made San Francisco sourdough, baguettes, focaccia and oatmeal scones. The more I learned, the more I realized what an art form bread making is. There are so many factors to consider, and subtle changes can lead to big variations in the final product.
God’s gift to bread making? The Kitchen Aid mixer.
Chef Finarelli said the breads could be mixed by hand, but I think you’d have to have Popeye forearms to make that a reality. The breads started in similar fashion — proofing the yeast, mixing it with the bread flour and salt, kneading the dough, proofing the dough… Some doughs were drier (focaccia and baguette), while the sourdough was wet, sticky, and goopy — a five year old’s dream.
This was the focaccia dough after it had been mixed and kneaded. It plumped up like a melon.
My partner’s and my focaccia coming out of the oven. It had been brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with chopped herbs and grated parmesan.
For lunch, we used our still-warm focaccia as bread for sandwiches. Delicious. Doesn’t get much fresher than that.
The trickiest bread of the day — the San Francisco sourdough. Sourdough requires a “starter” — a living, breathing, yeast organism that has to be “fed” regularly like it’s a pet. The starter gives sourdough bread its distinctive flavor. Chef Finarelli has kept his starter going for seven years!
Here’s how our sourdough came out. We didn’t score the “X” marks on top deep enough, but it still looked okay.
Especially the crusty underside.
Here it is split open.
Our baguettes before going into the oven. Mine’s on the left. I started getting OCD about the shape, trying to form it just right.
Came out a little crooked and with an open seam on the bottom.
And the oatmeal scones. Very simple to make and so good.
Of the four things we made, the one I’d do most regularly at home is focaccia. It wasn’t overly complicated and Chef Finarelli said it freezes the best of all the breads. I’ve already used it several times this week for paninis.
There’s an immense satisfaction that comes from reaching into the freezer and pulling out a bread that you made with your own two hands. I think it’s because bread is so elemental. It’s one of the world’s oldest foods, represented in almost every culture. If you can make bread, you can feed yourself and feed others. Hell, it’s the staff of life.
I’m already looking into buying a scale and a baking stone. This could be the beginning of a lifelong obsession.
1131 14th St. NW