Bread School Post-script: Staycations Are Cool

Don’t worry, I’m done talking about bread for now. Bun there, doughn that.

What I did want to mention is, how cool it was to spend five days in Mt. Vernon, a town barely 17 miles from our ferry terminal. I’ve never had a “staycation”; now I want more.

To avoid going back and forth on the ferry each day, the Mate proposed renting an Air B ‘n’ B place so we could do our own cooking. He planned to spend the days exploring via foot and bike while I baked. So we got this cute lil’ ol’ bungalow on a street of cute lil’ ol’ bungalows.

See what I mean?

Mt. Vernon is famous for its bulb fields: daffodils, iris, and especially tulips. 

Can you tell?

Every morning I rode to class, crossing the Skagit River on a bridge (with a scary-narrow sidewalk). The weather was pretty grey and windy each day, but that’s just April here.

Who needs sunshine when you have tulips?

In the name of exploration, I took different routes to the Bread Lab each day, but of course one of them took me past the tulip fields. Since they weren’t open for visitors yet and I didn’t want to trespass, I settled for this shot of alpacas with a tulip backdrop.

Just another day in Paradise…

Not pictured: the coyote I saw

Each evening we dined on Things You Can Eat With Bread, brought from home or purchased at the wonderful Skagit Valley Food Co-op. One staycationy thing we did NOT do: dine out at restaurants. (Did I mention all that BREAD?)

So this isn’t a travelogue post about the delightful town of Mt. Vernon–though we did find it delightful. I didn’t visit stores, poke my nose into quaint corners, or even take very many pictures.

What I did: appreciated how simpatico it felt to be in, essentially, the next town over. Like being invited over to the home of a neighbor you don’t know well, and finding out you have the same taste in food, decor, and books. 

Happy spring, neighbor.

This is simply an ode to the Staycation. For those of you who’ve already discovered that delight–good on ya! Care to share? 

 

Pupils of the King: a Week of King Arthur Bread School, Part I

“YOU’RE going to bread school?!”

said almost everyone I told I was going to bread school. The usual next response: “Oh, lucky!!!”

They were right about my good fortune, but wrong to be surprised at my need. Before I started getting paid to bake, I was always a pie/cake/sweets gal–bread, not so much. And though I’m now entering my 8th season of professional baking, I spent the first two seasons as Assistant Baker, i.e., managing neither bread nor oven. When I trained to be a Head Baker, the people who trained me had received no professional training. Now, “We do this because it works” works just fine most days, but it leaves two questions unanswered:

  1. What do you do if it doesn’t work?
  2. What if something else worked even better?

Therefore I was THRILLED when my current boss, who bought Holly B’s Bakery from Holly B, decided to make the investment to send me to an intensive, 5-day, 38-hour course in Bread Fundamentals. I knew I had a LOT to learn. Like, everything.

But the answer to “What did you learn in Bread School?” is so big and complex, I’m going to turn this into two posts. Or maybe more! That knowledge might just ferment and grow, like a certain little yeasty-beast I’ve been hearing about all week.

I should also say off the bat, in case you’re a sourdough enthusiast, that this class covered pretty much everything BUT sourdough. Those breads require a class of their own. Hopefully, someday…

But back to Bread Fundamentals. Long story short, King Arthur Flour Baking School is the brainchild of King Arthur Chef Jeffrey Hamelman (world’s mellowest rock star chef) and Washington State University Bread Lab’s Stephen Jones. They teamed up several years to begin offering intensive baking classes (mostly bread) out here in the Northwest. King Arthur, of course, has been offering classes forever, all over the country but especially on their Vermont home ground. Lucky, LUCKY me–this workshop was under 20 miles from our ferry terminal!

I started on Monday, wide-eyed. So much of this was new to me, starting with the uniform. At Holly B’s we wear aprons, but I’ve never worn Chef Whites!

Gretchen’s first-ever work uniform!

Then there was the equipment in the teaching room.

4-deck steam oven with a moveable loader. At my bakery, the only loader is me.

Best of all, however, was the combination of Chef Jeffrey’s short lectures followed by immediate demonstrations and hands-on guided practice. Here he demonstrates a Challah braid:

He makes it look so easy. Well, ok…braiding isn’t actually very hard. Ask most long-haired women.

Now here’s my own careful step-by-steps (different braid on this one):

…with four strands…

A three and a four

Both finished challahs, with a few friends…a good Wednesday!

Chef Jeffrey also wowed us with possibilities. Here’s an amazing 3-tiered Challah he built

Whoa.

I thought it looked like a ferry boat. 🙂

The teaching was always firm and immediate, but gentle. (As a teacher, I sure appreciated that; I think from TV chefs I expected to be snapped at.)

Checking the “heads” of our petites brioches…

OK, maybe I could have used a little more guidance on my Epis de blé…

By the end of Day 3, we had made baguettes with three different doughs; whole wheat batards, oat loaves, challah, brioche, sunflower seed rounds, and…I’m sure I’m forgetting something. Day 4 we got FANCY:

Auvergnats. Trés chic.

Coronnes Bordelaise. Wouldn’t that be a cool addition to Thanksgiving?

One more picture of my new, freshly-baked confidence:

Ahhhhh…

Next post: So what DID I learn in Bread School?