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The Art of Bread Making

March 27, 2012

This weekend one of my best friends, Patti (the Carbivore), took me to a bread making class. We went to Cook-au-vin in Chicago for a five-hour tour of scaling, kneading, cutting, shaping and scoring. We turned flour, water, yeast and salt into beautiful loaves and baguettes. With razor blades we scored the tops of each shaped loaf, learning to cut quickly and shallowly, creating vents along the top of each. Along with French baguettes, we made sourdough bread and Viennoiserie filled with chocolate and fruit. We learned to appreciate the difference between machine kneaded and hand kneaded dough.

Our teachers Raphael and Claude were patient with us as our clumsy hands tried to mimic their actions. Clumps of dough somehow turned into perfect spheres for them as their fingers hovered like cages surrounding the dough, rolling it lightly along. Every time they showed us a new trick we said, “Aha!” as though our understanding was complete. Then we tried it on our own, only to realize that one night in the kitchen would never make us experts. Through all our failed attempts we developed a deeper appreciation of bread making.

By the end of the night our faces all were red and beads of sweat were on our brows and upper lips as we worked to replicate everything we’d learned. We’d all worked thoroughly, putting all our focus and physical energy into the  perfect loaf. And when we stepped back to see our results, our class of thirteen had produced more than 150 loaves of bread. They were beautifully browned and crusty on the outside with an airy network of perfect chewiness on the inside — the texture you only get with the best French loaves.

As I slow down and learn more about how to make different foods and products, I’m more and more amazed at how much we’ve reduced processes as we simplify tasks. Some processes are simplified in order to feed a growing population. Some processes are simplified to save money or save time (both valuable things, of course). But sometimes I think processes are simplified just because people forgot there was a process at all. I worry that as we continue to simplify processes we risk losing the art behind things. And, as I learned this weekend, bread making is an art that should never be lost.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Kelly permalink
    March 27, 2012 5:23 am

    Oh, love to make homemade bread. I have a bread machine but sometimes, the feel of the dough is just too much to resist! I also saw BRIE on the last pic… Everything is better with BRIE!

    • Claire permalink
      March 27, 2012 5:36 pm

      Hi Kelly! Making bread is so soothing, isn’t it? And Brie. Yes. I completely agree. Everything is better with brie. Favorite treat = Brie covered with fig spread, wrapped in buttery crescent bread and baked together, served with apples. 🙂

  2. March 27, 2012 7:02 am

    Well said! Bread baking is one of my blisses and creative outlets. The class sounds great, too. And I believe that life is about the process more than the results, too. Thanks for sharing:-)

    • Claire permalink
      March 27, 2012 5:48 pm

      Thanks for commenting, Amy. This class was a real treat. Glad you find joy in the process of things as well!

  3. March 27, 2012 10:31 am

    It was so much hard work, but so much fun and so rewarding! Thanks for sharing this experience with me! Can you believe I’ve already given away half of my 10 loaves? When hand-made french bread comes out of one’s mouth, people’s faces light up and their mouths open.

    • Claire permalink
      March 27, 2012 5:49 pm

      I’ve been on a bread sharing spree too. Last week I was on a cupcake sharing spree. I’m liking this distribution of baked goods. 🙂 Thanks again for taking me. It was so fun!

  4. Julia permalink
    March 29, 2012 8:41 pm

    I can’t wait to hear all your tricks. Maybe we should have Bready Times instead of Crafty times next week!


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