Bread Baking Class

Pain Sarrasin, Noisette et Abondance

[Bread Baking Class]

Hi, my name is Clotilde, and I have conquered my fear of yeast.

For years and years, everytime a recipe called for yeast — dry, instant, fresh, whatever — I would write it off with a resigned sigh, like the plain teenaged girl writes off the popular unkempt boy, thinking, “He’s not for me.”

I didn’t know the moves, I didn’t know where to begin, I didn’t know how things worked, I didn’t know what the dough should look and feel like, and it all felt very mysterious and very intimidating. I had bought a blindingly handsome stand mixer to encourage myself, and while the leaf and whisk attachments were frequently taken for a spin, the dough hook remained in the cabinet, sulking what it thought to be a guilt-inducing sulk, and rightly so.

But then one morning I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror and said to myself, “You’re twenty-seven now. Shouldn’t you take the bull by the horns and just take a friggin’ bread-baking class?” And with that, I went online and booked myself one.

The class was held on a Saturday afternoon at the back of a bakery in the 20th called Le 140, whose baguette once won the much-coveted Meilleure Baguette de Paris prize. Our teacher was Jean-Michel, a friendly and energetic boulanger who made the class as fun as it was instructive.

When we arrived, everything had been pre-measured* for the frasage, the step that consists in pouring water into the bowl of flour, salt, and yeast, and then blending everything together with your hand until the dough stops sticking to the sides of the bowl and your hand looks like it’s wearing a cement glove.

[Notes and tips: Use only one of your hands for the frasage so you can still use the other one to hold the bowl, and rub your nose when it unavoidably itches. We used the yeast directly, without diluting it first as some recipes instruct you to. The salt and yeast were placed on the flour well apart from one another so they wouldn’t touch, otherwise the power of the yeast would be lessened.]

We turned the dough out on the lightly floured work surface and started kneading, pushing a small part of the dough firmly away from us with one hand and pulling it all the way back over the dough, before giving the dough an eighth of a turn and repeating this step. We kneaded and kneaded until the dough was smooth and slightly warm and we couldn’t feel our shoulders anymore .

We then divided the dough into four pieces, which allowed us to make all sorts of clever jokes about the biblical arithmetics of bread. Each piece was shaped according to the type of loaf it was destined to be. One of them was stuffed with diced comté cheese and chopped walnuts, and for this we folded the dough over the ingredients once and over itself multiple times, so the ingredients would be distributed evenly. All the pieces were covered with cloth for the first rise, a.k.a. le pointage, which lasted 30 minutes.

In the meantime, we were given a little tour of the bakery and were thus introduced to the mechanical pétrin, the dividing machine, the cold chambers where they keep the loaves in preparation for the morning, and the bakery’s ten-year-old starter.

When we came back, our loaves had risen, and it was time for the final shaping — le façonnage. We prepared one ball-shaped cheese and nut loaf, one bâtard (a squat, oval loaf), one small baguette on which we wrote stuff**, and one long baguette that was sprayed with water and dipped in sesame. The loaves were then placed seam-side down on racks, and our teacher was very careful to put the loaves in the right order so each apprentice-baker would go home with his own. The loaves were then left to rise for another 45 minutes, a step called l’apprêt.

In the meantime, we were offered a little bread tasting to keep us busy and happy. When the loaves had risen, we floured and slashed the tops of the bâtards with a razor blade, cut ears with scissors in the sesame baguettes, and Jean-Michel slipped all the loaves into the oven with the handy conveyor belt.

Some thirty minutes later, his wooden paddle excavated our perfectly golden, perfectly fragrant creations, which were taken home and shared with the suitably impressed friends who happened to come for the apéro that evening.

A few days later, while the process was still fresh in my hands’ memory, I tried to reproduce it in my own kitchen. I used a bit less yeast this time, and a mix of flours — white, organic bise, and buckwheat***. I baked one Abondance cheese and hazelnut loaf (pictured above), one loaf stuffed with a mix of dried fruits and almonds (lovely for breakfast), and one bâtard (I tried to slash it with a knife, but a clean Stanley knife, simply called un cutter in French, would give neater results). The last quarter was kept in the fridge after the first rise and used the next day as a fantastic pizza dough.

All went smoothly: since it wasn’t very warm in my apartment I left the dough to rise in my oven at minimum temp, the loaves were baked at 250°C (480°F) with a cup of water placed on the rack to keep the air humid, and although the crusts weren’t as light and crisp as those a professional oven would create, my production was certainly nothing to be ashamed of.

And now that I’m feeling all extatic and confident in my newfound yeast-wisdom, I have to try my hand at the current craze of the bread-making world, Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread, which Donna’s husband and Rainey have already tried and loved — stay tuned.

* The recipe we used was: 700 grams flour (the French T55 grade, which is equivalent to the American all-purpose flour), 17 grams fresh yeast, 17 grams salt, and 420 grams cold water. For home use, and when one is not limited to the duration of the class, Jean-Michel recommended using 12 grams of yeast, and making the second rise last an hour and a half.

** Pâte à écriture [writing paste]: 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon flour, 1/2 egg white. Blend everything together, spoon into a quickly-assembled paper cone, snip the end of the cone to form a tiny opening, and pipe onto the bread just before the second rise.

*** I used: 400 grams all-purpose/T55 flour, 225 grams light brown/bise/T60 flour, and 75 grams buckwheat flour, 12 grams fresh yeast, 17 grams salt, and 420 grams cold water. The second rise went on for an hour and a half.

  • Maybe you are like Virgile, allergic to yeast – I don’t know that it was possible, but it’s true ! Congrats for fighting such a problematic fear for such a good cook !

  • cq

    I spent many happy afternoons as a (crazy) student attempting to master brioche but had never tried making actual bread of the flour, water & salt style – until last weekend. But this article in the nytimes (no knead bread) inspired me and is so unbelievably un-timeconsuming and my crust was perfect! I love how you do everything so properly clotide. your way sounds lovely and now I have the bug ill be trying it soon.

  • I felt just like that, but I have also conquered my fear of yeast. At least slightly. I wrote about it here:

    A few days after I wrote this entry I made some more Bialys and this time I felt a lot more confident and worked even faster (due to the aforementioned confidence, I guess).

    It’s still not perfect, and the idea of a baking class sounds compelling. Maybe I should try one, too and then become a yeast expert or something.

    By the way: Does anyone else love the smell of fresh yeast. Because I do.

  • Rebecca

    Bonjour! These boulangerie classes sound fantastic, but the dates on this website are a bit limited … do you know of any other similar classes offered in Paris? (particularly for a très très beginner chef like moi!) Merci beaucoup!

  • Good for you! Way to conquer the fear–there’s no stopping you now!

    BTW, exactly right on the cutter or razor blade. I used to bake in a french-style american bakery (now, after living in France, I see that it really wasn’t half bad, especially compared to what’s available here now) and we used a razor blade threaded on the end of a wooden stir stick to get the right angle for slashing the baguettes. Had to be just so in order for it to slash neatly, yet leave a little crunchy shelf of bread crust over the open slashes. Not doable with a sharp knife.

    Can’t wait to hear of more of your adventures! BTW, Bernard Clayton’s Big Book of Breads might be a resource you’d be interested in. Full of recipes and history.

  • Donna Smith-Harrison

    Brillian, Clotilde. I must admit to the same “Yeast-ophobia” myself. But since Sam has become such a master baker, I have felt little need to overcome it! He really understands the chemistry of bread – and is constantly reading to learn more. I bake 40 loaves of stollen at Christmas time and he often tells me I’m not doing it right, but it turns out great and my family and friends love it , so I must be doing something right!

  • Sabrina

    Clotilde –

    I have never understood why so many excellent cooks are “afraid” of yeast. I have a wonderful bread book (I am at work now and the book is at home so the exact name and author escape me) that has wonderful recipes using a “sponge” and other types of starters. It is a fairly time-consuming process. Mostly in that you have to be home for most of a day to complete the various steps but you can do other things while the rising takes place. The results are well worth the effort. Email me if you would like the exact title of the book.

  • your breads are beautiful, and yes, you must try the no-knead bread! it is absolutely no work and the results are amazing.

  • Jennifer

    I have found that instead of using a mug of water in the oven a 9″x13″ glass pan filled part way with water works much better for rising bread. In my experience, a hot steamy oven is the ideal environment for baby yeast – it makes my bread beautiful.

  • Deni

    When writing about Pâte à écriture, you say that you pipe onto the loaf just before the second rising. Wouldn’t the writing be effected by the pâte growth? Perhaps piping prior to placing into the oven.

  • Sabrina – I’m sure I’m not the only one interested in the title of that book if you get a chance!

    Jennifer – Thanks for the tip! I’ll have to try that.

    Deni – Our teacher did pipe the writing paste just before the second rise: the letters grew slightly with the bread (during the rise and during the baking) and that wasn’t a problem. But if you prefer to pipe it just before baking, I’m sure it would work fine, too.

  • Well done Clotilde….and now you are probably thinking “why was I ever afraid”?

    I’ve just tried the no knead method and after years of making quite a good loaf from the kneading method, this was not so successful for me. But, I’ll keep trying.

  • In the past week or so, I’ve been making bread using the no knead method talked about here. But my daughter wants to knead the bread so we’ll have to make some regular bread soon.

  • Your papounet

    Ah, where are your old loaves when you knead them…
    (Je sais, on en a empalé pour moins que ça…!)

  • Janet

    I think most people that have a fear of yeast have had a bad experience. Usually I think it is that they use too hot or too cool water and the yeast is either killed or doesn’t rise.

    What I always do is measure the liquid and get it to what I think is the right temperature. Then I add the yeast and a little sugar (to feed the yeast). I let this sit for about 10-15 to make sure the yeast is active. If it’s not, I start over and haven’t really wasted much of anything but a little yeast. After that there really isn’t too much damage you can do.

  • For me, it’s not been a fear of yeast so much as it is that baking bread seems like an involved, long process–even though I totally love a well-made bread. Taking a class seems as an ideal way for me to overcome my lethargy as it was for you to conquer your fear of yeast.

    Thanks also for the beautiful photography, particularly the bakery’s exterior. Gave me pangs of longing for Paris.

  • And now you enter a new world…the world of yeast and flour. Waiting to rise, waiting to bake…waiting to eat! A new delicious smell has entered your kitchen and new tastes will follow.

    What could be more perfect than nuts and cheese in one of your very first loaves? There is a boulangerie in Nice that has excellent bread of this sort…but only on Sundays!

    A new adventure in the kitchen of Clotilde…we love to read the stories about your work and the results of your labors.

    Meilleurs vœux!

  • Meg

    Clotilde, where do you buy yeast in Paris? I bought some from a bakery a few years ago but they seemed to think it a strange request! Most of my recipes call for dried yeast – which you can buy at an épicerie or bring back from the US – but my husband prefers fresh yeast!

    Glad to hear you have overcome your fear! Next, you should try some sweetened doughs for American-style coffee cakes! (Which do not have coffee in them, I hasten to add, but are meant to be consumed WITH coffee!)

    Félicitations! (And I hope that the bread hook is over its pique!)

  • Marg

    I have started making my own bread over the past year or so too – it’s such fun when it all works! I have found a very useful tool is one of those digital thermometers that looks a bit like a skewer – you plunge it into the bread to check if its done at the end. (Internal temp 210+ degrees F.)

    The most thrilling experience was the first time I took my loaves out of the oven and they “crackled” just like the long, involved recipe from The Bread Bible said they would.

    I am now experimenting with sourdough starter – that’s another little miracle that restores your faith in the universe – creating a bubbling jar of living yeast out of nothing but flour and water and fresh air. The bread I’ve made with it so far hasn’t been much of a success though – I think I am too impatient, and sourdough is one of those slow intuitive things that needs practice and experience.

  • mmmmm… I think I’ll continue to watch your bread-making progress with admiration and continue to visit my favourite Melbourne bakery for the time being!

  • For years I suffered in silence. Who knew others suffered this affliction too :P

  • martha

    Welcome to the world of bread baking, Clotilde! As I read through your blog entries I frequently thought “here’s a person who could really get creative and have some fun with bread baking.” Be careful though, it is so addictive. I don’t know if it is the theraputic value of kneading, or the smell of fresh bread filling the house, or the deeply satisfying slice of bread and butter hot and fresh from the oven with the crust just the way you like it…yum!
    Have you tried braiding one of the loaves? It’s very impressive to guests. Or braiding a plain white with a dark rye and a medium rye dough? It is such fun to play with bread baking, almost unlimited possibilites.
    I tried those little rolled up loaves with walnuts and cheese and different fillings you mentioned in a previous post – very good. A little sun dried tomato, fresh grated parmesan and fresh basil in rolled-up rolls served with a pasta supper – very nice!
    Has anyone else tried them? Any suggestions on new combinations?

  • Hmm. Until now I’ve always used my mum’s simple bread making recipe, which I admit has kept me content all these years. But reading your post has intrigued me enough to try some new additions. So I’m gonna give it a try. Hope it all goes well.

  • ann

    hi clotilde, my name is ann, and i too had a fear of yeast (actually, i didn’t fear yeast, i feared over-kneading)
    i too conquered my fear, not by taking a class, but by baking that same no-knead bread everyone else in blogistan has! try it, soooo easy! congrats!!

  • Congrats Clotilde on conquering your fear of yeast! Now you have opened yourself to a new world of endless possibilities of bread baking. It’s lots of fun during the holidays when people are coming into your home and smell the wonderful aroma of fresh baked bread; it’s very welcoming.
    By the way, I’m anticipating your upcoming book. I just love your blog and I really want to get your book once it comes out.

  • Just wanted to let you know that i had baked the no knead bread yesterday & loved it! Do try it out for it tasted really good with very little effort!:)

  • pastilla

    There is something so lovely about working with bread dough — it feels so soft and warm and alive. Very inspirational tribute to its delights . . .

    Having said that though, I feel I must must tease you about the gnarly cloths that covered the rising loaves . . .

    :: big chuckle ::

    . . . kind of scary-looking, Clotilde!

  • Hi Clotilde. You are a brave woman. Both for conquering your bread-making fears and also for opening your post with an ambiguous reference to “fear of yeast.” I commend you!

    I’m a new addition to your readership. Great site.

  • Jardin

    I too have a fear of bread baking! You make it sound so easy so I am now inspired to try again – just in time for the holidays! Thanks, I can almost smell that yummy bread baking! Merci!

  • Julienuk

    Clotilde a l’aide!!!
    Impossible de trouver de la levure de boulanger fraiche ici (comme en France dans un petit pauet carre en alu)

    Sais tu quel est le procede avec de la levure en granules(utilisee pour les machines a pain electriques notamment)?

    Merci de me tenir au courant!!

  • I just recently got over my fear of yeast as well, it’s a great feeling isn’t it?

  • Elizabeth

    Sabrina was possibly thinking of BREAD ALONE by Daniel Leader, a baker from upstate New York who went to Paris to learn much about the process of bread-making he uses, especially for Pain au Levain. There is another more recent publication that serious home bakers swear by: THE BREAD BAKER’S APPRENTICE by Peter Reinhart. The author began writing about his methods as Brother Juniper and now teaches at a major culinary school in The United States thanks to the respect he has gained over the years. The book won two of the highest awards for cookbooks (James Beard & IACP).

  • Wow, very cool! The sesame baguettes are so pretty. I have made a lot of simple yeast breads, but I want to try a baguette. Did you use special racks for raising or baking the baguettes in your class? I also want to try the no-knead recipe. Must do that soon!

  • Dukei

    Is there a difference between “frasage” and “fraisage”?

  • Meg – Actually, I bought the yeast from one of the bakeries that line the Batignolles market: when you come from the Rome metro, it’s the first one on the right-hand sidewalk. It was my first time trying, and they didn’t seem to think it strange. One of the bakeries on the market also sells little packages of levain, I think I’ll try that next!

    Martha – Love the braiding suggestion, thank you, I will try that!

    Julienuk – Tu peux peut-être en acheter à un boulanger, comme en France? Sinon, j’ai trouvé ça comme équivalence: 15g de levure fraîche = 7.5g de levure sèche active = 5g de levure sèche instantanée. Mais je n’ai pas testé personnellement, et les temps de pousse sont vraisemblablement un peu différents…

    Elizabeth – I’ll check these books out, thank you!

    Julie – We didn’t use any special equipment for the baguettes during the class — we just rolled the dough on the counter into loooong logs and let them rise and bake on regular racks.

    Dukei – I believe frasage is just an alternate version of fraisage (from the verb fraiser, which here means “combining thoroughly”), but it seems to be the most frequently used when referring to bread baking.

  • sharon

    I got over my fear of yeast by learning to proof it with a bit of sugar(thanks Mom!) and a water temperature that did not burn my finger after counting to ten. However, last week after making many
    loaves of bread over the years, successfully, I failed. The whole wheat flour was rancid! It was a bitter bitter loaf. Oh well back to the drawing board (with fresher ingredients).

  • Elaine Wilburt

    Is brown or bise flour the same as whole wheat?

  • Claudine

    I lost my fear of yeast and kneading with a Frenchman! Here in England (Bath, more precisely) the best bread-making course is thaught by a Frenchman, Richard Bertinet. The 5-day course that can be taken separately but in the right order, cover basics, french italian and sourdough breads. Wonderful.

  • Catherine

    I have purchased the book “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a day” and I can’t stop making bread! There is no kneading involved. I too had a fear of yeast and refused to make recipes that were that difficult. This bread really does turn out lovely.

  • Susanna

    Hi Clotilde, thanks for your fabulous blog! A friend put me on to it about a week ago. First I made the Kouign Amann (which I think I stuffed up – hard to tell when I haven’t had the original, but it was delicious anyway). I then made the quince and almond cake, except not having quinces I used pears. But a couple of days ago I found quinces at the markets and so they are sitting on my kitchen table waiting to be poached. I’ve never eaten quince before (you don’t see them much in the part of Australia I’m from, but having just moved to Germany they seem to be quite common). Then last night I made this bread. Like you I’ve always been terrified of bread! But it worked out so well. I made two loaves of hazelnut, sour cherry, and dark chocolate, and one loaf of plain. Gateau aux Daims is on the cards for today. Thank you!

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