Bread Masterclass: brilliant baguettes!

CooknwithClass Bread Masterclass: Baguettes!

I was one of the guinea pigs for Cook’n with Class’s newly launched bread masterclass held in Arpaillargues, just outside the lovely Languedoc town of Uzès. We were just three students with chef Eric in the spacious kitchen.

CooknwithClass: Bread masterclass

We started each day sitting around the table for breakfast: tea or coffee, and bread of course — from day 2 our own productions from the previous day. This was a good opportunity to a) wake up and b) get to know our fellow students. Then each morning was spent in a whirl of preparation, mostly bread but a few other items too: a delicious chocolate tart, and a classic tropézienne (brioche filled with crème diplomate) are just two examples. Most of the breads required several hours’ or an overnight rest, so we would make and shape the dough, then put it in the fridge for baking the next day. The morning’s work finished around 1 pm, around the lunch table. Each day we made something for lunch: quiche, pan bagnat, pizzas, to be served along with salad and followed by cheese, with bread and wine of course, and a dessert also made by us.

CooknwithClass: Bread masterclass

Eric is a great teacher, relaxed and communicative, always ready to answer questions and explain why he’s doing things a particular way. No matter how well I feel I know how to do something, I always learn something new from listening to and watching a pro. For example, in all the many years I’ve been making shortcrust pastry, I’ve never known about fraisage — smearing the just-blended pastry on the countertop to blend the ingredients without developing the gluten too much.

Likewise, I now make all of our bread, but the many different breads we made introduced new techniques, and nothing beats being able to see and feel how the dough should be. My best moment was seeing the amazing baguettes we made come out of the oven — my previous efforts have never approached this. Instead of taking them home, we ate nearly all of them while drinking aperos — on their own, or with Eric’s home-made pâté.

Shortbread biscuits

There were some surprises too. I didn’t think I’d like chocolate bread, as I’m not a huge chocolate lover, but it was one of my favourites of the week: bread with cocoa powder and chopped dark chocolate in the dough. Eric reckoned it would be good with wild boar stew, but we also loved it for breakfast with marmalade. It’s a keeper in more ways than one — it was still soft and chewy several days later. I also wouldn’t have counted myself a fan of hamburger buns, but these home-made ones were a great base for pan bagnat. Oh, and potato bread made with instant potato flakes — a winner for serving with soup or stew!

Pan bagnat

At the end of day 3 we went home with goodie bags containing our baked goods plus some of Eric’s sourdough starter, and of course a booklet of recipes. I’d recommend this class to any keen baker — no need to be an expert to benefit from it. What a pleasure to spend three mornings just baking with like-minded people! And as afternoons are free, you can use them to explore lovely Uzès and the surrounding area.

CooknwithClass Bread Masterclass: Tropézienne

Gougères


Gougères, little domes of cheese-flavoured choux pastry, are a classic accompaniment for a glass or two of wine. Offering them to guests makes it seem that you’ve gone to a lot of trouble — and you have. But the actual processes involved are quite straightforward. I got this recipe from a professional chef on the choux pastry course I went on recently. Unusually, it includes crumbled roquefort as well as gruyère. It’s a good addition — it gives them an extra sharp tang, while the “blueness” is undetectable.

This recipe makes a lot of gougères — about 40. You could always halve it but a) they are very moreish, and b) they freeze pretty well. Just pop the frozen gougères in a pre-heated oven for 5-10 minutes and they will be as good as new. They are best still just warm, but if you’ve prepared them in advance (without freezing) you can again crisp them up briefly in the oven before serving. Or, if you don’t want that many gougères, split the dough in half before adding the cheese and use half to make profiteroles, choux à la crème, or chouquettes.
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Italian wholemeal and honey rolls

Wholemeal rolls

Regular readers will know that I swear by my sourdough and make all my own bread. Last year, on a recommendation from a baker, I bought Carol Field’s magisterial The Italian Baker. Some of the recipes use a biga (overnight starter) but most are straight yeast-based doughs. I’ve baked quite a few recipes from it now, and apart from a slightly disappointing ciabatta, they’ve all been superb. So sometimes, if I don’t have ripe starter handy, or I just want to make some bread quickly, I make my current favourite recipe from this book: pane integrale con miele. It’s a brilliant recipe: quick, easy, foolproof. In the book, the recipe makes one large loaf, but I always shape it into about a dozen small rolls instead. These freeze nicely and can be quickly defrosted. Though they are of course best while still slightly warm, spread with butter and honey. Note: although they do have honey in them, they are not over-sweet and are fine with savoury food.

You can take this as the warmest recommendation of this book — if you are a keen bread baker, you need it! Baking this lovely recipe should be enough to convince you.

This is my adapted version of the recipe. A couple of notes:
1) She has you make 200g of slightly modified biga and then discard all but 50g. Why? If I have some biga in the fridge I use that, but if not I take 50g from my jar of sourdough starter. It doesn’t need to be ripe, as it’s used for flavour rather than rising. In fact if you don’t have biga or starter, you can simply leave it out — the rolls will still be good.
2) The recipe specifies wholemeal flour (type 110 in France). I sometimes vary this; today I used 150 g of wholemeal spelt flour and made it up to 500 g with type 85 (bise) as that’s what I had on hand. I suggest making it according to the recipe the first time, then decide how you want to vary it once you know how the dough feels.
3) I make this in my stand mixer, but it’s not impossibly sticky — you can work it by hand if you want.
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Crème mousseline

Choux buns filled with crème mousseline

Yesterday I attended a half-day patisserie workshop based around choux pastry. In the course of it, we made some crème mousseline to fill our choux buns. This was a new one for me: it’s basically crème pâtissière with an unfeasibly large amount of butter beaten into it, resulting in a cream that is both airy and rich, and will not collapse under load. It’s apparently the basis for such treats as fraisiers and tropéziennes. Useful as a filling because its firmness means it won’t squelch out or drip when cut or bitten into. But it is very, very calorific, so special occasions only!

Best used on the day it’s made; it will go solid if refrigerated for more than a couple of hours because of all the butter. Apparently that can make it go grainy, but this can be fixed by putting it in the bowl of a stand mixer, starting the whisk at high speed, and then gently and briefly warming the outside of the bowl with a blowtorch (this is clearly a standard technique as our chef/instructor did this when the butter was too hard!). You could make this without a stand mixer (people obviously did in the past) but it’s a lot of work: much vigorous beating required.

The recipe below makes a massive amount, enough to fill at least 15 choux buns.
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Brandy snaps

Scones and brandy snaps for tea

A true classic for afternoon tea. They look much more difficult than they are: very quick to make, and once you’ve grasped that you need to wait a minute before lifting them off the tray, they are a doddle to shape — much easier than tuiles. They’ll be crisp within 10 minutes, ready to fill with piped whipped cream.

Note: most recipes have brandy in them. But this is not why they are called brandy snaps, and I think it’s neither necessary nor authentic. The “brandy” is more likely to refer to the fact that they are brannt or burnt, i.e. caramelised. So it’s absolutely fine to leave it out.
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Classic scones

I went through a phase of failed scones, and eventually returned to the tried and tested, never fails, Katie Stewart recipe, from the Times recipe book that was one of my formative culinary influences. Here it is converted to metric. The secret of scones is to handle the dough as little as humanly possible, and be particularly gentle rolling it out. Katie also says you have to sprinkle the baking sheet and the top of the scones with flour. No idea what effect this has, but since she says so, I always do it.

Scones are great if you need to suddenly provide afternoon tea, as it only takes 20 minutes or so to make them. They can really only be eaten on the day they are made; they just aren’t the same after they’ve hung around for a while. If you do have leftovers, it’s best to freeze them and then reheat from frozen before serving.
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Malt loaf

This is a traditional family recipe, slightly adapted by me, mainly to make it a bit less sweet. It’s not like that dark, claggy Soreen malt loaf that used to come wrapped in waxed paper; it’s much lighter and more cake-like, to the extent that it doesn’t need butter. In fact we have even had it for pudding with custard …

Finding malt extract was a challenge. Eventually a friend tracked some down for me in Holland and Barrett and posted it to me. Luckily the loaf doesn’t need much, so the jar will last a while.
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Sourdough Hot Cross Buns

Sourdough hot cross buns

It had to happen! I was very pleased with these. They are not quite as light as conventional HXBs because sourdough is always chewier, but the crumb is soft and buttery, the crust light and soft. A definite hit, to be repeated. The recipe is from the Clink restaurant; I’m reproducing it here having converted it to metric from annoying cups. I give it in stages as it was in the original, because that’s the most effective way to plan it. The baking process itself will take about 2 1/2 hours including proving.

Notes:
You don’t need bread flour for this; ordinary white flour is fine. I used organic white flour (T65).
The dough is very sticky. If you have a stand mixer, I recommend using it with the dough hook. Otherwise, sprinkle your work surface with flour, have a dough scraper handy, and be prepared for messy hands.
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Mini fruit financiers

Cherry financiers

I made these to use up some leftover egg whites. They are lovely, crisp at the edges and squidgy within. Normally financiers are made in small ingot-shaped moulds, but I don’t have any, so I used mini muffin moulds, which were perfect — they make dainty little cakes to serve with coffee or as an accompaniment to another dessert. The recipe, by Elly McCausland, specified plums as the fruit, but there aren’t any in December; instead I used cherries from my home-made whole-cherry preserve. Use any soft fruit you fancy, sliced if necessary: plums, apricots, raspberries, cherries, peaches … or else a small blob of good-quality jam.
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Sourdough pitta bread

Well, it had to come to this — with starter always on hand, I was eventually going to try making pitta bread with it. Turns out a quick Google was enough; I found a recipe on sourdough.com that worked first time. Here’s my version of it for the record. Strong bread flour doesn’t exist in France, so again I adapted it according to what I have. This recipe involves leaving it in the fridge overnight, but you don’t have to do that — you could just leave it at room temperature for 2-3 hours if it’s more convenient that way.

See also my non-sourdough version, which you can do on the dough cycle in a bread machine.
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