Hayley McLarin gets a slice of the action at bread-making classes.
My first-ever loaf was very nearly my last.
I was living in London and feeling nostalgic for fruit toast for breakfast. To add the fruit after the dough had proven meant I had to set the alarm for 5am.
What a wake-up call. I had mis-read the recipe and added a full tablespoon of yeast, not a teaspoon. Goo was oozing out of the machine, over the bench and down the cupboard. Epic fail.
Yeast and I have never really been on the best terms of since. It was the reason I was out of my comfort zone as I walked into the NZ School of Food and Wine.
Unlike many of the other cooking classes I have been to recently, this is in a fully-fledged teaching environment, a place where full-time students become chefs during the week.
I was about to make five loaves of bread using my nemesis: yeast.
Our tutor Ralf Schmidt is a delightful, funny, stress-free teacher, who effortlessly chats away while making the first dough. The class of 14 is lulled into a false sense of security. He makes it look so easy and the bulk of our recipe is pre-measured for us.
Among the group attending today’s class is a table of women who came up from Cambridge for the day, a high-school student trying a class to test if the full-year school curriculum might be the pathway to a career in food, a tourist with no English but a stellar ability to gesticulate his needs and several people happily cooking alone.
Creating the dough isn’t dissimilar to making pasta. I learn fairly quickly that near enough isn’t good enough. Even a little too much water results in more of the wet, gluey mess on my hands than in the bowl.
Nothing a bit more flour won’t fix, Schmidt says reassuringly. Soon it becomes a smooth round ball, expanding in proportion with my confidence.
From a basic dough we move on to a more egg-enriched recipe (a bit like a sugar-free brioche), then ciabatta (whose name means “little boot”), and in a blur we have three different batches proving.
I was ridiculously chuffed when my basic white rolls came out golden, crusty and pillowy-soft inside. Schmidt even asked if I would share half my batch with the team for our lunch break. Gold star right there.
Years spent doing my two daughters’ hair paid off, and resulted in an impressive loaf of evenly plaited bread.
Next up: a cheese and pesto plait, and a sourdough loaf using a traditional starter.
Our five-and-a-half hour class is a continual cycle of making dough, letting it prove, knocking it down, proving again, shaping and baking. So many steps, so many loaves.
With bread in the oven, you cannot be so immersed in the next batch that it burns. I lost track of what order we did it all in, but cannot imagine I would be making so much at once at home.
However, I will make bread again. Having mucked up the dough in the class, I at least had Schmidt there to help me, so I know how to rescue a dough that is too sticky or too crumbly.
Schmidt , a Manukau Institute of Technology lecturer, shares his knowledge in handy tips, like testing the dough’s stretch to see if the gluten process is complete, keeping the yeast and salt separated as you mix, and making dough in a bowl rather than on the bench to reduce mess.
“You feel baking, you learn by doing,” he says.
What I did learn, and it shocks me, is that 70 per cent of supermarket bread is water, pumped with additives that mean it stays “fresh” for longer. It makes me wonder how many of my friends who have an intolerance to bread might find an additive-free sourdough far more gut-friendly.
t’s been a big day so I opt to take my wholemeal farmers dough home to freeze and bake at another time. All the cleaning up done, we pack up our carb-laden haul: four loaves and half a dozen rolls.
But before Schmidt bids us farewell he gives out containers of our own sourdough starter. Clint Yeastwood, Yeasty Boy … he encourages us to name it so we see it as a family member and nurture the relationship.
In a rush after class I put it in the fridge. Whoops. I didn’t understand why chilling it is a big no-no as I wasn’t very good at science at school.
But it very quickly became a non-starter. An appropriate name would have been “yeast, she forget!”.