Restaurant food critic, Nigel Hopkins shares his experience learning how to make artisan bread at TAFE SA’s Regency Campus.
As any restaurant reviewer will tell you, there are several dead giveaways that show the kitchen and its chefs don’t give a damn – and one of them is the quality of their bread.
The truth is that the bread served in many restaurants is pretty ordinary. So it may come as a surprise that it took a flour miller to put the heat under Adelaide chefs and force them to lift their game.
Celebrity chef-at-large and co-star of the Chef and the Cook TV series, Simon Bryant, spoke to Mark Laucke, managing director of Strathalbyn-based Laucke Flour Mills, about the need for chefs to learn better bread-making skills. Together, they worked on TAFE SA’s Regency Campus to introduce a three-day artisan bread baking course.
When the Artisan Baking – Master Chef Series course started in April this year, Mr Laucke joined the mixed group of chefs and brave amateurs who attended. As a student, he ended up to his elbows in sourdough loaves, but at the same time he was able to add to the course his enormous knowledge about flour.
The stuff that passes for bread in the average supermarket is a poor imitation of the bread our grandparents used to eat and probably made for themselves.
Why is artisan bread better than supermarket bread? Microbiologist and home baker Gabriella Lincoln explains that supermarket bread is produced using the Chorleywood bread process, developed in the UK in 1965 and adopted worldwide as the industry standard.
The process allows a loaf to be produced from scratch in less than four hours (sometimes as little as two hours) by abolishing the important first fermentation stage. In order to force the dough to rise, it uses intensive high-speed mixers to combine cheaper, lower grade flours, improvers to accelerate the process and artificially ‘mature’ the dough, hard vegetable fat to provide structure and compensate for the weaker flours used in the process, large quantities of yeast (over three times the required amounts in a normally fermented dough, to allow for the lack of the first fermentation) and finally water.
In contrast. artisan naturally leavened bread can take up to 48 hours to produce from scratch, as the true product contains only flour, salt and water with no additional commercial yeast.
During the time the dough matures, enzymes have started to digest some of the gluten which makes the bread more digestible (and much less likely to cause irritable bowel syndrome), much more flavour has developed, and acids have been produced that give the bread a naturally longer shelf life without the need for preservatives.
In other words, this is bread that people, especially restaurant customers, really want to eat.
TAFE SA education manager (bakery studies), Fee Lee said the course is principally aimed at chefs who’ve cottoned on to the trend and see the value of producing their own bread in-house, but it also welcomes enthusiastic, reasonably experienced amateurs who also want to push the artisan bread cart.
The course takes place over three five-hour workshops in the kitchens at Regency International Centre. The first workshop provides an overview of the artisan bread baking process before moving on to making pure sourdough bread, with no additional yeast; sourdough with up to 0.2 per cent yeast (as prescribed by French regulation); and making bulk ferment dough with additional yeast.
Participants get to take home some of the sourdough culture so they can start practising at home or in their restaurants.
Workshop two shows how to handle an impossibly sloppy yeast dough to make crunchy, crisp ciabatta, as well as three variations of semolina bread (triticale, rosemary and fruit), and as well as pizzas. By now, participants have lost all sense of self-restraint and tuck in hungrily at the end of each workshop. So much has been made that bags are provided to take the spoils home.
The third workshop moves on to flavoured sourdough – with additions such as olive, white anchovy and sage, truffle cheese and caramelised onion; classic French sticks and sourdough batards; and a dense but delicious roggenbrot, made with 100 per cent rye sourdough and no yeast.
There are surprises. One is how few chefs really know much about bread making – even the really good ones. So the courses have attracted high-profile chefs such as Simon Bryant and many others.
Another is that once you understand the fundamentals and practice the principles being taught, it is easy to make good bread, maybe even great bread.
There are challenges. Regency’s teaching kitchens come with the sort of heavy-duty spiral mixers, temperature-controlled dough-proving rooms and specialist bread ovens that even the best-equipped restaurant kitchen, let alone a domestic kitchen, are unlikely to have. The challenge is to be flexible, adapt and practice with the available equipment.
Another challenge is learning the difference between a sponge, biga and a polish, for example, and not every baker will mean quite the same thing for each of them. An early lesson for Fee Lee was that a standardised set of baker’s definitions was urgently required before the second set of workshops began.
Participants leave the workshops with detailed recipes and instructions, but it’s the hands-on stuff, the look, feel and smell of the dough, the understanding of the processes taking place inside it, that bring artisan bread making to life.