Thursday, May 23, 2013

Of bread and bridges: a baking weekend in San Antonio

The Bread Bakers Guild of America (BBGA) held another of its outstanding regional events this past weekend in San Antonio, Texas, and I was lucky enough to be able to attend it. The topic was "All About Ciabatta." I already knew the instructor, Didier Rosada, for having taken a couple of memorable classes with him at the San Francisco Baking Institute, a few years back.
I had seen how simple mixtures of flour, salt, yeast and water morph under his care into voluptuously silky and bubbling organisms that almost seem to purr as they spring to life. I knew him for a natural born teacher whose knowledge of dough chemistry and physics and all things bread is encyclopedic.  I fondly remembered his sunny Southwestern-France accent and his easy laughter, not to mention his gift for languages (Didier switches effortlessly from English to French to Spanish and back) and I knew the class was going to be a unique experience. I wasn't disappointed.
We did indeed learn all about ciabatta and made several different ones, using various preferments and methods. My two favorites were probably the poolish-based one with double hydration (the first one I will try to make when I get back home) and the power ciabatta (loaded with "good for you" nutrients) which we loosely shaped and baked into twists. I am usually not a huge fan of commercial yeast: I like the taste of levain, especially when it is both mild and complex but the class convinced that with proper pre-fermentation one can indeed make wondrously tasty breads using instant yeast. The Man's pick was the breakfast ciabatta, also poolish-based and studded with dark chocolate chunks and pieces of candied orange peel. The formula includes eggs and butter, everything he loves and is supposed to eat only exceptionally. Luckily his birthday is right around the corner...
We had arrived one day early to take in the sights, mostly the Alamo, the cathedral, the Mexican market and the River Walk. Coming from 58°F and overcast skies in Seattle however, the 97°F Texas weather was a bit of a shock. We baked in more way than one all weekend and didn't get to see or do all we had planned but we still fell under the spell of the city, its winding river and its many bridges.
Although we took back with us the best ciabattas of our lives, I am under no illusion that I will be able to emulate Didier's talent anytime soon, if ever. But I'll certainly do my best to apply what he taught us and share it on this blog. I just need to find out first how much time and energy I will have for baking and blogging once my treatment for breast cancer starts in earnest (we are still waiting for some test results), and get organized.
Didier's next BBGA event is scheduled for this fall at the International Baking Industry Exposition in Las Vegas. It will be a lecture on Las Buenas Practicas de Panificación (The Best Practices of Bread Baking) and he will deliver it in Spanish, together with Juan Manuel Martinez, a talented and passionate artisan baker from Bogotá, Colombia, who taught a popular class at WheatStalk last year. Considering the growing number of Spanish-speakers employed in artisan bakeries across America, I suspect the event will be mobbed.
Didier and Juan Manuel have co-authored Pan, Sabor y Tradición, a bread book which will hopefully be soon translated into English and made available in this country, and together with Miguel Galdós, another master baker (or "bread boy" as they like to call themselves), he has founded El Club del Pan (The Bread Club). I especially like El Club del Pan's videos. Such is the power of images that even non-Spanish speakers might find them instructive. Check them out and some of the magic may rub off onto your baking hands. I certainly hope it will onto mine!

22 comments:

  1. Great post, MC! I will anxiously wait for your own adventures putting your class to good use, as I am sure you will

    I have the feeling you will go very smoothly through your treatment, so my fingers are crossed for you!

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    1. Thank you, Sally! Your support means a huge lot to me.

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  2. That looks like a wonderful class and such beautiful breads. iamquite frightened of shaping ciabatta, I either get stuck to it or I use too much flour and it gets into the dough in seams, so Ii don't make it much. Do you have any thoughts on how to make it a less stressful shaping process? Hope that your treatment goes well and thinking of you xx Joanna

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    1. Thank you so much, Joanna! The good part about ciabatta is that there is no shaping, just gentle dividing. I took so many videos I can't remember them all but hopefully I'll have a good one of Didier dividing and setting ciabattas to proof. Three things to remember: use a lot of flour, proof upside down but bake downside up and no matter what the recipe says, don't dimple!

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    2. Thanks MC - look forward to learning more from you soon!

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  3. Beautiful writing and pictures. For just a minute I felt as if I was right there with you.So nice to know that you are out and about and thank you for sharing these experiences with us. I hope you can always maintain your loving and kind spirit. Prayers and love...

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    1. Thank you, Anonymous! i appreciate your taking the time to leave me these kind words of encouragement and support.

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  4. Envious!! Thanks for sharing such beautiful pictures. Oh, if I could ever make bread that looked like that.

    Ann

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    1. Me too, Ann, believe me! I will try. Didier said there is nothing like trying again and again. Lots of ciabattas in our futures but who's complaining?

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  5. Best wishes on your cancer treatment. Im starting to feel inspired and motivated to bake bread. Thank you MC...

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    1. Hello Anonymous and thank you! I'm delighted to hear that I may have help recruit a new convert to the cause of real bread...

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  6. Hey MC, loved your post but of course I now want the detail. Did Didier use milk in his bread, some do, some don't. Also I agree -- don't dimple. I'm also wondering if he made a handmade ciabatta, just repeatedly folding the dough for strength. I've done that and it works. I also agree that this dough is best without levain. It should be light and airy and I think levain makes it slightly too chewy, though the preferment with yeast does not and still adds flavor. So sorry to hear about your diagnosis, what a year you've had! Of course, many of us will be sending distant waves of support! Sam

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  7. Hi Sam, no, Didier didn't use any milk and none of the ciabattas were handmade although he said it could be done and I have done it myself as well. Mostly he demonstrated various mixing techniques and tried to teach us how to decide when folding was necessary or not as well as when to stop folding. I am pretty sure I have notes or videos and I'll share those when I post my post-class ciabatta. As for levain, he said he likes to add maybe 10% that acts as a flavor complementing the other preferments. I'll try that for sure!
    Yes, what a year... Thank you for sending warm thoughts our way! It does help.

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  8. Alan W, Dresher, PAMay 23, 2013 at 9:29 PM

    MC: Thanks for those beautiful pictures of steamy San Antonio and for the continued wonderful bread descriptions and pictures. You inspire me to try to get there...

    Also, my best wishes for your treatment and recovery. Not much else to say but my whole family will say a few prayers for you and YOUR family. Your virtual community supports you very much

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  9. Thank you, Alan! The support of our virtual community does make a huge difference and I can't say enough how grateful I am to all of you.

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  10. Wonderful descriptions MC! The photos are so telling and as usual, beautifully composed.
    Just look at Didier Rosada- there's a person who does what he loves and it shows. I'd love to attend the type of baking events held stateside.

    Best wishes for the 29th and onwards.
    Lots of love to you all from us here.
    Julia

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  11. Thanks for the lovely photos, MC, it looks like a beautiful place. I had thought to bake my own bread years ago, I bought a bread maker. Perhaps I will get back to it, and actually use it!

    All the best and good luck with your treatment. Best wishes on your anniversary.

    Best regards,

    Eileen

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  12. MC, I am thinking of you and your family today. Just thought you should know.
    :)
    Amy C in MI

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  13. Just stopping by to send love and prayers.

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  14. I am also thinking of you, Noah and your family today. May your day be filled with love and peace.

    God Bless,
    Erin G

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  15. Dear MC,
    as well good luck for you and your family. Life is not fair at all.
    Great post as usual. Always inspiring and motivating. Need more like you...
    All the Best
    Bernd

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  16. MC,
    Mr. Rosada's class must have been amazing - what beautiful ciabatta!
    San Antonio looks very beautiful, too. Love the splashes of bright color, patio umbrellas viewed from under the bridge, and flags flying.
    Your readers have written such caring and supportive comments - my best wishes and positive thoughts are with you as well.
    - breadsong

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