When I learned that Peter Reinhart was teaching some classes on Artisan Bread Baking in Texas, I had to enroll. I chose the Jan 31st event at the Central Market in Plano, TX, which is normally just a couple of hours from our home. Unfortunately, fate delivered an ice storm across my path just three days beforehand, making the driving pretty scary and quite a bit longer.
Still, I left early and managed to arrive an hour early at the Central Market, where I immediately saw Mr. Reinhart talking to his associates outside the beautiful classroom. I’d brought the book with me, hoping for his signature, but at first I couldn’t muster the courage to talk to him. It often happens when I’m confronted by people whom I admire: 90% of my composure disappears, leaving me to stumble on embarrassingly short sentences that may or may not make sense.
A past event comes to mind: the day that I met Francois Jacob, the 1965 Nobel Prize winner for his incredible work on the regulation of bacterial genes. In 1994 I was in Paris working at Institut Pasteur in the lab of Dr. Maurice Hofnung, one of Jacob’s students. Maurice had himself received an award from Legion d’Honneur, and Jacob was in attendance to celebrate the occasion. I was lucky enough to be a witness!
The large dining room was filled with small, elegantly set tables, at one of which I sat and waited. Suddenly, Dr. Jacob entered the room. We all felt expectation and tension in the air, until in slow, surreal motion he approached my table and sat down right across from me! We shook hands, exchanged the mandatory “Enchante / Enchantee,” and I spent the rest of the meal as a nervous wreck. But, it was worth it!
Those memories flashed through my mind in the Plano classroom, debating if I should talk to Mr. Reinhart. I finally convinced myself: “if you survived a meal with Francois Jacob, you can make it through a conversation with Peter Reinhart…” So, I got up and tracked down my bread guru. After accidentally breaking a glass full of water and ice with my handbag, and pulling a huge handle off the glass door as I left the room (I’m a walking disaster, in finest form), I met Peter in the hallway outside.
Mr. Reinhart is a wonderful, personable man, who immediately put me at ease. He’s impressed by the BBA Challenge, and was eager to discover any breads that were particularly tricky, or failed to meet expectations. I mentioned my trauma with the infamous 100% rye, and he wasn’t much surprised by my troubles. He then talked about the method of folding the dough a few times instead of extensive kneading. In fact, that point was the focus of his lecture.
The venue was perfect: TV cameras positioned over the workspace, two flat screen TVs projecting the event on both sides of the room. Organizing and teaching the class wasn’t trivial. Mr. Reinhart worked non-stop shaping several breads, as well as baking breads that were shaped beforehand in three large ovens, each with idiosyncrasies: too hot, not hot enough, uneven heat. It was the kind of stuff that really happens, and nice to see how a professional deals with it: zero hyperventilation.
We tasted samples of each bread – starting with thumbprint jams, then French bread, crumb cake, sticky buns, challah and chocolate babka (everyone’s favorite!).
If you’re a novice bread baker, I recommend that you attend one of Peter’s classes. But, if that’s not feasible, then his new book (Artisan Breads Every Day) is a great alternative. It’s quite instructive: – clear, detailed descriptions of how to make a starter, to maintain it, and the most important thing: to get the most of your bread dough by folding it.
I was thrilled to see Mr. Reinhart explaining the method in his new book, because I’m also a huge fan of this approach, having used it in many of the BBA recipes.
The icing on the cake was meeting a bunch of wonderful people attending the event, friends I’ve met through cooking forums online (Sharon, Cindy, Amy, and Dona), and two bloggers who are also fellow BBA Challengers: TxFarmer, the outstanding baker who keeps a blog in Chinese, and Stacey, with her beautiful blog Magnifico, who traveled all the way from Arizona to be in Peter Reinhart’s class!
A fun day, worth the dreadful drive…. and yes, I got my book signed, with Peter’s legendary motto:
May your bread always rise!