As I watched Chef Olivier’s calm, competent hands transform 4 simple ingredients into an array of different breads, treating each one with so much love, like every piece of dough was his little “bébé”, I couldn’t help but stand with a smile on my face at the thought of being in the presence of such great talent and passion.
If you had been following my blog, before my month long silence, you would know that I was heading to Paris for a traditional bread making workshop at none other than Le Cordon Bleu. (More on that in my post Six Reasons You Should Not Start a Food Blog)
I have to admit, signing up to the short course was a means to escape the mess that my life had gotten to. Being unemployed in a country away from family can take its toll, and to me, purchasing random travel tickets (trips to Georgia, Paris, and back home to Lebanon) seemed like the only way to actually stay sane. But I’m not going to go into the my personal life, we’re dedicating this post to the best thing in life, Bread.
So here’s a quick recap of how it went.
Note: I did NOT consume all these breads. Just most of them. We could take whatever we wanted, and the rest we left them in the classroom and were distributed to the workers at the school, or homeless people nearby. Some I also took with me and gave them to the housekeeping at the hotel I was staying in.
Upon arriving for the first day of the workshop, we were greeted by the director of the school and taken up to the kitchen that would be our classroom for the next 4 days. We were handed our study set which consisted of an apron, a hat, a notebook, a thermal bag and a bread bag that we would take our daily bread products with.
Chef Olivier Boudot, the Technical Director and Boulengerie Chef Instructor was going to be our teacher. An award winner master baker, with titles like “Champion of France (bread)” at the French Bakery Cup, and crowned the Champion at the European Breadbaking Cup for his Rye Bread.
The class started with an introduction about the different kinds of flours and their uses, how to allocate the temperature of the ingredients (who knew that even the flour had to be at a specific temperature?!), a view of the different kinds of dough (smooth dough, batard dough, and firm dough), and a quick demonstration of the traditional kneading by hand technique. Although all the breads were made using stand mixers, we got to make the first baguettes by hand in order to really understand how the texture should be, and really feel the gluten forming and getting elastic. We were also told about the different working methods that we were going to use; poolish, natural leaven, and yeast-based starter (fermented dough).
Before we got into the day’s breads, we prepared the mother leaven for the liquid leaven starter, and a batch of fermented dough that would be used the next day. Then after that, it was all mayhem and excitement. First, we kneaded the dough for the baguette by hand, while waiting for that to rise, the dough for the whole wheat bread was prepared. Then the Kougelhopf where shaped and put into their molds, and lastly, the dough for the country style bread was made using a batch of fermented dough that had already been prepared the day before. To see how seriously the French take their breads, there are actual laws and regulations for naming them. So a country bread can only be called that if the dough was heavily dusted with flour before baking. (And in Lebanon we don’t even have decent voting laws).
Part of the perks of being in one of Paris’s most prestigious schools is getting the chance to try some of the country’s more “sophisticated” products. Like this seaweed butter. We made the Traditional Baguette with poolish prepared the day before, which we ate with the seaweed butter at the end of the class. Milk bread baguettes (also known as viennoises), these were made in two batches, one with chocolate chips, and the other batch with white chocolate chips and lime zest. Then was the nutritional granary bread using both the poolish and fermented dough, this bread has every kind of grain you can think of, poppy seeds, yellow and brown linseed, sunflower seed, sesame seeds), in addition to rye four, which gives it that dark color. And lastly, the brié bread, which is also called sailor bread.
Day 3 was a dream. I mean come on, brioche AND cheese bread in one day? The brioche rich yeast dough, right before it goes into the oven, was filled with a generous line of pure soft butter (drool). But the star of this day was definitely the rye bread, which is the Chef’s specialty. The ratio of rye flour to regular flour is higher than that in the usual rye breads found in the market that we’re familiar with.
At the end of the class, the Chef brought out a selection of hams, chorizo, hotdogs, and butter, sliced up the day’s breads, and we got to sit around enjoying some conversations and getting to know each other’s backgrounds and more.
Of course, no traditional french bread making workshop would be complete without some croissant. To be honest, I think this day was my favorite of all days. Not only was it filled with such a light air of fun and humor, considering it was the last day, but making the croissant and chocolate rolls, dipping those brioche disks into the cointreau syrup for the bostok (and possibly taking a few sips of it), using squid ink to make those beautiful black stripes for the zebra sandwich bread, it really gave that day a different feel.
I am so happy that I got the chance to be part of this workshop. I got to meet people from all over the world, of different professions, some were doctors, lawyers, aeronautical engineers, veterinarians, who shared one passion: bread. Understanding the magical, and scientific world of what is basically the oldest food to exist. I may not ever make a sourdough starter, or a dough using squid ink, but at least now I know if I ever wanted to, I can. I loved every second of this experience.
So, to answer the most repetitive question; Is Le Cordon Bleu worth the money? Well, I can’t answer for the diploma programs, but if you are even slightly interested in french cuisine, whether desserts, pastries, food, or bread, then their short courses are the perfect way to feed your passion and curiosity without the long term, (and expensive) commitment. Plus, it’s the perfect excuse for a trip to Paris!
Bon Appétit 🙂