Danielle spent 6 months away from Edinburgh training as a baker at Ecole Banette in Briare in 2014. She was let loose on two practical stints before returning home.
On this page, you’ll find out how she got on. Danielle is now based in Gloucestershire. Follow her as breadbakerdani on Twitter.
June 8, 2014
I really wouldn’t recommend coming back from a long haul trip (to Japan) and having to turn round and set off within a day in a half. Somehow I managed it! I took the ferry across from Hull and drove down to Briare – situated 150 km south of Paris on the Loire. Driving on the autoroutes is almost a pleasure, there’s not much traffic until you get to Paris.
Banette flour is well known in France. There are hundreds of Banette bakeries across France that make artisan French bread. Many of the people who own and run these bakeries trained at the Ecole Banette. Unusually, the course I am on, is for people outside France and there are just 3 of us! No pressure there then.
Over the next two months, we’re learning all the breadmaking stages from scratch and getting to a level where we can be let loose in the wild (well a Banette bakery) to hone our skills before returning to learn how to bake in bulk.
Most of the techniques I know were taught to me by Richard Bertinet. Here they are not vastly different, but you have to forget what you’ve been taught and do it the new way. A frustrating process, but I think a little progress can be charted. The quest is for the perfect Banette (their version of a baguette) that is consistently the same shape and size. I think you could call mine “special editions” at the moment!
It’s all French to me
Yes, it is all in French, every last word. I’m doing fine! There are many new words to remember and well as techniques. My brain is a bit frazzled by the end of the day but so far so good.
Is currently gorgeous. It’s 29 degrees today – lucky not to be in the bakery! Wish you were here?
June 15, 2014 – Week 2
Bread of the Week -Torteau
Simply because it was one of the hardest to make with a very wet dough. It will have the same sort of crumb as a traditional baguette
I have never before realised how much I have taken for granted what I have to hand in Edinburgh. I could just pop out in the garden for some herbs. I’ve so many spices. Here I have nothing! I have seriously been craving something with a bit of chilli in it!
We’re very lucky in that we get a cooked lunch everyday which means I don’t really need to eat in the evening, but of course weekends are different. I decided to head off to the French equivalent of a car boot sale. Being France of course, there was food laid on, coffees, etc and somewhere to sit. I came back with a pressure cooker that had never been used which I later discovered would have cost £80 or so in the supermarket. Cooking was not a great success however, as I had none of the herbs or spices I would normally add. I’ll get there I’m sure.
On the baking front, it’s been very up and down. Thursday was a real low point. I managed to bodge every single task we were given. We were asked to do “le planning” and schedule in 6 different items so that they proved and were baked at the right moment. Oh dear, “le planning” is not proving to be my forte. To cap it all after all the baking we then had to do some class work. By that time of day and being so hot and frustrated, I had lost the ability to speak or write in French.
I can see that I am making some progress. What is now also eluding me is the correct shaping of some of the loaves. “Le tradition” is a very, very wet dough with which you make traditional baguettes. You know the sort that have loads of holes in. It is often rather like trying to shape custard! We are making what seems like large quantities – say 30 kilos of dough a day. We always mix using a machine and shape by hand. The remainder is regularly shipped off to suitable charities in the area.
This week’s tasks were to make Banettes (baguettes) of various sizes, bread shaped in balls, pain de mie (a sweet everyday bread) and apple turnovers. We created doughs that were left overnight (not sour dough) or held back for another day.
The weather continues to be glorious but being in a hot bakery when it is 29 degrees centigrade outside is challenging. I am seriously considering changing my name to Madame Rouge. I am frequently a very fetching shade of red.
Before I go, I just have to share a picture of this beautiful potager I visited at a local chateau at La Bussiere. It’s so beautiful and even has a pick your own place at the back.
I’m off to join a little sun before that oh so necessary revision.
June 22, 2014
Welcome to this week’s update from France. This is all about my adventures training as a baker at Ecole Banette in Briare and increasingly about life here too!
Bake of the Week
The week started well. My friendly lady at the renting agency got in touch to say that she’d found me somewhere better to rent. Off I went on Monday evening to find it was actually a done deal and I could move in that night. I was astonished at how much I had accumulated in two weeks! I am now in the centre of Chatillon sure Loire just opposite the church. Luckily the bells only ring from 7 am to 10 pm!
The owner goes off on her barge for the summer (doesn’t that sound wonderful?) and rents her house out. It’s just as if she’s left the building so I have everything I could need. The only downside is that I miss the lovely neighbours at the old place but I will meet up with some of them again.
Two steps forward and three back
On the baking front, it’s been another challenging week. We have been focusing on viennoiserie (sweet doughs and croissants) and refining recipes we’ve done before. I often get very frustrated with myself as I manage to measure things wrongly or leave ingredients out. Yes, it helps you learn and hopefully not do it the next time, but I cannot help compare myself with the others on the course. I am also very slow at weighing/shaping at the moment! But somehow I managed to make, shape and bake 90 baguettes on Thursday.
So this Tuesday coming we have a test! Both written and practical (without notes – oh my lord!)
There are points when I realise I have mastered something (which doesn’t always stick) but I know there’s progress! Highlights this week have been making some rather good croissants both with chocolate and without. It’s also been fascinating to learn what happens when you add salt at a later point (you get a more dense crumb among other things) or don’t mix at the 2nd speed (a rather flat and uninteresting bread).
Whilst walking round this village which is so ancient, I’ve come across a series of paintings on walls created in 2011 to celebrate local personages. How strange to find that Robert Louis Stevenson came to stay here for the air!
For those of you who know Edinburgh, it’s not exactly the easiest place to park. I am revelling in the fact that it’s easy to park and there are no charges!
I’ve met some lovely people who have gone out of their way to help and be friendly.The lady in the post office at Chatillon took time to give me an explanation of how to open an account and make me an appointment in Briare to set it up and was interested in my training.
So I went off to my appointment this morning with high hopes, to find the most unhelpful person possible who was shouting at me as if I were stupid. I walked out. I just had to go and have a coffee to calm down! I then went straight into Societe General who set my account up with no fuss.
The weather has been slightly cooler this week – all to the good when you’re in a hot bakery. There have been hints it may get over 30 C – oh my!
June 29, 2014 – Week 4
Bake of the Week
Can you believe that I have been here 4 weeks? Daily life has got into a rhythm. Get up early with the sun shining, drive to the school and bake bread all day. Except this week the weather has been grumbling. We’ve had thunderstorms and even rain and it’s generally quite a bit cooler! Life ‘at home’ is dominated by the church and its bells. You get a different perspective on life. There was a funeral today and I watched the arrival of the coffin carried at hip height whilst a single mournful bell tolled.
On the baking front, it certainly does not get any easier. Focus was initially on the fact that we had a test à blanc on Tuesday. We were given four items to make, a timetable, but no recipe. Having had a good day on Monday when I sailed through everything, the test day did not go so well and two out of the three of us (me of course) got quite a talking to that we needed to try harder.
For me it is trying to break the habits of a lifetime and becoming far more organised. I also, at times, seem to have lost the instinct (that must be there somewhere) to know what’s right and wrong with my dough. Lots of recipes to remember off by heart and we’ve just 3 weeks before a week long set of tests (all blanc of course).
We had a stand in teacher on Thursday who spent a lot of the time just observing us (rather off putting). At the end of the day he made many excellent suggestions of how to work more efficiently. Couldn’t but help think – now it would have been useful to have been told that before! We have a different Prof for the next 3 weeks, so it will be interesting to see how things turn out!
We’re leaving sweet doughs behind next week. I’ll miss muching them!
Have I mentioned much about the calculations? This is what we do on a daily basis to work out how much of any ingredient we need to make the dough. We’re given the commande (order), say 30 banettes (baguettes) and start from there. In the written test, the teacher, sneekily put a calculation in that was the inverse. If you have 65kg of flour, how many baguettes can you make? One stumped person. I eventually worked it out, but fancy having a question that you had never covered before in the test! (The answer is 407!)
For those of you interested, you take the total weight of your order (eg 3 kilos), divide it by the total of the percentages of your ingredients (eg 184) which gives you the weight in flour you need 1630. You then divide this by the percentage of ingredients you have in the recipe (eg water 65%) = 1060.
There are plenty of markets around here, but getting up early means that you rarely get the chance to go. Friday we started later, so I went off to Briare market. Apricots are very abundant at the moment and cheap. In a rash moment, I decided to buy a box and try making some apricot jam (something I have never done before!). So, here it is. It’s an excellent spread for all the bread I have been making.
Of course, it was all too easy, Société Générale are having problems getting my account up and running. My bank sent of some money to be advised there was no account. SG say there is some problem with my passport! Let’s see what this week will bring.
July 6, 2014
Bake of the Week
It’s amazing what a couple of good night’s sleep can make. I can recommend listening to Prairie Home Companion and Garrison Keillor’s mellifluous voice – it had nothing to do with bread which was keeping my mind churning.
After last weekend’s rain, it has been exceptionally hot reaching 34ºC degrees on Thursday. So today, back came the rain! Fingers are crossed for tomorrow evening’s Fete where two hundred people (including me) will gather for a food and entertainment. Luckily we will be eating under cover!
A few steps forward!
This week’s change of teacher has seen us all progressing in leaps and bounds. He’s full of suggestions on how to adjust your technique to achieve what’s required. He’s also getting us to think more about a smooth transition from one step to the next and making sure everything is in the right place to do so.
You pick up your weighed dough, dip in the flour (I can hear the Bertinet alumni gasp) and fold so, and place it to the right, pick up the next and so on.
Whereas Richard Bertinet had us using no flour, here some is allowed when necessary, but not to the excesses of a certain TV baker.
And shock of all, I have been praised for getting my written planning right each time! This was music to my ears after a 2-hour session calculating how much of each ingredient was required for 6 large recipes as well as working out the next day’s schedule.
Following a schedule you’ve devised yourself, even within the strict rules I have found far easier than following one already provided – the steps are already in my head. Now just to find a way of following one given to me and to speed up.
We’ve been making what’s termed as “special breads” this week. These are made from flour mixes which rather goes against the grain. (Bad pun!) On to proper bread next week – non-white flour! On the left Country and Six Grain breads
Running your bakery
We had a really useful session on running your bakery this week. Prof. covered how to work out the cost of your ingredients and using that information to understand how changing the mix of products can improve your bottom line without actually spending more money to achieve it (among other uses). I suspect that the pitch is also given to people considering running a Banette bakery to show how a premium product can make all the difference – all useful stuff. Do you know, in France it is reckoned that a boulangerie can be successful if there are 1,500 inhabitants. I wonder how many that would be here?
I’m making progress, I now have a cheque book and there is money in my account. This week’s hoops have been jumped through – providing evidence of where I live in Scotland and that I pay taxes! I might even get my bank card next week.
French Life: Morning greetings, shaking hands and the cook
It’s something that still does not come naturally. I guess it’s the British reserve coming out in me. When you meet someone for the first time on any day you either shake hands or give a kiss on each cheek (male or female). You have to remember whether you’ve met some already that day or not too! When you are bleary eyed it is not so easy.
I’m not sure why I find this amusing, but each morning the cook also does the rounds to come and say hello to everyone too. Can you imagine that happening where you are?
It’s the weekend of the 14th July next weekend and I’ll be travelling, so your next update may be a bit delayed.
Please think of me this Thursday – another written test to get through. So you can guess what I’m doing this weekend.
July 13, 2014
Bake of the Week
This week has flown by, not helped by having no hot water in the house. There have been a succession of tradesmen through the door, but nothing fixed just yet!
How to describe the week? In some parts good, others frustrating. I’ve been pleased with some of the items I’ve baked particularly the croissants, but I’ve yet to have a day when everything has gone smoothly.
We’ve continued with a further set of “special breads” – similar to last week. These are mixes created to make life easier for the French bakers. I am certainly missing a sour dough loaf.
There are plenty of different ways to shape the dough, some use an autolyse (soaking) method, others you prove in one large pillow of dough then cut in pieces to cook separately right at the last minute.
We’re being taught how to make larger and larger quantities of more and more varieties of bread in a timely and consistent fashion. Not an easy task. Especially just as you want to put something in the oven or take it out, someone else does too!
Tests loom. We’re to start practicing for a 7-hour long session where we have to plan and bake with no notes. OMG this is in only TWO WEEKS’ TIME!
The Banette Shop
A highlight had to be baking a huge variety of bread for the “in house” bakery shop, where potential sellers of bread are trained (pictured above). This week the spouses of the group before us came to be trained to sell the bread. Most of the Banette bakeries are run by husband and wife teams – very few women bakers. The shop looked very enticing indeed worth our hard work. The loaf pictured is a harvest loaf.
The account is now officially open, but still no card and I’ve discovered I cannot actually make withdrawals over the counter. I feel I know the people in the branch very well by now – they’re actually very pleasant. I don’t think I’ve ever had that sort of relationship with a British bank. I am assured that the card is on its way after the original package apparently “went missing”.
Unexpectedly bonding over Robert Downie Junior
I’ve been giving English lessons to the son of one of my Profs, aged 15. We spend quite a bit of time online, discovering and talking about things in English. I’d asked which French actors he liked. “I don’t particularly like any French actors he said, but I do like Robert Downie Junior”. Who would have thought!
Why can all French people dance properly?
Last week’s fete was run by the local Fishing Society. We ate a lovely meal, featuring some of the local fish – including quenelles de brochet (soft sausage shapes made with pike) which were delicious. We were entertained by a good singer who sang popular guingette songs accompanied by an accordian – all unexpectedly enjoyable (Guingettes were drinking establishments where one went to dance). On the dance floor, people of all shapes and sizes danced. None of the shuffle we might do, but beautiful proper coordinated steps. Ok, I hear all of you who can Scottish dance, but you know what I mean!
July 20, 2014
Just one more week to go before this part of the course ends. I’ll be back in Edinburgh baking at Archipelago Bakery on Queen Street which I am very much looking forward to.
Bake of the Week
You might remember what it’s like cramming for exams, well that’s what this week has been all about. I am writing this on Thursday having just had a seven hour test (with no breaks)
It was all “a blanc”. We were given an order. We then had to plan our seven hours, and were only able to bake in the last two hours. We had no recipes, it all had to be from memory! Quite a challenge.
I created a vast number of items: Sixty standard breads (baguettes, batards, mini baguettes), 34 special mix breads, 36 pains au chocolat and 10 pain de mie loaves. I will be marked on whether I followed “le planning”, consistency of bread shape, crust, crumb and whether I produced the correct number requested.
We use a roller device, a “tapis” to place the bread in the oven and to retrieve it. With just half and hour to go, I’d just put some bread in, and pulled the roller out and one of the two glass doors of the oven smashed! Pieces of glass (like a car windscreen) everywhere. You can imagine the shock. Some of my bread was salvaged, luckily. Apparently according to Prof, “it happens to everyone at some point” (!)
I was proud of myself for getting through it, But what I didn’t quite understand. I’ve got to do it all again next Wednesday – the real thing!
One reader asked me to tell you a bit more about Ecole Banette. The school was set up by the Banette company to train people who would then go on to open their own bakery under the Banette banner. S/he undertakes to use the Banette flours and recipes. It’s a very well known brand and well respected in France. Rather than a standard baguette, they offer a Banette and others such as Banettines (mini baguettes) and a traditional “baguette” La Tradition 1900 and many special mixed flours. The marketing and merchandising is much to be admired.
My group are the first to be not tied into opening a Banette bakery as we hail from elsewhere. The course is accredited and we get a higher qualification that the standard CAP Boulanger that all people running a bakery need to have.
Chatillon’s artists and crafts people were out in force today for the annual “Art dans la Rue”. It was refreshing to see so many different thing and meet some interesting people. I am calling what this lady is making lace, but it might have another name. It has taken her a month to do this much!
I now have a bank card! So hopefully, no more stories about the French bank for the time being! The hot water was fixed was I was away for the weekend. Bliss having a proper shower again!
I’m very pleased to say I’ll be back staying in the same house in Chatillon sur Loire on my return. I’ve two further months of training, then will be sent out on a “stage” in France.
A bientôt. Please keep your fingers crossed for me on Wednesday for the test!
July 27, 2014
This week was end of term. The class who are two month’s ahead of us have finished their studying and received their diplomas.
I hadn’t quite appreciated what would happen. At the ceremony, their Prof said a little about each person in turn. They then went to the front and said a few thank yous and expressed what the felt about their experience. One lovely chap broke down after thanking his wife and son for supporting him through the course. Another, came to the front in a formal button up shirt. Soon all was revealed. His change from the corporate life to that of a baker on a T-shirt – similar to that image of apes evolving into humans, the last picture was of a fully fledged baker! One chap returns to La Reunion, a volcanic island in the Indian Ocean, and another intends to set up in Guadaloupe. The only female in the group already has her bakery, others are yet to find one.
Then this being France, after a rousing speech from the Director of the School, we had an aperitif and settled down to a good lunch.
Bake of the Week
These tarts are about 20 cm across and are stuffed with a potato, onion and herb mixture. Before serving you add creme fraiche on top of the mixture and re-heat.
It’s been a funny sort of week: fascinating, challenging and downright exhausting.
Tuesday was fun. We spent the day creating savoury items from various bread doughs and puff pastry. This is all part of what the French call “le snacking”. A wider offering than sandwiches (although those feature), it’s all about adding value. Many chains you go to for lunch offer a sandwich+drink+dessert for around 6 Euros. Of course, buying your lunch from an artisan bakery would be much more delicious.
Wednesday. Test Day in 29°C heat. I drew the short straw (for me anyway) in that I had to create 30 baguettes, 20 maxi baguettes and 10 mini baguettes which take quite a time to mix, pre-shape, shape and bake. In addition, 34 special mixes and 36 pains au chocolat. I unfortunately made a mistake on the pain de mie recipe and should have baked some bread longer. I wasn’t happy with my performance and the results showed
Thursday. I don’t think I have ever been more exhausted. After the previous day’s test, the whole school had to be cleaned from top to bottom by the students and Profs.
Friday. A fascinating look round the state-of-the-art flour mixing operation. Behind the school is a vast warehouse full of ingredients that are drawn together to make all the various mixes that Banette create for their own shops and other artisan bakers on an often quite dizzying scale.
What I have learned so far
When you start a new adventure, you never really know what is going to be most challenging, do you?
- It is hard to change the habits of a lifetime. I’ve had to become a lot more organised and focused. I’m getting there, but I need to keep working on it.
- Although I have been tired a lot of the time, it’s actually speaking French all day that’s been the hardest.
- My French is good, but it is darn difficult to have the everyday, gossipy sort of conversations we all love.
- I am really proud of all the tasks I have achieved.I could never have dreamed, I would routinely be making 6 or 7 different tasty breads in such large quantities at a time.
- ps. I still love France as much as ever.
So, I am looking forward to baking back in Edinburgh for the next month. Do pop in to buy a loaf. Otherwise, I’ll let you know how I get on!
August 10, 2014
Hello from Edinburgh! As Ecole Banette is closed in August, I have come home to gain some work experience.
The placement I had organised fell through, so I had a mad dash to find another. I had some lovely responses and I am now baking at the Breadwinner Bakery. This wholesale bakery supplies many well known shops and venues. Those of you who are local, may remember their original premises in Bruntsfield. The bakery is now situated in South Gyle.
Bake of the Week
What more could a trainee baker want, than the experience of a man who has been baking for 50 years? Sean McVey was a pioneer for artisan baking, ensuring that no nasty additives were added to flour delivered. Today, his bakery works 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you live in Edinburgh, you are bound to have tasted their bread, probably without knowing it! Now however, they are supplying a number of ScotMids in the city, where you will find a fine selection of breads including a daily special.
So this week, I have been soaking up his knowledge. I have also help make an astonishing quantity of items. Today, we made 1500 croissants, for example. With 100 packed in one crate, you can imagine the space needed just to store these! It isn’t the place to stop and take photos, of course.
I came across a potato starter for the first time this week. Apparently this was used widely in Scotland in times gone by. Sean’s instruction was for me to mix the starter up. He’d added potato flakes and water and some of the previous started into a large drum. “Just stick your arm in and mix”. I did wonder whether this was some type of initiation test! I stuck my arm in anyway and gradually got it mixed, with plenty over me too. The mix is added into the recipe for their burger buns some of which being sent over to the Foodies Festival
I had to gape at the 55 kilos of a white dough made this morning in one go taking up half a very long bench and threatening to tumble off. This was then transformed into a variety of bread shapes and rolls.
As to shaping the dough, the ones I’ve enjoyed doing most have been pretzels and the challah dough. Although at the same time, I discover that shaping is done differently to in France and when baking, there’s far less emphasis on crust and bursts.
I also made some bread at home earlier in the week – a challenge getting used to the domestic oven again, but the croissants turned out well!
August 15, 2014
Breadwinner Bakery where I am working has seen a huge upsurge in orders – all the businesses we supply are doing really well.
It means that I have ceased to be amazed at the quantities we make each day. I’m also not the new girl any more as two lads have started a 6-week trial to see whether they would make good apprentices.
Bake of the Week
When I work on the section making viennoiserie – croissants and the like, I am working with two French men. It’s good to keep my French up a little! One has been particularly encouraging with my business idea and is lining himself up as my “consultant”.
In this area, and in the bread area, there are always trials going on. Yesterday, we created a new Danish with confit orange and cardamom. We made these again today in a different shape (alas not out of the oven in time to show you). These could well become a standard product. I must say they taste delicious!
Over in the bread area, it was particularly busy today as a batch of dough failed on the night shift, which resulted in us working flat out to fulfill all the orders. Everyone pitched in and working at a furious rate, we made hundreds and hundreds of burger buns in addition to the usual range of breads.
The burger buns are made with a brioche dough and are baked in rings. When the dough is added to the ring, it looks so small, but after proving they expand beautifully.
Two of the starters were not at their best earlier in the week. They were thin and without body. Sean refreshed them several times over the day to get them back on form again (rather than we might do daily at home). The potato starter was soon back to its usual self. It has the tendency to erupt if you don’t keep an eye on it and it was definitely back on form today, threatening to overflow. The rye is more sedate in nature!
With burger buns in mind, I just have to share this photograph with you. We had our annual “Fringe Day Out” on Tuesday – a horrid, wet and and cold day. However, we had an amazing extended lunch at Castle Terrace One course featured this beautiful little “burger”. The bun was made with chickpea flour. The burger was barbecued and braised should of pork – the yellow “cheese” is actually a radish. It was divine.
The day ended with the best show we’ve seen so far – “What does the title matter anyway” featuring regulars from the Whose Line is it Anyway TV series – absolutely hilarious.
The small individual S shaped buns were for a special order and made with a seeded dough.
My last full week in Edinburgh is coming up, The time has gone so quickly but I have learnt such a lot already!
I’ll be returning to France next Saturday so I’ll catch up with you soon. Until then, keep eating the bread!
August 25, 2014
How quickly three weeks have passed. I’ve finished my placement at Breadwinner Bakery and am writing this sitting in the kitchen of the place I rent in France. The sun is shining and its definitely a lot warmer than Edinburgh was when I left!
Tomorrow I start the second part of my training at Ecole Banette armed with a glowing reference with Breadwinner!
Bake of the Week
This intricate looking ring was made from 3 disks of brioche dough sandwiched with a dryish mixture of peppers, olives, sun dried tomatoes and herbs. A circular cutter is placed in the centre but not used to cut. The dough sandwiches are marked into eighths, each is then twisted two or three times, glazed and left to prove. The key is to let the glaze dry out before baking. It is very delicious!
It’s festival time, we’re very busy
The appetite for Festival goers is phenomenal. Each day we made hundreds of loaves, rolls, pretzels, pizza bases and more. They were sent to venues and shops all over Edinburgh and some further away to castles! It was fun to think when you shaped the umpteenth ciabatta roll whose plate in might end up on and where.
It has been great to be part of a team. Alan, with a mere 45 years experience, keeps us in check and is always ready to explain how to do something better or more efficiently. He’s also a great stickler for not leaning on tables or putting hands in pockets! I love the pride the bakers have in their work. They exclaim “look at that beautiful loaf” when a particularly beautiful batch of bloomers comes out of the oven, or the morning rolls are especially well shaped and discuss what can be improved next time if it’s a little less perfect than it should be.
I became chief refresher of the starters last week. This job involves adding the requisite amount of flour and water to starter (and potato flakes if required) and mixing with your hands and arms. It gets everywhere as you can imagine! One rye starter is very, very stiff, more like mud, to which we also add some of a much more liquid rye starter to make a lovely mud pie consistency.
Simply cutting and weighing takes time and I’ve become quicker, but there’s still a way to go. When someone is waiting to shape what you cut, you focus and try to get it spot on. A 3.5 kilo ball might be placed in the cutter to cut into 30 pieces, which are then finished by hand. For example a pretzel will be cut by the machine, rolled into cylinders, rested a little, rolled longer, rested a little then longer still and twisted into the right shape and placed on the tray.
On Thursday night I set off a dough to work overnight following the traditional baguette recipe from Banette albeit with not with Banette flour but a different French flour. It was left out a bit too long that night, but was still usable the next day. Just a couple turned out perfectly, but the general consensus was that they tasted good!
Although I’d been at the bakery just three weeks, it was quite an emotional farewell I really felt part of the ‘family’.
August 31, 2014
Greetings from France. Today, the sun has been shining and it’s reached 25°C.
We’re no longer the newbies. A group of 8 started this week. Imagine, on their first day a film crew turned up and they were filmed for morning TV! We’re pleased that there are two women in the group. So often there is only one!
I rather like Fridays. We started at 6 am, but we always finish at 12:30 so I spent the afternoon catching up with some of the friends I have made here bearing loaves of bread for them. In return, I was given some rather nice courgettes. Tonight, I am invited out to dinner too!
Bake of the Week
It’s getting serious …
We’ve moved into a different baking room at the School. It is stuffed full of what I imagine is very expensive kit. Each of us has our own deck oven, work space with weighing machine etc, a temperature controlled water, two mixers, a dividing machine and a fancy machine that shapes baguettes from the divided dough. I can imagine that for most bakers this is something they can only dream of.
The shaping machine. It’s hard to get a sense of scale, but it’s about 2 metres across. Once the dough is divided, you place the pieces of dough, four or 5 at a time into the troughs (cream coloured). There are 32 of these in all, you rotate them as you fill each one. You then place the dough in the silver hopper and out pops a shaped baguette.
It also has meant that the quantities of dough we have to deal with has increased. Imagine 20 kilos of flour at a time, which once all the other ingredients are added significantly increases the weight. The biggest challenge is actually to get all the items into the oven before you have to start taking the first ones out as they are already baked.
I have already grown to loathe one of the decks in my oven, wherein everything seems to burn!
Sourdough at Last!
Luckily for me, I am not stuck only doing baguettes and croissants, pain au chocolat etc and have had the opportunity to use sourdough starters for some dough and to follow some of Jeffrey Hammelman’s recipes too. There has been much exclamation about the fact that once the sourdough is shaped and placed in the basket or on a couche, that’s it. Here it is standard practice to pre-shape dough, wait 15 minutes or so, then shape again. It’s not sourdough of course!
I brought my starter that originally came from Richard Bertinet’s course over, and that’s what I have been using. It survived its plane journey in my suitcase surprisingly well. You might remember my post on that course.
We are switching over to a new pattern of working next week, where we prepare everything one day and bake the next. This will need careful timing and storage of the dough. This will be interesting!
September 7, 2014 –
Bonjour! The mornings are getting cooler. It’s been about 10ºC when I’ve left the house. There is mist wafting across the fields and wisps over the river and canal – really quite beautiful. By lunchtime, the heat has been turned on and it’s reached about 25ºC.
This part of the course is called Perfectioning. This means we actually bake the same recipes over and again to iron out any issues. As I am using recipes that are not from Banette and am using starters (levain) this is proving interesting.
Prof. had placed his rye starter next to the oven “to get it going” next thing we knew we had a river of starter running down onto the floor. After attempting to tame it by putting it in the cold store, it still managed to escape and ran down the shelves. Ah, the joys of sourdough!
Incidentally, it is Sourdough September. The Real Bread Campaign are raising awareness and there are plenty of events going all over the country. Check them out
Bake of the Week
Making things perfect…
This week we have prepared everything on one day to bake the next. For a standard baguette, this means popping the shaped breads into the cold cupboard at 3ºC as soon as they’re made, then the temperature is raised to 8ºC so that it can be baked first thing in the morning.
It’s been a bit trickier working out what works with the sourdough, but I think I am getting there. With the multi-grain loaf, I changed the seed mix which didn’t work and am gradually adding less and less yeast as it is proving too quickly. It truly is a great recipe. The crust is particularly tasty!
A couple of things have been disastrous. I’ve yet to make a good rye loaf. The Vermont Sourdough has a small percentage of rye flour which is fine, but when I try a higher percentage recipe, the results have been more like stones!
I have particularly enjoyed working with the croissant and brioche doughs. Prof has been in his element showing me some of the range he used to make in his bakery in Alsace. My photos have not been too good, otherwise I would have shown you some cute little men usually made for Christmas.
I missed my Magimix so much. I’d made the candied orange peel and could only find a mini chopper thing to chop it up and make a paste in the kitchen here in Chatillon. There is equally no pestle and mortar or coffee grinder to make short work of the cardamom seeds. Still I made a passable attempt. The resulting orange-y mixture is delicious, not at all bitter and not too sweet.
Despite the French Pain au Levain (sour dough) and the famous Poilane bread, certainly locally it seems to be hard for French people I encounter to understand that you can have some very good bread that will last more than one day.
Whereas, non-French (Danish, Australian, English …) have all expressed their love for such a loaf. It’s hardly a scientific experiment, but dare I suggest we are more open to new things in the UK?
September 13, 2014
This week passed quickly. I seemed to have spent a lot of my time trying to find bigger and bigger containers for the sourdough starters. As I have probably said before: It is getting serious!
Mr EF is coming to visit this weekend and it promises to be great weather. It will be interesting to see the place with his eyes!
Bake of the Week
Inspired by a tweet from Seven Hills Bakery, I made beetroot and cumin bread. The beetroot was cooked and chopped up and added to the dough with the cumin seeds. Strange that it is barely pink inside. It tasted very good!
The biggest challenge of the week was to make 60 baguettes and 20 larger breads with sourdough – with a very small percentage of yeast added. (Apparently you are still allowed to call this sourdough in France). Together with many croissants, pain au raisin, pain au chocolat and other breads.
The sourdough was started on the first day, then cooled overnight for baking in the morning. It didn’t work as well as I had hoped. You can see from the picture below there are lots of circles or bubbles all over the dough. (The are called cloques in French which I think is a great word). This basically shows that the dough ran out of food (yeast etc). In a standard dough this would be unacceptable, but Prof felt they were OK. The baguettes looked particularly sad. I’m going to try a different recipe to see whether I can make a better batch.
More of the sweet stuff
I shaped hundreds upon hundreds of these at Pain au Raisin at theBreadwinner Bakery and that experience proved very useful. We’d made them just once before back in July. The other classes’ Prof declared them excellent and took most of them off for his pupils to enjoy.
Last weekend, I went to a Medieval Fair at Chateau Chapelle d’Angillon not far way. The amount of effort that had been put into the weekend was amazing. There were many different groups of people all dressed appropriately and ready to fight in mock battles. There were jousting tournaments, roasted pig, a castle built out of straw for the kids and more.
I was particularly impressed by the local bakeries who had made breads to old recipes and one lady who’d obviously spent a long while delving into the archives for medieval dishes from all over Europe. What we tasted was very good! Do have a look at the website for more pictures of the event.
One thing in particular amused me greatly this week. A French friend persuaded me to go to a taster session at the local swimming pool. We were trying Aqua Biking. Imagine a simple version of a bike you’d usually find in a gym. You have to manoeuvre yours into the water which is an art in itself. Then when you are set up you do various exercises to thumping music.
I had good laugh (inside) at the four ladies opposite me as they were busy cycling away all in full make up and jewellery – earrings and necklaces still on!
I decided I really did not need extra exercise after being in the bakery all day. I am sticking to yoga which I was pleased to return to this week!
Next week, I will be experimenting with more sourdough and hope to get my timings down to a fine art. It’s usually quite a stretch to get everything done, and then there is all the cleaning to do as well!
September 21, 2014
Temperatures and humidity have been high. Whereas I used to have a window next to my workstation, I am now tucked into a corner with no breeze at all. The deck oven I use has become more and more temperamental and trying to bake properly has been a very frustrating experience. The top deck (one of three ovens) just refuses to brown. There’s a definite sense of panic in the air, with time to the end of the course fast approaching! So, I am needing a lot of positive thoughts, please, to get me through.
Bake of the Week
Rather unseasonal, but aren’t these lovely? They are a traditional bake from Alsace, made at Christmas time from brioche dough
The continuing quest for flour
I have promised Mr EF that I will one day explain why real bread should have no additives in the flour. This is not the time, but much of the flour I have access to has ascorbic acid added. Other flour has been premixed and has various additives and salt added.
I keep asking and searching for additive free flour, and this week a bag of stoneground flour turned up. It’s Type 80 which means it is somewhere between wholemeal and white flour. The sourdough bread I made with the flour was a revelation. At last, the right balance of flavour and sourness. It might look very unprepossessing, but this is the best loaf yet.
Then, on Friday a bag of light brown rye flour appeared (type 997). The rye flour we had previously was very dark and heavy. I am looking forward to baking with this one.
Ciabatta with olive oil
The last time I made these was on Richard Bertinet’s course. I clearly remember him encouraging us to add more and more water which seemed impossible to deal with. These turned out with the classic large holes inside, but not quite authentic on the outside.
Whilst working at Breadwinner, we had a handy balling machine that could create 30 rounded pieces of dough easily. It’s not a piece of equipment we have here. These rolls are made with traditional baguette dough. You shape the dough as if you were making the baguettes, then cut each piece into 40. I found it an extremely effective way of making some lovely crusty rolls.
Mr EF and I decided to head over towards Tours to attend a Tomato Festival. It was held at Chateau de la Bourdasiere where they hold the national collection of 600 different varieties! We’d actually been to the festival before back in 2002, so it was great to return and see how things had changed. There are now 50 stallholders, but curiously there seemed to be fewer tomato producers. There was a wide range of stall holders and several places to eat where tomatoes featured heavily. We’ve come back with some seeds to try growing next year. (Do read about the Prince Gardener and his tomatoes)
Top: Organic tomatoes from the local region
Middle: The tomatoes on the plates are available as seeds. The boxes are for purchase
Bottom: On another stand, selections of tomatoes to buy
September 28, 2014 – Week 17
Autumn is definitely coming. This region declared that the wine harvest could officially start this week and the hunting season has opened. It’s chilly in the morning, but the temperatures still are reaching around 20°C.
Imagine me, at 4:30 the other morning. I arrived at the school to find I had left “le planning” and recipes behind. The day continued in the same vein, forgetting to slash the baguettes before placing them in the oven causing them to burst in all the wrong places and managing to make a dough that looked like lumpy porridge. (Note to self, never try mixing the flour and the sourdough starter together before you put water in).
It could only get better …
Bake of the Week
I wish I could say I did the six strand, far right, but I did not. Mine are the four (left most) and five stranded versions.
We had another great session on merchandising on Monday. All such very useful stuff, but exhausting. The Prof spoke so quickly I had to use all my concentration to follow all she said. One of my tasks this weekend is to read the supporting notes she gave us so I can pose questions.
I then had an English class with my youngest pupil afterwards. Luckily she is a joy to be with and at 10 years old has a very good grasp of the language already and tired as I was, it was so enjoyable.
I got a chance to learn how to make a large batch of choux pastry – imagine 1 kilo of eggs in the mix! The actual making was not too hard and really fairly similar to making them at home. The trick apparently is to use half milk and half water, not all milk or all water as each of those brings certainly difficulties. Wielding a piping bag of hot mixture was a little more challenging!
The quest for the perfect pain au chocolat continues. A perfect example has no unnecessary holes in the middle (a sign of butter not being incorporated properly). Nor should it be soggy in the middle – baked too quickly. This morning’s looked much the same on the outside, but joy, inside much more as it should be.
My baguettes “lack volume”. I’ve been using sourdough starter in the mix and a lot less yeast than normal. The taste is really good, but compared to a conventional baguette, is smaller. A long discussion ensued about what I could try differently next time. (Probably would be a whole lot easier not to use starter in the mix).
Bagels are odd things to make. You start off the dough in the usual way, making it very stiff. Then when all the shaping is done, you pop it into boiling water for a minute. They then are baked in the oven. We tried two techniques, one you join cylinders of dough together (definitely the easiest). The second you flatten a ball of dough then make a hole in the middle with your fingers. The second gave the better results!
It was the French equivalent of Doors Open – Journées du Patrimoine – last weekend. My favourite visit was to the Chateau de la Bussiere as they had many artisans on hand (the link shows some of the other artisans too). Not just any artisans, several were Meilleurs Ouvriers (masters in their profession).
The crystal makers’ work was just wonderful.I particularly enjoyed the chefs and a baker working in the original kitchen. The baker was managing to bake bread in what was a wood fired oven for general use, not for bread.
I really love the blue crystal glasses.
October 6, 2014 – Week 18
I’ve learnt so much this week. It’s not been so much about baking bread, but how to decide what products you might sell in your bakery, how to style the bakery inside and out, how to present the bread to attract your customers and the qualities of a good salesperson. All very vital.
We also had a day and a half in Patisserie learning how to make a vast range of items from levée feuilleté (the dough you use for croissants), viennoiserie (the dough you use for sweet rolls) and brioche dough. Prof is from Alsace. This region must have a wider variety of specialities than any other in France I think.
Bake of the Week
This week, I have been continuing to experiment. I created a carrot and coriander bread which looked great but lacked a punch. When I made the beetroot bread, I used cooked beetroot. This time I used raw carrot and powdered spice rather than seeds. You can guess what I’ll do differently next time. I’m also experimenting with the light rye flour we have, type 997 which is giving some very flavoursome results.
The sourdough baguette experiments continue. I was happier with these but they still came out less voluminous than standard recipe. The two Profs have a slight disagreement over whether this is to be expected or not. They do taste rather delicious I must say.
Sugar and more sugar
We made large batches crême patissière and creme amande (almond). I struggled to carry batches of mixture in a very large pan! These two bases were then used to make other fillings. Such as frangipane which is equal quantities of creme patissiere and amande. Pistachio creme was made by adding a pistachio powder to the creme patissiere. In the tart above, you can see the green tinge that you end up with.
We are able to take some of what we make home, and the day after I made this one, I couldn’t find it anywhere. I discovered that Prof had decided to take it home as he liked the look of it so much!
The cakes below are beautifully light and airy. They were made with a viennoise dough which was laminated (folded) as you would croissants. The dough is then rolled and placed in the molds to bake – and they rise up to these lovely shapes. This dough was flavoured with pistachio as you can see.
To extreme left and right, lunettes or glasses. One side has chocolate drops, the other raisins. Middle left, these have chocolate flavoured centres. Middle right, one side has a chocolate bar, the other banana
Lots to plan and bake this week coming. Look out for the next update!
October 12, 2014
I have spent much of this week thinking “Oh, I am doing this for the last time”. It feels very odd! It is really all over. Next Friday is “graduation” and I start my journey back home.
I took the train with a friend to Paris last Saturday. We were blessed with the most glorious day. We planned to visit a few bakeries that had been recommended but spent a lot of the time just walking and enjoying the atmosphere. Sad to say, Paris really does seem to have much more rubbish about the place compared to London.
Bake of the Week
It’s hard to get an idea of the size of this, but it is simply huge. It was made with 8 x 200 grams of dough, with an additional 200 grams of dough making the flaps. The dough is placed in a doughnut shaped proving basked before being turned out.
This week, we spent two days creating breads from some of the regions in France and some different shapes and sizes (for example the crown above).
It culminated in a display of the breads we made. Well most of them, that is. The men from the Banette mill come over each day to get some baguettes and were seen walking off with some of the examples we had made, so our display did not look quite as sumptuous as it might have done.
In the picture below, Prof (on the left) is just about to place his finger on the Pain Auvergnat (from Auvergne). You can also see one of the crowns before baking.
The ones that have black on are complicated. It’s created as two different loaves, the base (batard shape) and a slim baguette shape with pointed ends. Just before placing in the oven, the baguette is placed on top of the base and snipped into an epi shape.
Our take on a French classic
I truly hadn’t appreciated that what we call an almond croissant is quite different to the one generally found in France.
The French version takes yesterday’s croissant, coats it in creme d’amande and flaked almonds and is rebaked. Today I decided to make our version. I made an almond paste and popped it inside the croissant. There was a queue of people waiting to try them!
Eric Kayser must be one of the most well known French bakers. He’s also co-author of the Larousse du Pain book. Although he has many bakeries in Paris, all are artisan – making bread the way it should be. The one we visited was extremely busy with people queing out of the door, hence my picture through the window.
Look out for the last French update!
October 26, 2014
I’ve done it! Six hundred and seventy five hours of professional training completed.
Suffice to say I am very proud.
Bakes of the Week
It’s been an odd week. I actually have only baked on two days. A further two days were spent on the “Grand nettoyage” – the big clean. Believe me it was very big (and tiring).
The highlight of the week was the chance to spend two days at the Foricher mill, Moulin des Gaults not far from Briare. I am still rather pinching myself at having been able to do this “stage”.
I wrote to the mill asking whether I could learn more about their flours as I had heard good things. The next thing I knew I was having a meeting with M. Foricher himself. Further to our meeting he offered me the chance to join a group who were already using his flour, or about to set up their boulangeries.
I’ve long been passionate about using levain (a starter) in breads and it’s not been something that Banette are big on. At Foricher, all the recipes we used to create the breads in the library where created using a levain. Also, none of the flours had any additives. The mixes were just that a mix of two types of flour such as wheat and rye.
This was making bread slowly, mixing only on the first speed so no real heat added. Letting it stand for hours before a final mix, then leaving overnight before baking. The flavours are utterly delicious. I discovered that many of the top bakers in France, including Eric Kayser use Foricher flours and recipes.
Luckily it is possible to get Foricher flour in the UK!
We also had the chance to make some croissants. Again the recipe used levain. It also used fewer eggs. The main difference was how they were rolled – not crescent shaped. This taste is different to the ones I have been making, perhaps a little more buttery?
Rather than writing this, I should actually be cleaning the house where I have been staying before setting off to Caen to catch the ferry. Nothing like putting things off!
It’s been sad to say goodbye to everyone here, but I am homeward bound. I’ll be in the Bristol area for the next two weeks, and will be baking with Peter Cook for two days which I am really looking forward to.
Thank you for reading about my adventures.
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What a wonderful story!
Thank you Ruth. It was an experience not to be missed.