“Few chefs can really and truly bake. Most chefs, like me, harbour deep suspicions of their precise, overly fussy, somehow feminine, presentation obsessed counterparts in the pastry section. All that sweet, sticky, messy, goopy, delicate stuff. Pastry where everything must be carefully measured in exact increments – and made the same way every single time – is diametrically opposite to what most chefs live and breathe, the freedom to improvise, to throw a little of this and a little of that at any damn place they want” Anthony Bourdain, “Fire over England’, A Cook’s Tour.
I have no delusions of being a chef.
Yet, as always, Bourdain hits the sweet spot. This is pretty much what I feel about baking.
I love desserts. I worship breads. I don’t make them.
We even bought an OTG for that. I roasted, grilled, toasted, re-heated in it. Didn’t bake. I had a mental block to baking. Baking to me were what staircases were to Poh in Kung Fu Panda 2. The biggest enemy.
So you can imagine the joy I felt as the first batch of our bakes came out at the Le 15 Patisserie cooking class. “You are all my babies” I went as I saw them. The cheese and potato buns did inherit my looks.
The bread classes at Le 15 are conducted by Christina Fernandes. Pooja, @poojadhingra (twitter), who owns Le 15, told me that these classes were amongst the most popular there and get fully booked up. A twitter conversation between @oneblackcoffee, Pooja and me made Pooja suggest a special class for us if we could arrange for at least four students. People started saying yes the moment I even mentioned the class and we finally had to close at nine against the maximum of eight participants.
And so I landed up on Sunday with friends from blogger, facebook, twitter and work. I don’t know what Pooja told Christina about us but Christina said, “So you are all bloggers. You have come here to blog about this. Why?”
I had to tell her that only a few of us were bloggers and that I had actually come to learn how to make breads. Doubt if she believed me as most of us clicked away. (This is the link to Sassy Fork’s post on the class.)
Christina turned out to be a very patient teacher who explained what was happening at every step to us, got her hands dirty, literally…made us do the same….and helped us figure out where we was going wrong and helped us fix things.
Most of us in the class hadn’t baked before even though we cook. Most, like me, had a mental block against baking. I was the only guy in class. Yes the messiest spot on the table top was where I kneaded my dough. I was also the slowest in the class and the reason why everyone’s dough had to wait before going into the oven. Vijay, the Bengali assistant chef, and the only other guy around, even came to my side and whispered ‘eto deri korle hobe’ (“you can’t be so slow”) as I was holding the flag high for my gender and race.
There were four and a half Bengalis out of the nine students. If you took us, and the Bengali kitchen folk of Le 15, then we had actually created a little oasis of Bengalidom in the Maharashtrian dominated area of Parel at Mumbai.
Having studied sociology and then worked as a qualitative market research I was used to these lone male scenarios. Knew when to make forlorn faces so that folks like Bonnie, Archana and even Christina jumped in to help me while I took a break and helped Pooja in the tastings for her new cointreau macarons and Jack Daniel cupcakes. Now that’s a man’s job.
We did four breads that day. Bread rolls and cheese and potato buns…the conversation starters. The noble whole wheat multigrain loaf. The buttery indulgent quiche-like Neapolitan Foccaccia.
With each bread my confidence in kneading dough grew. The flaky powder which surrounded me after round one soon gave in to more confident doughs… climaxing with the buttery spa-like foccaccia dough massage.
Through the process Christina kept an eye on us and stepped in to help when required. She gave us tips on sourcing and storing yeast, opened our minds to variations in the recipes and the endless possibilities ahead of us, she taught us to shape bread, gave tips on baking. “Baking bread is so much more fun than desserts”.
I asked Christina if the breads could be baked at night and had for breakfast.
“Breads don’t stay for long,” said Christina with a twinkle in her eyes. “In our house people finish them as soon as I take them out of the oven even before they reach the dining table”
Well, as our breads came out, as the golden glow of the butter glazed bread and its enchanting aroma enshrouded us I knew exactly what Christina had meant. …we were all in a very happy place. We had achieved the ‘world peace’ that Miss Universe contestants aspire to. The sense of salvation all saints meditated for….we had baked all of that that Sunday.
Next morning I cut a couple of slices of the hardworking multigrain bread and a slice of the hedonistic foccaccia, heated them in the OTG and had them for breakfast.
Breakfast had never tasted so fulfilling before.
This post is dedicated to all of those who had encouraged me to bake and said it is easy. They were right. Provided one finds the right teacher.