Western Reserve School of Cooking: Multi-Grain Bread Workshop with Kathy Lehr

After taking two really good classes from Kathy Lehr at the Western Reserve School of cooking, I just had to sign up for the multi-grain class. Everything that she has taught so far has translated into direct and significant improvements in my bread and baking skill sets. It is very unusual for me to look forward to baking something, but I have to say that the French Bread is a delight, particularly now that I am getting the hang of cooking it. Let me explain.

As Kathy told us, there’s a margin of error in all bread making. The starting point is mainly due to your oven. I have a pretty darn good oven which has been woefully underutilized since its installation about six years ago. At that time, it was top of the line with convection and a fancy display. I figured that my oven would cook at the temperature programmed because that is what it was made to do. I was wrong. The first loaves baked needed a ton of extra time to come to temperature and had to have the convection turned on to brown. Frustrating. The next batch I put my rack too low and my steam bath too high, so I had some damp feeling bread. Disappointing. The last batch was just right- rack in the middle, steam bath on the bottom and the temperature turned up 20 degrees higher than what the recipe calls for. They cooked in the right amount of time, browned incredibly and had a nice crunch. I gave the loaves to my friends from our Foundations 2 class and we used one loaf for our class that day. It was really pretty delicious. The post on Foundations 2 is coming up soon.

In the past, I’ve tried to cook multi-grain breads and they have come out dense, chewy and really not great tasting. I figured that it was the ingredients, so I even went so far as to grind my own. The result from that batch was really terrible, so I just gave up and bought my bread at Heinens, like everyone else that I know. After learning how to make the French Bread, I figured that Kathy would show me the way to good homemade multi-grain. She did.

Learning to slash the pan bread. Photo by Scott Groth

As with all her classes, this is a participation class. If you decide to sign up for one of these, it’s best not to wear dark colors. You’ll get flour all over everything: it is inevitable. I only give that point from experience since I wore dark jeans and a black golf shirt. It was only when I walked into the grocery to get some fresh yeast after class that I realized there were some white hand prints on my jeans and flour all over the front of my shirt. No sweat, but easy enough to avoid.

In this class you will be working mainly with the dough that Kathy has made prior to class since the ingredients need time to start working together and then need time to rest and rise. You’ll make your own dough too, but it is to be taken home to bake in your own oven. I like this setup so there isn’t a whole lot of time sitting around watching dough do its thing. I like hands-on and we worked with the ingredients really from the beginning all the way through the end of class.

All the breads made were great. You’ll learn about starters, different grains, flours and yeasts in this class. As with the French Bread class, slashing the bread is an important step. The good news is that my technique has improved greatly since my first class. Can’t wait for the week-long intensive class to continue to improve my skills. Kathy uses a straight razor for her slashing, but I find that a folding utility knife with a fresh blade works best for me. Be prepared to get your hands covered with dough, work out a little with Kathy’s power-kneading technique and test your dexterity by manipulating the dough into the shapes desired. We made some bread in pans, some rye bread boules as well as a multi-grain batard. All were really delicious.

Kathy Lehr teaching about breads. Photo by Scott Groth

The one thing that sticks out most in my mind as something that I didn’t know walking into this class relates to rye bread. I had no idea that the flour is actually pumpernickel and the coloring of the bread comes from molasses. Has nothing to do with the seeds. I thought that was really interesting. Plenty of other interesting stuff, but that one stands out to me.

The dough that I took home was multi-grain. The loaf turned out really well, but I forgot to take a picture of it. Instead, it ended up sliced in the toaster and then down the hatch with a little salted butter. It turned out really nicely though because I followed the easy directions on the recipe that was sent home with us. I had a great time in class and think that pretty much everyone else did as well.

Not sure when the next class will be with Kathy, but chances are good that I’ll be there. Hope to see you there too.

These are the breads we baked- don't they look great! Photo by Scott Groth

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