by Kathi Elborn
Making bread from scratch can be intimidating for some, but Kerry’s promise is reassuring. “Tonight you will learn an easy way to make delicious bread with just a few simple ingredients and no special equipment.” A bowl and wooden spoon. Flour, yeast, salt and water. And time. I’m in!
Kerry Duffy, master baker and owner of the popular Life of Pie in Old Ottawa South, has a fresh batch of cooking courses on offer and I’ve signed up for the “Slow and Easy Bread” class. We gather on a warm Thursday evening after-hours in this homey bakery and are set up at our own well-equipped stations. I see one or two familiar faces from the ’hood but find out that some participants have come from as far away as Stittsville, having taken previous classes with Kerry and declaring it more than worth the drive.
With freshly washed hands, we mix up a batch of dough for our first bread, ciabatta. Kerry gets us to measure flour, adding small amounts of salt and yeast and then the water all at once. She explains the word ciabatta is Italian for “slipper,” the shape of our loaf-to-be that is Italy’s modern version of the French baguette.
One of the secrets to great-tasting bread, we learn, is time; a generous, heaping helping of time in fact. Kerry references Manhattan baker Jim Lahey, who is known for his no-knead method, and tells us we will not be pounding, kneading or pummelling our dough. We flip it around a few times, activating the gluten, but are careful not to overwork it. We don’t want to “de-gas” it; we want to preserve those airy bubbles that are reservoirs for the butter we will soon slather on.
For such a hands-on, interactive class, Kerry regularly cautions us to keep hands off. We pull and fold our sticky globs with mandatory rest periods in between. Covering our dough, we back off for 15 minutes or so and then gently tackle it two or three more times. We can now refrigerate it overnight (minimum) or for up to three days (maximum). We respect the dough and leave it to do its thing.
We get to know each other and our instructor a bit better during our dough’s rest periods. Two sisters from the Glebe are here, one giving the gift of a baking class to the other for her birthday. Another Glebe resident, Peter, enjoys baking with his three young daughters and wants to improve in his role as “chief cook and bottle-washer.” And Madhuri is here with her friend Snehal from the city’s west end to perfect her already well-honed baking skills. There’s room for us all with our varying levels of expertise.
Kerry learned baking from her mother, making cakes, cookies and pies from a young age. Never bread though. We’re surprised to learn she only recently started experimenting with doughs, having taken a course at Algonquin on bread making. For Kerry, it is as much art as science. “You develop a feel for the dough. It’s trial and error. You figure out what makes a nice, soft bread.” Peter offers helpfully, “I like to sing to it.” I notice no one else attempting that particular method but it gets a smile. My plan once back in my own kitchen includes a glass of red and flipping through a magazine during my dough’s naptime.
Next we craft pizzas followed by focaccia bread. The ingredients for these doughs vary slightly but follow the same methodology of more time and less interference.
The aroma wafting from the oven gets us salivating. A timer goes off and voila, our ciabatta loaves from the beginning of the evening are ready. Our loaves range in shape from round to oblong to one that strangely resembles the shape of a dog-bone more than a slipper. But no matter. Bread is forgiving and this class is accepting. Our results need not be perfect; they’re “rustic.” Sinking my teeth into the freshly baked, warm loaf, I realize rustic has its rewards.
Visit Life of Pie’s website at www.lifeofpie.ca to see the latest class offerings including fall soups, scones and biscuits, and pastry.
Kathi Elborn is a Glebe mother who enjoys the leisurely approach to baking.