It’s a very poorly kept secret that as a species Food Bloggers enjoy bread, really, really enjoy bread. It’s not just a pre-dinner starter designed to get you going, but almost an active part of the meal which sets the standard for the night to come. When Mei from Brasserie Bread tweeted about a TweetBake I immediately put up my hands for the night having no idea what to expect.
Howard and Squishies evidently share my love for bread having both paid visits to Brasserie in the past, but this is actually the first time I’ve been able to make it to the premises myself. I’ve been eying the various Artisan Baking classes that Brasserie offer for months now but have never been able to organise myself enough to get into one. Usually the Wednesday class is devoted to Sourdough, but for the tweetbake the focus has been switched to Seeds and Grains and is offered at a special price of $100.
The Bakery is situated in Botany and thanks to a lovely summer’s day and daylight savings, the premises are still beautifully lit when I arrive with two friends, Duncan and Elliot. Festivities are clearly in force all over the store and I’m charmed by all of the various Gingerbread men hanging on the walls as decoration, and the store itself is built into the warehouse and is rustic in feel with beautiful high ceilings and exposed supports.
The group for the night is a rather motley crew and I’m surprised to find myself the only female in the group with a mix of curious amateurs and bakery owners participating on the night. She’s hard to spot, but Mei is actually in the photo just in the middle hidden behind Duncan (squint and you’ll spot her blue top!).
As we walk into the kitchens we can see the various Seeds, Grains and flours scattered about on the tables. Don our instructor for the night runs through the variety of Grains and explains what each of the flours are. Rye, Spelt, White Flour, White with Rye the list is endless, as we move through the flours we’re invited to touch each of the varieties and the texture becomes noticeably smoother as we work our way up.
Don is our man of the night and is obviously knowledgeable about the subject in hand, he gives us a brief background on different varieties of bread and their usage of grains explaining that a poorly processed grain bread is just as bad for your body as white bread. I’ll admit that I had always assumed a brown or wholegrain loaf was automatically better than plain white bread, but the grains we are using tonight have been soaked for 24 hours to allow all the nutrients to get absorbed into the dough.
We’re making 2 varieties of bread tonight, French Mountain Bread and baguette. The French Mountain Bread has the seeds within the dough whereas the baguette will be made with the grains scattered on the exterior. With its multicoloured grains and seeds the Mountain Bread is oddly beautiful. We’re given Yeast in solid form, which strangely resembles playdo. Don instructs us to crumble the yeast into the mixture and the room is suddenly filled with a yeasty beer scent.
We all grab ample handfuls of flour in preparation for the mess ahead of us. The Flour proves to be both a life saver in getting the sticky dough to form a pliable ball while at the same time destroying my black pants and I find myself leaving fingerprints all over the camera while trying to multitask. At this point I surrender the camera to Mei as clearly, the bread making comes first!
Kneading the dough is oddly therapeutic, with its consistent folding and kneading motions and the room is suddenly quiet as we work on our various doughs. I’ve never been able to work on such a large workstation before and it’s quite liberating being able to just spread out and throw flour all about the place.
The Mountain Bread is put away to the side to be allowed to rest and we move onto the baguette! Unlike the sticky Mountain Bread dough, the Baguette dough is almost springy to the touch and doesn’t stick at all. Don tells us to pound the dough to let the air escape and while we’re tentative at the start soon we’re banging away and I can feel all the stress of the day melt away with each roll.
These dough snakes are destined to become a 6 braided roll and to get the desired effect we roll each length lightly in water before drowning them in seeds and grains. My favourites of the night are the black Nigella and poppy seeds which gives the dough a striking effect. Mei on the other hand disagrees and thinks the Nigella seeds look like ants crawling over the dough… come to think of it she may have a point!
When starting I have absolutely no idea how to braid 6 strands together, it turns out the method is actually quite simple. Working from right to left, pick up strand 1 and pass it over 2 & 3, under 4 and back over 5 & 6, the numbering then resets and strand 2 becomes the new strand 1. Confused? The actual process is a lot easier than it seems on paper and the result is…
Wow! I’m still impressed at the results, lol.
The remaining baguettes are cut up to make mini-bread rolls as well one extra long Baguette with pods cut out and layered in alternate directions.
With all of our breads waiting to go into the oven Don gives us a tour of the factory and it’s various ovens. The factory has 2 main types of ovens, the first being a large modern-day oven with a door big enough to simply wheel the rack in with its trays of dough. The second is a more traditional stone based oven which allows for much more heat to be concentrated into the dough.
I’m a little dumbstruck seeing the croissant up close, it’s hard to see in the photos but the number of layers is staggering and I have to resist the urge to sneak one off the racks as we continue on our tour. Don explains that the ingredients used in the pastry is key, the butter is Belgian and is 83% fat and the puff pastry is almost at a 50% butter to flour ratio (46% if I remember correctly). Sadly I don’t get a chance to try their croissants tonight, I see a return visit in my future…
Our Mountain Bread dough has had enough time to rest and when we pull it out the dough has easily doubled in size. The dough is a little reluctant to come out of the bowls but soon we’re all kneading and pounding away again! The dough is separated into two batches, one will become a Bastard Baguette, literally a smaller version of the large seeded Baguette, and the second a round roll.
Our rolls are set up in folds of fabric and Semolina flour before being set on top of a warm oven to rest one last night. Don recommends that we knead the dough as little as possible this last round so as not to overwork it, unfortunately I get a bit enthusiastic at this point and my rolls were looking more than a little squished into shape by the end!
Waiting once again for our batch of dough to rest Don continues the factory tour, this time taking us in the preparation area which is visible from the cafe area. The large room contains the various benches where all of the bread doughs are weighed, separated and prepared for baking, off to the side are the starter rooms and Don reveals a giant tub of the sourdough starter.
It’s been a little bit of a torment walking through the warehouse and seeing all the varieties of bread, especially as I’ve come straight from work without dinner! We’re onto the best part of the night as we return to the cafe area and see a table full of bread as well as wine. We easily try over 10 varieties of bread from huge seeded loafs, sourdough loafs, a caramelised Garlic bread, warm mini seeded rolls, and fruit loaves in the form of Fig & Walnut as well as a Sour Cherry loaf.
My favourites of the night are the spelt loaf, which is a beautiful dark brown shade and has a wonderfully dense texture while still somehow remaining light on the toungue. My other favourite is easily the Fig & Walnut loaf which reveals entire chunks of Fig embedded inside as its sliced. Mei also conjures a plate of dips and cheeses and we gleefully do our best to work our way through the huge mound of bread.
The smell when we come back into the kitchen is amazing, along with the sight of our hand made bread! Despite the gorging that I participated in only moments before I have to try some of the fresh bread and it is amazing. Perfect crust which seems to almost steam the moment I break it open to reveal the soft fluffy centre. Don tells us that the oven temperatures are set to extra high to achieve this perfect balance.
It’s hard to tell scale from photos, but held up it’s easy to see just how huge these braided rolls actually are. Class of Wednesday celebrates our success with a photo!
Sadly my French Mountain Bread has not fared as well with my round roll resembling a pancake more than anything else. Don mentions that the rolls have probably also suffered from the relatively quick cooking time and could have easily sat in the oven for another hour, which would have helped them rise that little bit more. I sneak a bit off my Bastard Baguette and am reassured that looks are not everything!
We stumble out of the bakery with not only our baked breads, but with a huge extra seeded roll in our goodie bags along with any of the breads left over from our tasting table! I make off with the remains of the Fig & Walnut loaf which became an awesome breakfast for me this morning. Realising that we’re stranded in Botany with narry a taxi in sight, Mei is an angel and drops myself, Duncan and Elliot back in the city.
Sitting in the train on the way home my bag fills the carriage with the scent of freshly baked bread and I can’t help but wonder if the other passengers envy me just a little. With my savoury side content, I’ll be signing up for the next Pastry class ASAP. Thanks to Mei for organising such a great night out!
Brasserie Bread runs classes on Wednesdays and Saturdays with the Calendar available on their website. Classes are kept to a maximum of 10 people and are $130 a session.
1737 Botany Rd
Banksmeadow, NSW, 2019
Phone: 1300 966 845
Fax: (02) 9666 8307