I headed up to Vermont last week to take a class at King Arthur Flour’s Baking Education Center. What lured me all the way to New England during JazzFest? A two-day class, “Baking in a Wood-Fired Oven”, taught by the company’s head baker, Jeffery Hamelman (pictured at left, with the wood oven just behind him and miche loaves in front). He’s the author of Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes, easily one of the best English-language yeast baking books in print. Both the instructor and oven proved to be worth the trip.
The class combined hands-on breadmaking with Hamelman’s detailed explanations of wood oven styles & construction, live fire management, using the oven’s rising and falling heat effectively, oven loading and unloading, and (best of all) delicious dishes from the oven. In the span of a day and a half, I and my twelve classmates made (and ate) chickpea-based socca, whole-wheat flatbreads of chapati flour stuffed with feta & cilantro, many varieties of pizza, tarte flambee (aka flammkuchen), five-seed sourdough, and large, naturally leavened miche loaves.
The Baking Education Center’s wood-fired oven, with a French-made core by Panyol, has a hearth two meters wide. This massive forno held 13 loaves of miche, each weighing nearly two pounds, in one load. It easily accommodated 21 small loaves with room to spare. Incidentally, King Arthur Flour recently constructed a new education center with a new wood-fired oven, so this Panyol oven will no longer be used for classes. The company plans to deconstruct the building around the oven, saving it for potential outdoor use.
Hamelman gave us a tour of the new baking classrooms, which are skylit, spacious, and attractive, with a full complement of audiovisual aids, an even more beautiful woodburning oven, and small commercial-style deck ovens. Seeing the new space had my classmates eagerly contemplating their next King Arthur class; if I lived closer, I would sign up for another one tomorrow. See the entire baking education center schedule here–note that guest instructors frequently offer special-topic courses throughout the year, and courses are offered for home bakers and professionals. I’d love to return for an extended baguette course…
After two days of nonstop baking, I flew back to New Orleans, my carry-on bag stuffed with bread. Of course and as usual, TSA “randomly” selected me for a bag-check. No, the massive quantity of bread didn’t trip any sort of alarm: I’d forgotten to check my Vermont maple syrup, and the detection equipment was sensitive enough to reveal that it was 8 ounces rather than the allowed 4 ounces. My bread made it through unmolested, and I am enjoying it right now, as toast spread with maple cream.