Yesterday, we started out by mixing the dough for the bread baskets. The pair at the bench next to my partner and I arrived much earlier than we did, so we teamed up with them, as the instructor asked us to work in teams of four. All of the Hobarts groaned under the strain of kneading 3 kg of flour into a stiff dough, and Chef told us to pulse the machine as necessary. A high proportion of salt and low proportion of sugar meant that the yeast would be kept under control so that the dough would not expand too much.
While we let the basket dough chill, we made raisin bread again. This time, they successfully came out of the oven, fully baked. Our instructor shook her head and said that the oven was still not completely repaired, but that due to the current strike, the technicians were probably not giving 100%.
After dividing the huge ball of dough, we scaled off 100g pieces and rounded them up. Then began a long arduous process of rolling them into very thin strands about the diameter of a pinky finger. It was crucial to have a wet towel handy so that we could swipe the tabletop. A wet surface is necessary to roll the dough out; the strands just slide around on a a counter that is too dry. I worked on 9 strands at a time, letting them relax before rolling and stretching it a bit further. In all, it took us about an hour to finish. We braided the stands then coiled them around a stainless steel bowl that we covered in tinfoil. For colour, we brushed the braids with eggwash.
Chef baked them in a hot oven until the dough set, then removed the metal bowls and inverted the basket to dry out the inside. When she removed them from the oven, the outside was browned but the inside was still a bit soft, so we finished drying them at home. I'm not all that excited about this product: while it's edible and interesting to admire, I much prefer something I can eat.
So that's the end of the bread course. I really enjoyed the techniques we learned and have come to appreciate fast-acting fresh yeast. But somehow these formulas seemed like shortcuts, trading time for flavour. There are more and more bakeries making so-called artisanal breads. In conjunction with the Slow Food movement, perhaps they can bring back the traditional ways and encourage more people to purchase (or bake their own) well-made breads, instead of the lifeless loaves that come out of industrial factories.