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Breadbaker – Not the Same as Breadwinner

Updated: Apr 23, 2020

Difficult but oh so delicious.

My pastry program included some boulangerie class, so every few weeks, we would head to the boulangerie (either at the ungodly hour of 6:30am, or at 1pm to stay until 8 or so) and make baguettes, special breads, croissants, brioche…stuff my dreams are made of. Look at this. It is awesome.

We started out with the classic, a baguette. For this delicious treat, all you need is flour, water, salt and yeast. But you also need to test the temperature of the room and the flour to calculate the temperature needed for the water. You need to add the yeast after the water and flour have incorporated, but not too long after. You need to kneed at 2 speeds for specified times depending on the wanted bubbles on the inside of the bread, adding the salt at the right time at the end so the dough will reach the right temperature. You need to let it rest a few times. All while craving bread. Its hard.

We did it the first day by hand, to see how bakers used to do it. Granted, we only used a kilo of flour, when they used to use a whole lot more…

We got to this stage, of kneeding it, and realized this was a whole another world from pastry. Luckily, we only had to do it by hand once. Its hard, takes awhile, and is such a small amount. No good in a boulangerie! So we started using massive machines to work the dough for us.

After its rest in a big tub, we weigh the dough out and let it rest again.

After its nap, we form it into the baguette. You flatten it with your hand and then fold it in on itself, only then rolling it out to the correct length.

Once the right length, you put them on a conveyor-like belt, cut the tops at the correct angle (5 per baguette!) and roll them into the oven. I had issues with the oven – easy in theory, scary in practice. My whole bread dreams relied on doing this correctly! Think of the horror of no bread. Eek.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes now. The smell. Oh, the smell. I wanted to crawl into the oven and steal some bread right away, but I held off. For a bit. Because this is the reward!

Yum. Sometimes I couldn’t wait very long…

We got to take what we wanted, then the rest was either served in the student caf, or donated to local shelters. Walking home after boulangerie days always included a few baguettes in my bag…

After doing this a few times, playing with the various types of baguette (traditional, regular, fermented, poolish, etc), we were introduced to the world of special breads. This is anything from rye bread, to whole wheat, to bran, to sandwich bread, to sourdough, and so on. Similar in how the dough is made, just variations on ingredients, how the dough is shaped and the cuts on top.

We added chocolate to anything we possibly could. We’re pastry chefs. That’s how we do.

One day, we were messing around and added olives and cheese. YUM.

We even made bagels!

But we weren’t done with boulangerie. Oh no, far from it. We had to make dreamy, lovely croissant. Similar to puff pastry, but less turns. And the shaping. And the recipe. Ok, so not that similar, but close.

Just add a “little” bit of butter or margarine to the dough to be rolled out…

After the turns and the resting, you cut out the triangles for croissant, or rectangles for pain au chocolat.

You proof these guys for 2 hours, then its into the oven for heaven.

One of classes, Chef Maurice gave us free reign with the dough and we went wild. We added pistachio paste, almond cream, pastry cream, almonds, walnuts, chocolate, cinnamon and sugar. Pretty anything we could find in our lab that sounded remotely good. And good they were! Oh yum.

We were also taught about brioche and pain au lait, similar in the forms that were baked, but different in texture. We were braiding our breads mostly and I was very grateful for years of braiding hair and making friendship bracelets at this point. One of the few things I got in boulangerie right off the bat!

First off, a simple braid.

Then a 4 piece tresse.

And finally a 3-D bread.

After months of practicing these basic breads, as well as playing a bit with what we put into the bases, we were ready for our final. So, one day in December, we arrived at school at 6:30am, and started baking. We were to make traditional baguettes (4 kilos of flour, for baguettes and rolls), croissant and pain au chocolat (500 grams of flour, so 10 croissant, and 9 pain au chocolat), braid 2 brioche (one in a simple tresse or braid, one in the more complicated 4 string natte), and a special bread of our choosing (I went with brown bran bread). All by ourselves. And we had to be done by 12:30, at the latest. It was a lot, with timing needed not only for ourselves but with the people in our lab who also needed the same machines and ovens. But we all made it!

Here was my best, which I offered up to be graded. Not the best I’ve done, but I finished it all, which was my goal. Grades were based on if someone would buy our goods. I argue that some desperate person somewhere will always buy bread. Namely me. But I tried to be a bit discerning and I ended up doing well in boulangerie! Guess love for what the end result will be helps out the process.

The goodness that is a boulangerie final. It smelled incredible in there. I almost didn’t leave, but luckily, I grabbed a huge goody bag full of bread to hold me over for a few days.

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