What is it that when we dine out is both eagerly anticipated and taken for granted?
The bread basket, of course.
Over the past decade, restaurateurs, bakers and chefs have discussed at length why people pass on it, the economics of offering it – if you remember about five years ago the idea of charging for bread was being kicked around – and lately, like so many other parts of our dining-out experience, how to refine it with today’s awareness of quality ingredients and food sourcing.
Ciril Hitz is a master baker who, when he is not teaching full time at Johnson & Wales University’s International Baking and Pastry Institute in Providence, conducts artisan-bread workshops at his own bakery located on his farm in Rehoboth. Among his students are professional chefs and restaurateurs who are, as he put it, “interested in putting food on their table that they created themselves.”
His countryside classroom is an outgrowth of a consulting business he started, with his international reputation built over the last two decades as a premiere baker, author and educator.
“We fell into it,” he recalled. “It was never my goal to start my own school. We had this facility and I was spending a lot of time and air miles visiting chefs who wanted help with their baking. This seemed like a much better way to spend my time.”
Artisan bread is the result when the baker uses top-quality flours from identifiable sources. The source, such as a specific flour mill, grinds sustainable wheat or other grain such as rye. The ingredient list is very short for bread - flour, water, salt and yeast. Hitz takes the simple ingredients and from his wood-fired oven turns out flavorful, handmade breads baked directly on the hearth. He offers both bread expertise and a philosophy.
“People are interested in home-prepared comfort food both at home and when dining out,” he said. “It is easier and much more productive to bring [students] here into my comfort zone.” Baguettes, whole wheat boules, and sourdough miches – large loaves – are among the most popular and well-known artisan breads, but pizza and breakfast pastries and breads such as buttery brioche and flaky croissants are handcrafted in Hitz’s oven as well.
Baking is an art, as well as a science, and Hitz’s challenge is bringing the two together to create full-flavored breads. What do the professionals, as well as the home bakers who sign up for his classes, want to learn? A little history, a little sustainability and to solve the mystery of bringing the simple ingredients together.