Ever since my first class at the Astor Center, I have been filling my evaluation forms with petitions for bread baking classes. For as much as I love L’Ecole, the Astor Center is infinitely more affordable. When the Astor Center announced it would be hosting a Home Baker’s Meet-Up and Grain-to-Glass Pop-up Bar, I jumped. Ye gods! This event has my name written all over it.
The rules were simple – bake your own loaf (preferably with local grains) or pay the $15 entry fee. Even better! This was an opportunity to show off my bread baking skills, to get feedback from people who don’t feel obligated to pay me compliments. I hope you’ve all been honest, it’s good to really know! As the date grew closer, I started waffling. I don’t always use local grains – actually, I rarely do. For shame, I know. Then there was the logistics of it all. The event starts at 6:30 pm. My bread requires approximately 3 hours from weighing it in to pulling it from the oven. So, to serve beautifully warm bread, I’d have to start baking around 2:30, 3 pm at the very latest.
As you can surmise, I forked over the $15.
I wasn’t sure what to expect form this event – maybe a dozen (at most) bakers showcasing their interpretations of Jim Lahey’s “No Knead” bread. Well!
There were 3 dozen (at least!) home bakers, each presenting a sourdough, or a baguette, or a country loaf, or, or, or… And there was lowly ol’ me, nursing my Bees Knees – lemon juice, honey and the locally produced Perry’s Tot Navy Strength Gin from the fine folks at the NY Distillery Company. I skirted around a bit at first, embarrassed to try the bread when I didn’t have my own to share. Additionally, and oh it sounds arrogant when I think it, I wasn’t entirely interested in all the breads present. I’m a bit of a stubborn Taurus that way. I want to learn about sourdough – gorgeous crusts, beautiful crumb with airy holes and a slightly tangy taste.
It wasn’t long before I found my hand in everyone’s bread baskets.
I started with the Einkorn, baked by event hostess and the Union Sq. Greenmarket’s managing farm inspector, June Russel. It was light and crisp with a lingering taste of corn, perfect for soup or a well-aged Gruyere. I made my way around the table, sampling a lovely and chewy baguette and helping myself to a wonderful Honey Curry Bread. What a crazy idea and yet, it works! The flavors played off each other beautifully and, with the texture and look of challah, I bet it would make wild French toast.
There I go again, always thinking about breakfast.
As the night continued on, more bakers continued to arrive and sourdoughs started popping up.
This White Sourdough, prepared by a home baker, was one of my favorites of the night. Matt Alfano, if you’re out there, you bake one mean sourdough – and by mean, I mean very, very tasty.
My absolute favorite loaf came from the hands of Peter Endriss, professional baker and head of Runner and Stone Bakery (opening soon at 285 Third Avenue in Brooklyn). He brought us two different types of bread that night, one of which was this beautiful Buckwheat Pear.
This loaf is made with Cayuga Organics local buckwheat, rye and spelt flours and dried pears. If I could have given out gold stars to my favorites, Peter Endriss would have been sparkling like the Chrysler Building. I liked it that much.
Endriss also shared this beauty, which I believe is a Whole Wheat Sourdough but I could be completely wrong. I should have asked or copied down the information placard but I was just so busy, you know, stuffing my mouth. Let’s just call it Yum, shall we? Peter was kind enough to offer us some of the leftover loaves to take home, and we were more than happy to oblige. The Buckwheat Pear is the perfect addition to my mornings, thank you Peter! I cannot wait for Runner and Stone to start offering classes.
The evening ended with a short talk by the professionals in attendance, each attesting to the importance of utilizing local grains. While maintaining a diet based solely on local and seasonal ingredients may sound easy in theory, it requires a series of conscious decisions and realizing that no, sorry, you can’t have fresh strawberries year-round. The panel gathered at the Astor Center recognized this and challenged those present with this question : What can we do with what is available? The beauty of using local ingredients, aside from the obvious health benefits and support for the local economy, is the ability to tell a personal story through cooking/baking. You have the opportunity to offer up a bit of who you are and where you are from.
It really is a magnificent thing.