What do you do in NY when you’re a curious chef, dedicated foodie, always looking for the next best thing? You sign up for a bread baking class hosted by the Hot Bread Kitchen. You realize your life will exponentially become much better after you spend 3 hours baking ridiculously good breads you’ve never even thought to make. That was exactly what I did a few weeks ago during New York’s Wine & Food Festival. I left the W Downtown, flooded with tourists admiring the renovation of Ground Zero, hopped in a cab, and rushed inside the International Culinary Center… I was 10 minutes late but in time to set up with my girl from Sargento. She was all geared up, ready to go knead… well not really.
Our chef host, Ben Hershberger introduced us to the mission of The Hot Bread Kitchen, where he serves as the Chief Bread Officer… that is to “increase economic security for foreign-born and low-income women and men by opening access to the billion dollar specialty food industry. We do this through our culinary workforce and business incubation programs, Project Launch and HBK Incubates.” An extension is selling multiethnic breads inspired by their bakers. I was pumped to learn the breads I was about to become intimately familiar with were three Mediterranean varieties: Moroccan M’smen, Challah, and Lavash. Heavenly, right? I stood at my station which was perfectly mise en placed with the ingredients for each variety. The Kitchen Aid mixer was set and I was ready.
My 1st ever bread baking class. Ever.
We started with challah. This right here my friends, was not easy. The mixing part is simple, as you can imagine… Stick everything in the mixer and let it build. The braiding though, that’s where your dexterity is important! That or your memory. I had to intently watch Chef Ben braid his perfect dough into the most beautiful criss cross. I pressed closely onto his work station trying to follow his method, asking him to please entertain my confusion; several times. My Sargento friend even taped it for me so I can watch for reference. That didn’t help so much. Clearly, I’m not a baker.
I finally got it and it was alright! I loved, it actually. It was far from perfect, but I got closed the braid and decked it on white and black sesame seeds. No fancy design, just pretty enough to look at and enjoy. I’m quite eager to make it again in my own kitchen, without live instruction from a man who’s been baking for over 25 years.
That’ll be the true test of my commitment.
Isn’t it pretty, though?
Say it with me… “oh my word, that is one sexy braid!”
And then came lavash, the wildly popular flat bread with an addicting crunch, which if not careful, will fill you up before you main courses are dished out. I noshed on the already made stash conveniently laying on a station behind me. I needed some reference for texture and taste. As I rolled and stretched out the dough into a super, paper thin layer onto to the bottom of a baking sheet, it occurred to me to go in my own direction and season mine differently from what the HBK’s recipe called for. I sprinkled all kinds of herbs and seasonings I had in front of me. My entire sheet didn’t bake so evenly, but in the end, was a beautiful browned and awesomely salted. I crackled it up into big pieces and wrapped it up to bring home.
I had to show off my makings when I got back to DC.
And that’s just how it went. Between the imperfect challah and the crunchy lavash, I was looking really good with these new skills I’m boasting. It wasn’t until I broke out the m’smen did I feel the true impact of the amazingness I had produced in NYC.
In class, this pancake-like bread was the most difficult to work with. The technique of forming each piece into a tennis size ball and folding into little squares was intriguing, but rolling out into a likened phylo sheet consistency without creating many bubbles, was frustrating as all get out. Instead of living with bubbles, I rolled it back up all to realize I’d have to let it sit another 20 minutes or so until it relaxed, before I could even start folding squares. This is the one recipe that tested my patience. Every bit of it. It became very clear why I’ve not been a fan of making my own bread. Fortunately, I had a few successful balls and squares rolled out into decent sheets before slathering with butter and semolina. Grilling them was equally fun as the raised and browned.
This is where we get creative. So while the class’s recipe was a basic one, chef Ben was showing off his meanderings by frisbeeing his version of m’smen, which was intricately filled with cheese, onions, and kale. I about fell out in front of him when I bit into one. What was this? I’ll admit to never having m’smen but even after making my own, there’s no way I’d stick to a simple recipe. The addition of ingredients make it lovely and hearty breakfast food. Seriously. The filling options are endless. I’m thinking cheddar with garlic would put me in morning bliss. Or, I could go for Sargento’s Four Cheese Mexican shredded blend to give it a bit of a Latin twist. Or, how does a smokey Gouda sound? Ooh wee, Ooh wee. Goodness. Is there anything more heavenly than cheesy bread? With a sexy drizzle of local honey? No, really? You’d be golden. But first, I’d need to learn how to roll out the first layer so thin that adding the ingredients and a 2nd layer of the dough wouldn’t yield a waffle-thick bread. That’s were the true skill lies… how thin can you go!
I’ve not positioned myself to making any of these at home yet, largely because I’ve lost my mixer (an issue with moving from Atlanta to DC and putting most everything in storage). But I have dreams of mastering bread baking. I mean, if on my first attempt I made edible challah, surely, there’s hope for expanding into artisan breads! Right?!
Tell me you’ve made challah! Or lavash?
Here’s Hot Bread Kitchen‘s recipe for the Moroccan m’smen. And if you do venture out to make a more savory one, please, please let this girl know how it turned out. Have patience, though. All fantastic things come from a place of patience. Trust me. I’m an expert.
HOT BREAD KITCHEN'S MOROCCAN M'SMEN
- 2 cups bread flour
- 1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp. semolina
- 1 cup, 2 Tbsp. water
- 3/4 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. canola oil
Place all dry ingredients into mixing bowl, and mix together. Add wet ingredients and mix on medium speed for 10 minutes or until dough is smooth. Remove dough and scale in 80 gram pieces and round into balls. If you don't have a scale, divide into even pieces slightly larger than a golf ball, and round into tight balls. Coat with soil, and let relax covered on lands for at least 30 minutes. Stretch eau piece on an oiled surface to about 14" and translucent thin. Brush with melted salted butter and sprinkle with semolina flour. Fold into a square by bringing each side (top, bottom, left, and right) into the center. This should create a 3" square. Let rest covered on an oiled pan for another 15 minutes, at minimum. Stretch on an oiled surface into a 7" square. Cook on a hot griddle for about 3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown.