Spending time in a rustic farmhouse with friends, old and new, learning how to bake artisan breads in a wood burning oven makes for a heart-warming and fun weekend. Last October, Jay mentioned that he would like to take a bread making class. Jay bakes a pretty mean loaf of bread already. But, he wanted to learn some hands on tricks for artisan bread, techniques that are hard to lift out of a book. A few days before the holidays, I was looking for an awesome Christmas present for Jay– something unique, that does not need to be stored in our house (we are in the process of reducing our stuff in preparation for some up and coming life changes- stay tuned).
After a few minutes searching the web, I came up with The Hains House Artisan bread making weekend. The picture of the outdoor bread oven and the Julia Child quote on the website was the clincher: “How can a nation be called great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?”
So I booked a three day bread, bed and breakfast retreat. I threw in an extra spot for our friend Christine as we had recently spent some time in a cooking class together in Laos and I knew she would enjoy a baking weekend close to home.
We arrived to the quaint farmhouse with its Red Barn complete with chickens clucking around the front yard. The chickens, it turned out, would provide the eggs for our Brioche we baked on Sunday. We were greeted at the door by two men in uniforms “here to fix the pellet stove” who thought we were at the right house, but really had no idea. Pat, the owner of the Hains House popped around the kitchen corner a few minutes later, all apologetic because the heating was out.
Christine, Yvonne and Carol all arrived right behind us and we were quickly settled into our cozy B&B rooms. Introductions were completed over a “light snack” of bread (homemade of course), a yummy version of caprice salad and tea. And then we started baking bread and didn’t stop until we left on Sunday at 4pm. We even made our own Bagels for lunch and Pizza for dinner.
Pat runs the Bed and Breakfast and teaches the bread making courses. She did have some help from her granddaughter and a friend to manage the dirty dishes through-out the three days. (We made a lot of dirty dishes). Pat studied bread making in Germany and has taken courses in Italy as well. She is passionate about bread and her outdoor oven. She is a fantastic teacher, taking a “Tartine” approach to making and shaping bread. For more on Tartine Breads check out the website: Tartinebread.com
Most of the breads we made were baked in the Valoriani wood fire oven in the back garden. Pat’s fire tending assistant did not show up, so Pat managed the oven herself. Maintaining the oven requires constant attention to ensure the right temperature and consistency of heat throughout. Pat did not miss a beat- she incorporated the fire maintenance into the course- we learned about the oven, how to keep the temperature up and how to cool it down when necessary. Fun!
I want a wood fire oven in my backyard… and now I am going to make it happen. I also spent much of the time trying to figure out how to adapt these recipes to the back country… more on that later!
We had a brilliant weekend spent in excellent company while learning new artisan bread techniques. We highly recommend the Hains House in Olympia, Washington if you want a fun weekend full of learning how to make Artisan Breads. Don’t plan on much down-time- you’ll be working hard mixing, proofing, shaping, baking, cooling and eating a variety of breads.