Sunday, January 16, 2011
Last week I had the incredible opportunity to take a bread-making class with Gabriele Bonci. For those of you who don’t know him, Bonci is THE pizza guy in Rome these days. His small shop, Pizzarium, has become a mecca for anyone who knows anything about food. I’ve written about it here. And so has everyone else and his brother. It’s not a secret anymore, if it ever was.
Why so great? The toppings do have a lot to do with it. But the crust is the point. Bonci is a dough magician. He uses only Mulino Marino flours (from a mill in Piedmonte) and studied for 8 years with bread guru Franco Palermo. If all this doesn’t mean much to you, suffice it to say that at the moment, when it comes to bread and pizza in Rome, Bonci’s the guy.
Besides reigning over Pizzarium, he’s also on TV once a week. He’s about to open a bakery that will allow him to bake loaves that will be for sale around Rome, and at select restaurants. He’s working on a book (with Elisia Menduni) and - happily - is starting to teach classes. The very first one took place at Tricolore, and I was lucky to be the first to sign up for this sold-out experience.
Although I regularly make bread and pizza, I am by no means a ‘bread’ person. I’ve never used a starter, and tend to religiously follow recipes in books. So I didn’t know what to expect. I imagined I”d be taking notes, learning recipes, and then blogging about it.
But Bonci is a force of nature. From the minute the class began I realized taking notes was a losing battle. The words and gestures poured out of this massive man at a rate that was hard to keep up with. His enthusiasm, passion and knowledge about bread are as huge as his desire to share them. Every word, every gesture was gold.
If you’re my friend on FB, then you’ve seen some of the photos I took, and the captions pretty much tell the story of the class and what we did. It was a two-evening class, on a Thursday and Friday. The first evening we mixed up dough, which rose overnight, and which we then baked on Friday. But we also worked with doughs that he had already prepared, learning not only how to mix, but shape and form about a dozen different loaves.
I’ll be digesting all he said and did over the next few weeks, and hopefully writing some more useful posts . And I’ve also signed up for a similar two-day pizza class this coming week. But for now, I’ll just leave you with a few of the tips that I’ve managed to remember, along with some photos.
-The recipes are the easy part. Don’t worry too much about the recipes. They account for 10% of what goes into a loaf of bread. The other 90% is how you handle the dough. Touch it as little as possible.
-You don't make bread, you celebrate it.
-Don’t knead. I know we’ve all heard about the Jim Lahey’s No Knead method of making bread, where you mix it then don’t knead it. I guess Bonci is of the same school. The bread we made was mixed in a bowl, quickly, then given a few pushes on a floured board before being shaped roughly and put aside to rise for 18 hours. (I’ll be writing this up more coherently - I hope - soon).
-Let the dough rise for a long long time, and a low temp. Overnight in the fridge seems to be his preferred method. About 18 hours.
-When putting seeds or oats on top of the bread, soak them first. This was a revelation to me. I’m used to brushing the top of the loaf with water, then gently sprinkling dried seeds on top. Instead, with a braided loaf, Bonci actually took each ‘rope’ of dough, and dunked it in water. Then he rolled it around in a bowl full of very wet seeds. He really packed them on so that they stuck onto the loaf during baking.
-Buy some trays, bread pans and clothes that you will only use for bread making. Only wash them as needed, and then don’t use soap.
There was obviously a lot more that we learned. But as Bonci said, it’s all ‘manipulazione’ , it’s all in the hands. It was the experience of watching him work the dough, then doing it myself, that was the revelation. It’s not the kind of thing you can write down, express in words. You have to see it, feel it, even smell it.
Here is a very short video of his poetry in motion.
dough and apron, ready to go, for each student at tricolore
instead of a blackboard, bonci used counter, flour and finger
me and my dough
these little panini all'olio were the hardest thing to make. mine are perfect. after 20 tries.
our loaves, before and after.
cazzotti, a kind of roll from puglia.
we each made, and seeded, loaves which were gorgeous, don't ya think?
me, proudly, with master and loaves.
we each went home with a little bag of madre, natural mother, from bonci's famous starter