These next classes tackled the NYC baking trifecta of pizza, bagels, and pretzels, as well as the other large staples, braided bread and focaccia. I used to attend some challah making classes in college and was always amazed at the speed and ease with which some women were able to braid a 5-strand challah while I struggled along with my measly 3-strand variety. In lesson 30, I finally got a chance to learn how they did it, although my speed and grace weren’t quite at their level yet.
After tackling the braided loaves, we moved onto focaccia. I was amazed at just how wet this dough was when making it. Our chef showed us how to accurately press and stretch the dough into the sheetpan, without fearing that it would tear. When baked, focaccia is literally dripping with olive oil, which is what leads to its delicious taste when pulled out of the oven.
After getting these 2 recipes out of the way, we moved onto the trifecta. We started off with the pizza and as a class made no less than 10 varieties. Everyone got to choose their own toppings after we individually struggled to stretch out our doughs to perfect circles. The guys in the pizza shops make it look so easy! As they toss the dough up in the air and wind up with a perfect circle — most of us were not that graceful, but after struggling with the dough for long enough we wound up with respectable looking pies.
Then it was onto pretzels. The dough for a soft pretzel is actually made in a very similar way to other bread doughs. After allowing the dough 10-15 minutes to rest, the dough gets divided up into pieces which are rolled into long cylinders. These cylinders then get formed into U’s, their ends crossed and then flipped over the top — simple, right? 😉 Pretzels get poached for about 30 seconds and then salted and baked.
Bagels get done in a very similar manner. They are also poached for about 30 seconds and then baked. The difficulty with bagels comes in keeping them looking like circles and not turning into shrimp! As you can see in my photo of the bagels up top, the ends often separate and they turn into shrimp, or logs. Guess I better keep practicing!