The Sweet And Sour Science Of Bread

COLD SPRING HARBOR, New York, April 23

BY: Andrew Wroblewski

Have you ever thought of your food as science?

I hadn’t; but that was before Chef Peter Berley, also an award-winning author, explained to me – and a host of others at the Cold Spring Harbor Library last week – that one of the world’s seemingly simplest foods is actually born from a complex chemical reaction.

That food is bread, and – spoiler alert – it’s one of my favorite appetizing treats around. Now, thanks to Chef Peter, I’ve learned how it’s made, and boy, was it surprising.

Award-winning chef and author Peter Berley hosts a bread-making class and tasting in the Cold Spring Harbor Library April 16.
Award-winning chef and author Peter Berley hosts a bread-making class and tasting in the Cold Spring Harbor Library April 16.

Chef Peter began the Thursday night bread-making class with a simple dry erase board explaining the significance of a grain and the part it plays in the “miracle” of bread making.

I say miracle not only because Chef Peter described it as such, but because from those tiny grains, hundreds of loaves of bread can be made once the grain is converted into a culture – a mixture of flour and water, typically 200 grams of whole rye flour, 900 grams of whole flour, 900 grams of all-purpose flour and some non-chlorinated water. A simple cup of that culture, Chef Peter explained, can be “fed” and maintained so that it grows to produce an ever-continuing supply of bread – hopefully in the form of loaves as tasty as the supply he brought along for us lucky few to try.

From those tiny grains on the right comes the “miracle” of bread on the left.
From those tiny grains on the right comes the “miracle” of bread on the left.

To start, 1-2 tablespoons can be drawn and fed 100 grams of flour and 100 grams of warm water in order to form a leaven. Once the leaven sets, it’s transformed into dough with a mixture of water, white bread flour, whole-wheat flour and salt. After a few more steps – including fermentation, turning, shaping and resting – it’s time to bake.

Fielding more questions, opening a conversation with the audience and ultimately explaining how he himself bakes his signature sourdough bread, Chef Peter finally let us get our hands on it.

It was worth the wait.

Thinly cut slices were placed by Chef Peter onto serving trays where they were topped with just a hint of butter. Those trays soon danced around the room until each mouth in the room was delighted by a sweet slice – or should I say, sour slice – of science.

Fewer things go better together in this world than bread and butter.
Fewer things go better together in this world than bread and butter.

The slices were of the sourdough variety, which the chef has perfected so that it brings a hint of sour, rather than a blast. He does this so as not to interfere with the other tastes that go to work in the tiny slice of heaven – or any topping that may go under, between or on top of them.

The result was a mouth-watering sweet-and-sour blend that had many of us aiming our praises toward the chef at the front of the room. That was quickly followed by our feet marching up to the table in hopes of grabbing just one more slice.

Soon enough, the night came to a close as Chef Peter signed copies of two of his books, “The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen” and “Fresh Food Fast,” which have earned him James Beard and International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) awards.

Like excited students to a beloved professor, some even asked the chef how to sign up for his next class before scurrying out the door. For more information, visit http://www.peterberley.com.

Originally published: Long Islander News: Half Hollow Hills
(Thursday, April 23, 2015;  A12)

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