Bread Baking at BSM

November 13, 2015

By TC Shillingford

Seven grain miche with decorative pate morte wheat stalks, made by TC Shillingford
Seven grain miche with decorative pate morte wheat stalks, made by TC Shillingford

First impressions are always important, especially in a meal. At Broad Street, the first bite most of our guests consume will be bread and butter, which are offered at the table a few minutes before the meal itself is served. Bread baking is a particular skill, and distinct from the work that constitutes much of the life of a professional cook. When making a soup, if it’s too salty or bland or spicy, adjustments can be made to correct and balance the dish. In bread making, the moment the loaf comes out of the oven, it’s done. Either it’s a good loaf or a poor one, and nothing can be done to change that. So breadbaking takes precision and planning and a knowledge base wholly distinct from that which makes the staff of the BSM kitchen so good at what we do.

This fact has obligated BSM to purchase dinner rolls from various suppliers, which arrive frozen and we defrost in time for the meals. The rolls are of variable quality, diminishing our first impression with guests as they sit at our tables, and given the expense of purchased rolls, we pay a premium to offer our least satisfying product.

With all this in mind—the dissatisfaction with what we’re serving and with what we’re paying to serve it—I was given the opportunity in September to head to Vermont to take a bread baking class with Jeffrey Hamelman, a world class baker and head of the bakery at the King Arthur Flour Co. in Norwich, VT. I was among only a dozen students—all with aspirations to be full-time professional bakers—learning the fundamentals of executing various kinds of bread that any successful baker needs to master: whole wheat and semolina, croissant and brioche, and, of course, the never-ending search for a better baguette. The course focused on technique, including proper mixing, controlling temperatures, and how to shape and score loaves for desired effect.

My goal now, back at BSM, is to translate this bounty of knowledge and experience into a sustainable baking operation for BSM. Instead of rolls, weeks old and defrosted just in time to eat, guests are beginning their meals by biting into bread baked in our ovens that very morning. It will take some trial and error to get right where we want to be, but over the next few months, the bread at Broad Street will, we hope, cease to be an afterthought and instead become the centerpiece that the beginning of any positive enterprise, including dinner, should be.