One chilly winter morning my friends Fina,Tania, Elodie and I headed for the even colder Johannesburg downtown’s trendiest precinct, Maboneng for a Bread workshop with Babette.
When I received in an email from my ex-colleague Babette about the next workshop dates to her famous artisan bread workshop, I decided I was not going to miss this opportunity. Babette Van der Walt is a Wits Law graduate who in the middle of her studies started to bake as a way to unwind and relax. Thus she discovered a passion for baking. After her graduation, she traveled to Vermont in the USA where she got an apprenticeship with a French artisan baker master.
Upon her return she started baking from her parents’ home first, while working part-time.2 years ago she decided to pursue her passion full-time and opened her bakery in Maboneng.
So while we arrived there, it was the four of us and to my surprise the other attendants were all males. The session started with a small introduction where Babette asked us to introduce ourselves and to share our expectation of the day. Basically each one of use share our ‘bread story’; there was a common thread in most stories: We all love real authentic bread, we wanted to eat healthier food and were looking for an alternative to the industrial bread we buy in most supermarket chains. Most of us had nostalgic memories of experimenting with baking bread at some point while growing up. And if like me, you are accustomed to the taste of real bread-bread in Congo tastes good in general, and I grew up eating the delicious bread of a local Greek bakery. La Brioche, in Lubumbashi, my hometown- you might want to scroll down to the end of this article and contact Babette now!
Babette went on to explain her journey with baking, the difference between industrial bread and artisan bread. She also discussed briefly the ancient baking technique and ingredients. So I’m sure now you are wondering what the difference is between mass-produced bread and Artisan bread? Artisan bread is made using ancient bread technique with a long and slow fermentation process to obtain its great flavor. Furthermore each bread is hand-shaped and only the finest ingredients (stone ground flour, sea salt and artisan yeast) are used. She doesn’t used ingredients such as oils, fats, corn syrups, sugar, bleach, preservatives or any other additives in the production of bread. Whereas industrial bread used flour stripped of its nutritional ingredients, bleached and added with new ingredients such as vitamins and preservatives. Not to mention that they use industrial yeast to minimize the fermentation time for a quick turnover and that these bread contain way too much salt (and too much salt if bad for you of course!). The problem is that the added nutrients are not properly digested which is why so many of us suffer from issues such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, bloating, gluten intolerance, some allergies and so many others food-related problems. On the contrary her bread is healthy and wholesome and is suitable to almost everybody, including diabetics.
So between our little chats, we made each shaped our own loaves (I chose to try a boule and a baguette) and we allow ample time for fermentation (bed rising) which is necessary to give the bread its chewy crust, moist crumb and depth flavor and makes it easier to digest.
After one hour of fermentation (some of her bread like the sourdough or ‘pain au levain’ is fermented for up to 24 hours!) we went to shape the dough according the techniques we learned early. We had then to let the dough rest for approximately 30-45 minutes again . When the dough is ready, we put everything in the oven. While it’s baking you need to spray the oven regularly to keep the hydration level. It was amazing when the familiar scent of bread start filling the kitchen and watching our different shapes of loaves get their collars. Guys, baking bread teaches your patience. You need to take your time for great result. It can be a great bonding family activity!
Babette’s workshop is a fun a rewarding experience. The workshop is well structured with ample time for discussion and questions. Delicious sandwiches were served. And we went back home with our loaves. We all had a lot of fun and thoroughly enjoyed the workshop.
So if you live in Johannesburg ( or if you’re visiting) and would like to order bread from Babette or to inquire about her next workshop contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 084 516 3014 and of course like her Facebook page Babette’s Bread.