Baking Artisan Breads and Pastries with Ciril Hitz

The pastries and breads in the class I took yesterday were from Ciril’s book, Baking Artisan Pastries and Breads. I’ve made some of the recipes, but I’ve been saving some for after the class. There’s a lot to be said for being shown how to do it rather than trying to figure it out on your own.

Ciril calls himself a baker rather than a pastry chef because he likes working with yeasted doughs. Yeast is alive, so it’s more of a challenge to work with. I’ll bake anything, so we differ there. Anyway, a lot of what we learned was about yeast. Many professional bakers swear by fresh yeast, which is superior to active dry yeast because active dry yeast performs unpredictably. Unfortunately for home bakers, fresh yeast needs to be used quickly, and it’s hard for home bakers to use it up fast enough. That’s where instant yeast comes in.

Instant yeast is a dry yeast, and it’s readily available in the supermarket, where it’s packaged in jars and usually labeled “bread machine” or “rapid rise” yeast. I get the Fleishmann’s yeast at the supermarket, but Ciril swears by SAF, which is a French brand. SAF with the red label is regular instant yeast, and the one with the gold label is osmotolerant and works best with enriched dough. Actually the osmotolerant yeast works fine with everything, as does the SAF red label yeast (or other instant yeast), but the gold-label SAF yeast grows well in environments where it’s competing for liquid, namely, dough with eggs, butter, and, especially, more than 7% sugar in the formula.

“Fresh yeast has served its purpose,” says Ciril. He thinks instant yeast outperfoms fresh, and he won’t use fresh yeast. I just bought a huge jar of Fleishmann’s instant yeast, but when that runs low, if I’m looking for ways to spend my ample spare cash, I might try the SAF.

Most of the things we made yesterday were from dough that Ciril made for us in the VMI spiral mixer. We mixed our own dough for gibassier and muffins. Mostly we were seeing how the dough is supposed to look and feel and smell, and then we were learning to shape it. This was really helpful and an excellent use of the time.

He also gave us a tutorial on how to make a butter block. I’ve learned this before, but I’ve had trouble with it, probably because I was learning how to do that in addition to so much else, and I was having trouble absorbing all the information. One thing Americans are always told is to knead flour into the butter block, and yesterday I learned why. European butter is at least 82% fat, but American butter is usually 80% fat. The flour is a way of dealing with the higher water content in American butter, and if you can use European-style butter, you don’t have to add the flour. A butter block made with American-style butter can break up as you’re laminating the dough, which has been one of my problems. So now I’ll see what I have to do to get European-style butter (probably take out a second mortgage). Ciril suggests making up a bunch of butter blocks some day when you’re bored and then storing them in the freezer for future use. I love this idea, but I don’t know how practical it is at my house; Ciril probably has a lot more freezer space than I do.

We made bagels from Ciril’s dough. These are cinnamon-raisin whole wheat bagels. Ciril uses the traditional shaping method of rolling the dough into a rope and joining the rope. I’ve always found this leaves an obvious seam in the finished bagel, so normally I shape the dough into balls and then punch a hole in the middle of each. I might still prefer that method, but the method we learned yesterday makes a nice-looking bagel. Unfortunately, I forgot to take some of these, so I don’t have a photo. I’ll make some this week and take photos then.

Bostock, like french toast, is a way of using up stale bread. Leftover brioche makes good bostock. You slice the bread, brush both sides with syrup flavored with fresh orange slices, then top each slice with almond paste and sliced almonds and bake that for a few minutes.

Bostock made with brioche that was baked in a Pullman pan

Bostock made with brioche that was baked in a Pullman pan

The laminated dough we used is what Ciril calls all-purpose Danish dough. The dough is made with yeast, and it’s basically what you use for croissants, which is what we made, although you can shape it (and fill it) any way you want. These croissants are wonderful, and I’m going to have to figure out where to get the right butter so I can make more. Ciril’s suggestion for using up the dough trimmings is to make a kind of mini monkey bread: Chop up the dough scraps, put them in muffin cups, top them with something, and bake them.

Croissants made with "all-purpose danish" dough

Gibassier looks like a bear claw, but it’s not filled. The dough has anise seeds, candied orange peel,and orange blossom water in it, and it smells wonderful. (They taste wonderful, too.) To shape the individual loaves, you form the dough into balls and let them rest. Then you pat those into ovals and slash them; the slashed dough looks a lot like a tiny fougasse. As the individual pastries rise, the holes fill in. When they’re done, you brush them with melted butter and toss them in sugar:



The last thing we made was muffins. Ciril doesn’t believe in using melted butter (or other liquid fat) in most baked goods; one exception is olive oil in foccacia. We used room-temperature butter in the muffin batter, which makes the batter quite stiff. Then we added frozen raspberries and blueberries, and the batter pretty much solidified. We scooped the batter into muffin cups, and it really was like scooping ice cream. Then we sprinkled a topping on them and baked them. (I can do without the toppings on muffins because I find them messy and distracting.)

Mixed-berry muffins

Mixed-berry muffins

We made stollen, but I can’t get a good picture. Ciril soaks the fruit in Myers’s Rum, and he starts soaking the fruit six months before he’s going to use it, so in May or June for Christmas stollen. I’m going to have to start this soon if I’m going to make stollen in December.


Ciril Hitz: Baking Artisan Pastries and Breads. Beverly, Mass.: Quarry Books, 2009.
King Arthur Flour Baking Education Center:


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