Picks and Pans Review: Baking Bread with Claudia Burns

updated 09/21/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/21/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Attention, Milquetoasts: This is a craft that calls for equal portions of pluck and patience. "Let the dough sense that you are the boss and that it is not going to take over the kitchen," says Milwaukee baker Claudia Burns. Once that is out of the way, you are ready to punch, pummel, poke and finally coax that unruly lump into warm, lofty loaves. "Don't be afraid to pick it up, give it a couple of whacks—just to behave," advises Burns as she plunges her delicate fist into a mass of gummy batter. The founder of Breadwinners, a network of instructors who teach bread baking in their homes, Burns gives lessons in a trio of tapes best suited for the beginner: Wheat, White & Cinnamon; French Bread, Brioche & Cheese Loaf; and Italian Bread, English Muffins & Crumpets. Useful tips abound. To avoid ending up with bread that could be mistaken for a brick, for instance, start with half the requisite flour and add small amounts as needed to reduce the stickiness of the dough. Glazing the loaf with egg whites before baking yields a glossy, sepia crust. To lighten the texture of whole wheat breads, flatten the dough after its first rising, then roll it up like a carpet before fitting it into a loaf pan. English muffins, which are cooked in circular tins on a griddle, should be split apart with your thumbs (a knife destroys "the wonderful hills and valleys"). And according to Burns kneading need not be nettlesome. "Put on music; get into a rhythm. Turn, fold, push," she says. "Turn, fold, push." An overhead camera shows Burns as she turns, folds and pushes away for a full 10 minutes. As a personality, the methodical Burns verges on Wonder bread bland, and her plain-Jane beige kitchen cries out for a dash of color, but let's not be picky. With Burns's help even the most bumbling baker will be able to pull a miracle out of the oven, no matter how you slice it. (Punkin Hollow Video Library, 77-87 minutes, $39.95 each; for information on Breadwinners, call 1-800-545-4141, ext. 232)

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