Bread Baking with Troop 976
Troop 976 is a predominatly military pack located in the heart of Murphy Canyon in San Diego and it represents the Navy, Marines, Army and Coast Guard youngens.
This workshop was a long time coming. Literally! The pack’s cub scout leader, the lovely Danelle S., contacted me last year in September to see if I could teach her cub scouts the art of bread making. Danelle, who was very interested in providing her cub scouts with an activity that was a little out of the ordinary, had read that in one of my previous workshops (with kids), I had incorporated “Sunny Boy”, my solar oven. We discussed the possibility of having Sunny Boy play a supporting role in our future cub scout bread baking endeavor.
The original participant number was between 20 and 30 cubs. I have to admit, that initially I had absolutely no idea how to go about teaching a hands-on workshopthis to this many kids . Luckily, the number came down to a more manageable number of closer to 20 and the offer of parent assistance. In addition I secured the help of my Eagle Scout son and my dear friend Christine K.
After talking at length to Danelle S. of Troop 976, I ended up consulting my vast research library (Pinterest and Google) to come up with an idea for bread baking with this particular group. I wanted to take the cubs through the whole process of baking from activating the yeast to baking the final product. I admit this was a very ambitious feat considering the fact that the entire process takes about 3 hours! I finally settled on a bread-in-a-bag recipe, because the initial mess of mixing the sticky dough would be decreased to a minimum by creating a containment field inside a freezer bag. Containment is defintively a high priority when dealing with sticky dough and cub scouts!
After my quote was approved by the cubscout leaders, I decided to do a first trial run of the recipe which proved, that freezer bags from the Dollar Store do not have sufficient tensile strength for this project! During the trial run, I accidentally punctured the bag somehow and found myself with a sticky mess oozing out of the bag. And mind you, I do not even have long fingernails to explain this bag malfunction. So, my advise is to go for the brand name with the zipper. Oh yes, that was the other oozing issue. The cheap-o dollar store bags did not provide a good seal. I cannot even begin to tell you how grateful I was to have found out about all this BEFORE the workshop!
And then there was the question of logistics. What kind of tables, arrangement of kitchen, size of oven, etc.? Danelle S. sent me pictures of the community room in which our bread baking adventure was to take place. I saw three big round tables and a set of beautiful couches in the community room where we were going to meet. Since the bread-in-a-bag recipe made three little loaves and required 3 people to work together, I was in need of at least 7 tables. Beautiful couches don’t lend themselves very well to kneading and rolling dough. However, Danelle assured me that there were actually 8 tables. What she neglected to tell me was that the remaining 5 tables were elevated bar style type bistro tables, not exactly great work tables for 8-10 years olds.
Mastering dough kneading whilst sitting on barstools
So, my misssion was to teach the boys not only the basics of baking but also cover nutrional aspects of whole wheat flour versus white flour, touch on the benefits of sourdough, introduce the yeast beasts with their impolite habit of burping up carbon dioxide (which raises the dough) and introduce them to the “Secret Gluten Agent”. Since kids love action, I was hoping to use my flair for the dramatic to bring to life the violent business of bread baking on a microscopic level: “So, you think all you did just now was mix up a little packet of yeast with water and sugar? No big deal you think? Oh, but think again! In that little bag were millions of little yeast monsters that were sleeping (dormant) and you just woke up them up with their favorite treat, warm water, flour and sugar.”
I definitvely had their attention. I also informed them that we were going to annihilate, in fact, vaporize the yeast beasts. At one time, I went over to one of the tables where I saw one of the boys whack the living daylights out of the dough in the bag. “Are they dead yet?” he asked me expectantly. I had to briefly disappoint him by telling him, that no, they weren’t dead yet and that was actually a good thing because we needed the power of the yeast to make the dough rise once we shaped our loaves. I was able to console the obviously disappointed young cub scout with the promise of a violent death for the yeast beasts in the oven at a later time!
Every little detail had to be prepared in advance. It ocurred to me as I was writing up the recipe along with the sequence of events, that when you are dealing with ONE bag toTHREE young participants ratio, it might be advisable to assign numbers to the participants, to avoid the inevitable “It’s my turn”. I congratulated myself on my foresight. However, when it came down to D-day, I was the one who created confusion by mixing up the numbers. “Number 2, you hold the bag. Oh wait, no, hand it back to number 1. Number 2, you put the ingredients in the bag.” Luckily, the boys were a patient bunch. Other than that, things went very smoothly.
We had non-hands times of 15 minutes (activating the yeast), 45 minutes (rising of dough)and 30 minutes of baking time. I took the first 15 minutes explaining the process of activating the yeast and what was happening inside the freezer bag. During part of the second 45 minute period, I talked about “real bread” and sourdough. We looked at a commericlal bread wrapper with the object of showing all the bad stuff (mostly preservatives) that can be in store bought bread. However, the family of the lovely Danelle S. who provided me with the wrapper apparently eats wholesome bread and so I had to improvise somewhat. I also talked about the different parts of the grain kernel all (the cubs had received a four page folded handout which contained a picture regarding the subject). Then we had a little snack time compliments of Crustique Breads who provided a beautiful crusty sourdough loaf to give the young cubs a taste of the kind of bread that does not require any spread at all to be enjoyed. I had only one cub who rejected his slice and one boy apparently did not like crunchy crust. Other than that the bread was devoured by parents and cubs alike.
Sourdough at its best!
In order not to overwhelm the cubs, we allowed for some playtime outside (under cubscout leader supervision) towards the end of the rising time before we started the shaping process. Some of the doughs were not all that well mixed and kneaded but in th end it turned out that this recipe is fairly forgiving. We ended up with all kinds of shapes in the little mini-pans which had been sharpie-marked in advance with each cub scout’s name and table number. I was very happy for all the time I put into it pre- workshop assembly. It wasl time well spent. Here is a picture of my dining-room table the night before the workshop. Everything was nicely pre-packaged (by me) and each little bread bag was personalized with the baker’s name. During the workshop I did show the cubs how to measure out ingredients, but the ingredients they used were already pre-measured except for the water and oil.
pre-packaged ingredients and items
personalized bread baggy
Part of my lecture was on the ingredients themselves and their role in bread baking. At the very end of the workshop we had a little quizz on the back of their four-page folded handout. Unfortunately, only those with a keen eyesight were able to read it the slightly blurry page. (Note to self: rework quizz page to a legible level).
Here is a picture of my son preparing to place the pans in the oven so the yeast beasts could face their final moments in the pre-heated oven:
Ready for the oven!
Oh, I almost forgot about the activity that everyone lined up to participate in! Literally. I had brought a handcrank mill and wheat kernels. None of the kids had ever ground their own wheat and I can tell you, they loved it! Everyone got 10 seconds to turn the crank. It was interesting to see their personalities reflected in the way they tackled the task. One cub thought he could crank it really fast but started slowing down by the time we counted to four. He then realized that hand grinding is hard work (…as well as a great activity for children to burn of extra energy while providing me with fresh flour -a win win situation!).
Getting ready to grind some wheat
We also went outside at one point to check on “Sunny Boy” my solar oven. But alas, it was a very overcast day and the surprise bread in the can which normaly looks like this, did not:
Solar oven bread in a can
But the cubs did enjoy finding the shadow in the alignment gadget on the solar oven and we talked about the concept of a solar oven in general as well as the fact that all your pots should be dark colored to best contain the heat which is reflected off the collapsible solar panels.
And that pretty much wrapped it up. At the end of the workshop everyone gathered for a group picture with their freshly baked loaves:
The bread bakers of Troop 976
This was defintitively a succussful activity. Or, as the lovely Danelle S.put it: “It was an amazing experience!”
Thank you Troop 976 for giving me the opportunity to share with you my passion.
Over and Out.