Chicago Amateur Bread Bakers Kick Off at Hendrickx

Last night was our kickoff meeting for the Chicago Amateur Bread Bakers. We visited Hendrickx Belgian Bread Crafters, whose entrance is marked by this iconic orange door:

Co-owner Dominique Schewebach warmly welcomed us inside. It was an uncharacteristically quiet night at the bakery, due to it being the coldest day of the year (-15 C / 5 F). The frigid temperatures turned out to be a lucky break for us, as it meant we had Dominique all to ourselves.

And it was a boon that each and every one of our Bakers who RSVP'd, braved the chill and made the event. I think everyone would agree, it was more than worth the effort.

Basking in the warm orange glow of the bakery's walls, Dominique began an informal lecture about Hendrickx's artisanal bread. She took us methodically through their offerings of croissants, eclairs, brioche, and breads, and described how each is made.

Then it was time for tasting. Dominique had us begin with the Belgian country bread, Hendrickx's signature:

It is a simple peasant bread, made of flour, water, yeast, and salt. It is all hand-mixed and hand-kneaded. No machines involved whatsoever. The final loaf weighs approximately 3.5 kg (7.7 pounds).

We also tasted Hendrickx's whole wheat bread, cranberry brioche, Belgian white chocolate bread, and challah. The last is pictured below, along with a 1/8 loaf of country bread:

To top it off, Dominique sent each of us home with a croissant. Precious gifts, considering they take 18 hours to make:

We had some time for a lively conversation about our own respective efforts baking at home, and we were able to help each other with problem-solving. A number of constructive questions were asked, including:

"How does a starter smell when it is overripe?"
"When I score my loaves, why do they deflate so much?"
"Have you ever baked something that came out like a brick?" (Yes, just the other day, in fact.) "What factors do you think led to this outcome?"
We would like to thank our members whose enthusiastic participation made this such a successful event. We are fortunate to have such an engaged and committed group.

And a special thanks to Dominique Schewebach for her hospitality and patience, and for welcoming our curiosity into her shop.

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