There aren’t too many things Clinton resident Jim Hicken enjoys more than pulling an aromatic loaf of bread out of the oven.
To ensure a “successful bake” every time, Hicken dove headfirst into the science of bread making. Twenty years later, he’s a wealth of information when it comes to home-baked loafs, and he’s shedding his knowledge on his neighbors to promote home cooking.
“I strongly believe that people should build up a skill set related to whatever they’re interested in, and I believe knowing how to make your own food using whole ingredients rather than processed food is important,” Hicken said. “I’d describe myself as a food information glutton, so I thought I should share my knowledge with the community.”
“I’d like to think I’m a seasoned home baker,” Hicken added.
Hicken is hosting a series of free bread making classes through October and November. The workshops, held at Orchard Kitchen in Bayview, start at the novice baker level and progress in technicality. There are three classes remaining, two of which Hicken says are for entry-level home bakers. The final class is for a more advanced crowd.
The next workshop is slated for Oct. 16, and will cover how to make easy artisan bread with a bread machine and no-knead recipes. The class on Oct. 30 discusses the importance of time while baking, and Hicken adds he’ll cover hand mixing and hearth loaves. The final class, set for Nov. 13, is an advanced session on the role of water. He will also cover the more technical side of baking, including baker’s math.
All classes are free, but donations are welcome. The proceeds go to Good Cheer Food Bank.
“This partly came out of taking a closer look at a lot of the material I’ve been reading over the years, and I realized I could organize them into a set of several classes,” Hicken said. “It made sense to present them as lectures, because I believe you should share your expertise with the community.”
Hicken has baking down to a science. In his lectures, he discusses not just what makes each loaf taste good, but why each loaf tastes the way it does. He goes into the finer details of the craft, covering the impact different kinds of bacteria has on a loaf’s taste and how the use of time can greatly alter the kind of bread that pops out of the oven. His interest in the particulars came out of making a “seriously bad loaf,” which steered him toward the process and science of bread.
“He’s almost a scientist with the way he does it,” Kathy Floyd, Slow Food Whidbey Island board member, said. “He knows exactly what he has to do to make the exact loaf he wants. To have someone like that so willing to teach beginners how to make food from home without chemicals is great. It’s what Slow Food Whidbey Island is all about.”
Hicken hopes to encourage people with enough time to make their own food, rather than buying processed foods from the grocery store. It would lead to a generally healthier community, something that he hopes to see.
Most important for him and Floyd, however, is something more simple. Fresh handmade bread simply tastes better.
“At the end of the day, what it comes down to is I just like to eat bread, and homemade bread just tastes the best,” Hicken said. “It’s as simple as that.”