Ciril Hitz is more than just your average baker – he’s a bread celebrity. He started BreadHitz in 2005 to give all bakers access to “breaducation” through his DVDs, books and baking tools. In between teaching full-time at Johnson & Wales and serving as a guest instructor at national and international culinary events, he offers bread-making classes right from his Rehoboth home.
How have your Swiss roots and training influenced your baking?
Where did your love for baking, particularly bread, begin?
I grew up in Switzerland, and there was a bakery practically on every corner. Bread was an important part of the daily culinary culture. When I began my culinary training I was certain that all I wanted to do was create beautiful pastries. As the years passed, I was selected as a member of the USA Team to compete in Paris, France at the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie (The World Cup of Bread Baking). The more I worked and trained, the deeper I fell in love with bread.
Being Swiss is both a blessing and a curse. After I graduated from RISD, I went on to pursue a three-year baking and pastry apprenticeship in Switzerland. The Swiss love to play by the book and abide by the rules, and my organized approach to baking has been extremely beneficial. However baking has taught me to be adaptable and flexible, and I have had to learn to give up some of that "Swiss" control. A baker needs to have the ability to make adjustments on the fly. It's what makes the process challenging and exciting... every day is different.
You've been featured on some television programs like The Food Network Challenge and The Today Show. How is TV different from teaching?
Filming a television segment is very similar to teaching a class: there is always a time constraint, and you need to expect the unexpected. Luckily I have lots of experience teaching from my full-time academic commitment at Johnson & Wales University. Once the cameras start rolling, I can usually focus on the task at hand. At the end of the day, it’s always fun to watch a show with my family and share in an achievement that required a lot of sacrifice on their behalf.
What’s your favorite type of bread to eat?
It really depends on my mood and what I am eating with it. The classic benchmark for a baker is their ability to make a good baguette, which I do love, but I can't eat white bread all the time. I will pair some smoked meats with a Vollkornbrot (brown bread), such as a 100% rye bread. Another favorite of mine is sourdough made with toasted hazelnuts, which I pair with a soft cheese.
You offer a wide variety of classes out of your home that range from baking baguettes to bagels to sourdough. What do you hope your students take from the classes?
My goal as an instructor is to give students the ability and confidence to replicate at home what I teach in class. The classes are designed around “families” of bread and teach baking techniques. The actual number of products covered depends on the length of the class (half day or full day). When it comes to bread baking, there are a lot of variables that can have an effect on your bread. We cover a lot of information, but I have never had a student walk out of my class overwhelmed... they are chomping at the bit to get home and practice their baking. As long as the students are excited about what they have learned and feel accomplished, I’m happy.
Your bread classes are taught using a wood-fired oven. How is that different from an electric oven?
A wood-fired oven doesn’t have an on/off switch or a dial to turn up or down the temperature. I fire up the oven a few days in advance in order to properly heat up the thermal mass in the oven. Once it's fully charged, the baking can begin. The tricky part is matching the timing between the development of the dough and the falling temperature of the oven.
What's your best advice for those looking to start baking who may lack experience in the kitchen?
Nothing beats a hands-on workshop to give you a good foundation of the basics. Your rate of success at home in.creases when you have the opportunity to see and feel the dough at different stages of development. If you’re using a bread-baking book, it’s best to use formulas that measure weight instead of volume for ingredients (measuring in cups and teaspoons is inconsistent.) Buy a scale and get ready to be liberated!
Master Bread Baker