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Holiday Breads to Make All Year Long

Written on January 11th, 2011 by no shouts

Mort Rabkin is a very talented artisan baker who moved to Boquete a few years ago, and he’s sparked a whole new “bread culture” in our little mountain town. Before Mort’s arrival, there were very few artisan bakers in our entire Chiriqui Province, if any.

It wasn’t long before Mort built a real clay oven on his back patio and the availability of fresh, home-baked bread began.

As most of us know, it’s not easy to produce good, wholesome artisan breads without adding lots of love and care. Those skills are evident when biting into a slice of Mort’s special bread, available at the Tuesday Morning Market in Boquete.

Because many of Mort’s customers began asking him how he is able to produce such fine-quality breads, he decided to offer classes on the subject. These classes are very informative and lots of fun, as you can see from these photos.

Former students have made French breads, rustic breads, challah and other holiday yeast breads. They have filled rosta and wreath breads with lavish amounts of fruits and nuts and drizzled them with white, sparkling frosting.

The photo at the top includes some very talented bread-makers at work mixing and braiding breads for holiday giving. Mort’s wife Barbara demonstrated braiding techniques taught at the latest hands-on class, including one with 4 braids. The gorgeous loaf of challah shown above is ready for the oven.

Why can’t any of these wonderful, rich breads be baked anytime during the year? Why not?

On Thursday, January 27, Mort will present an advanced class on making and using sourdough and other natural starters. Folks with basic bread-making skills or those who have taken a prior bread class are eligible to join this very special class.

Participants will be able to pick up a sourdough starter a week prior to the class, “feed” it until time to use it to make and bake their own loaf of sourdough bread in Mort’s oven. As part of the class, a second type of starter will be mixed to be used in future bread-making. A gourmet lunch with wine will be served during the class, as well.

For more information about this class, stop by Mort’s table at the Tuesday Market, or email me at and I’ll send you more details.

We hope you come and enjoy the fun of baking in Mort’s clay oven, it’s a very special treat!

Tale of Tom’s Birthday Bread

Written on September 12th, 2010 by no shouts

Another year had passed since Tom had a birthday. It didn’t seem long ago when Tom was celebrating his last birthday with over 100 friends and family members who came to Boquete from all over the world to attend his 3-day party in 2009.

But, it was September 10 again and the tale begins.

This year, my husband David wanted to make something personal for the occasion, something more than giving Tom the usual bottle of wine. When we thought we were invited to a “small” dinner party at the Bot Castle to celebrate the event, David knew exactly what he wanted to make for Tom.

After taking the Boquete Gourmet “Artisan Bread-making” class a couple weeks ago with Mort Rabkin, David decided to make Tom a loaf of bread for his birthday and to take it to the dinner party.

So, he gathered the ingredients together on our new granite pastry board and went to work blending and kneading just the right combinations to make two very fine, rustic loaves of artisan bread.

As the tale continues, Tom was actually having another big birthday party, not a “small gathering”, as we had expected.

When we appeared on the castle steps, much to our surprise we found at least 50 party-goers already making merriment inside! There we were with only one gorgeous, golden brown, small, round loaf of hand-made rustic bread. We could have brought both loaves, wouldn’t you think?

Well, the happy ending of this tale is simple. We sliced the loaf into thin slices, split each slice into two pieces and everyone at the party got treated to a warm, delicate slice of Tom’s artisan, “hand-made with love”, bread.

Since pictures say a thousand words, here is the result of one full days work, including the happy moment when David presented his artisan “masterpiece” to Tom.

At the end of the buffet service that Caroline had so beautifully prepared and arranged, you can see Irma buttering a slice of David’s gift. I wish you could have tasted this crusty, tender work of art, and maybe you did.
Mort would have been proud of his student!

And, they all lived happily ever after!

Making Artisan Breads in Boquete

Written on August 21st, 2010 by 16 shouts

Boquete is high in the mountains of Panama, not a likely place to find real, artisan breads baked in a clay oven. But, Mort’s oven was all fired up for his bread-making class of students eager to discover how Mort makes such a fine, rustic delicacy in Boquete.

Mort’s recipes are tried and true, baked many times in the high mountain air. The results can’t be beaten, anywhere in the world fine breads are baked.

Some bakers are famous for their baking, such as Rose Levy Beranbaum. She has written several books on bread and cake baking, and Mort studies her techniques and adapts them to our high, mountain location, making his breads just perfect.

The class assembled to find out just what makes Mort’s breads so special, was it the yeast, the flour, or his oven?

Throughout the afternoon, students measured, mixed, kneaded, stretched and shaped dough, making it exactly the right consistency for a perfect loaf of artisan bread. Each loaf must be a work of art, feeling just right, formed just right and having just the right aroma of a fine, hand-crafted loaf of rustic, one-of-a-kind artisan bread.

The smells of the wood fire baking hand-made rustic bread, floated through Mort’s home. Aromas to remember! It was difficult to imagine being a part of making authentic breads like ancient tribes throughout the world made thousands of years ago.

Each student marked, seeded and set their loaf into Mort’s clay oven. The oven had reached 650F degrees, just right for baking “hearth” bread. In only a few minutes, the beautifully baked, golden loaves were finished and set to cool.

The final experience was learning the fine points of bread-making. Mort taught students how to measure by weight, to blend the dough smoothly and to knead it until silky smooth. Each time an additional ingredient was added, the scales were set to zero and weighed again. The ingredients were blended with a wooden spoon, rolled into a ball and kneaded until the dough was exactly right. Only after long practice, was the ball made into a perfect dough.

Learning how to create rustic breads in your own kitchen is an art, and it takes a little know-how and practice.

To learn these techniques, a second bread was made during class, an authentic French bread recipe. This bread is made using the baker’s own feel as the ultimate indicator of texture and tenderness.

The bakers will take this dough home to rest, ferment, rise and bake tomorrow.

The first loaf of warm hearth bread is to enjoy now, as soon as we can gather our family and friends to share this tasty, memorable “staff of life”.

The results will be amazing, an experience to remember!

Thanks, Mort, and happy baking!

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