In the five years since Melinda Friend opened her home kitchen for intimate, hands-on bread baking instruction, more than 2000 bread enthusiasts have discovered the joy of making their own freshly baked baguettes, focaccias, seeded country breads, bagels and croissants.
Friend is the founder of Knead and Know in Leesburg, Va., about an hour from the heart of the District. Knead and Know offers half-day bread-baking classes each weekend in a relaxed, informative and personal setting where participants not only get to enjoy the fruits of their labors, but gain the knowledge and skill to use at home.
Knead and Know was born from Friend’s frustration with the quality of bread she found – or rather couldn’t find – on her local grocery store shelves.
“I know what good bread is supposed to taste like,” said Friend, an enthusiastic home baker-turned bread evangelist. “Toothsome, flavorful with whole grains and aroma and taste that makes your mouth water. I remember Muesli breads with seeds and nuts that we’d get from the bakeries in Germany and these amazing buns and rolls from England that stood on their own, full of complex flavor,” says Friend, who spent time living overseas with her family. “It was so frustrating that these types of breads weren’t readily available for me to serve my family here.”
But when Friend couldn’t find the bread of her dreams, she set out to make it on her own.
“I started to look locally and couldn’t find instructional classes that weren’t part of a broader, long term culinary program,” says Friend, whose primary goal was to crack the code of the seemingly-simple-yet-oh-so-complex French baguette. “I couldn’t find anything in the D.C. area, so I expanded to Philadelphia and New York and came up with two and four-year programs. I ended up going up to Vermont for a two-day baguette class with master baker Jeffrey Hamelman.”
Though she didn’t realize it at the time, Friend’s life was about to change.
“After that program, I really got enthusiastic about baking, and learning all I could about bread,” says Friend. “My family and friends loved my bread and people kept asking me for loaves. I started teaching them, and I came to realize there was a market for classes where people could learn to make great bread at home, without special ovens, or special equipment, just good knowledge and technique.”
Friend got the requisite licenses and set up shop in her home kitchen, offering classes like Bread 101, Baguette, Bagels, Holiday Breads (seasonal), Croissants and more. The classes cost between $95 and $155.
Class sizes are small, typically only four people. They are great for couples who want to learn to bake together, mother/daughter pairs, families, retirees, Millennials, Gen-Xers, or anyone who wants to learn how to bake great bread.
“People come from all over the D.C. area and beyond,” says Friend noting her business really took off after the Washington Post mentioned her classes in a holiday guide focused on experiential gifts. “My classes are for everyone from the novice baker to those who know their way around the kitchen. It’s not about fancy equipment -- the classes are about technique and process and understanding what goes into making great bread.”
Classes run from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays. Friend provides everything bakers need including aprons, all ingredients, and tools. Typically, class will start out with pre-made dough, shaping, and proofing. The class will then make their own dough while the shaped dough rises.
“We’ll then bake what we’ve shaped and enjoy it fresh from the oven with wine, cheese and some great discussion,” says Friend. “Everyone takes home the dough they’ve made, recipes, and the techniques to replicate what they’ve learned. We’ve all made new friends as well.”
Northern Virginia residents, Murray and Bonnie Sewell, took Friend’s Bread 101 class after finding it online searching for local cooking classes.
“Melinda does a fabulous job at accommodating all levels of students,” says Murray. “She provides everything that is needed to have an incredible experience. Her deep knowledge and experience in baking breads allows her to answer any question asked with authority and experience. This provides the students with a sense of relief that they are learning from a master. I know I came home and immediately began planning my bread making adventures, using her instructions."
More information and class schedules can be found here.