A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the inaugural Baking Matters bread making class. I regularly bake my own bread, but I am by no means an expert. There is always plenty more to learn. My regular bake is a rye sourdough. I am happy with this: I’ve kept the culture alive for nearly five years now and it suits us very well. However, it’s always good to have a repertoire and try new breads and baking methods. I have little experience of baking with white flour so I was particularly looking forward to this Basic Yeast Baking course where we were going to make oven bottom bread, soft dinner rolls and Chelsea buns.
Founded by John Royce in 2001, Baking Matters has recently branched out from advising commercial bakers into giving practical help and advice to potential and actual home bakers. The online website is a free resource for all and offers much in the way of guidance and expertise. John is the teacher in this new venture and on our course was ably assisted by his daughter. Learning from him was a complete delight. He is a traditional British master baker; with his many years experience of running a bakery as well as teaching, he has a lot of knowledge to pass on. His passion for real bread is infectious and it made the whole experience entertaining as well as educational. Other courses offered by Baking Matters include pastry making and cake baking.
This was a small class of seven home bakers selected to trial the first bread making course. This was very much a practical hands-on workshop. Three bakes in one day was a tall order and we were certainly put through our paces. I think we all learnt a lot – I certainly picked up a few tips. I was interested to see that the way I was taught to knead bread in home economics, way back when, was the method that John recommended (pushing the dough out with the heel of your hand then rolling it back up again). To watch John do it so quickly and so expertly was an education in itself. After weighing the ingredients, we all had a go at mixing the flour and water directly on the bench. This was done by making a bay with the dry ingredients then pouring in the water and working it gradually into the flour with our fingers. This was quite a nerve-wracking experience and I was convinced we would have flour and water all over the floor, but we all successfully managed to keep everything together on the bench and create a working bread dough – very satisfying. I was particularly thrilled to learn how to roll Chelsea buns correctly – pulling back on the dough as you roll to stretch it and make it tight. Learning some new ways of shaping rolls was an added bonus.
John is very keen on using fresh yeast which he says is now widely available and keeps for a long time in the fridge if properly stored. As a fan of fresh yeast myself, I was really pleased to find we were using it on the day. If you are unable to get your hands on fresh yeast, he reckons dried active yeast is fine, but advises steering clear of instant yeast, which contains all sorts of unwholesome additives. I was less keen about the use of Trex as I like my fats to be as natural as possible. If I wasn’t vegetarian I would use lard, which is what John suggests as an alternative. However, it did give the bread a lovely soft consistency. The bread rolls were things of beauty, the bread was light but substantial and the buns were possibly the best Chelsea buns I’ve ever eaten.
So where is the chocolate you are probably wandering? Well! I had meant to take along some dark chocolate to chop up and add to the Chelsea buns BUT I had to leave so early in the morning and was in such a rush I totally forgot it. AND I didn’t even have a hot chocolate at lunch time. I may be losing my touch!
The course was held at Occombe Farm near Paignton, a 700 acre organic farm run by the Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust and certified by the Soil Association. It was a first visit for me and I was really pleased to discover it. Not only does it have a visitor centre with lots of family events, but it aims to help connect and reconnect people to the food that they eat. It has a farm shop, an on-site cafe and a permanent cookery school offering a wide range of courses suitable for all. With eleven work stations, there was plenty of space. The school was well equipped and we each had our own workspace and oven. All the ingredients and equipment needed were provided including some lovely orange Baking Matters aprons. There was a steady flow of tea and coffee throughout the day to keep us hydrated and socialised. Conveniently, lunch could be bought from the nearby cafe or deli. As it was a nice day, most of us bought pasties and sat outside in the sunshine. Organic free ranging hens were some of the animals to be seen on the farm and I was ridiculously excited to be able to buy a dozen of their eggs for £1.20 – what a bargain.
We came away with a pack containing detailed instructions of the recipes we’d created along with accompanying illustrations. This was just as well as I couldn’t remember all of the roll formations nor how to fold the oven bottom bread. We also came away with a big smile on our faces and an impressive array of bread and buns. The car journey home was an olfactory event in itself.
With thanks to the John Royce for the above mentioned course and to Janie of The Hedge Combers for giving me the opportunity of attending it. I was not required to write a positive review and as always all opinions are my own.