Thursday, 12 July 2012

'All rise' for Introduction to Baking Bread

Once upon a time, I made a curry upon which I had lavished love and attention. I ground my own spices, marinated chicken thighs, fried and simmered and then resisted the temptation to dive straight in and allowed it to stand and 'mature' overnight.

On my way home I thought about accompaniments. Pilau rice, quality chutneys and bread. Suddenly the thought of my lovely curry being insulted by a long life, mealy, brittle naan was more than I could bear and before I knew what was happening I was Googling recipes for Indian breads and shopping for ingredients.

The result was nothing less than a revelation. Having previously dismissed bread making as 'too technical' for a mere novice like me, I was amazed both by how straightforward, and how much better this bread was in comparison to almost any shop bought bread I'd had in recent memory (The recipe I used is here in case you're interested.)

I then set about trying to make a loaf at home, with, it's fair to say, varying degrees of success. The information I found was contradictory (add oil, add sugar, knead gently, slap the dough about etc.) and a lot the recipes were far too advanced. My main problems seemed to be getting good flavour into the dough and getting the loaf to hold it's shape. Early efforts looked more like very deep pan pizzas than loaves. I was frustrated, disheartened, dejected.

Then, as if by magic, a fairy-godbaker appeared and invited me, along with Nicky from Cardiff Bites, Mark from Corpulent Capers and Nikki from Your Last Mouthful along to be the guinea pigs in a trial run of The One Mile Bakery, Introduction to Baking Bread course.

If you have read this blog before you may have seen my previous series of posts about The One Mile Bakery, a micro business which recently opened, delivering bread, soup and jams in the Canton, Pontcanna and Llandaff areas by journalist Elisabeth Mahoney. It's fair to say that I am a fan of the produce that I've tasted so far so I was curious to see whether I would be able to make bread as successfully myself.

The course promises to teach 'the basic ingredients and techniques involved in making real bread. You will make a range of breads and be given advice on key stages: kneading, proving, shaping and baking.'

Raw bread dough
'This will be delicious... honest'
As we arrived the Welsh weather was making itself felt and it was pouring down; absolutely perfect for baking. We were greeted with coffee and tea and Elisabeth grilled us about our experience of baking and any issues we wanted to solve.

 After a discussion about the realities of mass produced bread and the differences between that and homemade bread , it's impact on health and digestion, and the sheer pleasure of the alchemy of baking, our interest was piqued and it was time to get 'hands on'.

The course is structured so that you make at least 4 loaves (which you also get to take home with you!). Starting with a simple loaf (you choose your own flours) and working through a flavoured rye bread, towards Elisabeth's favourite, a tasty pain de campagne that incorporates a pre-dough left to rise overnight, the slow ferment giving the loaf bags of flavour.

The day demystified the process of baking bread for me completely, reminding me that it should all start with 4 simple ingredients:
  1. Flour
  2. Water
  3. Yeast
  4. Salt
Dough ready to bake
The simple loaf before
Freshly baked loaves
 And after
These are some of the key points that I got out of the day:
  1. Pay attention to your raw ingredients. Stoneground flours, if you can afford them, produce the best bread, retaining more nutrients and flavour and are still very cost effective.
  2. Homemade bread stays fresh for ages and even when stale it can still be toasted or frozen as breadcrumbs for cooking - you don't need the preservatives found in supermarket bread.
  3. Don't bother with so-called easy-rise yeast (this is partly where I was going wrong) Dried yeast is really no more work and produces a far superior loaf.
  4. Having weighed your ingredients carefully don't use flour to knead, it just messes up your recipe, get yourself a scraper to help handle a sticky dough.
  5. The basic processes are dead easy, and once learned, the principles can be applied in lots of ways.
  6. Play with ingredients and flavours, adding spices, dried fruits or herbs can turn one recipe into a multitude of variations.
  7. Learn to shape properly, it takes practice but creating surface tension does produce a more even shape and crumb and encourages the bread to rise rather than spread (which is what used to happen to me!)
Shaping the dough
Nikki gets to grips with a slippery rye!

Pain de campagne
Pièce de résistance - pain de campagne
The course delivered exactly what was promised and since completing it I have been able to successfully make my own loaves at home and I am very proud to say that I haven't bought a loaf from a shop since!

If you want to know any more then you'll have to go on the course yourself which I highly recommend you do! For the princely sum of £70 you will learn loads and come away with a skill for life as well as having a really fantastic and fun day. I fully intend going back later this year to complete an Introduction to Sourdough. Or maybe the Italian Breads. Or maybe both!

End of the baking class at The One Mile Bakery
Four happy, floury blogging bakers!
We were invited by Elisabeth to try out and feedback on the new course and as such the day was complimentary.

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