A few months ago I was inspired by this post from Sally Donovan and for my birthday I requested being signed up to an ‘artisan’ bakery course.
Last Sunday was the day of the course, and I returned full of inspiration, and, well lots of bread! Now, I don’t want get too personal, but I will admit to you all that I am currently following Weight Watchers. Two children, 3 years of breastfeeding and sleepless nights have left me with a bit of a mummy tummy (how cringeworthy is that phrase?). The WW diet is going fine actually, and is not that hard to stick to. But I have spent most of my late 20s with this ingrained belief that bread is somehow bad for you. Cutting out bread as a way of losing weight is a fad that regularly comes into fashion. But how bad for you can a mix of water, yeast, flour and salt be? And therein lies the problem: most breads that people by from shops, and yes, even some bakeries, have many more ingredients, and are produced quickly. The course that I attended was all about slow bread, left to rise for up to 12 hours. This slow rising allows the gluten to open up and break down, making a more delicious, longer lasting, and easily digestible bread.
The beautiful view from our teaching kitchen
On the course we did two bakes: we made rolls from scratch, which were left for only 2 hours or so, a quick rise; and a loaf of bread using premade dough which had been left overnight to bulk rise.
The beauty of the slow rise bread is that you have the benefit of time, warmth and sugars in the dough which help the yeast do its job, meaning that you really don’t need to do a much kneading as you might think, nor as much yeast.
First we mixed the ingredients for the rolls, kneading, leaving for five minutes, chatting, kneading again, leaving again, for about half an hour. Leaving aside that dough, covered in a carrier bag – yes, it was all very technical here! In fact the most technical that it got was the use of this natty little scraper to mix the ingredients together without getting too messy.
Next we were given some of the slow rise dough to knead and shape. Taking care not to use too much flour, so the dough still remained moist we folded the dough into a ‘belly button’.
Next we made Mickey Mouse ears to fold in and shape the dough into a longer shape, then pinched the seam like a Cornish pasty. The dough then went into a bread basket for final proving.
Mickey Mouse ears - this shapes the dough and adds air into it
Bread basket or 'banneton'
Before putting it in the oven the dough was scored to allow the loaf to rise even further in the initial heat of the oven. A slight dusting of flour was followed by a quick spritz with water to ensure a nice crust.
10 minutes at 230 degrees in the oven then turned down to 200.
Look how big it is!
Out of the oven looking definitely rustic!
Then on to the bread rolls, shaping them and dipping them in seeds, or brushing with egg, or dusting with flour (stops them going too dark). Sorry, I don’t have a photo of the finished rolls. But I do have one of our lovely lunch. Homemade bread, made by Dede (the course instructor), some gorgeous local cheeses, and various pickled veg, delicious!
At 2pm it was time to go, with armfuls of bread and rolls, inspiration for future loaves, and plenty of tips for airy, flavoursome bread.
The fear surrounding bread and wheat products, perpetuated by women’s magazines, the Atkins Diet and faddy food intolerances, neglects the traditions going back thousands of years of bread as a food of life. That’s not to dismiss real medical issues such as coeliac disease, but other complaints of bloating and stomach upsets are more likely to be down to the overly processed nature of modern supermarket breads, even the ones they peddle as fresh.
Bread is part of the traditions of many cultures and religions, indeed bread is seen as the symbol of Christ himself. The hot cross bun is a symbol of his return from crucifixion. In the Bible Jesus fed the five thousand with five loaves and two fishes, not steamed fish and a side of edamame beans. Now, those who know me know that I am an ardent atheist, but you can’t deny it’s pretty hefty symbolism. Bread is prominent in most cultures, the Jewish Challah and matzo, German Stolen, Indian Naan and Chapatti, Italian ciabatta. It’s significance is often religious, but ultimately it is social and familial. Breaking bread together is a traditional way of welcoming people into your home.
It’s no coincidence that ‘bread’ or ‘dough’ are used synonymously with money. Bread is the lifeblood of the world. The same few ingredients can make things as diverse as croissants, pitta bread and steamed dumplings. Bread is amazing, and anyone can make it. So, put away your Atkins book, put down that Kingsmill and go and buy yourself some yeast.
Here is a link to a simple bread recipe.. So what are you waiting for? Just your dough to rise!
Harts Barn Craft Centre, Forest of Dean
This is Harts Barn Craft Centre, where the bread making course was held (and paid for by DH for my birthday in case you were wondering!) I really enjoyed the course and would recommend something similar to everyone. For details of your local courses and more information on why real bread is so brilliant check out The Real Bread Campaign.