This week, I'm over-the-moon to be attending the School of Artisan Food in Nottinghamshire, on their four day bread baking session. Taught by baking legend of the future, Emmanuel Hadjiandreou, it's a comprehensive bread extravaganza.
Fourteen of us arrive bright and early on a Sunday morning to begin our four day bread learn-a-thon. After introducing ourselves, it's clear that we all have varying degrees of experience baking bread. Most students are new to bread, some bake once in a while. I suspect I'm the only total all-out bread obsessive in the bunch. I might have to snooze my way through some boring questions on day one.
Sure enough, we start with the basics. Emmanuel is a good, clear instructor, and walks us through types of flour, and kneading (or lack thereof) techniques. Only fifteen minutes into the first day, we're already putting on our aprons, and weighing out flour.
Emmanuel is not the only baker to suggest that we needn't bother with kneading. Dan Lepard also recommends leaving the dough to develop its own gluten, through quick tightens every ten minutes. I've always thought of this as cheating a little - and I like kneading too much - but I must confess the results are very much the same as if I'd spend ages pummeling the dough around on the counter. What would Elizabeth David say?
He showed us fresh yeast, and dried yeast. As I do with all professional bakers I meet, I asked the question - does fresh vs dried yeast make a difference? Emmanuel's answer to this ongoing controversy: No it does not.
We made three different types of bread today: white, wholemeal and malthouse - all in loaf tins. Basic stuff.
While the first loaves were in the oven, I overheard a woman raving about the Real Bread Campaign. Yesss! Another bread nerd in the class! I'm not alone! I stuck with her for a while. We dislike the same American bread book. We've heard the same rumours about Poulaine bread. Bread nerds unite!
Amazingly, everyone's loaves turned out really well. No disasters - even amongst the beginners - which I think goes to show what an organised teacher Emmanuel is.
We ended the day by learning a little about sourdough starters. (Always such a tough concept for newbies to get their heads around, and always such a boring lesson to sit through when you've been doing it successfully for more than a year.)
Although today's breads were pretty basic for me, it's still great to solidify the fundamentals. It was fun, and exhausting, and I'm looking forward to taking on some more advanced types of bread tomorrow!