Last Sunday, I spent the day back in the classroom; well, sort of, but it was for one of my favourite lessons ever. I was at The School of Artisan Food on the Welbeck Estate, undertaking their Introduction to Artisan Bread Baking one-day course.
Having only ever baked bread with the mechanical assistance of a bread maker, I was really excited at the prospect of learning how to bake proper bread by hand, and the course more than lived up to my expectations.
The school is set in the Welbeck Estate’s former fire stables and it was lovely to approach it by driving through the Estate and seeing it all at its best in the sunshine. I’ve vowed to return to check out more of the stunning Estate, not least the amazing-sounding farm shop.
There were 8 of us in the class, many of whom had been bought the course as a gift by loved ones- a great idea if you’re looking for a present for the foodie in your life. We were a mixed group of 5 ladies and 3 chaps, of various ages; some of us had baked bread before with mixed results, some had never really tried baking bread.
But our instructor Emmanuel Hadjiandreou put us at ease and gave me early confidence that we would all be able to achieve the perfect loaf. And by the end of the day, he had been proven right (pun intended). Everyone on the course was really friendly and we had a good chat at the start of the day, sharing tales of baking disasters and a bit about ourselves. As well as running his own bakery, Emmanuel has previously worked in baking for Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants and Daylesford Organic and has written three books about bread, so we were in great hands.
We started the day each tasked with a different ingredient to measure out for everyone’s baking. We were going to bake white, wholemeal and malt house breads.
I was on salt weighing duty and I could quickly see why Emmanuel said a decent set of scales was key to effective bread baking; when you’re trying to weigh out just 2g of dry yeast or 6g of salt, precision is key. There’s no margin for error in measuring out ingredients if you want your bake to be successful- it turns out there’s a lot of precise science involved in breadmaking that I’d never really appreciated.
There was loads to learn through the day: about different types of yeast, different flours, the milling process, different ways of proofing (including one novel method involving the free shower caps you get in hotel bathrooms!), the importance of steam in your oven when baking bread, different kneading methods and more. Emmanuel’s instruction was always really clear and there was the right amount of information on the science behind what we were doing- it never felt boring. In fact, the whole day just felt like a lot of fun!
With my hands sore from two days of painting my house just before the course, I was pleasantly surprised to find that kneading bread didn’t require as much force and muscle as I feared. With one of our doughs, we just used a plastic scraper tool (similar to this one) to knead, rather than our hands.
Before I knew it, we had doughs proving and it was time for lunch. I’m still dreaming about this spread, which had been prepared by another member of School staff during the morning. We had quiches, including one made using Stichelton cheese which is produced on the Estate; salads; an amazing pork, pistachio and cranberry terrine; some delicious Welbeck breads of apple sourdough and a deli rye loaf; cheeses and chutneys:
After lunch, it was into prepping our third dough and tending to the other two. After cycles of kneading, proving and shaping (it turns out that shaping rolls is more difficult than it looks), it was finally baking time!
We got creative with the patterns on top of our rolls and our white loaves before they went in the oven. Importantly, steam was created in each oven early on while the bread was baking; this helped ensure an even crust.
It’s no wonder that the smell of fresh bread is seen as a good hook to help sell your house; the School’s kitchen smelled amazing as all of ours baked. Once the breads were out of the oven, there were smiles all round. I couldn’t quite believe how good my loaves and rolls looked, to be frank (and totally immodest):
I drove the short 18 miles home with my head spinning at all I’d learned, as the car quickly filled with the alluring smell of still-warm bread; I’m amazed I managed the journey without pulling over to tear a chunk off a loaf. When I got home, we tried a malt house roll with butter; it was delicious and I was amazed at how professional the taste and texture were. I felt like a bonafide baker! Over the next few days, we sampled my white bread boule and the wholemeal loaf, too, and stocked the freezer with my homemade breads.
Introduction to Artisan Bread Baking is just one of many one-day courses on offer at the School. Other one-day courses in baking, butchery, dairy and other areas include Introduction to Patisserie, Italian Baking & Pizza Making (I’ve heard there’s a sweet pizza made as part of that course!), Pig in a Day, Fermentation and Pickling and Make Your Own Mozzarella and Ricotta, among many more. The full list of courses can be found here and would be a great way to discover or explore your culinary passions.
The School also caters for professionals and serious foodies, with their Advanced Diploma course (which was undertaken by the founders of two great Sheffield bakeries, Forge Bakehouse and Seven Hills Bakery)- but if it’s a short course for a day or two that you’re looking for, there’s such a wide range of interesting and affordable courses.
Many thanks to The School of Artisan Food for having me along as their guest and to Emmanuel for his excellent and patient instruction. I feel really pleased that I’m now able to put a professional-tasting/-looking loaf of bread together myself and look forward to baking for friends and weekend visitors soon! I’ll definitely be adding another course at the School to my birthday wishlist (hint, hint). If you’ve been wanting to learn a new skill in the kitchen or improve one you already have, check out the School; they have something for everyone.