Four blissful days of artisan baking – part 1, the basics

October 19, 2010 § 4 Comments

I’m freshly returned from four days spent at the School of Artisan Food in Nottinghamshire baking bread under the watchful eyes of Master Baker Emmanuel Hadjiandreou. Emmanuel, originally from South Africa despite his Greek name has an immaculate baking pedigree having worked for the catchily named Flour Power City bakery in London, Gordon Ramsay, Daylesford Organic in Oxford and Judges Bakery in Hastings. Judges is, by the way no ordinary bakery as it’s owned by Green & Black’s chocolate founders Craig Sams and Josephine Fairley.

Here’s Emmanuel in teaching mode in the School kitchens on Day 1 of the “Artisan Baking Session”.

Emmanuel is clearly passionate about all things bread, incredibly skilful, a natural teacher, full of boundless energy and an all round nice guy. Four days spent just baking bread may sound excessive but the days passed too quickly in the idyllic rather other-wordly setting of the School of Artisan Food, a place where the sun always shines, the high-spec kitchens are always spotless, the right utensils and ingredients are always to hand and everything comes out of the oven looking and tasting pretty damn good (though I say so myself)

The School of Artisan Food is a brave new venture established on the Welbeck Estate, the rather grand rural retreat of the Duke of Portland and home to various branches of the Cavendish-Bentinck-Parente families (sorry have rather lost track of the complex family tree). The family seat itself, Welbeck Abbey, is not open to the public. The people behind the School are owners Alison & William Parente (son Joe runs the farm shop and bakery too), managing director Gareth Kennedy and an incredible stable of artisan food gurus – Randolph Hodgson founder of Neal’s Yard Dairy for cheese, Andrew Whitley author of Bread Matter for baking to name but two. It’s a not for profit organisation (a company limited by guarantee) with funding provided in part by the East Midlands Development Agency.

Coming up the drive in my taxi on day 1 of the course, I assumed this was the family seat:

but this is merely a set of almshouses known as “The Winnings” as the cost of building was funded by a former Duke’s racing habit.

Horses appear often in the family history and the estate is home to a splendid stone-built indoor riding school which in its heyday was second only in size to the famous Vienna Riding School.

The School itself is housed in the Estate’s former fire station and is approached across a handsome cobbled courtyard:

By 10 o’clock on Monday morning, the first day of the course, I and my fellow students, 15 of us in total, had settled into our workstations in the School teaching kitchen.

What sort of person goes on a 4 day artisan breadbaking course? Well, all sorts. We were approximately 50:50 men and women and ages ranged from I think late teens to early 60s. Generally a friendly and cooperative group of people with a shared interest and thankfully no hint of rivalry or competitiveness, in fact a great willingness to share ideas, knowledge and experiences.

There were a couple of chefs in the group wanting to expand their repertoire but this is not a course aimed at turning out master bakers after just 4 days. The techniques and recipe quantities were firmly aimed at the domestic rather than a commercial setting. I would say the majority of people on the course were enthusiastic amateurs – one of whom was so enthusiastic in fact that he’d built his own wood-fired bread oven with a capacity of 30 loaves in his back garden in Aberdeenshire!

Day 1 focused on the basics, the raw ingredients of breadmaking, and 3 basic recipes for white, wholemeal and malthouse loaves raised with nicely domesticated commercial yeast and shaped and baked in tins.

The basic ingredients of breadmaking are of course very simple – flour, yeast, water and salt – yet a lot of myths are propounded about them. We used Shipton Mill organic flour throughout the 4 days of the course as this was a range Emmanuel was already familiar with from his previous baking career. Quite a few myths were debunked when going through this list of basic ingredients:

1) You don’t need to use expensive crushed Maldon salt – regular table salt is just fine (excuse the pun…)

2) Either fresh or dried yeast (as long as the dried yeast hasn’t been messed about with) is equally good as long as you dissolve it in water first.

3) Neither bottled mineral water nor water warmed to blood heat are necessary to make good bread – just use room temperature water out of your tap, even when making up a sourdough starter.

4) There’s no need to add fat or sugar to your bread dough – all that you need is in the flour itself.

5) Finally, and most radically, making a sourdough starter is dead, dead simple. Simply mix together a teaspoon of rye flour and a teaspoon of water in a small container, cover and leave at room temperature for 24 hours then repeat the process and you’re away. After 4 days you’ll have a lively starter ready to be bulked up with either white or rye flour and you’re ready to bake your very own sourdough loaf.

It really was that simple. I’ve been put off sourdough baking before because of the complex recipes involving grapes, raisins, molasses, orange juice, apple juice plus other more esoteric ingredients. Then there were the tales of exploding starters, icky smells, dead starters, yellow mould, pathogens and worse. Emmanuel in his charming and direct style showed us how simple it was.Here’s the rye sourdough Emmanuel passed round on day 1, ready to be prodded and poked:

And for the sake of completeness, here’s one of Emmanuel’s white sourdough starters. Like a conjuror he breathed frothing bubbly life back into a piece of frozen sourdough, a rather pasty piece of dry sourdough and a more liquid version and all three performed fantastically.

I’m going to conclude this post with a slightly obsessive time series set of pics of my very own rye starter, conceived at Welbeck and now resident in my kitchen in Altrincham:

Here’s the flour and water freshly mixed on day 1 (iPhoto tells me it’s 11 Oct at 13.26 precisely)

and already the next day there are signs of wild yeasty fermenting life in my baby! This photo is dated 12 October at 14.27.

Fermentation is clearly well-established by the following morning 13 October at 09.26

And by the end of day 4 I was ready to take home by lovely bouncing starter ready for baking!

I’m pleased to report that it’s producing great bread – a wonderfully moist and light rye loaf most recently. In fact, must go and give it a feed now…

More bread stuff to follow on my return from holiday to Egypt – let’s hope Tim can keep the starters going in my absence.

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§ 4 Responses to Four blissful days of artisan baking – part 1, the basics

  • Mike the Poo Oven says:

    How can you leave us in the lurch and go off on holiday with nothing more than a starter… how sour was the sourdough? did it sag? would the kids eat it?

    • Just about to resuscitate my starters now after their week’s rest in the fridge. No sagginess to report but don’t have a Beaufort type scale equivalent yet to measure sourness. Surprisingly George has developed a taste for rye sourdough if smothered with plenty of black cherry jam. Arthur a little suspicious though…

  • Diana Gardiner says:

    What a fab review and great blog! Looking forward to some pix of your loaves now!! Have only JUST emptied my freezer of bread so am starting back at it. Friday night is pizza night at my house so that will be my first trick. Keep up the good work. Bookmarking this blog!
    Cheers
    Diana

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