“English baking” workshop at the Bread Ahead baking school

What we baked at the course
How do you like my “rustic” arrangement of breads and cakes? My pop up stall is coming…

We attended this afternoon workshop at their Borough Market baking school a few weeks ago. It was actually my Christmas present, but we have been so busy lately that we could only find time in March to do it!

It was really fun, the teacher was absolutely phenomenal and enthusiastic, and I am really embarrassed to admit that I did not remember her name, but thank you, Teacher!

I was a bit scared about baking because I have tried to bake breads in the past and they always ended up really flat and tough. But the workshop helped me realise what my main issues were:

  1. not enough time or the wrong environment for the yeasts to do their business,
  2. often, the capital sin: adding more flour instead of kneading more when the dough is sticky.
  3. I wasn’t really kneading!

And now I’m not terrified about baking anymore! 🙂

Bread

First we learnt how to prepare a ferment (although since it requires overnight rest, they had already prepared it for us). Then the teacher explained to us how to knead “the German way”: slamming the dough against the counter and folding and slamming again. It will make an absolute mess in your kitchen, with bits and pieces of dough flying off at the beginning, and flour possibly everywhere. And your neighbours might get “a bit” upset if you do it at the wrong times, but it results in a fantastically elastic dough. And it is really good if you’re stressed, as you have to knead for 8 minutes. After it, there’s no stress anymore.

We left the dough to ferment for a bit more, covered with a shower cap, placed it under the table and moved on to the next thing, so we could learn about it in parallel.

But when we came back to it, we learnt how to fold it and place it in the tin, and wrote our name on the baking paper because guess what… you get to keep everything you bake during the course! So that’s why you want to name your bread. The breads were placed on a sort of fermentation chamber which seemed moist and somehow warm, to raise further before going into the oven. Before that, we sliced the top of the dough so it would not explode and would have some space to ‘breath’, and the teacher also sprayed very generously the sides of the over with water – this was so the crust would become really brown and CRISPY. She explained how the sugars and the water would interact and brown more than if there was no water in the oven, but I don’t remember well how it went–possibly something worth researching.

Lardy cake

I had never heard of this cake before, but all the English natives seemed very excited about it. The technique for this one was interesting, as there was lots of layering and folding and I had never done anything like that before.

Although I am not a bit fan of the currants and I think I’d replace them with chocolate chips, and perhaps I’d also replace the lard with butter. But would it still be a lardy cake? Maybe it would be a buttery cake! And come to think about it, maybe we could replace the chocolate chips with mango bits, and the butter with coconut butter. And it would be a coconut buttery cake? And most important of all… would it still be “English” baking?

The possibilities! They are infinite!

Devonshire splits

Again, I had not heard about this kind of buns before. The teacher said they were kind of like a brioche, but were really not brioches. I like brioches so I liked this recipe.

The dough has milk and butter. It’s a touch sweet but not super sweet, so she said they could also be used for burger buns or anything savoury we want to put on them, but in the final tasting we split their tops and placed cream and jam on them. It felt a bit like having a scone but instead of slicing it in half you just split the top and place something on the cavity you just created.

Either way, they were really delicious (I guess the fact we used their own delicious jam also helped elevate them).

Bath buns

We did not get to directly bake these, but the teacher demonstrated how to quickly combine whatever dough leftovers and toppings you have to create these easy and random buns while our own loaves and buns baked in the ovens.

I like thrifty recipes so this was a cool idea!

She also talked about how this is one of the products with the highest cost margin, as it mostly costs next to nothing to produce and each unit can sell easily for £1.50+.

And then you get to go home with almost 3 kilos of baked goods

After cleaning the counters and tasting the products the teacher baked, we were given BIG paper carrier bags to place our works of art on them. We had to be careful not to close them too much as they were still hot and ‘cooking’, so if they were sealed in the bags they could end up moist or ugly.

So what happened was that everything was half open for the products to ‘breathe’ and we could not stop smelling the whiffs of deliciously baked goods all the way back home. That was a really difficult tube journey as you try to not to get your hands on the bag and have a snack, and are also self-aware of the fact that everyone else might be wondering where’s that delicious smell coming from…!

Also, since two of us attended the course, we had TWO bags. So that’s a lot of baked goods for two people to consume.

Next day

We were pretty pleased to toast our own bread for breakfast! It was elastic and springy and also the top side had sort of overflowed creating what we called the Mickey Mouse ears. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

English bread

After that deliciously proud breakfast, it was time to store the rest of products so they would not go off.

I sliced the other bread loaf, tightly wrapped it, and put it in the freezer. That way we can defrost and toast as we need, and nothing goes to waste!

English bread sliced

I set aside a couple (well, a bit more than that) of Devonshire splits for an ‘afternoon tea’ later in the day, and for breakfast the next day, and then wrapped the rest individually and put them in the freezer as well.

The lardy cake has to be wrapped first in the greaseproof paper, then with plastic twice, so it doesn’t lose moisture. The teacher advised us that it can get rancid, so even if you can freeze it, it doesn’t mean you should keep it for too long.

It was fine though, as we were planning to visit family for Easter, and instead of bringing tons of chocolates, we brought them splits and cakes we had made with our own hands! That was very exciting and they really liked them—even the people who didn’t really like lardy cakes seemed to like this one (wait until I bring my own bastardised tropical version to life though).

This was a fantastic Christmas gift and I encourage you to attend the course, specially if you’re a ‘reluctant baker’ as I had been. It was really well organised, we had lots of fun and most importantly, it gave us the confidence that we could do it too, and as we declared to the teacher, we are NEVER going to buy bread again! (this made her really happy).

And so last week, we baked our first loaf at home, from scratch, using their method, and it was genuinely monumental: we thought it would not stop raising and it would end up touching the roof of the oven. We had created such a BEAST!

Simple English bread, raising out of the tin Simple English bread Simple English bread, sliced

I did not spray the oven with water, but I also I’m not keen on hard crusts anyway, and less so when my gums are sore most of the time thanks to my braces. So this was really pleasing!

Next up I’d like to play with other types of flour and all sorts of other additions such as herbs, or attempt round or “baguette” versions. Also create sourdough starter… and sourdough bread! This is very exciting!

The ultimate goal: learn how to make loaves like the ones my friend Wilson Page is baking 😍

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