Although the subject of this blog should be patently obvious from the title, for those of you in need of a little extra help, I will explain. I’ve been on a bread making/sibling bonding course. This was a family gift to my brother in honour of a special birthday last year and a singular gift to myself for being gorgeous. Because I’m worth it. No sniggering in the cheap seats, please!
After a very pleasant drive to Abergavenny, with minimal screaming and surprisingly straightforward parking and venue finding, we arrived in good time. As we walked into the oak-beamed, beautifully refurbished battleground, complete with the most amazing bamboo table, we met baker extraordinaire, our tutor for the day and ex-GP, Rachael. Curiously, she was stirring a pan of white sauce, cursing at its lack of thickening. Intriguing. Who knew that roux’s were part of bread making? The
opposition other participants began to arrive, introductions were made, name tags in place and we were ready to bake. I mean how tricky could it be? This was a course for beginners.
You must forgive me if I don’t quite get the order of events correct, it was a whirr of flour fuelled activity. What I can’t remember, I will make up. Everyone OK with that? I do know it begun with the suggestion that I sit at the top of the table, the place reserved for special people, a position known as The Naughty Spot. On reflection, as I was told off for both talking too much and some over-enthusiastic dough beating which was rattling the tea cups in the cafe below, it was probably a quite perceptive move.
We begun with making an enriched dough, full of sugar and butter and milk, all weighed in the same bowl, all very simple. Bro and I looked at each other, we’ve got this sussed. Then the fun began. The slap and fold technique. The dough was to be slapped onto the table then stretched back and folded over. A quarter turn and repeat. In no time the dough would miraculously become a smooth and elastic wonder. Um. I am guessing that The Heavens are missing a slap and fold gene somewhere. And we tried. Very hard. After an eternity attempting to wrestle an alien amoeba into submission, only breaking stride to glance over to Big Bros to laugh, I seemed to be no further on the road to smooth and elastic town. I then noticed that the rest of the gang, ie the ringers, were beaming with pride at their neat little bundles. Madame Boulangère, trying very hard not to laugh, returned us to the straight and narrow, leaving us both totally baffled at how she had achieved it. Slight of hand or witchcraft, one or the other. Exhausted we placed our numbered shower caps over our bowls and left them to rise. A nap now? Apparently not.
Onto the seeded wholemeal loaf. What already?! I was in need of an aromatherapy massage with ambient whale song before I returned to revisit my crime against the baking arts. Then a dribble inciting loaf (one MB had prepared earlier) was taken from the oven (see above), an imminent second breakfast was mentioned and I perked up considerably. More weighing and slapping and folding, which was much easier this time. Not easy, I hasten to add, but definitely easier. And a lot less messy.
Next, our reward. You are always going to win me over with a second breakfast, as I am part hobbit. Freshly brewed coffee, still warm crusty granary bread, with hand-churned salty butter and an assortment of preserves. And a good chat. Just perfect.
Fortified and raring for more, we then used half of the enriched dough to make cheese and ham slices for our lunch. Which is where the white sauce came to the party, now I understand!
Then onto the plaited wreath made with the remaining fortified dough. It went something like this: divide into three, roll into doggie bones, roll more until they are equal in length and width, realise they aren’t equal and I should have weighed them like the sensible people in the group, shrug, then left over middle, right over middle, repeat, then right under middle and left under middle at the top and tuck under. Don’t quote me on this, I may have mixed a right or an over along with way. After rising we decorated with almond or sugar nibs and felt rather pleased with ourselves.
We donated 100g or so of each of our doughs to Rachael who then combined our contributions to make another loaf, which we later shared. This was a splendid idea, we could all take credit for the loaves we tasted later, a group effort.
Then more eating. We were served a lunch of scrumptious homemade butternut squash soup, made by the washing up/soup fairy Laura, with our cheese and ham slices as a wonderful accompaniment and a glass of wine for the wayward. And more chat, naturally.
After lunch the risen seeded wholemeals were shaped and slashed with a razor blade, which sounds simple, but let us just say, it is as well my brother did not pursue a career in surgery. As they baked we tested the amalgamated plait with more of the salty butter. Then because we weren’t quite sure whether we liked it or not we had another another slice.
Then onto another dough, yes, it was quite unrelenting. Still, we had this slapping down to an art now. More abstract than fine art, but we had stopped weeping and were actually quite enjoying ourselves. Our final act would be to make a batch Swansea loaf.
After rising there was more slashing and later a little thermometer probing. I did wonder if Rachael was reverting back to her former calling. Then, after internal temperatures were deemed just right, or near enough, loaves were torn from their siblings and distributed. Group photos were taken and the day was done.
From start to finish it was a wonderful day; some science, some silliness. A disparate group of souls came to bake bread and did just that, but also laughed together and gave each other encouragement. Although there were different levels of baking experience, everyone came away with a bag of delicious goodies and a smile on their face. Thanks Rachael, it was brilliant. And if any of you out there in the great abyss fancy a food and fun filled day, I would highly recommend The Abergavenny Baker, who has a whole range of artisan courses available. I’m tempted by the Continental or perhaps the Italian or maybe even the Middle Eastern …..
And finally, I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed having this adventure with my elder brother. On Friday he retired after at least 100* years as a General Practioner and I am, and have always been, incredibly proud of him as both a doctor and human being. Just don’t tell him I said so.
*facts to be verified.