cookery school: bread

Short of a patient grandmother, the friendly folk at River Cottage are my ideal for apprenticing in bread-making and baking of all kinds. They’re knowledgeable, organised and relaxed, keep things moving at a great pace, and they create a camaraderie that’s perfect for learning. We’ve spent an intense, delightful day baking a variety of recipes, with the deep satisfaction of taking the contents of a small bakery home with us.

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I’m so pleased to have refined my skills with types of baking I’ve done many times, like shortcrust pastry. I’d no idea that I’d never really rubbed the butter into the pastry flour for long enough! Lots of interesting details and techniques were passed along. Sourdough baking is where I will probably put most of my energy after this, though the torte has already been requested. We talked a lot about how to make the sourdough culture, and the differences when using non-wheat flours, which is what I need to use for my family. Spelt and rye. The lower gluten content means that they aren’t treated the same way, needn’t be kneaded much. I hope to return to the long slow rise of the traditional sourdough I’ve tried before, with lots of new knowledge about feeding a culture.

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How great to try out different types of bread! I shall have to work on my kneading and shaping. This is not as easy as it looks. A little bit like throwing a pot, I can watch as much as I like, but I need practice. What a pleasure to form our loaves and see them shuffled into the wood-fired oven on a peel. We all tried the peel earlier, with a far hotter oven, when we baked pizza outside. No singed eyebrows, thankfully! That hot oven made for a truly gorgeous pizza. I’m eating the bread out of it right now, oh, my goodness.

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