Bread Baking at The Holt, Honiton
I’m a keen amateur baker, having ditched my bread machine a few years ago when I started working at BakeryBits - it’s very hard to resist giving traditional bread baking a go, when, wherever you look you see artisan bread baking paraphernalia!
My earlier attempts left quite a lot to be desired – unless you’re the sort that enjoys chewing on concrete, but now, most of the time, my bread turns out pretty well. However as I’ve basically taught myself at home, from reading books and asking Patrick every 5 minutes for advice, I knew there was a lot I was missing, many things I was probably doing wrong and also a heap of stuff that I was just guessing at without the technical knowledge to know how not to make the same mistakes over and over again.
When I heard that we were being offered a place on Angus’s bread class at The Holt in Honiton, I jumped at the chance as Angus has trained at some of the best and most respected Bakers, including at The Bertinet Kitchen.
To start with can I just say that I think Angus is the epitome of calmness in that you just can't imagine him getting stressed under any circumstances (an ideal quality when teaching amateurs!). He managed to find the time to bake all of the bread in the ovens, demo the techniques, spend a lot of time helping everyone on the course, yet he didn't look in the slightest bit flustered and left everyone feeling like they'd had a great time.
Anyway, on to the course itself.
The first thing Gus showed us was your bog standard supermarket sliced white loaf of bread, to illustrate the difference between this gloopy, alien substance, to the hopefully more bread like things we were going to produce during the day (fingers crossed).
Angus is a big fan of the Bertinet method of kneading, difficult to describe here, but you basically pick up the dough, stretch it and throw it back onto the surface and then push it around the table with a dough scraper.
You can see the technique here in 'Dough' Richard Bertinet's book, which comes with a DVD demonstrating the technique. Although the book is one of my favourites and the DVD is a great idea, I have to confess that I've not been using this method as I just couldn't get my head around how to do it properly.
It turns out that having someone demonstrate it to you, in front of you and then help when you keep getting it wrong, makes all the difference! It's not the most logical way to knead dough when you've been doing it the 'conventional' way for years, but after a while (and a lot of dough flying across the room), it really does work.
We started making white dough, with just the usual 4 ingredients, nothing else. Angus guided us through the process from crumbling the yeast into the flour, through the kneading process and then onto the proving and shaping. We made; Fougasse, (definitely need to work on my shaping skills on this one) white loaves and rolls, all of which turned out surprisingly well, in fact my girlfriend thought the white loaf was the tastiest I've ever made!
After we'd tried the basics with a lower hydration dough, half of the class were given a bowl with what looked like water, with a bit of olive oil and flour chucked in (80% hydration), it looked like it was going to be impossible to work with, the other half were given a granary, rye and white flour mix.
I was working with the 80% hydration mix, which to say the least was on the sticky side. However, with a bit of perseverance and a little bit of dough flying across the table and sticking to my fellow students (sorry about that), the dough actually formed beautifully and looked fantastic.
Meanwhile the other half of the class had achieved equally impressive results with their dough. Again, the dough was left to prove and we then went on to make; Round loaves, baguettes (illustrating again that I need to work on my shaping), Ciabatta, Focaccia and Picnic Bread all with lots of direction and help from Angus.
All the way through the course Angus took the time to help each and everyone of us, guiding us when needed and showing us how to improve our techniques, all of which resulted in an amazing pile of gorgeous bread which we hardly made a dent in for our lunch, with the remaining car load taken home by all of the students to no doubt suitably impressed family!
Will the class go back to that floppy supermarket bread? Who knows, but thanks to Angus there is every chance that they'll become as passionate about 'real' bread as he is.
Thanks again Gus!