My mother once worked in a French boulangerie, much to the delight of my chocolate croissant loving siblings and I. On a daily basis she faced baskets of baguettes, the inevitable dusting of flour on her clothes, and the company of the burly fowl-mouthed Frenchman who baked. In turn, our childhood was rich with French breads and pastries that were always the envy of all our classmates. Those cautious calorie counters will say you can have too much of a good thing, but I don’t think we ever got sick of having the boulangerie delivery service!
Those days are long gone but the simple ham and cheese croissant for lunch or pain au raisin for afternoon tea will always be close to my heart, and stomach if I can help it. I’d love to relive this perk of my childhood and have it on my doorstep but the reality is the nearest Sainsbury’s is two minutes away while the nearest artisan bakery is twenty. While convenience wins out a lot of the time, I do like the thought of spending quality time and ingredients and making my own bread, especially considering how much of it we eat. But therein lies my problem. I am not a bread baker, I don’t even know that much about bread. I make biscuits, I make cakes but I can only seem to make bread rocks, not rolls.
So that was the challenge- could I produce a bread product that was actually edible, and dare I say good for something other than scaring squirrels out of our garden? Probably not on my own but with the help of artisan baker Emmanuel Hadjiandreou I thought I’d have a fighting chance. Emmanuel is knowledgeable, passionate and most importantly for my purposes, he is a good teacher. His instructions were clear and I liked the pace of the class- we didn’t move too quickly and leave anyone behind but equally there were no awkward lulls, and I never felt stupid asking a question, no matter how obvious it might have been.
When I heard the class was around five hours, I was worried. I know bread takes some time but I’m the first to admit my attention span diminishes easily. In truth, the day just flew by; we started by making the brioche dough, then while that was proving moved onto the dough for the baguettes and fougasse, then switched our attention back to the brioche and so on. We also chatted about gluten and grains, talked about types of flours, kneading techniques and had a delicious lunch somewhere amongst it all.
These classes are exceptionally well run; I like the intimate class sizes of six to eight people, I like how well set up the Baking Lab is and I really like how organised they are. While Emmanuel was teaching us the ins and outs of French bread making, Amy and her lovely assistant were washing up bowls and scrapers and generally trying to keep us clean and tidy which is not the easiest of tasks when flour is involved.
By the end of the afternoon I was rather pleased with myself; I learnt some new techniques, had a lot of fun and left with some freshly baked bread, all made by me. Yes me, the former bread-rock baker. This revelation should be recommendation enough!
Bake with Maria offer a range of classes so there’s something for every baking taste. If you’ve already mastered the art of French bread, try your hand at something new; some in our group had already learnt about Italian bread and wanted to expand their repertoire. Or you could challenge someone else- some of the enthusiastic foodies in the Lab had been gifted the class, and by the looks of things, it was a present well received!
Yes friends, that was a hint… my French pastry skills could do with some help and my birthday really isn’t that far away… or you could go yourself and just send me a cake afterwards!
All of the Bake with Maria classes can be found here and you can find the Baking Lab on the 2nd Floor 81 Loundoun Road, NW8 0DQ London, phone: 0207 998 1634, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I gained my new French bread skills as a guest of Bake with Maria but as always, all opinions are my own.