Week 21 – To market

This week was, in one word, extreme. It culminated in the bakers attending a farmers market at Harper-Adams university with a van full of our own bread. Students from the other disciplines were also there but, due to timing issues, they weren’t selling their own products. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were spent planning, preparing, test baking and baking before the big day on Sunday. We ended up with 25 different products to sell at the market and I’m very happy to report that everything sold evenly and we only had a small amount left over. Our customers were very keen to buy real bread and were genuinely disappointed when they learnt that we were students from a school three hours drive away from the market and that our bread stall was a once-off.

We split the rather large baking group into two, to best manage our resources. Matt, Lindsay, Sally and I manned the stall on Sunday while everyone else baked the bread the previous evening. There was a bit of overlap, with Matt also helping in the bake shift and me coming in for a few hours to bake my chocolate hot cross buns. I really enjoyed working on the stall, telling people about our bread and listening to their feedback. It was a much more rewarding experience than selling pancakes at the previous market.

Earlier in the week we were visited by Paolo Feroleto who led us through some brainstorming exercises and helped us develop business name and branding ideas. I found it extremely helpful to be prompted to think about these things and, while it was only for an hour or so, it was good to get some of my ideas down on paper. Paolo has written a bit of a report on the day, which you can read for yourself right here.

Week 20 – Freestylin’

Week 20 just might have to go down in the history books as the best week ever (so far). The three reasons for this are:

  1. We made some great items in patisserie.
  2. We had three days in the bakery to develop three of our very own products.
  3. I rode really quickly on a bike.

That’s all there is to it. Really. But if you require more information then continue reading.

The highlight of Monday, while not school-related, was trying out Martha’s newly-acquired Bar-let portable typewriter. To be honest I am just a bit jealous of her mechanical writing machine. It was made in Nottingham in the 1930s but still works perfectly today. I thought that using a typewriter would be just like typing on a computer that has a piece of paper instead of a screen, but it is very different. The force required to push the keys, the noise it makes, the permanence of the print and the way you can set margins and spacing by adjusting levers and shifting guides turns the process into something magical. Needless to say, I am now on the lookout for a typewriter to call my own.

Otto Thissen was our tutor for patisserie on Tuesday and he did a brilliant job at teaching us a range of products. We whipped up apple strudel with creme anglaise, cherry streusel, sacher torte and tiramisu. I think that list may be the widest variety of items we have ever made on a patisserie day, and yet the class felt very controlled and calm.

On Wednesday we were told that the following three days would be all ours to develop three of our own products – with a few provisos. The first product had to contain sourdough and be fermented for over 12 hours. The second product had to contain butter, milk, eggs or combinations thereof. The final product had to be a traditional baguette, so we didn’t have too much room to experiment with that.

For my first product I decided to take the basic Tartine dough, which is one of my favourite sourdoughs, and add quinoa grains and bulgur wheat – two San Francisco-ish, kind of cool ingredients. My hope was that this bread would a tasty sourdough with the added appeal and health benefits of quinoa. The result was exactly that. The bread had lost a lot of its usual open texture due to the addition of the grains, which is to be expected, but it was also very moist and creamy. I’ve since discovered that this moistness helps the bread last and continue to taste fresh for a few days. Handy!

With my second product I planned to make something that would be sellable at the upcoming farmers market. I figured that with easter not being too far away, a hot cross bun of some sort might be appropriate. I’ve always rejected the idea of chocolate hot cross buns as being untraditional and a bit of a bastardisation of a delicious product, but I put these feelings to one side and had a go at creating my own recipe. I ditched the dried fruit and orange peel and added in a massive amount of dark chocolate and cocoa. For an added twist I topped the buns with a marshmallow cross. This was my first attempt at making real marshmallow and it turned out to be quite a tricky thing to get just right. Over the course of the three days the buns were downsized to little balls due to the richness of the chocolate and buttery dough. By Friday I was very happy with the chocolate dough and reasonably confident in making marshmallow. I’m glad to say that the chocolate balls will be appearing at the Harper Adams Farmers Market this Sunday March 11. Come and buy one if you’re in the area!

There’s not a whole lot to say about my traditional baguettes, except that after making them repeatedly for the past few weeks I am getting better at it. They are, in theory, a very simple product but there is something about them that makes them very tricky to get right. Many elements need to combine perfectly to produce the perfect result. If even one component isn’t quite right it will be reflected in the final baguette. I’m a long way off baguette perfection but at least I’m learning what those important elements are.

That brings me to the third point on my list – fast bike riding. Like the typewriter, this has nothing to do with school, but it did have a big impact on my week. A few of us travelled to Sheffield on Tuesday night to watch and compete in the Rollapaluza roller-racing qualification round. We went with the intention of having a fun night out, having one or two spins on a bike then watching everyone else battle it out. That’s sort of how it panned out, except I managed to get myself all the way to the final and ended up coming second. This came as a bit of a surprise and now means that I have been invited to the national final in London over easter. For a full report on the night you can read my post over at the Bolsover Cycling Club site. I’m using this invitation as a good excuse to get back to London and to revisit some of my favourite bakeries as well as check out some of the others that I missed last time.

Week 19 – Bread party

Week 19 was a week of excesses. First up we had Pancake Tuesday. Matt, a fellow pancake-flipper, needed very little convincing that having everyone over to my place on Tuesday morning for pancakes was a good idea. I got everything prepared well in advance – the batter and a wide range of sweet toppings were all ready to go at 8:00. Matt rolled up, fired up three frying pans simultaneously and soon had stacks of pancakes piling up. In no time the smell of fresh pancakes had lured all of the Creswell students, plus a few out-of-towners, to my living room. I didn’t count exactly how many pancakes were made that day but I made enough batter for roughly 50 (10 of which I ate for dinner that evening).

The second excess was to come a short while later that day. For our morning lecture we had cheese grader Bruce MacDonald talk to us about cheeses and give us many varieties of cheese to taste. We all left that lecture feeling a little bloated – particularly Luke who seemed to down an entire plate of brie at one point.

The following three days were a blur of inclusion-infused breads. Our theme for this week was “Bread with stuff in it” and that’s exactly what we did. We made bread with sweet potato, bread with apple, bread with prunes and hazelnuts, bread with olives and gruyere, bread with potato and onion and bread with seeds in it. All of these breads were made in reasonably large batches so by the end of the week we were overwhelmed with flavoured breads. We took home as much as we could and gave the rest away to other students and staff at the school, then began planning for next week – where we will be given three days to develop our own products from scratch.

Week 18 – Hyper hydration

This week was all about wet doughs – how to mix them, handle them, shape them and bake them. The breads we made fell into two categories – those that were wet because they were made from flours that would not develop gluten and those which we wanted to be filled with air pockets. In both of these cases, making a wet dough leads to more a more airy loaf.

We made a range of rye, barley and pumpernickel breads which were behaved a lot like cake batters. There was no kneading involved and we simply poured them into bread tins, let them proof and baked them. The results were what you would expect of full rye loaves – heavy, rich and moist with a long shelf-life. They are not something I could eat a lot of but they definitely have their place.

The other products we made were semolina bread and ciabatta. We developed both of these doughs through folding them in tubs and letting them rest. The strength that the dough gained through these folds was very noticeable

At the end of the week Freestyle Friday rolled around once more. This time we were to create our own version of both types of wet dough. I decided to try a double-hydration ciabatta and a cacao and walnut rye. Double-hydration is a mixing technique for wet doughs where you hold back about thirty percent of the water and mix up a drier dough. Once this is developed you add the remaining water and continue mixing. While the bread turned out fine I’m not sure what effect the double hydration actually had on it. I may need to do more investigating. Meanwhile, my walnut and cacao rye turned out really well. I was very happy with how the bitterness of the cacao paired up with the rye bread.

Earlier in the week we had a patisserie lesson with a new tutor and made some great products. From genoise sponge and choux pastry we made swiss rolls, paris-brest, profiteroles and eclairs. Some people even made mousses and turned their swiss rolls into serious desserts. It was very impressive stuff.

Week 17 – Baguettes redux

There’s more than one way to make a baguette – none of which guarantee a perfect result – which is why the baguette madness continued this week as we mixed, fermented, divided, carefully preshaped and meticulously shaped hundreds and hundreds of the things. Much like last week – some of my baguettes turned out well, while some of the others looked quite sad. Baguettes are something that I want to get reasonably good at it, so I’m going to stick to it and keep working on my technique.

Alongside the baguettes we made some more pain de campagne as well as some focaccia. The highlight of the week was freestyle Friday, where we were allowed to develop our own flavour of focaccia. I had conveniently decided to bring in a jar of Speculoos Spread that I had bought in France over Christmas. I hadn’t intended to use it in a bread product, but when it came time for me to tell the class my planned focaccia recipe I blurted out “speculoos spread” and that was that. I also made an apricot and almond focaccia alongside the speculoos bread, just in case it didn’t go to plan. I’m pleased to report that both focaccias were edible and actually tasted quite good. It’s so much fun being let loose in the bakery. I’m amazed at the huge range of products and flavours that come out of the group and always look forward to sitting down at the end of the day to try everyone’s creations.

Week 16 – Autolazy

Returning to school after being in London deals quite a shock to the system. It is hard to believe that intense London and lazy Welbeck can exist on the same planet, let alone in the same country. It does make you think deeply about how applicable what we are learning is to the real world. Seeing everyone in London just get on with it and make their businesses work leaves me more keen than ever to do my own thing. Hiding away at a food school on an estate in the middle of nowhere, as pretty as it is, sometimes doesn’t seem like the wisest use of my time and money. Then I think back to when I first made the decision to move from Australia to all the way over here. I knew back then that this wasn’t going to be a “smart” thing to do by most logical measures, but that it would be an engrossing and rewarding experience. I can’t deny that this continues to be the case and so I won’t be running away to start my own bakery just yet. Not until I’ve finished here.

First up this week was social media consultant Kenneth Hill. His talk reinforced my thoughts on how important social media is in building a small business and was a stark contrast to the very negative portrayal of social media I witnessed at the Bakery Australia Expo. He showed off some very useful tools and made some suggestions on how to integrate social media with your business. It’s safe to say that when I do open my own business it will be fully broadcast on Instagram!

Monday also saw the start of a new component – Food Quality. This is mostly taught by Martin Anderson, a man whose head is full of chicken facts. He told us that there are currently more chickens on earth than there have ever been humans. Amazing!

In patisserie this week Yannick showed us how to make sponge fingers and raspberry mousse, which we then combined into a dessert. Following that we made some turkish delight that was so pumped full of gelatine that it reminded me of Flubber.

We returned to the bakery on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday with an increased confidence. All of us had learnt a lot during our placement weeks and it showed. Everyone is faster, neater and had many stories to tell about their two weeks. There was a broad range of experiences – from tiny bakeries operating crazy hours all the way up to factories pumping out thousands of low-quality, quickly-produced breads. This week we learnt about autolyse – a method we had seen previously when Loic visited us from Lesaffre. This is a technique where you combine only the flour and water components of a bread recipe and let them sit for an hour or so. It sounds simple but the amount of work this little rest achieves is amazing. After an hour you add in the rest of your ingredients, mix for a short period and your dough is ready to go. Doing this saves on manual mixing time and means you can even manage to mix up big doughs without the use of a mixer. Maybe not something you’d really want to do, but it’s nice to know you can. We tested out this method on a range of baguette doughs and some pain de campagne and all turned out very well – apart from the whole load of baguettes I managed to mangle as I loaded into the oven.

At the end of the week we invited the dairy students up to the bakery for scones and jam. Catherine and I made some soda bread, from Emmanuel’s recipe, and the diary students provided fresh cream. It was a lovely way to end the week.

Week 15 – London part two

I moved into the bakery for my second week of work placement in London and helped out with the bread production. Unfortunately January is a quiet time for bakers it seems and there wasn’t a whole lot happening. During my week there we made a good range of breads – most of which were sourdough with a bit of yeast thrown in for good measure. I would have to say that the ciabatta was the standout. It was a dream to work with the dough, even though it was very wet, and the baked loaves looked great.

I tried to ask as many questions as I could, but it’s hard to not turn into a robot in this factory-like environment and simply do what you’re asked. I think my previous few months’ work experience in Melbourne bakeries has helped me get a sense of what to look for in a bakery environment. I’ve now seen a few different ways of managing bread production, which does make it easier to get up to speed in a new bakery. A big thank you to The Artisan Bakery for looking after me for the past two weeks. They have a great group of people working there, the hours are very reasonable and the products they make are very good. What more could you ask for?

Of course another week in London meant another week of bakery visits. I tried to cram as much as I could around my work hours and in one mad morning I managed to visit Bea’s of Bloomsbury, Primrose Bakery and Yumchaa – a good effort I think. On my final morning I got up ridiculously early and headed to Soho to have breakfast at Princi. The early morning was completely worth it. The bakery is stunningly beautiful and presented baked goods with a style I never thought was possible. I had an amazing hazelnut bread with Nutella for breakfast, which really hit the spot.

Despite all the running around there are still many places on my London list that I am yet to visit. I hope to get back there soon.

Week 14 – London part one

As part of the course requirements at The School of Artisan Food every diploma student carries out three work placements during the year. The first of these two-week placements started this week and I was lucky enough to be sent to London. After a somewhat torturous train journey involving an impromptu stop at Leicester, a two-hour wait for a bus and then another train from Bedford I finally made it to London – a full eight hours after leaving Creswell.

On Sunday I went for a reconnaissance run past my hosts, The Artisan Bakery, to see what I had got myself into. As it turns out this isn’t the greatest location to be running in. The area is light-industrial with many large food manufacturing companies in the neighbourhood. Google Maps says there is a recycling plant very close by, but to be honest I haven’t been able to spot it or even smell it. There is also a canal that runs from near the bakery right to where I am staying, but it is not a very pleasant place to be. Compared to some of the amazingly picturesque places my classmates have been sent to this seems to fall well short – but I have to remind myself that I’m working in London and that it is what’s inside that counts. It is lucky then, that the produce that comes out of this wholesale bakery is brilliant.

The size of The Artisan Bakery dwarfs any other bakery I have seen and a five-deck oven, normally the centrepiece of a bakery, seems to hide in the corner of the space. Work is divided quite traditionally into bread, patisserie and veniosserie. I spent this week in the patisserie kitchen and tried my hand at making almond cream, pistachio cream, creme patisserie, apricot and pistachio tarts, pear tarts and piles and piles of muffins. I learnt a lot about patisserie production techniques in a bakery of this size and the of quantity of mixes that are required. I also poked my head into the bakery a few times to see what is in store for me next week, when I help out with the bread shifts. I’m looking forward to it!

While I have tried to make sure that this trip doesn’t turn into too much of a holiday, I have taken the opportunity to sample some of the bakeries, restaurants and markets that London has to offer. I’ve lost track of all the places I have visited but the highlights, in no particular order, include The Hummingbird BakeryOttolenghi, Maltby Street, Borough Market, Pitfield, Foxcroft & Ginger, E5 Bakehouse, Maison Blanc, Gail’s Bread, Brick Lane, Sunday Up Market, St John Bakery, Bea’s of Bloomsbury and Yumchaa. Phew!

Week 13 – Term two begins

After three well-deserved weeks of Christmas and New Years holidays, everyone returned to school looking refreshed and ready for the new term. The week got off to a somewhat stressful start with a Food Science and Safety exam on Tuesday afternoon. I had lugged my rather large McGee on Food & Cooking book all over Germany, The Netherlands and France during the break so that I could study for this exam, but I’m not too sure if merely having it in my suitcase did me any good. I was a bit too busy eating three days of Christmas meals in Germany and sampling deep-fried baked goods in Holland to give poor McGee much attention.

With the exam out of the way we hit the kitchen for three days of creative baking. On Wednesday we were given the task of creating a hot cross bun/fruit loaf using whatever recipe we wanted. The aim was to develop our individual take the fruit loaf and with everyone fresh from the holidays and full of bright ideas there was no shortage of inventive breads. I used the hot cross bun recipe we had baked in class last term, but substituted the water with stout and tea (as seen in Dan Lepard’s recipe). The result was a rich loaf with sultanas and currants that burst with beery goodness.

On Thursday and Friday we were left to our own devices to develop one sweet bread and one sourdough bread. My plan was to make an almond, apricot and marzipan bread based on the stollen we made last term and a wholemeal multi-grain sourdough using the starter I had nurtured at home. Things went reasonably smoothly on Thursday and both breads turned out quite well. I made a few adjustments to the recipes and processes on Friday and made them both again, along with a failed experiment in making a sourdough barbecue bread like I had made previously back in Australia.

I really enjoyed these three days in the bakery and I think it’s one of the best aspects about being at the school. We were given a generous amount of freedom and the school was very accommodating with requests for strange ingredients. Not only did I learn through was I was making, but I also learnt a whole lot more from watching what other people were doing with their creations.

Week 12 – Crunchy baguette ends

I know it’s predictable to hear me say this, but I honestly can’t believe that term one is over already. I’m currently sat on a train weaving its way south to London with Paris as my final destination. It feels like it was only last week that I was visiting my sister there – completely oblivious to what The School of Artisan Food had in store for me. Well that wasn’t last week. It was twelve weeks ago. And everything you read in this, the previous eleven posts and much, much more is what happened during that time.

Aside from another couple of birthdays and a Christmas lunch, our final week of term was much like any other. It started with business as usual then a recap of everything we’ve learnt in Food Science and Safety. The revision had an oddly calming effect. It turns out I’ve managed to remember more of the course than I expected. Even so, I will have to do a bit of reading over the break to be ready for the exam we have during the first week back.

We were given the opportunity to learn in the Welbeck Bakery for our patisserie lesson on Tuesday. The small group collected around the huge communal wooden bench as we hand-mixed and rolled puff and croissant pastry. The lesson was calm and, in a way, therapeutic. By the end of the day we had produced a large pile of croissants and pain au chocolate, as well as a tray of delicious palmiers. The products we baked today were definitely worthy of being sold. Quite a contrast to the odd-looking cakes I’ve dished up during previous patisserie attempts.

Wednesday was Martha’s birthday, so I repaid the sweet favour she did for me and whipped up a birthday Nutella cheesecake with Jill. After we’d stuffed ourselves full of cake, we had a lesson in baguette baking with Wayne. He is a little bit obsessed with baguettes and is very keen to pass on tips and tricks. My baguettes were looking great – until I loaded them into the oven, got the peel caught on the side of the door and turned them all into Dali-esque melted and bent shapes. I’m hoping we will make baguettes a few more times and that I won’t repeat this mistake again. We also made a lovely Pain au Levain and some Semolina Scrolls, which I successfully managed to avoid messing up.

Thursday was Christmas lunch day and the school was buzzing. Claire brought a keg of Henrietta up to the lunch room and the ladies in the kitchen had been busy since dawn – filling all of the bakery’s ovens with turkeys and vegetables. When lunchtime rolled around we were greated with a magnificent spread. We all filled our plates and ate ourselves sick. The drinking of the beer wasn’t as festive as it could have been. The butchers had to handle knives after lunch, the bakers had hot ovens to contend with and the dairy-folk had a very important exam the next day. After lunch we baked off Gruyère bread, roast garlic bread and hazelnut and chocolate bread then put on a little display of our wares. It was incredibly impressive to see what we had made and how far we had come in a three short months. A few people commented that you wouldn’t see bread this good in most bakeries – and it’s kind of sad to say that’s true!

By the time Friday rolled around most of us were feeling a bit worn out. The jam-packed term, the two reports due that day and the planning of what to do for the next three weeks off made everything a bit fuzzy. On the to-do list we had five-grain bread, hazelnut and rye bread and caraway and rye bread. We, once again, produced some amazing bread, even though some of us got a bit sidetracked along the way and made a menagerie from play-dough.

The bread came out of the oven quite early, giving us plenty of time to visit the butchery students and see what goodies they had for sale at their pop-up meat shop. Then, after exchanging a few festive wishes, we slipped away quietly. A fittingly subdued end to an intense first term at the school – as we know full well there is plenty more to come.