Despite being reasonably handy in the kitchen these days, I wasn’t an avid cook as a child – in fact, I hated Home Economics lessons at school and dropped the subject as soon as I could. Likewise, at home, I didn’t get particularly involved in the cooking (apart from the odd cake baking and decorating session – I think I was more interested in licking the bowl, though) but two over-riding home cooking memories from my childhood are of my Mum making fresh bread every week, from scratch, with ‘proper’ yeast, which was left to prove in the airing cupboard, and of us going to pick fresh fruit (strawberries and damsons particularly come to mind) to make jam in a big preserving pan. The resulting bread and jams were all delicious, but both processes seemed incredibly complicated at the time, and I’ve always been nervous of trying to recreate them in my own kitchen as there seemed an awful lot of potential for things going wrong!
Regular readers may remember a post from a few months back about my delicious sample delivery from the One Mile Bakery. Even though I’m not within the mile (boo!) and therefore can’t be a subscription customer of the One Mile Bakery, it remains one of my favourite Cardiff food businesses, due to its innovative concept and clever marketing, and I’m very pleased that it seems to be going from strength to strength.
As well as deliveries, Elisabeth Mahoney, owner and baker at the One Mile Bakery, also offers classes so that customers (and wannabe customers!) can learn to make their own baked delights, and when she invited me to try one of her classes I jumped at the chance, and chose ‘Bread and Jam’, which immediately sparked nostalgia (see above) and sounded ideal!
All of the classes, like the baking of the bread for Elisabeth’s deliveries, take place in the kitchen of her home – so it’s worth saying straight away that if you’re looking for a typical cookery school experience, with individual work stations, shiny equipment that all matches, and a formal watch-me-and-copy approach, then this won’t be for you. If, however, you want a fun, intimate, informal, hands on experience, where you really feel at home, then it will be just your thing! Classes are limited to four participants, and the one I took part in had only three – so you get to know your fellow classmates quite well by the end of the day, and I was really lucky to be on the course with two very lovely ladies who were part of what made my day so much fun.
Elisabeth starts all of her bread making classes by showing participants a loaf of supermarket sliced bread, in this case a ‘stayfresh’ variety, and going through the long and very unpleasant sounding list of ingredients. Loaves made at the One Mile Bakery have only four basic ingredients – flour, yeast, water and salt. She also encouraged us to try the bread on its own – pointing out that, with bread like that, we mask the flavour and texture by toasting it and covering it in butter and other spreads. So, I was prepared for it to be a bit tasteless, but what I wasn’t prepared for was for it to be downright unpleasant in texture, and particularly in smell – it smelled like vinegar, which is presumably one of the preservatives used to make it stay fresh for longer. Nasty.
During the course, we made four different loaves – a white tin loaf, a white and rye shaped loaf, a rye tin loaf with flavourings of our choice and a seeded spelt loaf – plus a batch of delicious seasonal jam (plum, ginger and lime in this case). The different loaves demonstrate a variety of different techniques and give Elisabeth the chance to explain about using different types of flour and give participants lots of hints and tips to be confident in going home and making their own bread. The really good thing about the course for me was to be able to work with other people who were doing exactly the same thing as me with their yeast and other ingredients, but to see that we all got slightly different results – and to have Elisabeth there to tell us that this is completely normal and they are all fine! At school I can remember being particularly disheartened when a batch of biscuits I was making didn’t turn out like everyone else’s, despite having followed the recipe to the letter. At no point did my teacher tell me that sometimes this happens, and I was convinced I’d done something wrong, or that I was just rubbish at making biscuits! Having someone there who makes bread all the time and can tell you what you’re doing right and wrong makes all the difference! Likewise, with techniques like kneading and shaping the dough, you can’t learn these from a book or even from a TV show, so learning on close to a one to one basis is absolutely ideal. All of the recipes and techniques are written up for participants to take away, and Elisabeth regularly corresponds with previous participants over email and Twitter to give them follow up hints and tips, so there’s no need for any nervousness about flying solo!
As the course I chose runs all day, refreshments were included, and we had toast and jam as a mid-morning snack, and then a lovely lunch prepared by Liz and served in her dining room – in this case one of her homemade soups with a garnish of feta cheese and sundried tomatoes, followed by a delicious quiche with salad, and of course more homemade bread! Accompanied by a glass of wine, this all felt fantastically civilised and I really felt like I was having a fun day out and not actually doing anything that was remotely like learning or hard work!
Towards the end of the day we made our jam, and I have no idea why I ever thought it was so complicated. It was really simple to make something absolutely delicious, and I will definitely be doing this at home.
I came home from my class absolutely buzzing – with four delicious fresh loaves (a week later they are long gone!) and two jars of tasty jam. I feel really confident now to try baking my own bread at home, and although I don’t think I’ll be doing it on a weekly basis like my Mum used to, I’m very keen to make some homemade bread on special occasions or when we have visitors coming. Likewise, I can imagine myself making jam when I spot some nice fruit at the market or if I just fancy trying some different flavour combinations. Even more importantly, I had a fantastic day. I love the informality of the One Mile Bakery. Elisabeth is a very engaging and interesting person, and makes class participants wonderfully welcome in her home (we even met her husband AJ and her cat, Merlin!) and I think I laughed as much as I learned! For busy, working people I can imagine the idea of a day’s hard graft at a cookery school over the weekend might be off-putting, but I came away feeling relaxed and energised and having had great fun, as Elisabeth has a knack of being able to impart loads of information without making you feel as if you’re actually being taught. Elisabeth offers a range of classes, all with a bread theme, including sourdough and bread and soup, and I’d highly recommend them if you have even the slightest interest in learning to bake.
The class I attended is £75 per person, which includes all ingredients, refreshments (including a glass of wine or soft drink at lunch time) and of course you get to take home what you’ve made during the day. I think this is amazing value, considering the small class sizes and the hands on tuition. A lot of the classes run at weekends and there are also some evening sessions on offer.
I have to be really honest and confess that had I not been invited, this isn’t necessarily the sort of thing I’d have signed up for (mainly because I always thought bread making was a bit of a faff and not something I would ever necessarily have the time or inclination to do, even given the expertise), but having been on the course, I’m completely converted and am now planning to book to go back soon with a friend to do another one of the classes as I had so much fun and enjoyed learning so much! I can imagine it to be a really fun day out with a small group of friends or family too. Vouchers are also available and with Christmas on the way would make an ideal gift idea.
I was invited to attend the Bread and Jam class as a guest and as such my day was complimentary. Thank you to Elisabeth Mahoney of the One Mile Bakery for inviting me.