For as long as I can remember, I’ve harboured fantasies of cooking my own fresh bread in the morning – in my non-existent giant country kitchen – but sadly I’ve never possessed the requisite skills to bring this vision to life. Until I went on a baking course that is.
ABOVE: A few examples of our baking haul - oat-covered soda bread with treacle and white dough buns
I’m not a natural cook but the “Bread Making With Baker Tom” session in Mawgan Porth, Cornwall, attracted me for two reasons. Firstly, it took place in Bedruthan Steps Hotel with breath-taking views of the Atlantic and the option of a few brisk walks to work off all that bread-eating (sorry, bread-making). Secondly it came with a touch of TV glamour, with the dashing Tom Herbert – one half of Channel 4’s The Fabulous Baker Brothers – taking to the helm for two days of bread-making magic.
For those of you who haven’t watched the show, Tom is a fifth generation baker with boundless enthusiasm for all things bread. Even with my complete lack of kitchen expertise, I found myself swept up by his infectious approach and was soon knee-deep feeding a sourdough culture, mixing up what looked like (and probably was) a watery sludge.
ABOVE: Tom spinning a few tricks courtesy of a pizza base
ABOVE: Yep, homemade pizza really does look this good...
You have to be prepared to get your hands dirty with a course like this, although I hadn’t expected it to be quite so much hard work. In my head, I would deftly throw together a couple of croissants before heading to the hotel spa for the rest of the day but in reality it was an intensive, 9-5 session across two of the days, with much time spent sweating in the kitchen and flexing our biceps over kneading dough.
This was no bad thing though – not only was it a great workout, it also felt like we were REAL bakers and I even found myself attending the (optional) 11pm session to shape the sourdough. When you consider this involved breaking off early from Bedruthan’s excellent restaurant The Herring – where delights such as line caught wild sea bass and cinnamon meringues await – you can appreciate it signalled true devotion to the cause.
Above: Stylist's online writer Anna gets stuck in with the sourdough
The other thing that struck me was how versatile bread can be. In the space of two days, we learnt how to bake off some lovely crisp chapattis, spin pizza bases (with surprisingly few casualties), make focaccia with rosemary and olives, rustle up oat-seeded soda bread, create some picturesque fougasse and whip together a mountain-load of ice and Chelsea buns – not to mention the sourdough.
By the end of it the table in the middle of the kitchen was groaning with goodies and it looked like we were about to launch our own impromptu bakery.
Above: Possibly the world's best Chelsea buns
For me, the best bit was discovering that there’s a real sense of enjoyment and wellbeing that comes with the process of baking. If done right it really is an art but even if you can’t do it properly, it’s still fun to fry off chapattis over a gas flame and tease lumps of dough into perfect circles. I would never imagine that making my own fougasse – complete with leaf-shaped holes – would be quite so satisfying, even if it was a bit misshapen and lumpy compared to what you get in the shops. And I loved the whole ritual of scattering raisins over freshly buttered dough to make the Chelsea buns.
Overall, I think I’m a bit of a bread-making convert and can understand why Tom is so fired up about it. I was even a bit gutted when our marathon baking session came to a close at the end of the second day, but at least it paved the way for that long-awaited trip to the hotel spa – with a few Chelsea buns in tow, naturally.
Words: Anna Brech