My bakery training did not take place at college. This is a well known fact about me and it is partly what enables me to be a great baker and a great teacher. I have seen a lot and I have been trained by great bakers all over the world. From Cambodia and Canada, where I learned to make French bread at very different temperatures, to Sweden where I learned to master rye bread, scalded doughs, and how to incorporate spices, to Tampa Florida where I learned to bake Cuban bread, and all points in between, I have learned that there are an infinite number of ways to put together bread. The ingredients, temperature, kneading, shaping, and baking techniques all change and it’s good for a baker to see different techniques and to be taught by different bakers. It forces you to leave your ego at the door, to listen and learn, and to include new ideas into your own practice.
We have always said to our students that our courses are a first step into a life time of learning about bread and we work with at least three other baking schools to enable the Bread Angels to continue their training. This makes them better bakers and better teachers. Part of the magic of a course with the Bread Angels is the cosy, friendly and supportive environment of the classes. A big part of this is that the Bread Angels have a lot of experience and, therefore, can welcome people who have never baked as easily as people who have more experience. We all love to learn and it’s fantastic to learn something new in every class.
We had this report about the Bread Angels training day at Panary from Rhiannon Abbott who runs her micro bakery and teaching kitchen, The Epsom Bakehouse, in Epsom.
On a bitterly cold February morning, a dozen or so Bread Angels from across the UK gathered at Cann Mills, Dorset to bake, chat and share all things about great bread. As a collective, the Bread Angels run microbakeries in their communities, baking and selling bread to local customers and/or teaching bread making classes to a wide range of groups. Getting together every so often gives us all a chance to catch up, share experiences and learn some more about bread making.
Our get together was kindly hosted for a second time by Paul Merry at Panary, a small bakery and teaching space attached to Cann Mills. This working watermill is nestled deep in the North Dorset countryside and produces a range of stoneground flours. Paul himself is a laidback Australian who has baked in the UK for over 25 years. His generous teaching style and seemingly endless bread knowledge made for a fascinating day!
We tackled three breads over the course of the day. First up was to mix a pre-ferment (a mixture of flour, water and yeast) for our Chelsea Buns. Then we focused on making a barm dough, made using the foam (or barm) from the top of a fermenting liquid such as beer. The foam contains active yeast, so can be used to rise bread dough, or to start another batch of beer making! Traditionally, the local brewery and bakery would have been closely linked so as to make good use of any leftover barm. Making this dough was also a chance to get to grips with a larger stand mixer that can handle much bigger dough quantities. We also quickly learnt that barm can taste quite bitter!
We then returned to our now foaming pre-ferment. Hand-kneading this time, we made a sweet bun dough and were taught Paul’s ingenious cut and stack method to incorporate the currants. The warm spiced smell of the dough was divine!
Last up was the traditional flatbread barbari, accompanied by Paul’s tales of his youthful travels through Afghanistan and witnessing flatbreads made on traditional, huge tandoor ovens. The basic dough is shaped into long flat pieces that are then ‘docked’ – channels are made the length of the bread using the finger. The channels stop the bread puffing up during baking. Before baking, the barbari are glazed with a paste of flour and water called a roomal.
Over a delicious, much needed lunch of bread and cheese, Paul further discussed using barm yeast to make bread, including how to wash the barm. Watch out soon for a Bread Angel near you making bread using your favourite local tipple! Soon it was time to roll out and cut up our Chelsea buns and shape the barbari. We also had a learning curve with barm when our dough didn’t rise very well! We agreed to take a piece home and see what happened given time. Whilst waiting for the shaped doughs to prove, there was more opportunity to share Bread Angels stories, bread recipes, learn more about each other’s businesses and generally catch up. This chance to share and support is surely one of the best things about being part of the Bread Angels network!
All too soon a busy day came to an end. Dusted with flour and loaded up with warm Chelsea Buns and bags of stoneground flour from the mill, we headed home, another great Bread Angels gathering behind us.
Click here to become a Bread Angel! You will learn how to set up your own micro bakery and teaching kitchen and you will become part of a supportive group of professionals who care very deeply about their craft. We look forward to welcoming you!