French Baking Course at the School of Artisan Food

Sunday just gone Adam and I attended a day long course at The School of Artisan Food at the Welbeck Estate. I bought the course as a gift for Adam and cheekily asked if I could come along too to cover it on the blog. I am so glad I did; not only was it a long overdue day to ourselves without the kids (thanks Mum for having them!) but I learned a lot too. And not just stuff that I will never use – I genuinely will utilise my new found knowledge and skills – who knew it was not just possible but actually quite easy to make delicacies like French Baguette, Brioche and Pain de Campagne? Well, it is! Plus I got some excellent bread making tips in general.

It’s my second course here at the School, the first was a food photography one, and Adam has also attended a cider making course too. They offer professional level type diplomas but also day courses for the hobbyist.

The school is situated in rural Notts, on the Welbeck Estate which is just stunning. I keep meaning to go and visit the gallery and cafe there too. It’s a beautiful location. The course started at 10am but we were told to get there for 9.30am. It’s a very relaxed feel, with tea, coffee and homemade pastries and bread available in the morning. The course attracts a wide variety of people from different backgrounds, careers, and ages. I always really like the people I meet on these things; there is a lot to be said for people who love their food I think. This lot had come from Cyprus, Glasgow, Berkshire and many more from close by, like us.

After an intro by Emmanuel, the course leader, himself a master baker who has written 3 books on the subject, and by the School’s course assistant, David, an ex lawyer turned baking enthusiast and himself a graduate of the school, we all said hello and shared to the group why we were there. (Always hate introducing myself but it is nice to get to know everyone’s reason for being there.) Then it was time to crack on. As you can imagine, with 3 different bakes each to get through and 14 amateurs all needing help and assistance, time is of the essence. So we moved at a brisk pace but it was also relaxed too. Just right I’d say.

Ingredients for all three bakes were measured out by us all in groups and popped into bowls. We did this en masse as a group activity (one group measuring the 14 baguette mixes, one the brioche etc) I did wonder why this was but I think it’s simply efficiency. The ‘poolish’ (kind of like a sourdough starter) for the two bakes that required it had been made the night before for each of us.

Then we went up to the front demo area and Emmanuel would show us how to mix and fold (all in the bowl, nothing came out of there!) and then we would go to our benches and try to emulate what he had just done – we did this several times for each one, so it’s really a very step by step hand holding process – even the most non skilled amateur could do this. He made it look so easy but when you tried to emulate what he was doing you realised his level of skill and experience was second to none.

It may come as a surprise that there was NO KNEADING on this course. You simply folded the wet and sticky dough then turned the bowl, repeating this about 10 times. Then left it for a few minutes whilst we went up to the bench, then repeated. After a certain number of times (mini proves) doing this for each one, the doughs were then left for a longer prove and then shaped (lots of fun but eminently doable, especially the baguettes). Our goodies were left to have a final prove in ‘proving ovens’ for an hour. (Emanuel says to do this at home in a very low oven, like 50c) – and then it was lunchtime. About time as I was starving!

Roast beef and Yorkshire puddings with lots of lovely veg (amazing roasties, broc and cauli cheese, root veg mash, stir fried cabbage) was on the menu (veggie options also available), followed by amazing local cheese with homemade sourdough. It was really, really, REALLY good. A real highlight of visiting the School is their food; I remembered that from last time. You will be fed well, no matter what course you do!

I could’ve done with a lie down after all that but there was more work to be done. We slashed our baguettes and pan de campagne, and glazed / sugar-topped our brioche then popped them in huge ovens and chatted with mugs of tea whilst we waited for the results.

We were all so pleased! Not one disaster, far from it – everyone had great success. After saying bye to everyone and thanks the the two course tutors, plus a quick snap for Instagram, we left at 5pm.

We didn’t get a chance to taste till we got home, but within minutes of stepping through the door one brioche had been devoured with jam on, and the baguettes with Camembert left from Christmas were hoovered up by Adam and me! I paid my mum in bread for babysitting, which felt appropriate. It was a very tiring day, what with being on your feet the whole time and taking in lots of information – but we both really enjoyed it. I highly recommend trying a course at the school.

I will be sharing the baguette recipe and how to on my YouTube channel soon too so watch out for that!

Oh those tips before I forget! There are two types of dried yeast: active and quick. Active dried yeast MUST be activated in warm water or milk or it won’t work. Also, most commercial dried yeasts you have to use more than the recipe states to get a result – up to 3 times as much (this is why my bread maker is failing to make god bread I think). Lastly, BUY A BREAD SCRAPER. They are basically everything when it comes to baking bread. We had one but didn’t fully appreciate how useful they are.

Here’s the gang from our brilliant day!

 

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