Bread Ahead Half Day Traditional French Baking Course, Borough Market, 20 May 2016

“What a monumental fougasse, Ged,”…I think that’s what she said

It doesn’t seem like nearly a whole year since DJ, very generously, gave Daisy this birthday present. A couple of half day baking course certificates for the Bread Ahead Bakery School.

Bread Certificate

By the time we got around to thinking about booking something, then realising that the conjunction of the course that we fancy with the dates that we can do and the availability of places on a course that we fancy on a date that we could do…

…you get the picture. So there we were on a sunny Friday in late May, just a few weeks ahead of Daisy’s next birthday, heading for an afternoon of baking in Borough Market.

I had in fact taken the whole day off work, playing a couple of hours of real tennis in the morning. I should have learnt my lesson a few weeks earlier about playing two consecutive hours of that game; that’s a bit more than my body fancies these days and once again the physical fatigue set in a few hours later.

Still, we were in good time getting to Borough, but I forgot to take into account Daisy’s excitement at seeing that sort of foodie market. “We’ll be late for school – we can come back and look at the market after class,” I said. That was a wise suggestion for several reasons, not least because later we would be armed with loads of bread in search of yummy stuff to eat with bread tonight.

Our teacher for the day was none other than Aiden Chapman, a self-confessed dough anarchist and bread revolutionary. This man has a passion for artisanal bread-making and a visceral hatred of the sliced white factory loaf. A little reminiscent of the real ale campaign back in the day; indeed he even uses the term “real bread”.

From what we could gather, Aiden Chapman is one of the architects of the Bread Ahead baking courses but he only occasionally delivers them, although he is the very teacher depicted on the promotional picture we were given with our certificates last year:

Bread Ahead Promo.

We are in a class of 12 to learn traditional French baking. We are to make a campagne loaf, a baguette and fougasse. We start with the campagne loaf, which takes the longest to bake. Mercifully, we are provided with a small chunk of (one day old) mother dough to use as part of our loaves, otherwise it would have needed to be a two day course.

Soon enough we have measured and added the flour, salt, water and yeast to make up the complete dough. Then we kneed the dough. All by hand, of course. At this juncture, my fatigue really kicked in, although I didn’t realise it at first. But while all the others, including Daisy, seemed to be getting exactly the texture and consistency Aiden described, I just seemed to be pushing my messy lump of stuff around the table and getting my hands covered in bread-making ingredients.

“Use the heel of your hand and really stretch that gluten,” said Aiden…

…”try standing up and doing it”…

…”like this,” he said, taking over my bundle of disengaged ingredients and with a few swift movements of his hands bringing it together as something a lot closer to everyone else’s lump of dough.

After I spent a couple more minutes emulating the teacher’s firm movements, while mumbling under my breath to Daisy that I didn’t suppose anyone else in the class had exerted themselves to the tune of two hours on the real tennis court that morning, my lump of dough looked pretty much like everyone else’s, although my hands still looked the most anarchic of the lot. Perhaps I was taking the teacher’s ideas about dough anarchy to new hands-on levels.

Next up, baguette dough for both the baguette and the fougasse. The base or “poolish” for this dough is a much easier consistency than the mother dough for the campagne loaf. Also, I suspect that the learning from the first experience helped greatly with the second. This time, I felt the consistency of my dough change in keeping with Aiden’s timings and the look of my fellow pupils’ dough. “I’m proud of you, Ged,” was one encouraging remark from teacher Aiden. “You are a complete master baker”…at least I think that’s what he said.

Anyway, the second dough was for both the baguette and the fougasse – it had never occurred to me before that these two very different breads could come from the same dough – small differences in how the dough is rested, shaped and treated before baking making all that difference to the final result. So we rested, shaped and baked our baguettes and fougasses after rescuing our campagne loaves from the ovens.

At the end of it all, we had all made three mighty artisanal breads to take a way with us and got to try Aiden’s example of each with some strong-tasting country butter and pesto.

Daisy and I then whisked around Borough Market buying some cheese, charcuterie and fruit before heading off to the pictures with all our foodie possessions.

It was a great fun afternoon.

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