Haven’t had too many students so far this year but those I have had have been stars – all enthusiastic and talented. Bella, who did a course a few months back came to Bethesdabakin’@Trefriw in July. Darren came across from Manchester and has been sending photos of his progress (which is rapid) ever since. Couple of weeks ago Grace came all the way from Hampshire to do a Microbakery Course which involves taking part in a real bake for paying customers.
This was quite a big occasion for me. I hadn’t done a biggish bake for at least eight weeks since my knee packed up and I didn’t know how it was going to behave. For the same reason (plus it being holiday season) I didn’t know if there would be any customers left for Grace to bake for. Shouldn’t have worried.
In the event the orders flowed in and we ended up knocking out 43 kilos of dough of various types and sizes. 4 x Campagne, 2 x Wholemeal, 11 x 5 Seed with Spelt, 5 x Simple Danish Rye, 11 x Pain Nicoise, 7 x Apricot & Almond Fougasse, 3 x Texas Tomatillo, 22 x Baguette (+ 1 x 400g Campagne and 1 x 400g Simple Danish – I only bake 800g loaves these days but one long-standing customer still gets the little ones.).
So, not only was it quite a big bake by my current standards; it was also quite complex – the 5 Seed has a soaker; the Simple Danish has a different starter and a totally different time scale; the Pain Nicoise has onions and garlic to be prepped and sautéed, sundried tomatoes to be soaked and chopped along with the figs, olives, herbs; the fougasse has apricots and almonds to be chopped; the Texas Tomatillo has a salsa to be blended and cooked and chiles to be chopped. Oven management was tricky – difficult to optimise oven space with the number of different doughs, shapes and sizes. When you have an oven capacity of ten and two of the doughs are eleven loaves you can feel a little jinxed. On the other hand, it was perfect for demonstrating the complexity of the production process for someone learning about baking for sale from home.
My other fear was the flour. For years I’ve been using Dove’s Bio-bake strong bread flour. Little by little rumours reached me that it contained added ascorbic acid and I should have checked it out before. But with the new labelling regulations the fact is plain to see bang on the front of the sack. So I asked my wholesaler if they could supply Dove’s Tradition which is free of ascorbic acid. You’d have thought that would be a fairly straightforward question for a professional wholesaler and a long-established miller to sort out between them. But no. My supplier came back to say that according to Dove’s the flour I was already getting was Tradition. So why does it have a big label on it saying “Contains Ascorbic Acid”? Phone Dove’s myself – key 4 for technical questions. The poor woman fielding the technical questions could offer nothing more advanced than, if the sack was blue, it must be Tradition. Point out that the Bio-bake sack is also blue … She was not allowed to send me the specification sheets for the flours because I was not buying direct from Dove’s. Anyway, to cut a long story short, they relented and sent the specifications, supplied the wholesaler who supplied me – it just took about four weeks to get some flour. And, despite my fears at having to use it for the first time for a course and customer bake, it performed really well, maybe even better than Bio-bake. Which makes you wonder why they stick ascorbic acid in there in the first place.
Grace was excellent. She picked it up so quickly and I had to point out to her afterwards that she had actually done most of the work. What really annoyed me was the fact that she had done a previous course with a very experienced and eminent baker and come away so de-skilled that she went back to do another course with him because she thought it was her fault she hadn’t understood him. After this she was bought some bread books for presents that were so contradictory she was totally confused.
Anyway, Grace and I spent two days making world-class bread. And, do you know what, there was no pinch of commercial yeast in the doughs and we didn’t use autolyse, folds, baking stones, cloches, dutch ovens, steam, bigas, sponges, preferments, pate fermentee – all those things the experts say you need to bake good bread.
Don’t think it will be too long before Hampshire has a new microbakery.