A couple of weekends ago we spent two nights at the Artisan Bakery School in Devon. It was a weekend of relaxing, eating and conversation, but we were there primarily for one thing: the bread.
I’ve dabbled in bread baking a little over the last couple of years, able to follow a recipe but generally just in faith that it would work out rather than any real certainty of what I was doing. I needed stronger foundations from which to learn and experiment. This weekend was a chance to be immersed in the world of bread-making, steered ably by the knowledgeable and relaxed Dragan and Penny.
Two days and ten bread doughs later, I was struck by a number of things:
It was about a return to roots. Penny and Dragan are passionate about real bread made with simple, good ingredients. No unnecessary preservatives. A return to heritage grains and traditional techniques. Teaching what would once have been necessary life skills to generations raised on the supermarket sliced loaf. It is always inspiring to hear from people who are passionate about their craft.
It was good to be a student again. I love learning. I’m fortunate that the research aspect of my job can both fuel and feed my curiosity, but it was really enjoyable to start the weekend a novice at something and to see progress. It’s certainly wet my appetite for more. Dragan and Penny’s love of bread extends from the tastes and textures to its history too. I left with not just armfuls of loaves, but with additions to my reading list too.
It was about getting hands on. The infrastructure of my life is dominated by screens – at work and too often at home, where I am often shadowed by my iPad, pumping out nordic noir tv dramas or West Wing Weekly podcasts as I potter in the kitchen or catch up on emails. It felt very healthy to have a screen-reduced weekend, and to focus on the work of my hands as they rocked and rolled the bread (a new-to-me kneading method. Dragon has handily made a tutorial here). A rest for my eyes and a gentle workout for my hands.
It was a time to tell stories. Staying in their cottage for the weekend gave us the opportunity to just swap tales with our hosts over a delicious three-course meal. This time to laugh and explore ideas together makes the weekend much more than a course.
It was about more than a weekend. Dragan and Penny’s aim is that the weekend is not just about ticking off a few recipes but about increasing your fundamental understanding of bread. Those foundations have given me the confidence to give any recipe a go and, having been told that one in ten loaves goes wrong, I feel much more relaxed about any mishaps. There’s always another day and another dough. In fact, hopefully after that two days and ten doughs, there’ll be plenty of more of them.
There aren’t ten types of bread in this picture because we ate the pizza for lunch. And yes, it was delicious.
Today’s soundtrack: Patrick Watson // Adventures in your own backyard