River Cottage Adventure – part 2

Sunday morning we awoke still full from the Valentine Feast and headed into Lyme Regis. Okay that is a slight lie we originally went somewhere else, but it was so dire we headed back to Lyme Regis.

After eating the essential fish & chips along the sea front, while dodging nose-diving seagulls, we decided to find The Town Mill Bakery where our Bread Making course would start on the Monday. Well what a gem. With two long benches and feel-good music pumping from the stereo we picked up a slab of wood and helped ourselves to the glorious cakes; cups of tea were then served at the table. Their brownies are one of the best I’ve ever tasted. I could have happily spent all day here drinking, eating and reading the cookbooks that adorn the bookshelves. If I was to run a bakery it would be exactly like this.

For the last 2 nights of our trip we stayed at Hedgehog Corner, a B&B just down the road from RCHQ. Joy, the owner of the B&B, was a fantastic host and had thought of everything down to the salt & vinegar for your fish and chips to the torch and high-vis jacket for the walk to the pub. She also cooked a great breakfast and is very passionate about where the ingredients come from. More or less all of the ingredients were locally sourced. I can highly recommend her muesli.

Monday morning we were back to Lyme Regis for 8.30 start at Town Mill Bakery. As we arrived we were met by Steve Lamb who recognised Hubby from Pig in a Day. In total there were 18 of us on the course and while waiting for everyone to arrived we tucked into tea and toast.

The first part of the course was with Aidan Chapman, passionate Master Baker who let us in to some of his baking secrets and the philosophy behind bread making. I found him incredibly inspiring. He also explained the the Chorleywood Process and how supermarket bread is by no means “real” bread. He then demonstrated the sponge & dough method where less yeast and salt used. He also uses wheatgerm in the majority of his bread for depth of flavour and texture. We then had a small masterclass on kneading 1 handed (so you can do 2 loaves at a time) & shaping bread. It took me a while to master the technique but by the afternoon I had it down to a fine are, Hubby was certainly the teacher’s pet when it came to this! Aidan also explained how steam and how you slash the bread and significantly change a loaf. The longer and cleaner the slash the better. When putting my loaf into the giant industrial oven I was a bit over enthusiastic and sent my loaf straight to the back of the oven. I needed a bit of help to get it back out again! After our loaves were baked we headed in car convoy to RCHQ for the second half of the course. This was also to allow The Town Mill Bakery to open for customers.

The next part of the course was being lead by Dan Stevens, who had been head chef at the Valentine Feast. The afternoon started with us making our own bread dough. Like usual I made an absolute mess, but in turn produced great bread dough. Dan showed us another method of kneading. We left the dough to rise while Dan explained different doughs and demonstrated how 1 basic dough mix could make lots of different types of bread including flat breads, foccacia and English muffins. The flat breads he made were divine with the beetroot hummus. I could have easily swiped it all up and sat in a corner eating it. Interestingly he said the bread he couldn’t master was naan bread. He concluded that the only way you can get naan bread as delicious as from the takeaway was to have a tandoori oven. What was interesting was that both Aidan & Dan recommended stones for cooking your bread on as it keeps it’s heat the best.

Before lunch we all prepared a foccacia from the dough Dan had prepared earlier then set about making some pizzas for lunch. Then cooked them in the woodfired oven. The weather was so glorious we did this part of the day outside. The oven was so hot they cooked in less than 90 seconds and tasted so good. To accompany the pizza we also had some ham & purple sprouting broccoli gratin.

After lunch Dan explained the theory behind sourdough and how to make our own. I’m very intrigued by this bread and am planning to start a “mother” this weekend. While our final loaf was baking in the woodfired oven we wondered around the grounds. How I would love to own somewhere like River Cottage. We eventually left with 6 loaves of bread we had cooked between the 2 of us. Thank goodness for freezers!

I’m very thankful for Hubby taking me away to River Cottage to not only experience the Valentine Feast but to learn so much on the bread course. I picked up so many tips and hope I can implement them into my baking. In turn I should produce even better bread. It has made me think completely differently about how I bake. What I did notice on the course that I was probably one of the more experienced in baking there and saying that I still think I have a great deal to learn. I put it down to my food geekyness! The course certainly wasn’t for bread beginners but keen home bakers and was the perfect way for expanding my knowledge. I would love to return for another course.