Nicky Sherwood heads to The Lighthouse Bakery School (listed in our directory here) in East Sussex and learns how to make traditional British artisan bread. Join us to learn British breadmaking techniques in an exhilarating hands-on day of baking.
The Lighthouse Bakery is a busy bakery school and small wholesale bakery, run by Rachel and Elizabeth, set in the beautiful East Sussex countryside. As well as supplying artisan bread to a variety of local cafes, delis and restaurants, they also offer an exciting range of hands-on baking courses, designed to inspire even the most inexperienced would-be bakers to have a go at making bread from scratch at home.
Having never made bread from scratch before, I definitely fell into the novice baker category and was slightly alarmed when confronted with the list of processes that go into making handmade bread, as well as the sheer number of different breads that we would be attempting to make in one day. But experienced bakers Liz and Rachel reassured my fellow would-be bakers and I that we would be guided through every process and were confident that we’d be leaving the bakery that afternoon with a total of seven different varieties of handmade artisan British bread: from white rolls, a classic bloomer and a wholemeal loaf, to a batch of English muffins, Yorkshire teacakes, Chelsea buns and a traditional Welsh fruit bread called Barra Brith…. so we were certainly going to have our work cut out!
Crusty White Rolls
After an explanation of the breadmaking process, our first task was to create a baker’s dozen of crusty white rolls to be enjoyed later with our ploughman’s lunch. Following the recipe sheets that we’d been given, we made up the white bread dough and were shown how to knead and form the rolls.
It took a bit getting used to, but we soon got into the rhythm of kneading and folding, and before long our thirteen rolls were arranged on a baking tray and placed in an electric prover for 20 minutes so that the dough could rise.
Once out of the prover, the rolls were noticeably larger with a spongier texture as the fresh yeasts did their job in the gentle warmth of the prover. We then made a cut across the top of each roll, before spraying them lightly with water and placing them in the oven known as ‘Colin’ (well every oven should have a proper name!) to bake.
After 19 minutes in Colin’s tender care, our rolls emerged transformed from pasty lumps of dough to sweet-smelling, golden brown crusty rolls. Our first bake had been a complete success and the warm rolls were placed in a bread basket ready for the lunch table.
Classic White Cottage Loaf
Our second breadmaking exercise was a Classic White loaf, using the same dough recipe as the rolls. The ingredients were carefully weighed out and added to the industrial mixer to create the white bread dough, which was then left to bulk ferment.
Our next decision was whether to shape the dough into a long classic bloomer or a round cottage loaf. I chose the latter and was taught the ‘chaffing’ technique of rolling the two balls of dough into shape using both hands simultaneously, before placing them on a tray lined with semolina to prevent them sticking, then putting them into the prover to rise.
To create the finished cottage loaf, the base and top sections were constructed and I was shown how to plunge a deep hole through both layers, before making four cuts around the edges of the loaf and placing it into the oven. My course-mates who had chosen to make a traditional bloomer were shown how to slash thirteen diagonal cuts across their long loaves – something which takes both manual dexterity and good spacial awareness to ensure that the thirteen cuts are evenly spaced along the length of the loaf. When the oven door was opened to reveal my first loaf in all its golden glory, I was amazed at just how much the bread had risen, and pleased to see that it really did resemble the kind of rustic handmade cottage loaf that you might find in an artisan bakers shop.
No rest for the wicked… and next up was a nutritious and wholesome loaf made using stoneground wholemeal flour. After weighing out the dry ingredients, we mixed them into a dough which we then kneaded by hand for around 15 minutes. As wholemeal flour contains both the germ and the bran, it requires more kneading to break down the gluten than white flour. After bulk fermenting for an hour, the risen dough was then knocked-back again before being left to rise for another 15 minutes.
The dough was then placed in a special coiled basket called a brotform and placed into the prover until it had roughly doubled in size. Once risen, the dough was turned out of the basket and placed upside down on a tray with the coiled pattern clearly indented on top.
After a light dusting with flour, a cross-shaped cut was made on top using a sharp knife and the loaf was placed into the oven and baked for 25-30 minutes until golden brown. The finished result was an attractive-looking floured loaf with a rich brown crust and a firm texture.
In between baking loaves of bread we quickly whipped up a batch of delicious English muffins, as popularised by the 19th century ‘Muffin Men’ who sold their wares from a tray hung around their neck. The ‘secret ingredient’ in this recipe is plain yogurt which gives the muffins a distinctive tangy flavour, quite unlike any shop bought muffins I’ve ever tasted. The muffin shape was created by rolling out the dough and pressing out circles using a pastry cutter.
The muffins were then dipped into a bowl of semolina to coat them before being placed on a tray and then into the prover. Once risen, the muffins were baked in the oven for 20 minutes until golden in colour. The following day I enjoyed my English muffins for breakfast topped with bacon and scrambled eggs, and I can honestly say they were a world away from the pallid mass-produced muffins that you find in the supermarket.
Bara Brith is Welsh for ‘speckled bread’ and originated in North Wales. It is packed full of dried fruits and spices and can be glazed with honey for extra sweetness. The dough is enriched with milk, eggs and butter, while the dried fruit, brown sugar and mixed spices add flavour to the loaf. We steeped the dried sultanas, raisins and mixed peel in strong tea but you could also use a spirit such as rum.
Once the dough had been mixed and then kneaded by hand until it was smooth and elastic, it was left to bulk ferment for an hour and a half. The fruit mixture was then added to the dough and kneaded until well combined. Using the chaffing method again, the dough was formed into a tight round ball and placed on a tray, before being put into the prover. Once risen, the loaf was baked in the oven for 25-30 minutes, then placed on a wire tray and brushed with honey before being left to cool. This spicy fruit loaf tastes great toasted with butter, and you can well imagine tucking into it after a long walk in the great Welsh outdoors.
By the end of the 19th century no Yorkshire tea table was complete without these currant-laden teacakes. The dough consists of a ‘sponge’ made the night before, which we mixed into the final dough and added the fruit. The dough was then left to bulk ferment for 20-30 minutes, before being hand rolled into 12 equal sized balls.
Next we flattened each ball of dough with a rolling pin until it was roughly the size of a saucer, then placed them on a baking tray and put them in the prover to rise. The risen teacakes were then pricked all over with a fork and baked in the oven for 15 minutes until deep golden brown. Teacakes can be enjoyed warm from the oven, or toasted and spread with lashings of butter for a tea time treat.
Our seventh and final baking project of the day was the impressive looking Chelsea Bun, apparently named after The Bun House located near Sloane Square in the 18th century. The deep golden coloured dough is flavoured with cinnamon, cardamom and lemon zest, while the dried fruit filling is enriched with butter and brown sugar. After mixing and kneading the dough, we left it to bulk ferment for about an hour, before rolling it out into a rectangle and spooning over the surface a mixture of currants, sugar and pieces of butter.
Next we folded over and rolled up the long side of the dough into a tight roll and sealed the outside edge with a little water. Using a sharp knife, the individual coiled buns were formed by cutting 3cm slices off the rolled up length of dough.
The buns were then spaced well apart on a tray lined with baking parchment and put in the prover to rise until they were almost touching. Before placing the buns in the oven, we sprinkled them with caster sugar then baked them for 15 minutes until the filling started to bubble. As soon as they came out of the oven, we brushed on a glaze of milk and caster sugar and left them to cool. We divided up our tray of rather professional-looking sticky buns and added them to our ever expanding stash of handmade artisan breads to take home with us.
A baker’s box full of fresh bread
And so it was that three novice bakers left the Lighthouse Bakery on a Friday evening with sore feet and aching arm muscles, each laden down with a baker’s cardboard box packed full of fresh-from-the-oven golden delicacies to be enjoyed with friends and family over the weekend.
This one-day course is a fantastic introduction to classic British baking. It’s uitable for complete beginners as for those wanting to try out new recipes and techniques. The Lighthouse Bakery offers a selection of different baking courses, including French Baking, Italian Baking, Jewish Baking, Festive Baking and Baking For Valentine’s. The enthusiasm of owners Rachel and Liz is matched by their vast knowledge and experience. A great day out and a fantastic opportunity to learn some new culinary skills.
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