Lucy Charles learns the basics of real breadmaking at Bread Ahead’s new cookery school
“Who’s made bread before?” Aidan, our tutor for the day, asked us once we had taken our places at one of the huge work benches in Bread Ahead’s brand new upstairs cookery school in the heart of Borough Market. I tentatively raised my hand—I have made soda bread several times, attempted traditional white loaves and have recently been experimenting with a ‘no knead’ variety, to varying degrees of success. But, as he rightly suspected, it is never quite on the money. Aidan has been baking for 29 years, and it was wonderful to know that we were in such capable hands.
Real bread is good for you. One thing has really stayed with me from the course: bread should be made from four ingredients and take two days to make. The modern, mass-produced bread eaten by the majority of the population is made from 16 ingredients and takes one hour. What a staggering contrast, thanks to the industrialisation of bread-making. Before this shift occurred, it was rare to hear of people having digestive problems related to bread, but this new process allows no time for the gluten in the mixture to soften. The small intestine cannot digest hard gluten, hence the widespread issues and ‘intolerances’ we hear of now. In fact, only about two per cent of the population are gluten intolerant. Coincidentally, I recently read an article aimed at women, singing the praises of ‘proper’ bread. Sadly, many women today see bread as a sort of enemy, something to be avoided or, at best, enjoyed as a rare treat. This view is often based on little factual evidence—in reality, it can be a wonderful healthy food source; if only people were eating the right product.
Using four simple ingredients—flour, yeast, water, salt—we were told we would make a traditional white loaf, ciabatta, focaccia and grissini. Soda bread was also on the agenda, which uses some different ingredients but is very simple. To account for our time limits on the day, some methods had been shortened or the first steps had been done for us in advance, but this was always highlighted and I found it really useful to know that there are options. Then the fun began! For each recipe we used different quantities and slightly different methods, but all of them ended up with us elbow deep in dough and loving every minute. Some require gentle, caring kneading, some more vigorous. Soda bread, for example, requires nothing much at all, but when you get to ciabatta it’s a positive workout for eight minutes as you pull the dough up and slap it back down! It was fascinating to see such a variation in outcomes and deeply satisfying to pull each creation out of the oven, looking like something you would buy from the Bread Ahead stall in the Market.
I am as guilty as anyone for sometimes using lack of time as an excuse for shortcuts, but there really is no need. With just a little planning we can have nutritious, homemade bread all the time. Most of it freezes very well too, so you never need waste any. We came away with a generous bundle of loaves, and after I’d eaten what I could I did exactly this and am still reaping the rewards now. The atmosphere of the bakery combined with the knowledge of the tutors makes Bread Ahead a joy to spend a day with—a treat, and completely worth it. I can’t wait to book myself in to learn more. The only struggle is knowing which course to choose next.