We meet the fabulous team at The Artisan Baker who showed us how to make the most delicious bread in a fun and floury-hands-on kind of way.
With their expert and patient guidance we managed to perfect sourdough and all its cousins. So sorry to say…springy, sliced white you are officially history.
Making baguettes, and all manner of french bread, has been on the bucket list for a very long time but I’ll admit it always looked a little scary to attempt.
Who doesn’t love the thrill of picking up a warm loaf of french loveliness from the bakery but the secret to the success of a delicious baguette was something the professionals had kept to themselves…until now.
Advice on how to create the perfect loaf was revealed to us recently when we joined the Sunday baking class hosted by The Artisan Baker in Stroud and run by Brett St Clair, professional baker and Founder of Bakers & Co in Bristol.
We arrived 15 minutes before the start of the class and were warmly welcomed by Nell from The Artisan Baker with coffee, lots of different blends of tea and mouth watering pastries that I’d just seen Brett take out of the oven at the back of the bakery. I could see that Brett was about to become my new best friend.
We tried the apple pastries and chocolate twists that seemed like they were a foot long (and of course we managed to eat it all). Our eyes were on stalks and I knew that this was going to be a fabulous event before I’d even got my jacket off.
We washed our hands and then made our introductions – the group was the perfect size (numbers are limited to eight people) and full of the loveliest people.
There was Chris, Cyril, Camille, Ben and Mimi and all at different stages of baking prowess and all keen, if not slightly nervous, of what the huge bags and buckets of flour surrounding us were about to behold.
Brett began with an explanation of what the course would include which included splitting into groups of three to make different types of dough that we would all get to work with and bake. There was the olive oil dough, the sourdough and the pain levain which was what would be used for the fougasse and baguettes.
We doubled up the ingredients so that we had enough dough for everyone to make each type of loaf and I panicked when I thought I’d have to blow the cobwebs of any adding up of big numbers (1400g plus 1800g anyone?) without a calculator for weighing dough until Cyril (former Grammar school Head of Maths as it turns out) kindly showed me how to work the scales.
Always a good leveller to demonstrate one’s incompetency in the first few mins….
So we all piled the flour and water higher and higher in the bowl and then with freshly scrubbed hands got stuck in and mixed, prodded and pushed the ingredients together, a lovely doughy smell filled the air and I was delighted to think that within seconds of starting we were on our way to becoming full on breadmakers.
We used a scraper to pull the sides in and around and then we let the vast mound of dough rest. For all the amazing yoga courses there are out there, nothing is more satisfying and calming than working with dough which is utterly mesmerising.
At this point, our baking compadres – Chris and Cyril’s dough was on its second round of proving and we were almost ready to use it. Brett taught us a method of kneading that looked pretty terrifying albeit a lot of fun.
You needed forearms like Popeye to slap and pull at the mixture but we all managed it and it was a fabulous way of relieving any stress.
We then baked some delicious sourdough batonnes that the baking team had prepped for us and the smell of bread baking was out of this world as we were enveloped in the warm, comforting aroma that swirled through the room.
Once Brett had cut the warm loaves open to show us the texture, the steam escaped and we had a break for lunch with sourdough (obvs), and fabulous deli cheeses, salami, ham and delicious wine. Then the baguette making arrived. We all watched and followed suit as the dough was cut into four pieces, then folded into what looked like a pain au chocolat shape and then rolled, pushed and stretched into a baguette length and placed carefully on the expertly folded linen couche.
When they came out of the oven they had doubled in size and were perfectly golden and crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. Our chests swelled with pride, what a perfect end to a fabulous session.
The Artisan Baker was founded by Ori Hellerstein, who trained in London at Cordon Bleu and moved to the Cotswolds with his family to set up his business (he also makes the most incredible chocolates) in Stroud.
Having gained a name for himself by selling bread and pastries every weekend at the local market (including his creation, the delicious Nelson loaf) Ori has now branched out and runs The Artisan Baker from the Five Valleys Shopping Centre in Stroud where fresh bread is baked early every morning by Ori and his team.
If you would like to try your hand at baking (and this is the hands down winner of a present for Mother’s Day or simply the chance to show off your bready skills over Easter), in a beautiful location with skilled and friendly tutors, there are Sourdough courses, run by Julia Stitt, being held at The Artisan Baker on the following dates:
Sunday 3rd April 2022 10am-2pm
Sunday 22nd May 2022 10am-2pm
Sunday 26th June 2022 10am-2pm
You will learn how to make and maintain a sourdough starter, how to mix and knead your dough, take shape and bake it. You’ll also look at different flours and also look at making cookies and sourdough pizza.
For baguette lovers, Brett will be running another French bread masterclass on Sunday 24th April 2022 from 10am until 2pm.
Both types of course include lunch and fabulous treats to take home, which can always be stashed in the freezer if you’re greedy like me and took enough bread home for the whole street.
For more information: BAKING CLASSES — The Artisan Baker