Today’s blog is the report on the bread baking class I took last Wednesday at Lighthouse Bakery School in East Sussex, UK.
Ever since I read US-based TFLers’ blogs/posts about the wonderful courses they had at SFBI, I really wished one day I’d be able to attend a course like that. I spent hours and hours in front of PC, trying to find a short course or one-day class, and Lighthouse Bakery School’s courses were the ones that ticked most boxes for me.
The school is owned and run by Rachel Duffield and Elizabeth Weisberg, the artisan bakers and ex-owners of a very famous artisan bakery of the same name in Battersea, south London. After several years of successful retail business there, picking up a few awards along the way, they decided to close the shop (before I got there!!!) and moved to the beautiful countryside in the midst of East Sussex a few years ago, starting the wholesale business with the bakery school on the same premises.
From what I'd read and heard about their old shop in London and their breads, I knew Rachel and Elizabeth really cared about how bread should be made and taste, but I wanted to know if they were the good teachers, too, before I jumped in. Luckily, our fellow UK-TFLer, Juergen had attended one of their courses a while ago and he assured me he learned a lot from the experience, so I booked a place in French Baking class which took place last Wednesday.
Before the course started, we all sat around the big table, set in one corner of the workshop, introducing each other and having a friendly chat over tea & coffee with lovely croissants, pain au chocolat and freshly picked local apples. (Still regreting I didn't pick one up and eat it or take home....)
(The bookshelf in the corner were full of bread and other baking books, many of them very familiar to TFlers and looked like they'd been used a LOT.......And the clock on the wall shows how too early I arrived.)
The course started with Elizabeth’s short lecture about the history of French bread making and origin of some famous French breads, basic terminology of breadmaking and the explanation about the breads we were going to learn to make during the course; Flutes (short baguettes) + epi, Pain de Campagne, Brioche, Croissants + Pain au Chocolat, Pain de Meteil. Yeah, quite a lot to be baked only in 6-7 hrs! :p So, after donning a new apron with the school’s logo and a brief tour of the workshop.....,
....... learning about the equipments we’re going to use and going through the obligatory ‘Health & Safety’ instructions, we eagerly got on with what we came for; making breads!
Each of us was also given our own personalized folder in which the timetable of the day, ‘Class Notes’ on ‘French Baking,’ ‘Equipments,’ and the list of basic infomarion/terminology for bread making were neatly held together along with the formulae of the breads we’re baking on the day.
This is a copy of the timetable.
09:30 Welcome tea and coffee
10:30 Weigh Down and Mix Flutes
11:00 Weigh Down and Mix Pain de Campagne
Weigh Down and Mix Brioche
11:30 Divide, Scale and mould Flutes
12:00 Laminate Croissants → rest
12:15 Weigh Down and Mix Pain de Meteil
12:30 Fold Croissants → Rest
13:00 Fold Croissants → rest
Take Pain de Campagne
13 :15 Take Pain de Meteil
Make up Pissaladiere (for our lunch !)
14:15 Bake Pain de Campagne
Make up Croissants
14:45 Bake Pain de Meteil
Divide, Scale and Mould the Brioche
15:00 Bake the Croissants
15:15 Bake the Brioche
16:00 Finish Baking
The whole day proceeded more or less as planned…..I think…... I mean, there were so many things to do and all the schedule was in Elizabeth’s head (and on a white board behind us :p), we were just following her instructions throughout the day as to what needed to be done, when to do and how to do it.
In spite of quite tight and full scheduling, the class was run in very convivial and relaxed atmosphere, thanks to very nice and friendly fellow students and very thoughtful and intelligent teaching and conducting skill of our fantastic instructor, Elizabeth, through the day, with equally enlightening Rachel taking over for the Croissants-making sessions. Each of us got to play with use a special rolling-machine professionals use to roll laminated dough, too!
Half the croissant dough was made into pain au chocolat, learning how to place two thin bars of chocolate on dough-rectangular and fold it to make it look just like the ones you buy in a shop.
(Shaped croissants getting egg-wash before going into the proofer. Mine’s are the centre and right ones in the third row from the top. Two top left ones are by Rachel.)
(Pain au chocolat being egg-washed by one of the students)
(Flute shaping practice. Mine is the finished one in the foreground)
(A part of Flute dough was made into mini-epis. Mine’s the second from left)
(Pain de Meteil in proofing baskets)
(Dough proofing, with a reflection of me taking the picture. :p)
(Proofed Pain de Campagne being turned out to be scored and baked)
(A fellow student snipping the top of brioche loaf before loading into the oven)
All the breads were made with Shipton’s flours and were fresh yeast based, including Pain de Campagne which used poolish (made with a mix of white and rye) instead of more commonly-used levain. (They have a separate course, “Advanced Baking,’ to teach about different kinds of pre-ferments and sourdough) Flutes and Pain de Meteil were also poolish-based (former made with all white flour, latter 100% rye = the first time for me), all the poolish already prepared in advance for the course. Their formula for croissants used overnight-dough, so we ‘practiced’ how to weigh the ingredients and mix, but the actual dough we used for laminating+shaping+baking was prepared in advance to cold ferment overnight.
The class was slightly overrun and it was almost 5:30 when we finally finished, all the breads, almost cooled, packed and ready to be taken home.
(Some of the finished breads cooling on the racks, each designated to each student)
So, unlike the courses at SFBI, Lighthouse's courses are more geared towards home bakers with some basic knowledge and experience in bread making. But still, I quite liked how it was run, especially how very accommodating both Elizabeth and Rachel were about everyone's need (including a certain bread-obsessive with geeky questions and requests. :p), no matter what degree of breadmaking experience or knowledge you had or had not under your belt. The class size was small enough (7 of us on the day. I think maximum number is around 10) for them to keep a watchful eye on us, so that they would notice straightaway if anyone needed any help or advice.
The things I enjoyed most were the hands-on experiences with real-time guidance from the pro-bakers , especially on window-pane tests and finger-poke tests, and also being able to experience how the dough should feel like when it's kneaded, bulk-fermented and proofed; the things you can’t really learn sufficiently just by reading books or watching videos. These were the main reasons why I’d wanted to attend a breadmaking class for a long time, and I’m really glad I was able to take home these valuable experiences with me.
A few of the down sides were 1) all the kneading was done in the machine and no teaching on how to hand-knead the dough, which would’ve been very useful for home bakers, 2) the deck ovens didn’t have steam-injection system, 3) except for the overnight-dough used for croissants, all the breads were bulk-fermented/proofed in a proofer with the temperature set at 30 C, not allowing the dough to develop the flavour well enough. I understand they use long-fermentation for the bread they make for wholesale , so the reasons for 1) and 3) were probably due to the scheduling issue more than anything, and some formulae in prints we were given recommend cold retard to improve flavour as an option. But with 5 different kinds of breads needed to be made in 6-7 hours, something had to give, I suppose.
As if to prove the breads we made at the class were not of their usual standard for wholesale, pissaladiere we had for lunch (the dough had been already prepared in advance for us to add toppings before baking) and croissants and pain au chocolat (see above) were very, very good.
(Breads for a wholesale order cooling on a rack; rye breads on the top with Pain au Levain below)
I can see it’d be very difficult to make up a class that can appeal and accommodate both beginners and more experienced bakers. Personally, I’d have preferred if the class were concentrated on a fewer kinds of breads, so that we could’ve had spent more time on each bread with more ‘hands-on’ experiences, especially kneading, shaping and learning how to check the gluten development and fermentation properly. But that sort of appoach might be too boring or tedious or even intimidating to more general (as opposed to geeky :p) home bakers, while the present format may be a good starting point for many, giving them a good glimpse of many aspects a certain category of breads (in our case, French breads) in a limited time and helping them to broaden the bready-horizon, making breadmaking inviting enough for them to start exploring deeper, gradually, if they wished.
Elizabeth told me they were thinking of starting a two-day course some time in a near future. Don’t know what level of students they have in mind for the new course, but, whether it’s one-day or two-day, hopefully they’ll have some courses that’d cater for intermediate – advanced home bakers one day with even more hands-on time and teaching about finer elements of breadmaking process. But for them to be able to do that in a way it makes sense business-wise, probably we need more bread-geeks in UK! :p
The display of the bounty brought back home, half the brioche, half the Pain de Meteil, half the Pain de Campagne, croissants, pain au chocolat and a Flute (with single, long scoring). The other halves and one pain au chocolat had already been given away to our neighbour with three boys - didn’t know I’d bring back so many breads and our freezer was too full to store all of them - and epi already consumed by the time I took my camera out. (Sorry for the weird colour. Wrong setting on the camera.......)