Bread. My love. My nemesis.
I’ve been aching for this class at E5 Bakehouse ever since I made the frankly unrivalled decision to book it, and lucky I didn’t dither any longer as it was literally the last bread spot available, they also do a pizza and a cookery one. I clapped myself in glee whilst feeling a twang of guilt that my friend couldn’t join me – I’d been meaning to book a place for ages but never quite clicked that button, an inspiring chat with Bittersweet Bakers however one evening at a party had me all fired up – and we’d hoped to spend the day together.
My history making sourdough is a short one; I managed to get a starter going, following never quite simple enough instructions garnered from a vast number of references, all slightly different. I fed it, and fed it some more, loved it, nurtured it and then one day I came home to find it’s little glass home all empty and clean, sitting forlornly on the kitchen sink draining board. With a tremble of my bottom lip I asked the boy where our little fella was, his response knocked the wind out of my sourdough sails – his Mum had apparently had her eye on it for a while and could stand the mucky jar no longer, my little innocent baby was washed away. I started another, but this coincided with the time I left the boy for a period, and the same fate, I can only imagine, suffered my second attempt. Clearly I am a bad, bad starter mother.
I haven’t had the heart to start again. Until now. What better fresh start than to put myself in the hands of the creators of arguably the absolute best sourdough in London and certainly my favourite; Hackney Wild. That stuff is absolute flour based narcotic and dangerous deliverer of dairy, sometimes I up the ante with a smear of glorious London Borough of Jam. In fact the first time I tasted that particularly effective combo was at the utterly charming 46b Espresso Hut, one of my favourite coffee spots, I dream wistfully of it being closer….
The morning of the course arrives and I’m brimming with excitement, looking forward to the prospect of wielding the real alchemy of sourdough at home. I’ve tackled most other types of bread with varying success, but sourdough has remained out of my reach, a palpable, whiskers breadth of confidence from my grasp.
Without giving you a blow by blow account of the day, suffice to say it was worth vastly more than it’s price tag of just under a £100, seven hours of intense, hands on tutoring, a huge vegetarian, wholesome lunch, coffee (Nude and tasting pretty good, the level of care and ‘slow’ ethos permeating everything they do here) and teas, afternoon cakes, no shortage of samples throughout the day, mother and four different bakes, not to mention the confidence garnered from hands on help. I’ll go into more detail when I, hopefully, master each different recipe.
First of all, owner Ben is a fabulous and patient teacher, answering all our benign and multiple questions over and over, never condescending, always crystal clear and concise; he simplifies things in a way that my brain would find unfathomable. We’re secreted for the day in a large arch parallel to the active shop and bakery, privy to much of the activity and all the stomach nudging aromas of the bakehouse. We start with pleasantries and quickly launch into full on bread making; weighing, measuring, mixing, squidging, squelching, folding, kneading, shaping and generally revelling in every stage of the process. Unlike some classes, this is a complete immersion in the bread making process, apart from the leaven which, in some cases, has to be started several days in advance, we make each of the four breads from scratch. More than once we look at each other in amazement and wonder at the magic we’re creating.
There are, as you might imagine, a number of revelations and joys I experience on the day. Although I feel I’ve enjoyed a certain amount of success up to this point with bread at home, it’s been mainly with flatbreads, pizzas, soda bread, corn bread and sweet baking. The moment we start wielding this sourdough enriched beast the difference is clear, it acts as though alive, there’s an effervescence and shifting that almost suggests it’s a living, breathing alien being. The ciabatta dough is particularly alive with bubbles; a pillowy, writhing cloud that needs the merest of nudging to manoeuvre into shape as it ripples and wrinkles alluringly beneath my hands. Manipulating the dough for the round loaves into shape from it’s final knead is an absolute joy, like the polishing of an unruly child at finishing school, stroking and spinning tactile dough until it becomes an engorged orb, full of potential.
There’s a build of tension and excitement that reaches a cresciendo with tangible suspense as bread enter the furnace and we wait. Wait, for our very own batch to re-emerge. We claim our babies, coo and embrace and then swaddle them in brown paper bags, scooping up espresso cups of mother and one last home work project, the hallowed Hackey Wild that will be ready to bake the following morning….In the mean time the next level of joy is in the pleasure of eating, not just superior bread, but that which has been baked with my own hands. There’s something about that. Deeply satisfying.
Of course, the real challenge will be in mastering the whole leaven thang and maintaining a healthy mother, not to mention momentum whilst hopefully creating beautiful and successful bread at home. My plan is to master the basics and then put my usual spin on those, I’m already whimpering at the thought of the sourdough doughnuts that are now so close within my reach along with all manner of twists on bagels and sourdough bread. I’ll attempt to blog my bread journey and share the recipes once I’ve overcome each, assuming I don’t run out of steam, though that will naturally be determined by my success or lack of…
I’m pretty pleased with the results of the Hackney Wild loaf I took home, refrigerated and baked in my own oven. It didn’t have a great journey home and wasn’t refrigerated till late but I did at least take Ben’s advice and rise an extra hour early this morning to bake it after it’s optimal proving time – there was a long moment where laziness nearly won out. So, fingers crossed, I’ll have a fabulous loaf awaiting me for dinner later, I’ve bought some tasty salted butter in preparation and I *will* eat it regardless of deliciousness (it *will* be delicious).
I’m very much looking forward to the next stage which will be going through the whole process myself and making my own tweaks. I expect (know full well) there’ll also be some experiments with reverse osmosis water and varying levels of TDS to see what effect that will have on the end products. Fun times!
And so, with new knowledge potentially comes my downfall; already a fully fledged member of bread addicts anonymous, with heavenly sourdough at my fingertips, the chances of my ever being skinny again are looking about as likely as my giving up coffee or gin, chocolate or deep fat frying….