School of Artisan Food

Posted on November 24, 2010


I was lucky enough to be gifted a voucher to attend a course at The School of Artisan Food in Nottinghamshire. This is a relatively new cookery school, in the middle of Sherwood Forest and one I have wanted to go to since it opened. I absolutely love going ‘back to (cookery) school’. It’s a brilliant opportunity to learn new skills, be inspired by professionals and meet fellow food-obsessives.

The hardest decision initially was not when to do the course, but what to do! The school has an extensive selection of short courses in addition to a 1 year diploma (my lottery wish!!!). These range from artisan bread making, to cheesemaking, butchery and chocolate making. Next year, they are even opening a micro-brewery so you can have lessons in beer making. I settled upon a Christmas Bakery lesson, running 9.30-5, to learn how to make Stollen and a Greek fruit bread called Tsoureki (rather like a fruity brioche).

I arrived at 9.30, driving through the beautiful Welbeck Estate with drooping trees and fog covering damp ferns. A large stone building loomed ahead and on walking to the entrance I was greeted with my recipes for the day and taken to the group area to meet my other 9 fellow bakers. Food love started already with a giant table spread with croissants baked at the school, homemade preserves and fresh fruit.

Armed with our aprons, we all trundled through to the school area and were each assigned a marble-topped cooking station and a list of tasks. The morning flew by with yeast fermenting, new techniques learnt for kneading and peering into other people’s bowls to ensure all our efforts looked similar (bowl envy was high!).

Lunch was another magnificent feast, with meat cooked and cured from the butchery, beautiful salads and breads from the estates bakery. The obligatory post-lunch lull, was offset by an informative lesson in flour (not as boring as it seems!!), by our chef and teacher for the day Emmanuel Hadjiandreou (a very calm influence on what could have been a chaotic day and a brilliant, award winning chef!).

Then it was back to our dough to shape, rise and bake. With our finished goods golden and warm, they were glazed and packed-up ready to take home and be devoured!

So, all-in-all, a great way to spend a day. I’ll share with you the recipe for Stollen in the next few days (be warned, it has a LOT of butter in it!!). I did pick-up a few tips though, that I thought it might be useful to share…..

1. The Need for Steam

  • Baked goods are made better by the addition of steam!
  • Steam helps to glaze the item and releases air bubbles from the dough
  • The easiest way to create steam is to place a baking tray on the bottom of your oven, get the oven to the required temperature, place your goods on the baking shelf, throw half a glass of water on the baking tray and shut the door!

2. Prove Yourself

  • Proving is an essential stage in bread making, enabling the yeast to ferment and your dough to grow 
  • A draughty/cold kitchen can hinder this process. If you suffer from this, heat your oven to 50c, place a damp tea towel on an oven shelf, turn-off the oven and place your dough in a oven-suitable bowl, on the tea towel. Shut the door and leave for the required time to prove. This method ensures the yeast has the level of warmth and moisture needed to activate

3. Better Bowls

  • I have always favoured ceramic bowls and cling-film/damp tea-towels for previous yeast-based creations…no longer shall I…..
  • Instead, use clear bowls (light and see-through) in 2 different sizes. Their transparentness enables you to see how the dough is rising without disturbing it and the small bowl can be placed over the top to create the seal (much easier than removing/replacing clingfilm all the time)
  • I’ll buy mine from IKEA or Lakeland – perhaps not as pretty as my pale pink, heavy bowls, but perhaps a little more practical!

4. Glaze Over

  • If you’re making an egg glaze, add a pinch of salt and whisk through
  • The salt breaks down the albumen and creates a smoother fluid to spread (no lumpy white bits!)

5. The Secret Ingredient

  • There are 3 basic types of flour; wholemeal, plain and cake (self-raising is just plain with a rising agent added)
  • Cake flour has a higher starch content and will create the lightest cakes.
  • If you can’t be bothered/can’t find cake flour, you can make it yourself by using 40% cornflour and 60% plain flour in the required quantity for your recipe

6. Yeast Rules

  • There are 3 basic types of yeast; organic, fresh, dried use these in the following  ration 4:2:1 (so organic = 80g, fresh = 40g, dried = 20g)
  • If you’re using dried yeast buy a tin and do not use the sachets!! These contain additives (e.g. vitamin c) that will affect your finished product

There endeth the lesson!