Wednesday, 7 March 2012

NB: this course will change your life.....

Last week i went on one of the Back to Basics courses run by LOAF. Ive been looking forward to doing a course with them for some time so was very excited.

The course is run by Tom, one of the four directors of LOAF and the powerhouse behind the bread-making, in his home in Cotteridge, Birmingham. There were six of us on the course, none of us knew each other but a shared passion for wanting to make good bread soon got us chatting. The day started in a very civilised manner over the breakfast table with brioche, jam, tea, coffee, white bread and rye bread. Here are some leftovers after breakfast together with an artfully placed Stirchley Community Market mug...

I came to the course having had a go at making some of my own bread before but wanting to make sure that i was 'doing it right' and with the aim of ironing out a few problems. Id been trying to make wholemeal bread but found the mixture really wet and difficult to knead plus when baking my bread i found it hard to tell when it was cooked properly - tapping it on the bottom and identifying a hollow noise isn't as easy as it sounds. During the day Tom answered these questions and many others - I've now been taught the most amazing kneading method which i can easily use with all doughs and as for knowing when its cooked? Use a probe thermometer - its the only surefire way unless you are an experienced bread-maker!

The morning was spent doing all the 'hard work' ie making the dough so it had time to rise before baking it in the afternoon. We learnt about different ways to make the dough - i had never heard of the sponge method before and am actually trying that out currently (my sponge is downstairs doing its thang as i type). We then went onto is a link to the three kneading methods that Tom showed us...i absolutely loved the French kneading method as it really works and you can get up a good speed with it, as well as take your frustrations out on the dough. I then find it easier to finish off using the classic kneading method (2nd in the video clip) as i find it calms me down as i lovingly finish off the kneading process...and one day i may get good enough to do the 3rd example in the video but I'm not there yet! Its really interesting to see that Tom has NO flour on the work surface when kneading - this amazed me and has totally transformed the way i make bread....for the better.

The other thing i found out was that previously i hadn't been kneading the dough for long enough...Tom showed us a really good way of checking if the dough had been kneaded enough...its called the window pane test and it works really well!

During the day we made fougasse (look amazing and are so simple to do), a white loaf, some seeded wholemeal rolls, ciabatta (a really, really wet dough which was fun to work with) and pizzas for lunch. Tom had also mixed some brioche dough that we took home to cook the following day.

Brioche - i baked this the following day

Ciabatta - mine is the weirdly shaped one...i like to think of it as authentic...

Fougasse - stunning to look at (doesn't come up so well on this photo) but so easy to make

White loaf after proving but before putting in oven. note the slits which have been cut in the top - these help the bread to expand whilst baking

Lunch - homemade pizza. I'm obsessed with homemade pizza now - its so easy to make, you know exactly whats going into it, you can make your own Taste Sensation Topping and best of all, it tests SQUILLIONS better than those bought in supermarkets or pizza parlours

Wholemeal, seeded rolls

White rolls


The course was amazing and has demystified the art of bread-making for me. Ive realised that i just need to chill out and have a go...sometimes the dough takes longer to rise or to knead...that's because all flours act differently plus it depends on the warmth of the kitchen, the humidity, all sorts of just have to know what you are looking for and not be afraid. The day course cost £75 which i know has put some people off but i stress that this is a) much cheaper than other bread-making courses and b) will change your life as it will make you obsessed with making your own bread rather than shop-bought nastiness. Plus you can buy gift vouchers so why not ask people to get you those for your birthdays/Xmas etc...??

Following the course i took my spoils home where a hungry Mr A gave his thumbs up to all of my wares...i then went about ordering some equipment to help me in my new love of bread-making... I bought Dough by Richard Bertinet which has the most mouth watering photos and recipes in it. Ive already made the Spicy Moroccan rolls (containing ras-el-hanout, one of my favourite spices - i brought a load in the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul) for my friend Tina's birthday - as well as getting her a copy of the book too. Ive also bought a probe thermometer and an oven thermometer, as well as a pizza stone and peel....but the best purchase was the dough scraper tool you can see in Toms kneading video - that is an essential tool, it makes the process so much easier and was the princely sum of £1.50. Bargain!

Here endeth my bread missive.


  1. Sounds and looks fantastic! :)

  2. That sounds an amazing course. If you carry on making your own it will soon have paid for itself, as well as being a great experience.

    Your bread photos are mouthwatering. I can almost smell the baking! I used to make bread but don`t so much now. Home made bread is too tempting and I ate too much of it!

    1. Hello :) I find making bread really therapeutic. I, like you, have an issue with making stuff and then eating it! That said, im not buying shop bought bread and i only make a loaf once a week so i seem to be eating a lot less bread than before.

      Im glad you like the photos. i have a crappy Blackberry with no flash and the photos always look terrible on the actual phone. They seem to come out OK ont he blog though.

      If you ever find yourself with a free day and the urge to travel to Birmingham then i can definitely recommend the course - Tom does other courses too - they are all on his website :)

  3. I did this course with Tom in 2010, and the sourdough course last year - both excellent, as you say. It has certainly changed my life too - I bake every week, and have not long started to bake for folk in the village - I now have three regulars, plus two on the sidelines.
    You seem to have got to the anorak stage very took me several months! Just baked 3 x wholemeals, 2 x white bloomers and 2 x white tins for customers - house smells lovely! Keep it up - you may want to look here for help & inspiration -, and - there's loads of other sites to keep you occupied..You're right about the therapeutic properties of bread making - Tom seems very chilled by it all - there's hope for everyone, given the right ingredients..

    1. Simon thanks for your comments and tips - ive added those sites to my Google Reader :) Whereabouts are you based then? I dont think im quite ready to sell bread as yet - i made pizza dough today and it turned out far too sticky and i couldnt roll it...and i need to really get the hang of my oven re optimum baking time. Ive just made some wholemeal bread with sunflower seeds in it - its cooling as i type so am hoping that its a success!!