Somewhere between knitting and learning to thread my sewing machine, I discovered the urge to bake bread. The fact that I am a remedial baker at best and had no idea where to start had no impact on my continuing affair with the 'make do and mend' culture that's currently enjoying itself around my home.
Thankfully for me, I have three like-minded friends and following a bit of research we discovered the wonderful Mark Woods, Artisan Baker at Slow Loaf Bakery in Walsall. As well as being the driving force behind Slow Loaf Bakery, Mark also runs bread making classes from the kitchen in his own home. Classes are held once a month and sizes are limited to four students, which means there is plenty of help at hand if you get stuck. Plus each class is dedicated to learning to bake a particular type of bread, which means you leave with a proper skillset as well as fond memories of a nice day out.
As the majority of our group were complete novices, we booked in for the beginners class ("Course 1"). To be honest, I can be a little nervous about new things (unless it's chocolate - but that's a different post). However I needn't have worried as Mark has that enviable skill of putting you at ease from the moment he opens the door through to when he closes it at the end of the day.
Mark and my fellow classmates
We breakfasted on warm sweet pastries and tea while Mark explained how the day would work and got to know our motley group a little better. Over the course of the day we learned the art of making dough (don't be fooled - it's a very precise science) and the techniques of kneading, shaping, proving, rising and baking. We learned to shape the bread to make batards, rolls and rounds and to use a tin. We also met Rachel the oven (you'll have to ask Mark how she came by her name as our lips are sealed).
Rachel - careful, she bites.
The entire class passed in a rush of flour and hilarity - we didn't even realise it was lunch time until Mike mentioned it. After lunching on homemade leek and potato soup (with fresh bread of course), we dived straight back in to 'dough-bothering' and finished the class with an impressive 'show and tell' of our makes.
Between you and me, I am in no way a natural baker. My cupcakes adhere to a strict recipe and my loaves usually come from Tescos. But under Mark's (extremely patient) tutoring, I got to discover the simplicity of an ancient art - and just how relaxing beating seven kinds of whatsit out of dough can be.
I also got to take home my four loaves - you'll have to excuse the filter on the photograph, but my kitchen has come over all domestic goddess....
You can learn more about Slow Loaf Bakery and their bread making courses at www.slowloaf.co.uk