I’ve always associated baking with cakes.
I’m not bothered about cakes as I’ve never had a sweet tooth – I’m all about the savoury.
I’ve never understood why I can’t just have a starter, main and then savoury again. Actually for that there is always cheese. And I am all about the cheese.
I don’t watch the ‘Great’ British Bake Off. I don’t consider it to be ‘great’. I certainly don’t consider Paul Hollywood to be ‘great’. I firmly believe that if you were to make firm eye contact with those steely blues, you’d be catapulted to the depths of a schmaltzy hell before you could say
Paul Hollywood isn’t ‘Great’…
**Disclaimer – these are only the views of this writer. Plus I said ‘probably’ so, you know…**
I digress – but only ever so slightly.
But baking is not just cakes!
I hear you cry!
It is bread! Wonderful comforting, soft or crunchy, torn or toasted, taken neat or as a host for an accoutrement, bread is king, and baking is bread.
And so given my previous notion that ‘to bake is to cake’ (I know…), I had taken ‘me as baker’ off the table as a life skill.
That is until last week when One Mile Bakery Hale came into my life, leaving me with, indeed, a new skill, a feeling of inspiration and, most importantly, three wonderful loaves baked by my own floury hands!
Whilst One Mile Bakery Hale’s raison d’etre is two-fold (I will touch upon the first later – for those who just can’t wait, please read on here – come back please though), my focus is on their (spoiler) wonderful baking classes.
I’ve done a cookery class only once before. We all awkwardly stood round in a steel compound (industrial kitchen), nobody speaking, everybody giving each other’s pizza topping choices side-eye, followed by the most awkward lunch in living history as 20 of us ate our ‘masterpieces’ in silence.
The class I attended felt less lesson and more ‘get together and lunch with friends’.
As (well apparently loads of people according to Google search) said,
A stranger is just a friend you haven’t yet met
And whilst the socially awkward introvert in me would usually scoff at such an outlandish claim, the magic of One Mile Bakery Hale left this
frightened mouse confident cynic enlightened.
Last Friday I attended Introduction To Baking alongside two other very lovely people and bread lovers.
The classes are held at the also very lovely home of Matt Townley, and right from the off I was made to feel less student, more friend invited over for lunch (and what a lunch – more later) and a spot of baking.
Asked whether any of us had baked before, aside from a one-off batch of cupcakes, I declared myself to be ‘the challenge’ – one which Matt duly met (he’s not afraid of a challenge – he plays for Bowdon RUFC, incidentally. His anecdote of a member of the opposing team leaving the field of play with an eyebrow hanging off will never quite leave me).
As I stood chatting , learning, kneading, mixing and basically baking with Matt et al (or whomever your al may be that day), my beginner’s nerves began to evaporate as the day went on.
Matt has a very natural ease about him, supporting and encouraging his company that all are bakers in the making and it’s all about following your instincts.
There is a clear passion for his craft from Matt and equally, (and obviously) from journalist turned baker Elisabeth Mahoney, who conceived of the wonderful concept that is One Mile Bakery back in 2012, and who I was fortunate to meet that day.
The first One Mile Bakery was based in Cardiff, the basis of the business being a service which bakes and creates ‘artisan bread, seasonal soup and delicious preserves’ and delivers them to customers by bike, all residing within one mile.
Recent additions, Exeter and indeed our very own Hale do indeed follow this premise, along with bringing classes to the masses (I should add that each class is held with only a handful of bakers to ensure intimacy and that personal touch – I just wanted to go a bit tabloid and rhyme ‘classes’ with ‘masses’).
However, both Elisabeth and Matt were keen to stress that whilst Elisabeth shares the ethos of One Mile Bakery, provides a guiding light and practical advice, each baker in literal residence, so to speak, takes the baton (or breadstick? baguette?) and is free to run with it, injecting his or her personality into matters along the way.
This not only includes the way they bake and cook, and the ingredients they grow, source and select, but in the way they conduct their cookery classes.
And so back to that fateful day (how ominous sounding – I love a bit of drama).
Amidst anecdotes of eyebrow extraction and my own pretentious tale of my husband and I nearly filing for divorce over a tense homemade ravioli stuffing session one afternoon (overstuffed indeed), we learned to bake three loaves; a classic white tin loaf, an organic seeded wholemeal and a French pain de campagne (that is, country loaf).
Provided with our own scrapers (forgive me Matt, this may not be its technical term but I’m still on a comedown from being allowed to take it home – I’m deadly serious), ingredients, bowls and places at the lovely kitchen island, we each learned the importance of taking charge of the dough and not being afraid to gently but firmly take it in literal hand and mix, pull and shape it until risen, proved (proven?) and ready to take its seat in the oven.
I loved Play Doh as a child and needed (no poorly executed pun intended – well maybe a little) encouragement to get my fingers dirty.
That said, when it came to flipping my dough over or into a tin or basket, or deciding that my rising wasn’t quite as ‘risey’ as my fellow learners, more reassurance and encouragement was provided immediately putting paid to my wobbly bottom lip, and all was well with the world, once again.
Equally important to the skills we were provided with that day, was the hospitality also bestowed upon us.
Not only were we provided with elevenses in the shape of some of Matt’s own toasted bread and preserves, but lunch too.
The vibrant dancing, summer aesthetics of the dishes laid before us were equally matched by the flavours and as we all sat round Matt’s family dining table breaking bread and chatting (even his gorgeous cat Poppy popped by to say hi), it was easy to forget we weren’t just all enjoying a leisurely lunch at a friend’s house (this temporary memory loss was down to the friendly and comfortable scene, not the 2 glasses of crisp and delicious Sauvignon Blanc I enjoyed).
Man of the match for me – Matt’s glorious watercress soup.
Now I won’t go into all the nuances and practical stages of the baking as I urge you to head along and find these out yourself.
What I will say that over 5 hours (including time taken to eat all that delicious food and laugh lots along the way), I went from bread consumer to bread baker and utterly astounded myself by producing this bounty…
Reader? I’ve not stopped banging on about it since. And it tasted delicious! My bread!Me! Ok, One Mile Bakery Hale had something to do with it.
And given that Matt’s delivery list is currently full (keep an eye out ready to pounce for a place), I feel fortunate that I have the tools (metaphorically speaking but also with reference to my new ‘scraper’), to keep my household in at least three different loaves myself.
I also wish to point out that if you’re lucky enough to get on Matt’s delivery route, all packaging is 100% plastic free – delivery bags, soup containers and garnish pots are not only totally recyclable but 100% compostable too.
And so, on the list or not, with a number of different classes available including French Baking, Introduction to Sourdough and Italian Baking, I urge you to follow my lead and try one out.
Inspired is not the word. Well it is, it just feels understated.
It’s no exaggeration to say that if I can do it, anyone can!
Waste not a second more and head to the One Mile Bakery Hale website here.
Ps I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had to sort out the autocorrect which arrogantly changed matters to One Mike Bakery Hale, so if you seen any I’ve missed please shout out.