Recently I spent an enjoyable Sunday morning getting stuck into French bread making. We’d booked a half day course at Bread Ahead, located within Borough Market itself.
Led by experienced French baker Manuel (who assured us he was French, despite his name), the course was pitched at just the right level – basic enough that you didn’t have to be terribly experienced beforehand, but also not dumbed down in any way, making it enjoyable for the more experienced baker too.
During the few hours we had there we made three different types of bread: baguette, pain de campagne (country loaf), and fougasse (described as France’s answer to focaccia).
French bread-making normally involves a minimum of two days, so this process was sped up a little to allow us to complete everything in the time allocated. Normally the first day just involves making, relatively quickly, a ‘pre-starter’ – similar to a starter for sourdough, so this was already made for us, although we did have a go at making one ourselves.
We were set out along a big wooden bench, each with our own equipment and workspace. After Manuel clearly explained the steps and demonstrated, we would get the chance to get stuck in ourselves.
The class was well thought-out, and when we would put one loaf to the side to rise, we would continue with the next step on the next loaf. When we had a few minutes to wait for the next stage, there was tea, coffee, and scrumptious brownies to help ourselves to.
The outcome? Delicious! Crusty, chewy, bready.
Thankfully, we were given a recipe booklet to take home with us, as I know I wouldn’t remember all the steps. The booklet itself wouldn’t be enough though, it really helped to have done the course itself. One of the most useful things I learnt was that you may think the dough is too sticky, but the trick is to just keep it moving, quite fast, and not to add flour to stop it sticking to the bench (just use a scraper).
So recently I had a go at making some baguette at home using the recipe booklet and my memory. Overall, I was pretty pleased, and it definitely was tasty and satisfying, although the crust could have been crunchier. A little hard for our oven to get hot enough and create the required steam for the crust, but I’ll work on it!