Saturday, 21 March 2009

The Breadwinner

T got me a voucher for an afternoon at the Breadwinner Bakery, which is a short walk from my flat. They are a wholesale bakery, but from October to March they open their kitchens on a Saturday afternoon and teach baking techniques. I signed up for a pastry lesson, as I'm pretty good with cakes and bread, but have never had that much success with pastry.

We started by making a croissant dough. Fresh yeast was mixed with water and flour, then left to ferment. While that was getting going, we mixed the first stage of a puff pastry, as well as a wholemeal shortcrust pastry.

While the puff pastry was chilling, we added sugar, salt and egg to the yeast starter. This was again left to rest, this time in the fridge. The timing of the afternoon was very cleverly set up so that there was always something to do. While the croissant dough and the puff pastry were resting, we made the shortcrust in to mini-quiches.

The most exciting thing for me was learning how to laminate dough. I've attempted puff-pastry before, but it was a complete disaster. I found the illustrated instructions in Leiths very confusing, it was like trying to read a book on origami. Being shown how to do it was much easier, plus the baker, Sean, and his assistant, Craig, came round our benches and offered advice and help where necessary! It was very reassuring to have them check whether your mixture was too runny, too stiff, too dry, too sticky, and even better when they helped you correct it!

Something I've realised from living with people who aren't used to cooking is how much you rely on just "knowing" when something is right. One of my ex-flatmates used to complain that her food was always bad, even though she followed the recipe exactly. That was the problem, if it said brown the onions for 10 minutes, she'd do it for 10 minutes even though the onions were brown after 5, and black after 7. Given that I've been cooking fairly frequently for the past 15 or so years, I've acquired this skill for most things, but my inexperience in the pastry arena meant I wasn't entirely confident that things were on track all the time.

We had a coffee break in possibly the only staff-room with a full on espresso machine! After a latte, some pizza and a bannoffee cupcake, it was back to work. As the croissant and puff pastry take hours to make (you have to work on them in stages, with long periods of resting in-between), we were given doughs that had been made earlier, in true Blue Peter style. We made croissants, cherry and raspberry danish pastries, sausage rolls and banana tarte tatins.

Very low quality photo of high quality goodies!

I came back with two palettes of baked goods, plus the unfinished croissant and puff pastry doughs.

I am definitely more comfortable working with pastry now, and feel more confident about attempting things like croissants. I am going to try to get to the bread class and the cake class too, as I think even though I am more experienced in those areas, there would still be lots for me to learn.