It's Just Nice

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Baking bread at Berwick Lodge

I love cooking, and it’s no secret that I really love baking, but a cookery class isn’t something I ever would have really chosen to have done myself. However, I’m a firm believer that the best gifts are the ones you wouldn’t necessarily buy yourself, so when I was given a voucher for a cookery class of my choice at Bristol’s Berwick Lodge for my birthday, I was keen to get stuck in.

Berwick Lodge, for those of you who are unfamiliar with it, is a hotel and restaurant just outside of Bristol, not far off the Cribbs Causeway junction of the M5. It’s privately owned, and the restaurant, which is headed up by chef Chris Wicks (the foodies out there will know him from Bell’s Diner) has a reputation for being one of the best in Bristol. The cookery school is run in the Mews Conference centre next door to the hotel, and with half day courses costing around £55, is considerably cheaper than some of the other cookery schools out there.

I had the choice between bread making or pasta making, and whilst I ummed and ahhed a little, it didn’t take long to settle on the bread course. I got rather dramatically lost on the way there (I ended up in a flooded lane about three miles away from where I was meant to be and actually thought that I might drown at one point) and arrived nearly twenty minutes late, but despite this felt completely at ease as soon as I walked through the door. The staff who greeted me were lovely, and the service was exactly as described on the website – “impeccable – yet relaxed and friendly.” I did, however, feel like I was going to die of embarrassment when I was introduced to the rest of the class – all five of whom had been waiting for nearly half an hour. For me. *cringe* I guess that was karma for being late.

Anyway, any feelings of awkwardness soon disappeared as we were led over to the cookery school and welcomed by Head Chef, Ed. Ed’s been head chef at Berwick since it opened in 2009, despite looking far too young (and being rather handsome!), but he clearly knows his stuff. He talked us through all of the basics, whilst effortlessly demonstrating the method we’d be using to make our loaves. All of this looked like a piece of cake, but was inevitably much harder than it looked!

During the three hour course we made three different varieties; one focaccia, two Poolish baguettes and one walnut and raisin loaf. If someone had told me beforehand that I’d be able to make four loaves of bread in just under three hours I would have told them to jog on, but lo and behold, I came away the proud creator of these bad boys!!

photo (81)

photo (82)

Now I bake regularly, and whilst bread isn’t my strong point, I’ve made enough of it to have got my head around the basics, but I learnt so much more than I thought I could do in the space of a morning. With Ed’s guidance we were taught:

  • The best kneading technique – basically chuck it on the counter with as much force as you can muster and only use your fingertips. This stops you getting dough halfway up your arms, but also means you can work quite quickly. By the third loaf I’d pretty much got the hang of it, but my arms aren’t half feeling it today!
  • Wetter is better – Avoid the temptation to add more flour if you think the dough looks too wet – it’ll make the loaf too dry, which leads onto…
  • Hands off the flour! Previously I would have covered myself, the counter and most of the kitchen in flour when kneading the dough, but the only flour we used throughout the whole process was in the dough recipe itself – not even a dusting on the work surface! Yes, it’s sticky, but if you get your kneading technique right it’ll firm up quite quickly.
  • Salt & yeast are not friends. This could well be the reason so many of my previous bread attempts have turned out like massive bready biscuits – salt and yeast do not mix. If the two come into close contact the salt will kill the yeast, meaning your bread won’t rise. If you need to add it, do so right at the end when you’re kneading.

These points were really just the beginning, as I came away feeling so much more confident about my bread baking skills, and genuinely really excited about trying out my own variations when I got home. In addition, we were all sent off with the recipes for the loaves we’d made, a starter culture for our Poolish baguettes and a voucher for 10% off another course or 20% off a meal at the restaurant.

As well as the bread course Berwick Lodge offer pasta making and an upcoming fish course, which teaches you how to properly prepare fish – something that I’d be really interested in, as I wouldn’t know where to start! I’d seriously recommend Berwick Lodge to anyone who’s ever fancied trying a cookery course, as you come away feeling that you’ve not only got your money’s worth but that you’ve acquired skills that you’ll really use “in real life”.  You can find out more about the courses they offer here.

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