The Barbarians were recently very kindly invited by Bread Ahead’s owner Matthew Jones to join one of their one-day (6.5h) French baking courses in Borough Market (regular price £180 per person, including lunch, a baking book, and all ingredients).
As requested, we showed up well before the official start time of 10:00am (the introductory email advises you that they might not let you join, if you arrive after 9:45am), in order to register, put on our aprons, walk to the classroom, and get ready. Most of the ladies with longer hair used rubber-bands to keep the hair from touching the ingredients and being in their way.
Our teacher Kevan Roberts was a true delight, funny, super-knowledgeable, and always calm and relaxed. We were very impressed with his background. Kevan had run his own bakery and baking school, received his initial training at a bakery in France, and also spent some time developing bread and pastry recipes for many of the biggest supermarkets, including Waitrose and M&S.
After a brief introduction and prep talk, we were given our first tasks and kept busy for the rest of the day, except a brief lunch break. One after another, we were going to learn how to bake rustic pain de campagne, perfect butter croissants, brioche, and madeleines.
Our group was a wild mix of people. At first we felt a bit intimidated by the expertise of some of the other attendees. The course is open to all skill-levels. One bubbly lady from Taiwan had run her own supper club and food businesses in the past, a couple from Italy were seasoned hobby-bakers, one lady had received the voucher as a birthday gift from her husband. She had never done any baking (it made the group laugh to hear the story, as she convincingly stated the voucher had come as a complete surprise to her, but that she was aware that her husband is really into croissants).
Kevan was brilliant at making everyone feel at ease quickly and ensuring that no one felt left behind. I had done a little bit of baking over the years, but never with excessive ambition. Mr B had baked pizza from scratch a few times, but that was it. Despite the tight schedule, we never felt rushed. Kevan always started out explaining the next step, providing some insights into the ingredients, the history of the respective bakery product, dos and donts about the technique, then each of us started to follow his instructions while he was walking around, assisting us.
I think everyone in the team considered the butter croissants the highlight of the course. The process is complicated and time-consuming. Usually it takes three days, including the periods when the dough is resting. This problem was solved by Kevan replacing the dough we had just worked on with dough from the fridge that had rested overnight already and that had been prepared by another group the day before. Five junior assistants were constantly on their legs helping with everything.
At the end of the course each of us received bags with the bakery goods we had prepared during the day. We will definitely be back soon to do another course. 5 out of 5 in our book.
Other fun activities we’ve blogged about include our Norfolk seal safari, rowing in Venice, powerboating, hot air ballooning, rock-climbing, and or our trip to the Sahara. For some restaurant reviews, feel welcome to have a look at our posts about the Robot Restaurant, Tokyo, Gruvelageret near the North Pole, Lafleur, Frankfurt, Beso, London, and The Porch House, Stow-on-the-Wold.