Baking dreams come true at school where Sheffield artisan makers learned their craft

Baking has never been so in vogue as it is in 2019.

Thursday, 18th July 2019, 11:33 am
Updated Wednesday, 14th August 2019, 3:56 pm
The finished product

After a decade of a certain TV show specialising in perfect patisserie and making national stars out of talented cake makers, everyone knows how to turn out spot on puddings, it seems. Apart from me. I love cooking, and can turn out decent savoury pies, but a gloopy home-made passionfruit roulade once attracted only laughter at a dinner party and anything with sugar in falls flatter than a pancake.

Enter the French baking course, where students learn how to make three types of artisan bread, at the School of Artisan Food.

This renowned institution has spawned multiple Sheffield food traders, so hopes were high.

The finished brioche

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Sunday’s course had a real mixture of students, from couples and family pairs to single food lovers, and even one woman hoping to set up a bakery abroad.

Tutor Emmanuel Hadjiandreou set up a preparation production line as we weighed out ingredients needed for the three breads – traditional French baguettes, brioche and a country loaf. It was the first clue as to where I had been going wrong, as everything was weighed to the exact gram, rather than the usual approach of by haphazard eye. It turns out 100g of water is a lot less than you might think.

“You train yourself to be gram perfect”, said Emmanuel.

“A lot of people find it weird – but one gram of yeast will make a huge difference to a recipe.”

The baguettes looked rather rustic before baking

Another discovery was the use of a “poolish”, or preferment for the breads, which add flavour and improve the bake.

These had been made in advance for the course, but would be simple to recreate at home and formed lesson two, that taking time to bake yields better results that whipping it all together at once. Impeccable schedule timing meant we jumped between different breads and baking stages, including kneading each dough four times.

It was a real game-changer to learn a conclusive method for kneading, turning the bowl and lifting up sections of the bread before folding them back in ten times as most recipes simply say “knead”.

Rising times were filled with detailed discussions on everything from the science of yeast, different types or classifications of flour, how French bakeries run and why salt is used. Who knew baguettes originally came from Vienna?

There was a near miss when I almost chucked a brioche mixture into the pain de campagne, but Emmanuel saved the day. “Has everybody still got their brioche?” he asked the class, later.

After lunch – naturally showcasing other students’ beautiful handywork on glorious pies and breads – it was time to get shaping our proved doughs.

Our baguettes were far from the uniform creations turned out by professional bakers, but the slashes and styling made them aesthetically pleasing.

A rustic brioche – massaged through with butter and dappled with sugar – was a beauty to behold once swollen to full size, and the triangular design on my country loaf top only looked slightly satanic.

The class was pleased as punch to watch creations bake golden in the amazing professional ovens. We left weighed down with bread, and dreams of opening an artisan bakery...

The school has a vast range of courses, with French baking priced at £185. schoolofartisangood.org.