I have only tried making bread once before, and it ended in disaster - of the face-and-hair-covered-in-white-dust variety. I'm still cleaning up flour from under the fridge.
But I've been re-inspired after a trip last weekend to the Shipton Mill in Frampton on Severn, Gloucestershire in the Cotswolds. Our friends, Libby and Lawrence from the fantastic The Humble Kitchen supper club, found out about a FREE bread making course being run regularly at the mill. I can't recommend it enough. And I can't BELIEVE it's free.
From 9:30am-3.30pm on Sunday, we learned some of the science of breadmaking, then got our hands dirty in the kitchen making a rustic sourdough with feta and Provencale herbs, a beautiful, dusted white plaited loaf, pitas, a round seeded soda bread, shiny, iced chelsea buns (which were a hit in the office) and short pastry filled with strawberry jam. Not only were we given a box to carry home our wonderful smelling loot, but baker Clive Mellum gave us part of his white and rye "mother" starters to take home to feed and grow with our new found knowledge.
|My Chelsea buns before baking...|
|... and after|
It turns out that rolling and kneading is hungry work. The day includes lunch at the mill where you can taste and compare a range of delicious breads - filled pitas, sourdoughs, foccaccia with olive oil and sticky balsamic, and date and walnut bread for example, with cheeses and smoked salmon, and a range of other sides.
|Lunch at the mill|
Clive regularly gives up his time during the week and on some weekends to put on this fantastic course, which is sponsored by mill owner, John Lister. The course is fun, informal and you get plenty of personal attention since there's only up to about 6 people per day. Clive's passion is infectious - he also visits prisons and helps people in drug rehab to get them baking bread, and travels the world sharing baking tips and techniques with other bakers. You'll never want to buy supermarket bread again.
The quality of the flour is excellent (our Humble Kitchen friends use it regularly) and you can buy it on-line for delivery direct from the mill. The mill - which has been standing on the river bank for over 900 years - uses simple, traditional processes to ground organic and wholemeal grain, creating flours with a wholesome texture and flavour.
|One of our fellow bakers with her loot to take home|
While in the area, we had a top notch lunch at The Bell pub in Sapperton, which is well worth a visit.
|The Bell, Sapperton|
The pub is in a traditional old stone building with exposed brickwork and a cosy fireplace. My monkfish with spinach and hollandaise was cooked expertly, and came with some unbelievably good veggies (bright, snappy green snowpeas, carrot, parsnip and new potatoes).
Lib loved her wild sea bass with a vegetable medley and pesto and the boys' burgers were huge, with densely packed, flavoursome English Longhorn meat. The were served with oodles of chips - although they were apparently not as great as the beef dripping chips you get if you order the separate side dish. But happy, happy campers all round.
|Boozey Christmas pudding|
I finished with a gorgeous, boozey Christmas pud (although I wasn't a fan of the ultra sticky, sweet brandy butter) and TPG loved his banana Eton mess with ginger snaps. Mains are around £12-£15 each.
We stayed just down the road from the mill at The True Heart B&B run by Veronica Metcalfe. For £40 per person, we had a simple but fastidiously clean room - each has its own flat screen TV, tea, coffee and comfy bed. Veronica also puts on a fantastic breakfast - fruit salad, cereals, fresh OJ, tea, coffee, home made toast (Veronica has done the course at the mill too), home made jams and the full English - with terrific local eggs and sausage, bacon, tomato and mushroom. I've had my fair share of B&B horror stories, but for me Veronica was the perfect host, being friendly and there when we needed her, but she's not one to cramp your style if you don't want to discuss your life story over breakfast.
It took us under 2.5 hours to reach the Cotswolds by car from Kings Cross station (although it took an hour longer to return late on Sunday afternoon - but by then we had our baked goods for car snacks). I highly recommend the breadmaking course as a great excuse for a wintry weekend getaway. And try to spend an afternoon having a long lunch at The Bell in Sapperton - not to be confused with the far less gourmet pub by the same name in Frampton on Severn near the mill.
You can contact the Shipton Mill at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 01666 505050.