Making your own bread feels good on every level – plus you get a wondrous loaf out of it. We chuck together the ingredients for no-knead bread every Friday night and then have it for lunch on Saturdays, and it’s delicious. It has a really firm crust and the inside of the bread is moist and airy – so it’s perfect for soup or mopping up sauce or eating with olive oil, but not so great for sandwiches. It doesn’t keep very well, either. So we wanted to learn how to make a simple but delicious sandwich loaf with a soft and small crumb, that makes good toast and keeps well.
You can get a recipe for a basic loaf like this from just about any cookbook, but we knew enough to know that a recipe for bread is less important than understanding the way yeast and flour work, how to knead dough properly and the best way to shape a loaf. You need to be shown such secrets. Photos in a book, in our experience, just don’t cut it. We searched around for a short, affordable, hands-on London course, and finally, after much research, chose Jane Mason’s Virtuous Bread class.
Mason’s basic bread course is just four hours long, so eminently do-able, isn’t too expensive, certainly isn’t very chi-chi (it all takes place in her Barnes kitchen), but is hugely informative, useful and inspiring. Mason believes that eating and baking good, healthy bread is such an important key to good living that it can effect positive social change (and when she explains how the flour used in processed bread is made, you will never ever let another slice into your house again). Mason does not just bake for fun: it is her mission. What this means in terms of the class is this: you will learn so much in four hours. She packs history, science, and health into her every sentence and makes it all fascinating, as well as helpful (if you understand how gluten works, you’ll understand why dough needs stretching and therefore how to knead). She’s clearly a natural born teacher and the class is as hands-on as it is full of theory. We made white, wholemeal and rye loaves, and, while the dough was rising, whipped up soda bread too. There were five women in our class, mostly total beginners, all really nice, and the whole thing was thoroughly enjoyable – plus you come out, warm bread under your arm, really feeling that you’ve mastered a basic but important life skill. We loved it.
FYI: Mason also teaches classes on sourdough bread, sweet things like cinnamon and hot cross buns, how to set up your own small baking business, and how to teach baking skills yourself.