Monday, 10 December 2012

River Cottage Christmas Bread Course

In April this year, I was 40.

The Husband took me to Venice, and we had a brilliant party (well, I thought it  was brilliant - it was just what I wanted). I honestly didn't want any presents, but I was very spoiled, and one of the fantastic presents I was lucky enough to be given was a voucher for a River Cottage course. Yes really. Very spoiled.

It will not have escaped the notice of anyone of you lovely people who read this relatively regularly that I am a bit of a fan of Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall and what he stands for. The whole River Cottage thing - even though it's much bigger than it ever was when it was just Hugh and his sports car fresh from London, towing some pigs back to the first River Cottage - I just love it. And while it's surrounded by glorious countryside and is a stone's throw from a wonderful coastline, I'm sure our uncanny ability to end up in the environs of Axminster more often than not when we take off in the camper van has more than a little to do with the presence of River Cottage, a.k.a Park Farm, nestling just outside the town.

Aidan and the fennel top & lemon focaccia
So, anyway a voucher. For a whole day. I won't bore you with the agonies of choice over which course to go for, but a number of factors conspired to find me, yesterday, sleeves rolled up, apron on, making Christmas breads in the company of 17 others, mostly women, a few men, and the brilliantly enthusiastic and passionate Aidan Chapman, proprietor of the Phoenix Bakery in Weymouth. All this after a relaxed cup of coffee and a gorgeous little taster of a salt beef hash bruschetta snackette - just the sort of thing you'd imagine you might get served up at one of the River Cottage parties so beloved of the series'.




The temporary cookery school - a new one is being built




Well, what can I say? It was the most brilliant day.  Despite the bitter cold, even the tractor ride down from the car park to the farm itself was exciting - that first view of the Devon longhouse that I have seen on TV so many times was quite thrilling, and I was almost beside myself to actually get a look inside the farmhouse. That kitchen - wow. The one in all the programmes. Am I sounding star-struck enough yet? 



Despite all this, really, honestly, the best bit was truly the baking. I would say that I am a reasonably competent bread baker, but I've lost a little of my enthusiasm recently - lots of factors conspiring against me. As a result of the day, I am totally fired up again, all my feelings about the value and frankly, the ease of baking amazing bread at home have all been reaffirmed. 

Throughout the day, almost working backwards, Aidan explained the principles of sourdough, used either directly as the raising agent in a loaf, or in a yeasted bread to add structure and depth of flavour. Over the course of the day we made: a cranberry and yoghurt sourdough loaf

 














a yeasted chestnut and walnut loaf


Before...

...and after


foccacia (flavoured respectively with: fennel tops and lemon, roasted elephant garlic, rosemary and sea salt, leeks and blue cheese)


communal foccacia dough making

 flat breads (which were served, again in true River cottage style with some amazing hummus, some utterly divine coriander lamb, some chicken liver parfait and some egg & garlic mayonnaise. I was too busy eating to take pictures. Just imagine typical HF-W party food. Slurp.)

pear, beer and cheddar soda bread


It's not ugly, OK, it's RUSTIC. And bloody lovely.


Italian Christmas Cookies

a cross between a meringue and a macaroon and utterly gorgeous

and pizza dough which we made our final meal of the day with - wood fired oven pizza - toppings including smoked pheasant, River Cottage cured ham, caramelised onions - are you drooling yet?). Once we'd had our own individually rolled and topped pizzas fired in the oven, it was indoors for warmth ( it was a wee bit chilly outside, despite the temperature of the oven) delicious salads, a Stinger beer, and a chocolate cake to die for (with clotted cream). All in time to stagger back up the hill - well, the tractor staggered up the hill) clutching our bags of bread. The car smelt divine on the way home - and the Husband finished the pizza as we drove back up the A303.
  

The whole day was incredibly relaxed, but we got through a huge amount. It helped that all the ingredients for each loaf came out of the kitchens in smart little bowls, pre-measured - no rummaging around in the depths of the cupboards for that ingredient that you're sure is in there somewhere, but Aidan's passion and enthusiasm for his subject and his openness to questions really inspired a huge amount of confidence in all of us, and as we ate our pizzas, we were all discussing what we would make for Christmas, spurred on by our day.



The best bit of the day for me: I have lost my fear of wet bread dough. I am a convert. No more will I panic and chuck extra flour into the bowl for an easy life. My bread scraper is on order, my starter is up and running again, and my bread is going to be FABULOUS. 

There's a pledge you can hold me to. Watch this space.

18 comments:

  1. I'm so pleased you had a great day. The course seems to have changed quite a bit since I did it, though we did make pizzas. Aiden is great isn't he?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. He really is - a great teacher. He said it was different from the usual bread course - the christmassy twists etc. I loved it.

      Delete
  2. AMAZE! I love it RJ. hat a special day - blimey you did do a lot didn't you. I'm going to bed now to dream of bread..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Table - I thoroughly recommend it, it was, as my 9 yr old might say 'epic-ly awesome'

      Delete
  3. I've been looking forward to this post and wow!!! How jealous am I?? That pear, beer and cheddar bread is not ugly... I could eat that right now. I'm going to start saving my pennies right now!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh yeah, save away - it was brilliant.

      Delete
  4. OH MY WORD! That sounds amazing! What a truly fabulous gift and SO much packed into the day. Everything you made looks divine - lucky husband eating pizza on the way home! I'm not a confident bread maker and would love to do a course. As I've quite a few brownie points stacked in my favour, maybe I could swing it?? :)
    (best of luck with the competition x)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you definitely have the points banked. It was a brilliant day.

      Delete
  5. Was everyone there great cooks/bakers?
    I'm a bit scared of the kitchen. how would someone like me get on doing one of these courses?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, not really - most people did a bit of baking, but quite few were complete bread novices. And it was really down to earth - Aidan who lead it was brilliant at explaining, answering question etc.

      Delete
  6. I bought their bread book a while ago and I have since wondered how it would be to take a class there. Thanks to your post, I now know. Everything I see in the photos is lovely.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was a great day - i would thoroughly recommend!

      Delete
  7. I've been meaning to read this post all week because I knew it would make me jealous - it has ;O) Have even been off seeing if I could ever afford to go... In the meantime I'll have to keep myself going with looking at those lovely pictures :) Glad you had a good day x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. :-) it's worth every penny - honestly - I know I got vouchers for that course, but I'd save up for another one.

      Delete

I LOVE comments - please leave one. Unfortunately, I have been getting hideous amounts of SPAM so please can you do the word verification thingy?

UA-44695690-1