A full day of learning the tricks to bread making at Loaf in Stirchley
As a wedding gift, some friends gave us a voucher for a cooking class at Loaf, a worker co-operative in Stirchley that runs a series of classes and began as a bakery. It’s a feel good kind of place and legend has it that you have to queue around the block to get some bread on a Saturday morning
I am often a bit un-nerved by doing activities with strangers but I really wanted to make use of the gift and liked the idea of learning how to do something properly rather than my ‘make it up as I go along’ approach. It took us some time to decide on which class to do as they teach a range of skills but we both love fresh bread and I have memories of making hedgehog rolls as a child so it seemed like the best bet.
Our class was a group of 11 people led by Gordon and assisted by Martha, we paired up and found a workspace and set to work. The class began with a little intro from Gordon explaining what Loaf do before we moved onto making the communal dough. This was a mix that we worked on as a group and worked as a way of a) breaking the ice and making people relax and b) teaching us all the correct kneading technique. We took it in turns to stretch the dough and get used to the feel of it.
As we went along, we were guided in our technique, learnt about tools and ingredients and got to take notes and ask questions as we went. I think our home baking will improve massively just from understanding more about different types of yeast and flour plus the way in which different doughs should be handled during preparation.
The first part of the day was spent preparing our doughs, we learnt how to make a standard dough, a wholemeal variety and a wet dough made with a starter (usually prepared 24 hrs in advance). We each shared the tasks in our pairs so that we got to experience the range of techniques that were being taught. It was good to go as a pair as it meant we could talk about how we were going to recreate things at home but also it should mean that we absorbed all of the salient tips and tricks.
Gordon and Martha were great, offering hands on advice and a relaxed patter without feeling too much like teachers. If you happen to have really talented baker friends who invite you round while they are cooking then I imagine it’s what that feels like. The pace of the activities was comfortable so it didn’t feel like we were racing to keep up or missing anything important.
With our individual doughs set aside to prove we each took a portion of the communal dough that we had all made together and learnt how to make pitta breads and fougasse (perfect ‘easy but show offy’ bread to make at home) We talked about how to recreate bakery conditions in a home oven and what tools can be used to make the process easier. Our fresh baked goods formed part of the provided lunch and we sat down to eat, drink tea and chat with the other students/bakers.
Returning to the kitchen we moved onto forming and baking, learning the best ways to shape and handle our doughs to get the desired results. This part was probably the most useful as we found out how to cook in a cast iron pot and it helped us understand where we had been going wrong at home. Time raced by at this point and it was surprising to realise how close an eye you need to keep on things- I now know most of my bread has been overproved because I leave it for far too long!
We went into the main bakery to cook our round loaves and learn about the differences between a commercial oven and one at home, this again helps with the understanding of what we were trying to achieve when we bake ourselves.
I don’t want to give away too many tips because I think without context they probably won’t help. The mix of practical application, hands on advice and then notes to take away are what makes this a complete experience. We have had marginal success with our home baking but I think the easiest way to demonstrate how good this class was for us is just to look at what we made!
Can you believe it? These are things we actually produced ourselves! And, got to take home too. I am really proud of our creations, I think we did a good job of following the instructions and learning to judge progress by the way that the dough feels as we went along.
At the end of the class, smug faces all round we had a change to ask questions, get some more tips and then go to the bakery shop. On a Saturday they run out of bread straight away but it’s not like we had a shortage! We took home our bread, a brioche dough that Gordon showed us how to make, a milk roll with honey as a snack for the journey and a few useful supplies from the shop that will help us make our own bread very soon.
Loaf do a range of classes including Dosa, Charcuterie and a Sourdough one that I am told is very good. I would happily book onto another one but the vouchers make for really good gifts too.
We did the ‘Bread: Back to Basics’ course which ran from 9:30- 4pm and included lunch at a cost of £120pp
1421 Pershore Rd, Birmingham B30 2JL