It is time for a newsletter as this year’s courses are drawing to a close, and all next year’s dates are now set, and flying on the website.
There are few changes, if any, to the courses offered and their programmes. Composite courses are the new thing and they were thoroughly described in my last Newsletter. It means that for Basic and British courses, a One-day format will be followed immediately by a second day which is actually turning that one-day course into the Two-day version. Students who want to book for the two-day course will stay on, and they may be joined by new people who have previously done the one-day course, but now want to complete the second day of it. The format was tried out satisfactorily in October’s Basic course, so I have gone ahead to create six of these composite courses next year.
I had a stimulating trip to Sweden in the summer. While it was a holiday with no specific plan to visit bakeries or meet bakers, my chefing friend Peter Wright did whisk me off to visit bakeries. Although crispbreads are not a mainstream part of British baking, I found the range very interesting, with wheat, rye, and combinations of wheat/rye/barley. I have been practising since with a view to having a section on them in my book. In the shorter term, students attending any 3-day (request programmes) course could ask for Scandinavian crispbreads as part of their hoped-for personal programme.
Talking of the book, it is now pounding along at a vigorous pace (for a two-fingered typist). I need an illustrator. Please get in touch if you can connect me with a person capable of drawing hands manipulating dough. An area in which I have always felt that my book could excel is that difficult topic of showing and teaching how to shape dough, and generally capturing hand skills where they concern various bakerly tasks. I already have a great photographer, Nick Atkins, but I want to combine him with an illustrator.
Course fees. Ever since the recession embedded itself in 2008 my only fee to have risen slightly is my consultancy fee. Your course fees have actually been reduced. However, with all costs gradually rising, I now feel it is appropriate for me to creep up the course fees. At the turn of the new year there will be the following changes: one-day course fee to rise from £160 to £175; two-day course fee to rise from £310 to £330. Staying unchanged are 3-day course fee (£480) and “apprentice” day Thursdays (£125).
The fees will not rise until January 1st. All bookings taken until December 31st shall be at the old 2012 rates.
Equipment for sale. On the baker’s equipment front there is one new item – the small pastrycook’s plastic scraper tool that is favoured by bakers too. Further good news is that at last I have obtained again a steady supply of masonry tiles suitable for placing into domestic ovens to act as a “bake stone”. They are unglazed terracottas, hand made in Mexico, and they are crying out for a plump cob, bloomer, or sourdough loaf to be slid onto their hot surface. Dimensions are 30cm x 30cm x 14 mm thick.
People ask – why have a baking tile or stone? Because you will get a real boost from the conducted heat punching the bottom of your loaf. The weakest feature of a domestic oven, and many fan-assisted chef”s ovens for that matter, is that the baking is primarily done merely by the circulation of hot air in convection currents. These ovens lack the masonry floor of bakers’ ovens where the bread is always placed on a very hot surface. With a hot tile in your oven you can at least emulate a baker’s oven. Imagine the “oven spring” you will get in your bread. Imagine the crisp bottom to your pizzas and pastries – no more “soggy bottom” on your apple pie.
People also ask about oven spring – what is it? and why is it important? It is important because it is the final signal that the fermentation of the bread has been properly managed. When the bread meets the extreme heat of the oven, there should be life left in it to cause a surge of yeast activity, plus the natural expansion of the gas within it which will respond to such heat. These factors combine to create oven spring – the rapid upward expansion of the loaf in the early stage of baking – usually displayed by some attractive tearing of the crust, and the pretty opening-out of the knife slashes given to the surface. When you are not getting oven spring it usually means there has been over-proving.
With best wishes for good baking, Paul