Food lover Jennie Lewis takes her already well-honed baking skills to a new level and recalls happy memories of nana’s kitchen as she checks out a bakery course that’s arrived in Liverpool
2018 began with the term ‘Veganuary’ hot on the lips of hundreds of hipsters and thousands more beyond. The cultural and ethical debate around food industry standards, once kept on the down low, is now de rigeur and conversations about its impact on our health and the environment show no signs of stopping.
Since 2016 we’ve been seeing the seemingly unstoppable rise of veganism and the plant-based parade. More and more we seem to be a society who love to label and who have developed a penchant for promoting a diet sans… something. Anything, really.
Vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian and (my personal favourite) flexitarian… keto, paleo, caveman, macrobiotic… high protein, low cab… meat-free, fat-free, caffeine-free, alcohol-free, salt-free, sugar-free, dairy-free and the dreaded gluten-free (because we all have loads of coeliac friends these days, don’t we).
Alas, this article does not serve as part of the debate around farming standards (for the record, I buy organic – because I can). No, this article is about stepping out of the madness for a second, taking it back to basics and paying homage to something we all know and love – the humble loaf.
Memories of nana
For me, anything that was good enough for my nana – a beautiful, caring, strong and active woman who raised four children, loved and cared for hundreds of animals (dogs, cats, rabbits… ferrets, tortoises, even bees – her house was quite literally like a menagerie), loved to bake and lived to the ripe old age of 91 – is good enough for me.
I’m talking proper butter, full fat milk, occasionally lard and certainly a good (really good) loaf of fresh white bread. And Room Forty have won awards for theirs. Their White Delight picked up silver in the World Bread Awards last year, and for good reason.
I went along to their beginner’s bread baking course in Mossley Hill and the White Delight, joyfully, was on the itinerary.
Hot in the footsteps of my nana, who taught me how to make scones and jam tarts from an early age, I’ve always been a keen home baker. However, for me, as for many, the idea of baking a loaf of bread seemed a daunting task.
Room Forty took away that fear instantly. Their approach to baking is simple – a few good-quality ingredients and a little bit of know how is all you knead. Sorry, need.
The business, founded by entrepreneur Jen Perry in 2016, began holding bread-baking workshops in Warrington, Lymm, Grappenhall and Rainford, St Helens, which were so popular they expanded into Mossley Hill in Liverpool earlier this year.
They run evening and weekend classes so that everyone can attend. Led by baking experts who are friendly, helpful, informative (and happy to answer incessant questions), the classes are a great way to learn, meet like-minded people and are just lots of fun.
In the three (ish) hours I was there, I learned how to make a white loaf (the best I’ve ever tasted- and very low in salt and sugar), wholemeal loaf and soda bread. We were given the opportunity to test the tasty wares whilst our loaves baked, and Jen even made some pizzas from the leftover white dough.
Mitch made the process so easy and enjoyable – even demonstrating a knack for kneading that has made bread-baking since more of a breeze than a backache. We laughed, we learned, we ate and we came away with hints, tips, recipe cards, a dough scraper (very handy little bit of kit) three fresh-baked loaves and a new confidence with regards to bread baking.
I’ve baked twice more since and I’m planning a White Delight this weekend to go with some vegan cheese I’ve bought… if you can believe that.
Room Forty run a series of baking workshops, from beginners classes, to specialist classes in European and Italian breads, spelt and rye, tiger bread, buns and Christmas bakes. For more information visit http://www.roomforty.co.uk/bakingworkshops.html