Herts Young Homeless Bread Class

On Monday 26 June I held a bread class for 3 volunteers from iPro.  iPro stands for ‘involvement project’. iPro is formed of a group of young people who volunteer to act as a focus group for Herts Young Homeless to help improve the charity and make a difference to youth homelessness.

These young volunteers have all been homeless themselves and often came from chaotic, dysfunctional families where living at home was not an option.

Suffering from various problems, drug, alcohol, physical and sexual abuse to neglect, learning difficulties and mental health issues, they ended up on the streets.

My 3 students (should’ve been 4, but one had to cry off as his epilepsy was becoming increasingly frequent) were incredibly polite, witty, intelligent and very politically astute. 

The first student to arrive was originally from Uganda and has been here since he was five. He came here with his father and 2 of his brothers, whereas his mother and the rest of his extended family preferred to stay in Uganda. Handsome, funny and very philosophical, I learned a lot from his opinions on the issues of today and the injustices young, disadvantaged people suffer.  He was horrified that I wouldn’t let him tidy and wash up.  Having been reunited with his father, his favourite activity was cooking for his family and making chapattis.  You could see that in his method of rolling out pizza dough! He hopes to go back to university and continue his engineering studies.

Another student came originally from South Yorkshire.  Her extended family included 17 brothers (3 killed in the Gulf War) and 5 sisters.  I particularly warmed to her as she was very spiky, wasn’t afraid to speak her mind and was obviously admired by her peers.  She had various physical issues which strongly suggested physical injuries rather than conditions she was born with.  She admitted to past drug abuse and mental health issues. She was concerned that she wasn’t always sure whether she had taken her medication or not which led to uncertainty about her long term condition.  She was also funny and very forward with her opinions.  Her favourite occupations where cooking (her knowledge of cooking terms and ingredients was impressive) and creative writing.  Her genre was slasher/horror, so everyone thought it hilarious when I gave her a very large machete type implement to cut up the pizzas.

Student 3 was a very reserved individual and only spoke when spoken to and refused to be photographed.  It was suggested by the others that he was thrown out when his parents discovered he was gay.  He was the volunteer for iPro that went into schools and clubs to talk about the causes and issues of homelessness and generally supported the more vulnerable volunteers.

I had a fantastic day with these young people and we made some amazing bread.  Definitely the best pizzas made in any class I’ve taken despite toppings of every description including the kitchen sink.

Our group hug, when I dropped them off at the station, brought tears to my eyes.  It is so tragic that every child isn’t valued and brought to their full potential.  These young people, through various awful circumstances early in life, have had their potential stifled.  My hope is that it’s just a temporary ‘blip’ in their lives and with the help of hyh they can lead fulfilled lives in the future.

Singing Bread

Freshly baked bread ‘crackles’ when it emerges in its’ crusty, golden splendour from the oven. It is just the sound of the loaf contracting as it cools, but to a baker, it’s a heavenly choir singing the Hallelujah Chorus.

There are many predictable comments from students baking real, honest bread for the first time during the introduction to my Bread Making Classes. ‘The flour is so silky’. ‘Wow, this dough feels beautiful, nothing like my attempts’. ‘OMG, look at my bread rising’ (this is from the little crowd, Bake Off style, crammed round the door of the oven). But the most momentous moment is when they hear their loaves ‘singing’.

Imagine George Clooney or Angelina Jolie walking into the room. Shrieks, fainting (OK, exaggerating a bit here), hugs and high fives. Amazing reactions to a freshly baked loaf of bread! 

If you’ve watched the American baker Paul Reinhart on the TED talks (really worth a watch), he talks about the life, death, life, death cycle of bread. Wheat, is planted and grows – life. The wheat is harvested – death. Water is added to the ground wheat and made into dough – life. The dough is baked in the oven – death.  I love to think that when my loaves sing, it’s their last opportunity to celebrate humanities oldest, most miraculous, life-sustaining foods.

I tried recording the bread singing on my iPhone but the sound was too faint, so I borrowed a half decent sound recorder and had another go...so take a listen at my amateur attempt** at recording the amazing sound of 'Singing Bread'. Please turn your volume up...

** for the audio nerds out here, it is worth noting that even with the sound recorder held closely to the loaves, I had to increase the gain to ensure you could hear the audio nicely. Unfortunately increasing the gain has increased the supposed silence of Aston Parish Bakery's kitchen! At least the sound of the wall clock is comforting - just like my Honest Bread :-)

First attempt at sound recording 

First attempt at sound recording 

Real Bread Week May 2017

Well, it’s the ninth year of Real Bread Week. Running from 6th - 14th May, Real Bread Week celebrates our love of Real Bread and exposing the horrors behind the industrial loaves produced by the millions everyday.

It seems we are falling out of love with the industrial loaf as we are realising that this ‘product’ is full of cheap and nasty ingredients, highly questionable ‘processing agents’ and preservatives. The stuff is making us ill, hence the rise in gluten and wheat ‘intolerances’. The ‘intolerance’ is our bodies reacting to fast a production line of unfermented wheat and hard gluten. The wheat ferments in our stomachs and the gluten softens in the gut, no wonder we’re feeling uncomfortable.

The industry also creates vast amounts of waste, which is something I only found out recently from a student who worked as a Production Manager at a large supermarket ‘bakery’. His stories were horrendous and he has never touched these loaves again – never mind feeding them to his children! He joined one of my recent Bread Making Classes and was struggling a bit to get a decent loaf. Leaving delighted with some tasty bread under arm, he couldn’t wait to get home and bake the kind of bread he dreamt he would achieve one day.

This year we are focusing on Fougasse. Fougasse is a type of bread, not only known in the South of France, but also in other guises world wide. It’s a flat bread made with flour (usually white), yeast, water and salt – rather similar to it’s Italian equivalent, Focaccia.

Olive oil is often used to moisten the crumb, and olives, cheese, and herbs added to make the bread more of a meal! Although, I admit, just plain old Fougasse is good enough for me

Fougasse is the perfect bread for sharing.  The rather alien looking shape simply begs to be ripped a part then dipped in olive oil, lovely aged balsalmic vinegar – ooohhh getting peckish now – hummous, bagna cauda or any other dipping sauce your fevered imagination can cook up.

Kids love making Fougasse too, particularly at Halloween when you can make spooky faces and call it Boogasse! It’s a tolerant dough, not relying on too much ‘rise’ which is vital to a conventional Boule, for example. Little fingers, used to Play Dough, require little tuition to make weird and wonderful Fougasse faces.

Fougasse is usually a savoury treat, but you can replace olives with dried fruit or nuts. I’m including Fougasse in my Introduction to Bread Making Class on 7th May in celebration of Real Bread Week.

Come in and smell the bread...and don't forget that healthy, honest bread requires 5 simple quality ingredients and loves to grow in 220ºc.

Night of the Living Bread!

A day in the life of a Bread Angel - an introduction to Bread Making Class: 1 February 2017.

The 31st January was a dark and stormy night in Aston – well, alright, there was a light breeze and it was mizzling – when the lights flickered and died.  Normally, this is an opportunity for lighting a few candles and sitting in front of the fire, but I had a feeling in my waterworks that I could have a terrifying situation developing if the problem carried on into the morning. I have electric ovens!

Predictably, the lights went poooof around 7am the following morning. Panic set in but I thought that in the past, outages only lasted an hour at most.

My 4 students turned up at 10.30am, Claire the Fairy from Hertford, dedicated dad Olaf from Hitchin and the charming Danica and Walter from Texas – yep, you heard me, Texas.  They were on a 10 day trip to the UK and thought a class with a rural artisan baker would be really cool. The kitchen was candlelit to dispel the gloom, which Walther thought was really British and rather medieval – gulp.

I suggested we could carry on with the class, hoping we would have a blast of electricity at some stage soon, or they could have a refund/reschedule, but they all elected to stay and thought it was great fun – gulp again.

I’d tried to retard the dough but my fridge was too small, it was not particularly cold outside, so I just had to watch their lovely dough over-prove and start to flow. Pizza is a tasty break in the course, which they make themselves and everyone loves it, but with no ‘lecky’ this wasn’t going to happen.

My thoughts led to ordering fish and chips, possibly (in a Basil Fawlty flashback) find someone in the village to entertain the students with a flamenco guitar and sing a selection from Oklahoma! This Bread Angel was really winging it

The lights finally came on at 2.11pm, 49 minutes before the end of the class

It was one of the most stressful but hilarious days I’ve had in a long time. Everyone had great stories to tell as we got to know one another.  They loved making their dough, despite doubts they would ever eat any bread. They all said it was a fantastic day and had learned so much, despite eating soggy pizza and missing that magic moment when a golden loaf appears from the oven (they all looked a bit ‘beige’).

Olaf said he had got exactly what he wanted from the course, which enabled him to go to the next level in his bread baking adventure – every penny spent was worth it. Claire got the confidence to bake bread at last and sang my praises on Social Media, Danica and Walter – well, they loved every minute and wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Me? I’m suffering from PTSD but, hey, I’m a Bread Angel and my halo will be polished and gleaming for the next class.

So if would like to make a fresh honest bread order or enquire about class availability (with electricity), please call me on 07811 356046 or drop me line at honestbread@astonparishbakery.co.uk as I'd love to hear from you.

Oh and don't forget that tasty bread loves to grow in 220ºc 😀 (although my strapline was temporarily suspended on this occasion).

Aston Parish Bakery Fires Up The Oven

Just 2 years after starting my fresh cookery enterprise DiCooks - serving the best Cookisto takeaways in Hertfordshire - I'm chuffed to announce the launch of Aston Parish Bakery, a micro bakery catering for the growing demand for my honest bread. 

Aston Parish Bakery is a micro bakery offering 2 simple services - delicious bread to order and the opportunity to book onto my new Bread Making Classes.

So if would like to make a fresh honest bread order or enquire about class availability, please call me on 07811 356046 or drop me line at honestbread@astonparishbakery.co.uk as I'd love to hear from you.

Oh and don't forget that tasty bread loves to grow in 220ºc 😀