Bread Ahead – The Bread Bakery Workshop

Last weekend I was given the fantastic opportunity to attend Bread Ahead’s Bakery & School based in London’s Borough Market.  As readers of my blog know I have recently taken an interest in baking bread as it’s something I feel I need to improve on a lot!!  We had to catch an early train to London and then after a short ride on the tube we arrived at London Bridge Underground with Borough Market was just across the road.

The market  itself was wonderful, even though I only had a short amount of time to spend there before my course,  it’s definitely on my list of things to visit in the next few weeks – in fact I’ve decided to take my husband there for his birthday, as I know he’ll enjoy the market as much as I know I will.

Anyway, back to my visit to Bread Ahead.    Today’s course was a full day’s course of bread making.  During today we would learn how to make Ciabatta, Soda Bread, Focaccia and a white Country Loaf.

Our teacher for the day was Aiden Chapman and his wonderful assistant Lou.  Aiden’s passion for artisan bread came across during the whole day and I can honestly say I don’t think I’ll ever be able to buy a loaf of bread from a supermarket ever again!!  Well, I won’t need to now will I, as I can make it myself …

I won’t go into too much detail, well I’ll try not to, as if you’re interested in bread, then get yourself along to one of these courses!  My apologies also as to lack of finished photos.  It was such a busy day, that we were continually on the go, so photos were far and few between.  I meant to take some once home, but the bread was so good, the family couldn’t wait to eat it!!!  This is one of Aiden’s photos that he posted on Twitter.


The first loaf of the day was the white Country Loaf.  Aiden showed us what we had to do first of all and I was amazed at just how wet the dough was.  If I had been making this at home, I would have immediately panicked and probably put it into my mixer to knead or added more flour, but no the dough was meant to be this wet.  It was time for us to have a go.  Four ingredients are all that are required for good bread – flour, salt, yeast and water .  Already weighed out in a bowl were the flour and salt and added to this was the ‘sponge’.  The ‘sponge’ consisted of a premix of flour, water and yeast (taken from the recipe) which had been mixed up the day before and left in the fridge overnight.  The water and fresh yeast were mixed together and added to the dry ingredients.  This was brought together using our fingers/hand.

The dough then needed to be kneaded!  Using the heel of your hand we were shown how to stretch it away from us and tear it by pushing it into the table and pulling back.  It was very sticky, but also very therapeutic in a strange way.  We did this for a good 10 minutes, after which time it had become elastic and it’s texture became much smoother, almost velvety.  The dough was returned to the bowl, covered with a tea towel and left to ferment for an hour.

A great tip from Aiden was that if you suddenly decide to do something else rather than carry on with your bread, perhaps you get invited out to lunch or something else, all you need to do is to put your dough into the fridge, which will slow the fermenting process down.  Just think of all those lunches I’ve turned down in the past when I’ve been making bread, hehe!!  No more..

Once the loaf had proved for an hour or so, it was gently tipped out onto the work-surface.  This basically was all the knocking back that it needed.  This allows the dough to release some of the gases that have built up and also encourages the remainder of the yeast to start working a little faster.  A third of the dough was cut off at this point and put to one side (this was to be our pizza we were to make for lunch).  The remaining two-thirds were gently formed into a loose round shape, covered and left to rest for 10 minutes.  We were using e a proving basked for our bread, so these were heavily floured to ensure the loaf didn’t stick.  The dough was shaped and placed into the basket, covered and left to prove again for around 1-2 hours.

After a couple of hours the bread was ready to bake .  Using a wooden bread peel which had been dusted with some semolina our loaf was gently turned out onto it.  The top was scored with a serrated knife.  Into the oven it went.  There was an art to getting it off the peel into the oven, but the semolina certainly helped.  Before the oven door was closed, the inside of the oven was spritzed with water.  This will make it have a better crust.  Some of us used ordinary ovens as we have at home and the rest of us used the big commercial bread ovens.  The loaf was baked for 30 minutes, but it was turned around after 15 minutes, just in case there’s a hotspot in the oven.

White Loaf

We had a taste of the loaf that Aiden had made and it was delicious.  The crust was lovely and crunchy but the middle so soft and light.  Spread with real butter from the market it was divine.

We made a simple pizza base using the piece of dough that we had cut off.  The base was covered with homemade passatta and then mozzarella and basil leaves were put on top.  These went in the oven for 10 minutes.  They were delicious, a simple, quick lunch, but so, so good.

The next loaf to make was the Ciabatta.  This was made in the same way to the white loaf, but there was no ‘sponge’ to add.  After turning the dough out onto the table and stretching and tearing it as above for a minute, we  had to start ‘slapping’ it.  You can imagine with just over 20 of us on the course, the noise was rather deafening.  The dough was pulled up from the centre and slapped down onto the table, bringing the dough back together with the scraper every few ‘slaps’.  This went on for 10 minutes and I think we were the source of amusement for passers-by, as the bakery school has a huge ‘shop front’ so that everyone can see what is happening inside.  Quite a few people appeared to be taking videos of us.  In a way I suppose it’s how animals feel at the zoo!!

All of our dough was put into one large container that had been liberally lined with olive oil.  The dough appeared to be lost in the container, but Aiden assured us that by the end it would fill the container up.  Once in the container it was left for 30 minutes after which time it needed to be ‘folded’.  The dough was folded by placing your hands under one side of the dough, pulling it up and stretching it over to the other side.  This laminated the air between the dough.  It was left to rest again for 30 minutes.  The dough had to have three more folds, resting for 30 minutes each time.  We all couldn’t believe how much the dough had risen – by the time we were ready for the next stage the dough was literally escaping from the top of the container.  It looked like an alien out of a sci-fi movie!


The top of the dough was heavily floured and the scraper was pressed around the side of the container.  The bowl was turned upside down in one swift movement to release the dough.  The photos aren’t very good as there was flour in the air, so it all appears rather blurred!  The dough was massive, but Aiden swiftly cut it into slipper shapes which were then turned onto a floured tray.  These were left to rest for 16 minutes before popping into the ovens for approximately 16 minutes.  Again we had to have a taste – delicious!!


Time for the third loaf and I think this is my favourite of all the Focaccia.  The mixing and kneading was the same for the white loaf, although you only kneaded for around 5 minutes.  A good quantity of olive oil was poured into the bowl and the dough was placed back into it.  The dough was then folded in the olive oil (by folding in the four corners) and left for 30 minutes.  This had to be folded 4 more times, leaving it 30 minutes between folds.

Once the four folds had been done and the dough left to rest for another 30 minutes it was turned out into a lightly oiled tray.  The dough was massaged with the oil that was left in the bowl then using your fingers  we had to press into the dough to spread it out.  This gives the focaccia its dimpled effect.  The topping I chose for the top of my bread was little halved tomatoes, red onion and rosemary.  This was put to one side for a good half an hour and just before putting it into the oven it was sprinkled with some salt.  This only took 15 minutes to bake and once out of the oven it was so hard to resist eating it.  Instead we ate the one Aiden had made – fantastic, my favourite!

We were also told that ‘sweet’ focaccia is also tasty – stoned cherries, plums or some other sort of fruit could be used – or how about chocolate!


The final loaf of the day was the Soda Bread.  I’ve made these quite a few times before at home, usually when I’ve made some soup, so I was surprised to be told that you could also make ‘sweet’ soda bread too.  This must be the quickest bread you can make.  Within a few minutes of mixing it together gently with your hands it was ready to go into the oven.  After making a cross in the top, it was baked for around 35 minutes.  Great served with a lump of cheese and some pickle!

Soda Bread

All in all my day at Bread Ahead was absolutely amazing and I feel so much more confident making bread now.  There are numerous other courses specialising in different types of bread at Bread Ahead and the one that’s caught my eye is the Patisserie Course, so I think I’ll be going back at some point soon.

Many thanks to Aiden and Lou for a wonderful, informative, amusing day.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself!





2 thoughts on “Bread Ahead – The Bread Bakery Workshop

    • it was very enjoyable. A lovely atmosphere, great people and excellent tuition. I would highly recommend them to anybody whatever experience you may or may not have at bread making!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s