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Fabulous Bread Day with Tom Herbert

On Friday 20th April 2012, we were lucky to welcome back Tom Herbert, a 5th generation baker from Hobbs House Bakery and recent star of The Fabulous Baker Brothers on Channel 4. Tom was here teaching his Bread Making Course. In this post I want to share some of the highlights from our spectacular day, plus some useful tips from Tom on how to make great bread at home.

Helen & Tom

Helen and I assisted Tom throughout the day and enjoyed his enthusiastic, knowledgeable teaching, plus lots of hands on kneading and laughter. That's what makes a good course! That and great food, of which Tom supplied the bread Helen prepared all sorts of lovely food to eat with it: wild garlic pesto, labna balls rolled in fresh herbs and sumac, and an Ottolenghi salad of grilled fennel and squash with a pickled walnut dressing.

In addition to sourdough, Tom showed us how to make a soda bread using wholemeal spelt flour and soured milk, and a white fresh yeast dough that we made into a variety of breads: rosemary focaccia, pitta, garlic pesto pizza and bread sticks.

Sourdough Baking Tips

As this was only a one-day baking course, our first challenge was to make sourdough bread in 4 hours - it would normally take double that time or longer, ideally overnight. Luckily the sourdough starter was all bubbles and very frisky. Tom emphasised the key ingredients to get right:

  • Good quality bread flour (Tom uses local Shipton Mill flour)
  • Good quality sea salt
  • Time: Give your dough time to prove and develop flavour and texture.
  • Very hot ovens: We used baking stones that heat up in the oven and the bread is slid straight on top. The extra heat generates lift and a good brown bottom to your loaf. As an alternative to baking stones, pizza stones work well.

Make your sourdough in a very warm draught free kitchen. Sourdough needs all the help it can get to rise and it takes a long time. I took some pictures from start to finish to capture the whole process.

Tom mixes the sourdough starter with the flour and salt:

Tom mixing in the sourdough starter

Tom works and kneads the sourdough:

Working the sourdough

Tom with a very large pile of dough, ready for it's first proving:

Tom and massive dough

Sourdough proved to double its size and ready to shape into loaves:

Sourdough ready to shape with basket

Tom moulds the sourdough into loaf shapes:

Moulding Sourdough

Tom proves the dough in wicker baskets, which you should flour well so that the dough doesn’t stick to them. Place the dough in the basket with the seam side up, which is counter intuitive as you want to hide the seam as you would in a bread tin. The reason: you will turn dough out upside down to bake. Tom told us a lovely story of one of his new staff placing the baskets with the risen dough straight into the wood burning bread oven. Luckily they smelt them burning and rescued the baskets with only a bronzed colour! Sourdough getting ready to prove, seam side up:

Sourdough getting ready to prove

Place the bread baskets in plastic bags to help them rise to just under the top of the bread baskets. How long this takes depends on the energy of the starter and warmth and humidity. Carefully turning out the sourdough from basket to tray:

Carefully getting sourdough from basket to tray

The loaves are sitting on a boiling hot baking stone and the oven is turned up to its hottest setting. Tom puts on his mark on the loaf with a sharp knife:

Tom slicing his mark on the sourdough

One of our sourdough loaves, very warm to take home:

Sourdough hot out

Everyone got to take home a bit of the sour dough starter, known as the Hobbs House 'Monster'. Here's Laura ladling the Monster for everyone to take home and cherish: Laura ladling the sour dough starter known as the Hobbs House 'Monster'

Soda Bread Tips

Making soda bread was such a contrast to sourdough, as it's the quickest of all breads. It's yeast free, using bicarbonate of soda to generate the rising action and the dough is quickly moulded and not kneaded. Tom uses full fat organic milk that has been left out in a warm place to sour. He likes the creaminess and flavour this brings.

Because of the chemical reaction of the bicarbonate of soda with the acid of the soured milk, you must mix, shape and put this dough into the oven as quickly as possible to get the best results. Put the dough straight onto hot bread stones in a preheated oven, 230C or a hot as you can get your oven.

Here we are, moulding the soda bread dough:

Working the soda bread dough

Cut a cross on each loaf (to let the devil out or to make sure the centre of the loaf cooks through) and then put into the oven:

Cutting Soda bread

Warm, freshly baked soda bread:

Soda bread

Soda bread dries out quickly so is best eaten warm straight from the oven. If you don’t want to eat it that day, it’s best to split the loaves and freeze them.

Top Dough Tips

  • Kneading isn't about folding air in, it’s about putting energy into the dough to get the gluten stretchy. The more stretchy the dough the better it will hold the gasses released by the fermentation of the yeasts, and the better the texture of the bread.
  • The longer you knead the better, try a good 15 minutes and it will make you fit too!
  • The dough should be sticky, but not too wet, it should hold its shape and not flow over the table. When kneading, start with a stickier rather than a drier dough, you can always add a handful of flour to firm it up later (easier than trying to add water to a dry dough). It’s also easier to knead a sticky dough: you can get lots of energy into it, just don’t worry about getting very sticky dough covered hands.

Perfectly kneaded and risen white dough, ready to make pitta, focaccia, pizzas and bread sticks:

Perfect white pizza dough

Pitta Tips

Tom showed us how to deftly roll a pitta evenly, so that it will puff up in the oven.

We heated the oven up to as high as they would go, with baking stones in them. The pitta breads went straight onto the baking stones and within a couple of minutes, puffed up into perfect pitta pockets.

Tom showing us size and shape of Pitta

There's a perfect Pitta Pocket

We were all chuffed with how brilliantly they puffed up, so different from shop bought pitta. We ate them with Helen's wild garlic pesto, made with wild garlic from the woods, and roasted hazelnuts and almonds.

Warm Pitta with Wild Garlic pesti

Focaccia Tips

Plan to make your focaccia so that it comes out of the oven when you're ready to eat it: there's nothing better than tearing off warm bread.

Tom made a point of being very generous with the olive oil, using a high sided baking tray, he slugged in the olive oil so that the bottom of the tin was covered in oil and then pressed the dough into the tin. This way the focaccia will almost fry and bake at the same time.

We sprinkled the focaccia with fresh rosemary and flowers from my garden, drizzled with more oil and left it to rise.

Focaccia proving

When it had risen, Tom made dimples with his fingers, poured on more olive oil and sprinkled on crunchy sea salt. Then into a hot oven.

Focaccia topped with Rachel's rosemary in flower

We toasted the bread with prosecco, ate our fill and went home with bags of bread. A fitting end to a fabulous day.

Pizzas & Bread Sticks

All the bread recipes we baked are in Tom and brother Henry's Fabulous Baker Brothers cookbook. You can buy a signed copy direct from Hobbs House Bakery

A fine Pile of Fabulous Baker Brothers Cookbooks

You can find more pictures from our Fabulous Bread Day on Flickr.

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