One of my 30th Birthday gifts (from my lovely sister) was a baking day at the River Cottage. We stayed in Axminster for the weekend, had a wonderful meal at the River Cottage Canteen, and made the most of being by the seaside by including a fossil hunting expedition. The baking day was full on, with a great mix of learning, watching, making, socialising and lots of eating!
We were dropped off by the boys in the Park Farm car park (they went off to see boy things at the tank museum) and were thankful for our accidental tardiness, as we only had a short wait in the cold for the the tractor taxi ride down to the farm.
We were welcomed by a wonderful cosy fire in the cottage kitchen, along with hot drinks and a slice of gorgeous walnut tart.
We met our tutor for the day, who was the brilliant Aidan Chapman from the Phoenix Bakery in Weymouth. He was supported by a team of river cottage chefs, some of them I recognised from the tv programme!
There was the perfect mix of interaction, watching and making. We started with the basics of bread making – covering ingredients, techniques, tips and confidence building. After watching Aidan mix and knead his dough, we all (about 20 in all) took to our work stations and had a go at our own walnut and raisin loaf.
Our mid morning snack consisted of freshly made flat-breads with a delicious roasted pumpkin dip, olive oil and dukkha. It was perfect for us all to have a go at cooking the flat-breads and then tearing, sharing and dunking the hot bread into the dips.
Lunch number one was DIY pizzas – we shaped our own dough, and then topped with our choice of tomato or garlic sauce, roast onions, kale, mushroom, cottage made chorizo and salami, amazing confit chicken and of course some mature cheddar to top it all off.
Aiden manned the wood fired oven, our pizzas cooking in about 40 seconds the oven was so hot!
My sister and I treated ourselves to a glass of wine and enjoyed our pizzas in the cold winter sunshine, admiring the beautiful views. We took the opportunity to have a good nosey around the cottage and its gardens. Some highlights in pictures below…
Later in the day we all made our own panetones to take home. We could choose to add sour cherries, cranberries, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, raisins, citrus zest (I think that was it!) so I put a big handful of everything in!!
Unfortunately I failed to get a picture of the final result – to be honest my carefully arranged pecans sunk to the bottom and it came out a little lop-sided so no great loss! We also made some very easy almond and marmalade cookies, which were lovely.
It was then time for lunch number two – the main event in the Cottage! This was slow roasted pork shoulder, with a 5 vegetable boulangere type dish and braised red cabbage… followed by sour dough pancakes with apple and clotted cream – delicious! We had another glass of cold white wine too.
We were then warm, full and a little weary from the days activities… we heading back over to the workshop to pick up our things. Our beautiful loaves were waiting for us, and we took our biscuits, panetone and a big chunk of sourdough too. We were also given a River Cottage Bread handbook to take home for reference.
The day left me yearning to make my own bread, every single day. I learnt that you could make a batch of dough and keep half of it in the fridge to bake another day, that it’s not necessary to weigh out all your ingredients and that you really need to put energy into your baking to breathe life into your bread. Education like this makes you appreciate the time and effort dedicated by artisan bakers into their produce and puts you off the cheap, pappy, soulless white bread you find in the supermarkets. I must admit, I haven’t baked yet since the course, but it WILL happen soon!