I was amazed to read this week that scientists are working on a bread that can last for 60 days. Apparently this is because we Brits throw away almost a third of the food we buy each week. I wonder if partially, this is because some of the food we buy just isn’t that tasty, and we have had very little part in sourcing or making it.
I defy anyone to throw away bread from Redbournbury Mill Bakery. It is the sort of bread you start tearing pieces off as soon as you pay for it, and can smell wafting from your shopping bag or from the boot of your car. The GI granary loaf is my favourite, and is lovely just spread with butter, and even better a few days later toasted with marmalade. The sticks (Redbournbury Mill insist on “sticks” rather than “baguettes” as we are not French) crack as you break them rather than bend (thanks supermarkets). So if you regularly throw away a few slices of your regular loaf, I urge you to go and buy some real bread, and see if it actually works out to be better value. The pic is of the bread I made!
Anyway, I digress. This week’s article is about baking your own bread, and learning how to from Redbournbury Mill’s master baker Steven Mansbridge. The mill bakery opened in 2006 and has produced an excellent range of breads for sale at the local farmer’s markets and on site, winning awards and many loyal customers along the way. Steven bakes in the small, but perfectly formed bakery next to the mill, using the mill’s stoneground organic flours. He makes an impressive selection including white, wholemeal, granary, spelt, rye, sourdough, as well as sweet seasonal treats such as stollen. Steven has been baking since he was a boy, following in the family footsteps, and has a real passion for his profession. He recently spent a week at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in the bakery shadowing the chefs and enjoying discovering new ways of baking. It just shows that even someone who has been baking for years can still enjoy learning something new. Steven also enjoys teaching children and passing on his knowledge of baking; he does local school visits when he has time, and the children get to knead dough and make their own rolls.
BAKERY EXPERIENCES AND COURSES
In response to much interest over the years, the bakery is now running occasional bakery experiences and courses. I went along to the first day course to learn how to bake sourdough, granary, and focaccia and to pick up tips from Steven.
Simply spending time in the pretty surroundings of the mill makes the day a treat. As soon as you turn off the Redbourn Road towards the ford you feel as if you have made time for yourself, and that you live in a world where daily bread-making is a real possibility.
Each day course has space for only six bakers, so you learn a great deal in the day, and get lots of practical support from Steven. We started with rye and sourdough breads which needed the most time to rise, and then worked our way through an impressive range of loaves, mixing the dough with our hands, learning to knead and how to adapt the doughs to vary our breads. We even made our own sourdough and rye bread starters, so we could go out into the world ready to do it all ourselves. We have to feed the starter each week, as we use it, and it works it magic happily eating up natural yeast from the air. Mine seems to be bubbling away still, and Steven told us that some starters live for years. I hope we don’t kill them off! Steven was a very knowlegeable and easy-going teacher, and patient too as we forgot how much salt we had added.
He burst a few baking myths, explaining that there is no need to engage in any tv-inspired kneading techniques or tap the underside of your bread when it comes out of the oven. It was all very practical and achievable. We had time too to make some mince pies, and I was very pleased to be able to make an enriched sweetcrust pastry, as the last one I had tried had been very tricky to work with. Steven explained that he weighs the amount of egg he uses, as egg sizes vary. I now know to add a little more egg (never water) and how the pastry should feel.
The courses are terrific value, with the informal Saturday morning half day session £75 per person. Steven only takes two on this experience as it is a working day at the bakery. The full day session, including coffee and lunch, costs £140 at the time of going to press. The next day for a full day course is 18th February with dates to be confirmed for March and April. As the bakery is also used by Jonathan Shepherd of The Pudding Stop the course can only run on a day when the bakery is not in use. We took home a huge box of the breads we had made, along with a generous amount of flour from the mill, and recipes. Vouchers are available for presents and would be a fantastic gift for any keen bakers you know, or if you would like to treat yourself to learning a new skill in the new year. The mill are also selling lovely breadmaking kits that include a large loaf tin, flour, teatowel, and recipe sheets written by Steven, for just £10.50.
There are farmer’s markets in the run up to Christmas in Harpenden and St Albans so you can pick up your locally baked breads, mince pies and cakes (see box). Redbournbury Mill Bakery is also usually open on Saturday mornings (9-1) and Sunday afternoons (2.30-5) where you will often find Martin selling the breads and flours, as he does at the local farmer’s markets. The bakery is open for sales in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and on the 30th December. You will be able to buy Steven’s own breads, mince pies, stollen and cakes.
Make a date too for the Mill’s Big Open Day on New Year’s Day where they will be selling mulled wine, mince pies, and homemade soup. Perfect for a wintery walk over to the mill along one of the paths connecting St Albans, Harpenden, and Redbourn.
Redbournbury Mill and Bakery
Mill: 01582 792874
Bakery: 01582 792173
Open Saturday mornings (9-1) and Sunday afternoons (2.30-5) and usually also on Friday mornings.
St Albans Farmer’s Markets on Sunday 9th December and 16th December
Harpenden Farmer’s Market on Sunday 23rd December
January 1st 11am Mill open day