Cookery school review: The Woodspeen
The course: Bread and enriched doughs (£195 for a full day, including lunch with wine and take-home breads)
Where: The Woodspeen, Newbury, Berkshire
What it’s like?
In the middle of the beautiful Berkshire countryside, amid rolling hills and vineyards, stands a former pub. Inside is the Michelin-starred The Woodspeen restaurant and over the road, by the veg patch, is a state-of-the-art cookery school.
At one end is an area for learning theory. Here students gather at the start of the day, fortified by freshly made coffee and pastries. Later, it becomes the setting for a fantastic lunch (prepared in the restaurant). At the other end is the teaching kitchen, with enough work stations for 12 students to roll up their sleeves and take part in the many hands- on courses offered here, from how to cook stocks, sauces and soups, to ‘steak night’.
What I learned
Eating bread is one of my favourite pastimes (is a meal complete without it?), so it seemed natural to take a class where I’d learn how to make it properly. John Campbell, the esteemed head chef at the restaurant and author of many chef training books, was our teacher for the day. Anything this man doesn’t know about bread isn’t worth knowing. You can release your inner geek with him and learn the ins-and-outs of bread making: how the right temperature is crucial in activating the yeast, the science of gluten structure and how it varies in different doughs, and the importance of keeping the ‘scar’ (or untidy bit) underneath when shaping a loaf ready for proving.
And if, like me, you’re too eager to have a go and mess things up five minutes into the first task, John is there to show you how to rescue it, and to provide extra elbow grease when your arms tire from the slap-and-fold kneading technique.
The course was a full day of prodding, poking, kneading and shaping dough into beautiful savoury and sweet breads. We made soda bread, sourdough rolls, pitta breads, scones, cinnamon buns…
Learning how to make bread in a dutch oven (a lidded casserole) was fascinating, especially when we saw the difference in rise between that and the loaf we baked the traditional way. The trapped air in the pot makes the loaf rise higher, said John.
I’d recommend this course to anyone who already has a little knowledge of bread making and wants to expand it. You get a day learning the secret to baking fantastic breads and you also go home with enough bakes to open your own bakery.