Tom takes a lesson in baking and where better than at Waitrose?

Gosh, what uncertain times we live in. What with Brexit, the possibility of the post-war’Pax-Americana’ breaking down and a return to 17th century mercantilism, what is one to do? Join a political party? Send out a few angry tweets – #lovetrumpshate? Or, shut the world out, pretend it is business as usual, and go into the kitchen for a spot of baking?

I know which I would do and all that’s required is a set of scales, some flour, water and a bit of yeast. The alchemy of bread making has been described in great detail by writers more talented than I, but creating one’s own loaf of bread from scratch is without doubt the most satisfying way of spending time in the kitchen. Far more than any other cake-making, fish-filleting or beef-roasting you might get up to.

I have done plenty of relatively low-grade bread-baking at home, experimenting with different types of flours, but nothing you might put towards the advanced end of the spectrum – the type of thing Paul Hollywood sets as a technical in Bake-Off (God rest its soul).

Therefore, I leapt at the chance to spend a full day with the chefs at the Waitrose Cookery School in Finchley, North London, on their’Knead for More’ course. Here, I would be taught how to create the perfect rye loaf, ciabatta, bagels, doughnuts, and return home with the makings of my own sourdough starter.

The day was structured around the demonstration sessions by the school’s head chef Andrew Ward, where he showed us the ropes, before, armed with our new skills, we returned to the kitchen to have a crack. I have made rye bread before, so that wasn’t too much of a challenge, but creating the ciabatta, with its super sloppy dough, walk-knead, and lift and turn method was both new to me and a lot of fun. As was the bagel making, with the strange satisfaction of watching the proto-bagels swell and inflate during the pre-bake boil.

I’ve been on quite a few cookery courses and they can be a bit of a chore if you spend more time watching rather than doing. But with all the work required to create the aforementioned smorgasbord of bready delights, as well as carving out the time to enjoy a mid-morning break and tasty two course lunch, boredom wasn’t an option. The school itself is a lovely, airy space too, and a great place to spend a sunny, autumnal Saturday.

All very enjoyable then, and I returned home at the end of the day with an enormous bag of goodies, most of which are in the freezer waiting to be resurrected. Although I couldn’t resist using the smaller of the three ciabatta to make that night’s dinner – a dreamy meatball sandwich using Friday evening’s leftovers.

My proudest course-related moment did not happen on the day though. Having created my sourdough starter and followed Andrew’s strict feeding guidelines for the next week or so, I found myself rising very early on a Tuesday morning to put my first ever sourdough loaf in the oven. When it emerged 40 minutes later, glistening golden-brown with a huge craggy crust and a tart open crumb, well, you couldn’t keep the smile off my face for days and days.

Just remind me who The Donald is again…?

The Waitrose Cookery School operates from three locations – Finchley and King’s Cross in London, and Salisbury in Wiltshire. They run a variety of courses, ranging from just one hour to a full day, and are suited to all levels of experience.

Further details on forthcoming courses can be found on their website