On a bitterly cold February morning, a dozen or so Bread Angels (including me!) from across the UK gathered at Cann Mills, Dorset to bake, chat and share all things about great bread. Getting together every so often gives us all a chance to catch up, share microbusiness support and learn some more about bread making.
As a collective, the Bread Angels run microbakeries in their communities, baking and selling bread to local customers and/or teaching bread making classes to a wide range of groups.
Our get together was kindly hosted for a second time by Paul Merry at Panary, a small bakery and teaching space attached to Cann Mills. This working watermill is nestled deep in the North Dorset countryside and produces a range of stoneground flours. Paul himself is a laidback Australian who has baked in the UK for over 25 years. His generous teaching style and seemingly endless bread knowledge made for a fascinating day!
We tackled three breads over the course of the day. First up was to mix a pre-ferment (a mixture of flour, water and yeast) for our Chelsea Buns.
Then we focused on making a barm dough, made using the foam (or barm) from the top of a fermenting liquid such as beer. The foam contains active yeast, so can be used to rise bread dough, or to start another batch of beer making!
Traditionally, the local brewery and bakery would have been closely linked so as to make good use of any leftover barm. Making this dough was also a chance to get to grips with an industrial stand mixer that can handle much bigger dough quantities. We also quickly learnt that barm can taste quite bitter!
We then returned to our now foaming pre-ferment. Hand-kneading this time, we made a sweet bun dough and were taught Paul’s ingenious cut and stack method to incorporate the currants. The warm spiced smell of the dough was divine!
Last up was the traditional flatbread barbari, accompanied by Paul’s tales of his youthful travels through Afghanistan and witnessing flatbreads made on traditional, huge tandoor ovens. The basic dough is shaped into long flat pieces that are then ‘docked’ – channels are made the length of the bread using the finger. The channels stop the bread puffing up during baking. Before baking, the barbari are glazed with a paste of flour and water called a roomal.
Over a delicious, much needed lunch of bread and cheese, Paul further discussed using barm yeast to make bread, including how to wash the barm. Watch out soon for a Bread Angel near you making bread using your favourite local tipple!
Soon it was time to roll out and cut up our Chelsea buns and shape the barbari. We also had a learning curve with barm when our dough didn’t rise very well! We agreed to take a piece home and see what happened given time.
Whilst waiting for the shaped doughs to prove, there was more opportunity to share Bread Angels stories, bread recipes, learn more about each other’s businesses and generally catch up. This chance to share and support is surely one of the best things about being part of the Bread Angels network!
All too soon a busy day came to an end. Dusted with flour and loaded up with warm Chelsea Buns and bags of stoneground flour from the mill, we headed home, another great Bread Angels gathering behind us. Why not become a Bread Angel and join us next year?
Thank you to Liz Wilson at Ma Baker Bakes for supplying some of these images of the day.
Are you passionate about baking bread? Would you like to share your skills and knowledge with others? Find out more about setting up your own bread baking business from home and become a Bread Angel. Course run through Purple Loaf, my business set up to train and support small food businesses.
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