This summer I won a charity auction in aid of The Manna Society. The main prize was the fabulous Simon Rogan Dinner, but there were a number of other prizes including a one day cookery course at The Raymond Blanc Cookery School. I was super excited about this as I love cooking as much as I love eating and I’d always wanted to go to Le Manoir.
There was a huge selection of classes to choose from but as soon as I saw that bread making was on offer, I knew it was the one for me. I really wanted to learn something brand new. All of the dinner party style ones looked good but there are plenty of things that I can cook for a dinner party. Bread on the other hand was pretty much uncharted territory for me. I loved the idea of being able to whip up a loaf of bread on a lazy Sunday morning and I’m delighted to say that I now could.
When I arrived at Le Manoir and walked up the path to the main house the beauty of the place pretty much took my breath away. It was absolutely stunning. I don’t know why I didn’t take a photo but if you go onto the website there are some great pics and I promise you it’s just as idyllic as it looks.
It was a 9:15am start and our class of 7 had a full day of baking ahead. Our tutor for the day was head pastry chef Benoit Blin, who was fantastic. He was a very handsome French man who, despite being strict, had a good sense of humour. He chastised us for playing with our dough, saying we were only pleasuring ourselves and were doing absolutely nothing for the bread!
Throughout the day we made five different doughs which we then shaped and flavoured into various different types and styles of bread. The idea was for us to go away having learnt the basics and we certainly did that!
There was a huge amount of variety and information. We learnt about yeast, using both fresh and fast action. We were taught how to knead properly by hand (without pleasuring ourselves) and with a machine, and how to test the elasticity to establish when it was done.
It was all very hands on, which was exactly what I’d been hoping for. There’s nothing worse than having to take it in turns when all you want to do is get your hands dirty! After watching Benoit do a demonstration we all got stuck in and had a go for ourselves. As you can see, this resulted in a huge array of bread.
There were fresh pastries mid-morning and we paused in the afternoon for a delicious light lunch with some of our bread. After lunch, whilst more bread was in the oven, we were given a tour of the gardens. They were hugely impressive, so much beautiful produce, all used by the restaurant and cookery school. There are two acres full of vegetables and herbs, with polytunnels and even a mushroom orchard.
We then made burger buns, terrines and blinis before getting a full tour of the kitchens, which I loved. As an extra bonus we also got to see Raymond Blanc in action, filming for his new tv series.
It certainly wasn’t an easy day. Having been up since 6 I was exhausted by the end. We covered a huge amount of ground and it was hard work, but I loved every moment. It was a really lovely day and I learnt so much. If money was no object I wouldn’t think twice about booking myself onto every single one of these cooking courses. A fabulous day in beautiful surroundings, what more could you ask for?
In a word, marvellous!
The beginnings of a lovely loaf
We each went home with a bread basket to recreate this shape
Benoit shows us how it’s done as the head of the school keeps a watchful eye
My fougasse pre bake
Focaccia fresh out of the oven
A selection of cereal and seed bread
A lovely breakfast treat – fruit terrine
A rather nice lunch was laid on after all our hard work
A tour of the gardens
A lovely selection of beetroot picked freshly from the ground
We were invited to try the micro herbs and they really packed a punch
I loved how this squash seemed to be hiding behind the leaves
Raymond’s beetroot trial
We all got to take away our chef’s jacket …
and more bread than we could possibly eat!
There were a lot of happy people at work the following day when I brought this lot in.
I always think it’s good to share, so here are a few top tips from Benoit:
- Never let yeast and salt come into direct contact.
- Always use cold water.
- Prove bread at room temperature until there are small blisters.
- To create steam, keep a cast iron container in the oven and splash water into it when you first put the bread in.
- Only use one hand to knead, so the other is free to answer the phone!