Artisan Bread Baking at the Abergavenny Baker

Brown loaf, fougasse bread with holes in it and focaccia with loives, tomatoes, salt and rosemary sitting on wire cooling racks

Between lockdowns, I was fortunate enough to spend a couple of days in Abergavenny with the Over the Bridge to Wales project to raise awareness of what is on offer in Monmouthshire. Part of my weekend was spent on a course of artisan bread baking at the Abergavenny Baker, and wow, my bread making skills have really been elevated!!

Bread baking at home has been on the increase since 2020 as we all spend more and more time at home. You just a mix of flour, water, yeast, and salt, let it prove, pop it into the oven and, hey presto, bread, that’s it, isn’t it? Well, yes, but after mastering the basics of bread making a few years ago, I have stepped out of the realms of white loaves and sourdough and learnt the delights of long-fermented bread, sweet Nordic buns and Mediterranean bread.

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Brown loaf, fougasse bread with holes in it and focaccia with loives, tomatoes, salt and rosemary sitting on wire cooling racks
Delicious Breads baked during an Artisan Bread Course at the Abergavenny Baker

What is Artisan Bread

Artisan bread is a term used for breads which are made using traditional recipes and longer processes. They are normally made by hand and tend to be chemical-free and meant to be eaten fresh.

Rachael – The Abergavenny Baker

On a long drive back from France, in early 2015, Rachael Watson pondered her future. She had a profession; she was a GP, but she had another passion – bread! After much deliberation and doing her sums, she took the brave step and resigned from her job to become a locum and set up award-winning Abergavenny Baker in July 2015. Although Rachael is mostly self-taught and has expanded her knowledge of world bread

Rachael, who is a self-taught now runs courses in baking artisan breads from around the world. Each artisan bread course is designed to give you the skills needed to bake more complex breads as well as hints and tips to make your general baking better.

The Abergavenny Baker

White sign on white wall with black writing saying Abergavenny Baker the A has three wheat ears coming off to the left.  Below is a black arrow pointing to the right and Artisan Bread Classes below

Located in the centre of Abergavenny, the Abergavenny Baker is upstairs in a beautiful airy space with beamed ceilings, big windows and whitewashed walls. The large kitchen is set out with a large island work station perfect for socially distanced baking, with our own ingredients set out in front of us in wire baskets, and all the utensils including scales, bowls and a bench scraper.

wooden table with scales, bowls and ingredients for baking
The workbench at Abergavenny Baker

Our Baking Day

On arrival, I was warmly welcomed by Rachael and joined three Instagrammers – Sarah, Amelia and Melissa – to enjoy a day of making a range of artisan breads. After a cup of tea and a chat to get to know each other, our skill levels – from novice to pastry chef, and a couple in between – and what we wanted to gain from the class, it was aprons on and we were ready to start.

Our morning bakes

Rachael put together a special day for us so that we could try out several techniques of bread making and different breads from around the world, sampling recipes from the Nordic, Italian Bread Courses as well as a fermented loaf.

In the morning we prepared and baked our three savoury breads: fougasse, focaccia and a fermented Trencher bread.

We started by preparing our biga, a combination of yeast, water and flour, so that it had time to triple in size ready to be used later for the fougasse and focaccia. Rachael recommends using digital kitchen scales so that you get the exact quantities.

plastic box with fresh dough in being pulled out to see the the stretch
Dough ready to be used
uncooked dow in a triangle shape with a long gap in the middle and three cut holes on either side
Fougasse ready to bake

Fougasse and focaccia are two of my favourite breads. Fougasse is a French bread with a lacy look almost like a fern which is easy to make but looks impressive. We had a choice of toppings to decorate our focaccia, an Italian bread, and I chose olives, sundried tomatoes, rosemary and a sprinkling of rock salt.

rectangle cooked bread topped with olives, rosemary, salt and sundried tomatoes
Freshly baked focaccia topped with olives, sundried tomato, rosemary and salt
plastic container with creamy coloured dough
The fermented trencher dough

The day before our course, Rachael prepared the dough for our Trencher bread as it has a long proving time, 12-30 hours. Trencher bread uses ale or cider and a malted or granary flour to give it depth. The dough is creamy fragrant and speckled. Its final proof is in a banneton to go give it shape before it is rolled into a dutch oven, scored with a bread lame – a double-sided blade – and put in the oven. The final loaf has a lovely crisp split and gentle ridges from the basket.

dough in a double oven with a lame knife scoring the top
scoring the top of the Trencher loaf with a lame before baking
round loaf of bread with crisp edges and powdered with flour
The final Trencher loaf

Time for some lunch

wooden table with blue painted chairs . There is a fireplace on the left and a low unit with a cane dome on top.
The dining area at the Abergavenny Baker
lunch box with fig and camembert tart, cheeses, plastic pot of marinated red peppers, olives and gherkins, pickles and dressing
delicious vegetarian lunch box by 57 Bridge Street, Usk

We moved through to the dining area to have our lunch taking some of the fougasse and focaccia with us. Lunch was provided by 57 Bridge Street in Usk. Each lunchbox was filled with homemade and local goodies including homemade fig and camembert tart, local cheeses with pickle and sourdough crackers, antipasto of marinated peppers, olives and gherkins, salad and balsamic dressing. We had a cheeky glass or two of delicious sparkling wine from White Castle Vineyard.

For dessert we indulged in vegan chocolate brownies and beautiful pink cake from Nay Bakes which was moist and oh-so moreish!

plate piled high with chocolate brownies next to a tall pale pink column cake with white chocolate drips down the sides and pink swirls on top
Delicious vegan brownies and scrumptious cake from Nay Bakes

Our afternoon baking session

Back to baking and this time it is fun with sweet Nordic buns, three Swedish and one Norwegian.

Our first sweet bun was Swedish Sockerkringlor a pretzel-shaped sweet bun covered in melted butter and dipped in sugar.

Kanellbullar, dough which has butter spread on it and cinnamon sugar sprinkled over. They are then cut into strips and twisted and after proving they are covered in sugar nibs before baking. Tastes kind of Christmassy, but I would eat them all year round!

The third Swedish bun is Blåbärsbullar which looks like a pastry with a custard and blueberry centre

And finally our Norwegian Solskinnsboller or Sunshine Buns which are also strips which are coiled into cases and after proving they are filled with custard and baked.

dough twisted into pretzel shapes ready for baking
The pretzel shaped dough of Sockerkringlor ready to go into the oven
A tray of baked buns with sugar nibs and blueberries
A tray of sweet buns fresh out of the oven

At the end of the day

Throughout the day Rachael gave us hints and tips and one-to-one help when we needed it. She is highly knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Her style is relaxed, easy-going informative and friendly. We left with bags of fragrant bread and buns, artisan bread recipes to try, new friends and a love of making artisan bread.

Contact the Abergavenny Baker

Rachael offers a range of artisan bread making day courses throughout the year including special ones for Easter, Christmas and Father’s Day. You can either book on her website or buy a gift voucher to use in the future. The courses are perfect to add to a trip to Abergavenny and I would highly recommend Rachael’s courses and look forward to trying another course in the future.

Address: The Abergavenny Baker, No.1 The Courtyard, Lion Street, Abergavenny, South Wales, NP7 5PE
Instagram, Facebook

Bread Baking Shopping List

A few things that you might need on your bread baking journey.

Disclosure: I was hosted by Over the Bridge to Wales – follow them on Instagram however, all views, opinions and photos are my own and remain the copyright of The Silver Nomad. If you want more information about Monmouthshire, visit VisitMonmouthshire.

Don’t forget to pin this article so you can come back to it later

Image of a loaf of bread on top and dough being pulled out of a plastic container with white text overlay on pale pink saying Artisan Bread Course with the Abergavenny Baker
Image of baked sweet buns with white text overlay on pale blue saying Baking Artisan Breads with the Abergavenny Baker
Image of a plastic container of dough and focaccia with white text overlay on bright pink and pale pink saying Baking Artisan Bread Baking with the Abergavenny Baker

14 thoughts on “Artisan Bread Baking at the Abergavenny Baker

  1. Avatar of Laureen Lund
    Laureen Lund says:

    This is such a unique post I absolutely loved it. I am one of those people who learned to make bread in 2020 but I focused on Sourdough. Now I’m ready for something new. I have never heard of trencher bread and I am intrigued. Your photo of the focacia has my mouth watering. If I ever get back to Wales…or maybe somewhere closer to home. I’m saving for future reference.

  2. Avatar of Alma
    Alma says:

    I’ve always enjoyed dabbling in baking bread, but artisan bread baking takes it to the next level. I would love to do this and I can almost smell that bread!

  3. Avatar of Rhonda Albom
    Rhonda Albom says:

    The bread looks so delicious and beautiful. Mine never comes out looking quite like this. lol. Looks like a great course.

  4. Avatar of Karen
    Karen says:

    The bread baking course sounds wonderful and such a beautiful variety of bread and buns. I’d love to take this course. fabulous bread photography!

  5. Avatar of Heather
    Heather says:

    That looks like an amazing experience!!! I hope it tasted as good as it looked. So the class was a full day and you made several things? I think I want to take the class!!

    And I love kitchen gadgets. Good thing I’m traveling and have nowhere to keep them or I’d be buying them! ????

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