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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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
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.
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.
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.
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 the gentle ridges from the basket.
Time for some lunch
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!
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.
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 Bakery
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.
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.
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Larch lives a semi-nomadic life. Her life changed 20 years ago when a silly accident left her with restricted use of her right arm and neck and was told she would never work again. She turned her life around, retrained herself and set up as a self-employed website designer. This allowed her to work wherever she was in the world. Her passion for travel led her to start up her travel blog The Silver Nomad, to inspire over 40s to explore new destinations and expand their horizons. In 2019 Larch qualified as a CAA Drone Pilot which she combines with her travels.