Back in February, Eat Hackney went underneath the railway arches near London Fields to visit the E5 Bakehouse. Lured by the smell of baking rye bread and intrigued by the tale of a 200 year old Lapland “mother” – the sourdough starter from which the Bakehouse bread arises – I’ve just been back for their action- and fact-filled bread-making course. The courses are run every Saturday and last from 11am till around 5.30pm: they’re super popular so you may have to book several months in advance.
The course leader is head baker Eyal, a neuroscientist who traded his high-powered brainbox career for life with sourdough. The course is more hands-on than most – in no time we were measuring flour, salt, water and leaven and immersing our hands in sticky dough. The aim is to introduce sourdough leavens, plus kneading and hydration methods, and the end result is that each participant goes home with armfuls of their own bread – a 66% rye, airy ciabatta baps, fat bagels and a flavoursome “Hackney Wild” loaf.
The day is masterfully planned – although the dough doesn’t require hard pummelling, each incipient loaf, bagel and bap has to be shaped, gently kneaded and turned at regular intervals. But there were plenty of lulls for questions about the magical science of breadmaking: about how to nurture your sourdough leaven – everyone was given a sticky ball of this at the end of the course – as well as optimal baking techniques, including spraying the oven with water to create steam and produce a better crust.
We stopped for a Bakehouse lunch round a trestle table, and later enjoyed their sticky treacle tart and luscious carrot cake for tea. Then the actual baking began and the loaves disappeared into the industrial oven, the bagels being briefly boiled first to ensure the signature taut shiny surface.
Eyal marked up the baking trays so we could identify our own work – I welled up with pride when my precious loaves emerged. And I could understand why neuroscience pales in comparison with the alchemic and essential process of producing our daily bread.
If you want to learn to make bread, I’d advise a course to get you going rather than starting with a recipe book: learning how to handle the slippery dough is quite an art, as is the task of tending to your starter. But here are some great recipes for using stale bread from Ruth at the Bakehouse: ribollita, a Tuscan bean soup; comforting classic bread and butter pudding; and crostini.