Learning how to bake bread

Teacher: Peter Joy from Bakehouse24

From: Ringwood, Hampshire

Lesson: How to make sourdough bagels and ciabatta

Nothing beats the smell of freshly baked bread. Nothing, except the smell of freshly baked bread that you’ve made yourself. Peter Joy knows this to be true more than most, and it’s the reason why he doesn’t mind getting up at 4am to start work.

As the owner of BakeHouse24 in Ringwood, Hampshire, bread is everything to Peter. He’s an artisan and a purist who prefers simpler methods and feels that what most of us eat these days isn’t even bread at all. He refers to the bakery sections of supermarkets as ‘bread tanning shops’ and says the only time and place for sliced white bread is when it’s curing a hangover, with the help of bacon and brown sauce.

Fortunately for us, Peter loves to educate others on what makes bread so good. He regularly hosts workshops in his bakery, and was quick to offer us a lesson after we stepped into his shop to buy a sausage roll wearing our ‘Teach Us’ branded t-shirts.

Nick and Alice from teach us dividing out their sourdough starter

The teach us team inside Bakehouse 24 learning how to make sourdough

Peter taught us how to make bagels and ciabatta using his sourdough starter, a bit of flour, some water and a pinch of salt (plus olive oil for the ciabatta). We couldn’t believe how simple the process was. Following Peter’s tried and tested recipes, we’d mixed the doughs in a few minutes and set them aside for the yeast to work its magic.

Once the dough had risen, we divided bagel dough into four balls, then rolled the balls out into sausage shapes. Wrapping the dough sausages around our hands, we laid the ends on top of one another and squeezed to connect them. We then poached the bagels in a water bath, which had bicarbonate of soda added to it, for 60 seconds before sprinkling poppy seeds on top and placing them in the over. The ciabatta was easier to prepare – all it took was dividing the dough into four shapes that resembled ‘Grandad’s slippers’ (see below), and we were away.

Peter fell in love with bread making after his first loaf and, as we we took our first creations out of the oven, it became easy to see why. Admittedly all we’d done is follow two good recipes under the watchful eyes of a great teacher, but we were proud of how our bread looked, smelled and tasted. We’d made our first preservative-free, colourant-free, deliciously wholesome bread with about as much energy as it would have taken to walk to the local shop, and we started to wonder whether we’d ever buy bread from a supermarket again.

Peter Joy our teach us bread making teacher

What were you teaching us today?

Today we’ve been making a couple of different types of dough – ciabatta and bagels. They’re two very different processes, and we got very hands on with the dough making experience.

Can you tell us one interesting fact about the breads we’ve been making today?

Ciabatta is translated as old man’s slipper, so we always try to make our ciabatta look like an old man’s slipper!

What level are you at as a baker?

Bakers are always learning. There’s always new things to do; different flours to work with and new processes to teach yourself. If you stop learning you can start going backwards, so I like to challenge myself.

I’ve been working in a bakery for the last six or seven years. I started at home as a self taught baker and enjoyed it so much that I started volunteering at various bakeries in London, and took it from there. Not so long ago, I decided to come back home and open my own bakery in Ringwood.

What or who inspired you to make your first loaf of bread?

I’m not sure how or why I got started really. All I remember is that when I made my first loaf of bread, I called my mum to say, ‘guess what I’ve just made’. She couldn’t believe it. I was in my early twenties at the time and doing other things – making bread was very out of character.

Peter Joy showing Alice from teach us how to mix bread dough

What were you teaching us today?

Today we’ve been making a couple of different types of dough – ciabatta and bagels. They’re two very different processes, and we got very hands on with the dough making experience.

Can you tell us one interesting fact about the breads we’ve been making today?

Ciabatta is translated as old man’s slipper, so we always try to make our ciabatta look like an old man’s slipper!

What level are you at as a baker?

Bakers are always learning. There’s always new things to do; different flours to work with and new processes to teach yourself. If you stop learning you can start going backwards, so I like to challenge myself.

I’ve been working in a bakery for the last six or seven years. I started at home as a self taught baker and enjoyed it so much that I started volunteering at various bakeries in London, and took it from there. Not so long ago, I decided to come back home and open my own bakery in Ringwood.

What do you like about the process?

It’s taking the most basic ingredients: flour water and a bit of salt, and turning them into one of the best, most essential products. Bread is a staple for many people, and it has been for hundreds of years, so to be able to make it well is quite important.

What or who inspired you to make your first loaf of bread?

I’m not sure how or why I got started really. All I remember is that when I made my first loaf of bread, I called my mum to say, ‘guess what I’ve just made’. She couldn’t believe it. I was in my early twenties at the time and doing other things – making bread was very out of character.

What do you like about the process?

It’s taking the most basic ingredients: flour water and a bit of salt, and turning them into one of the best, most essential products. Bread is a staple for many people, and it has been for hundreds of years, so to be able to make it well is quite important.

Do you enjoy teaching?

Yes! I can talk about bread to groups of 10 people for six hours and it feels like no time has passed at all. It’s really not a chore for me, but an enjoyable process.  

What are the common mistakes you see students making?

The most common mistake to make is not following the recipe. People write recipes down for a reason, so it’s best to trust them and follow them as closely as possible.

What top tips would you give to aspiring bread makers?

As I said, follow the recipe.  But also have everything ready before you get started. Measure out each of the ingredients into separate bowls. It’s a bit more washing up, but it’s always worth it.

 

How long would it take us to get to your level?

Well I’ve been baking full time for six or seven years now, so I guess I’d say that long! Having said that, if you dedicate yourself, get the right pointers and read enough books, you can learn to make some very good bread at home in a fairly short period of time.

How were we as students today?

I think you were very good. The bread speaks for itself, really. The bagels look like bagels and the ciabatta looks like ciabatta, which is normally a good sign! I’d be very happy to sell them all.

Who is the most skilled person you know?

Lots of these artisan bakeries that are popping up now have great people behind them; the sort that I used to work with at E5. These are the people who are forging a new path in bread making, and the people I respect the most.

Is there another skill you wish you had?

Knowing how to make beer would be good, but there are many skills I need to learn. General life skills would be a good place to start, as I’m sure my mum will agree!

Nick Street, Alice Albery and Matthew Bowen from teach us with baker Peter Joy learning how to make sourdough

Nick Street, Alice Albery and Matthew Bowen from teach us learning how to make bread

Matthew Bowen from teach us divides ciabatta dough into four slippers

What we learned

  • Two ways to make a round bagel with a hole in it:
  • 1. Roll the dough into balls and push your thumb through the centre
  • 2. Roll the dough into sausage shapes and wrap around your hand until both ends touch. Pinch the ends together and roll the join on the work surface.
  • Ciabatta is Italian for ‘slipper’
  • Unlike commercial bread ovens, domestic ovens don’t have the option to let in steam to prevent the outside of bread burning before the inside is cooked. A pan of boiling water placed at the bottom of the oven or cooking the bread in a cast iron pot can solve this problem.
  • In the Victorian era, bakers would often knead dough with their feet in a baker’s trough
  • All you need is flour and water to create a sourdough starter