In a pretty little residential street in south London, the most relaxing and therapeutic classes are taking place, and they aren’t Bikram yoga or mindful colouring; they’re Ma Baker’s bread classes. Kneading our dough under the watchful eye of Liz AKA Ma Baker, we all – as she readily predicted – slip into a trance-like state of silence, focusing on pushing and turning the dough on her well-worn kitchen table.
Of course, we didn’t come for meditation. We came for the bread and we definitely get plenty of that. In an intimate class we huddle around the kitchen table, and charged with a cup of tea, we begin to make our first loaf under Liz’s watchful eye.
With simple and easy to follow explanations of flour, gluten and the proving process, Ma Baker is ultra knowledgeable without a hint of superiority. Her background as a primary school teacher has provided her with both the patience and the confidence to teach baking skills in a highly intuitive manner. It’s very clear why she’s listed by TripAdvisor as one of the ‘Top 5 Classes in London’.
After much kneading, chatting and proving, one of my fellow classmates is dismayed to see an air bubble in her dough. The response: “Don’t worry that’s just the yeast having a lovely time”. This lady is a certified baking babe! We soon have our first loaves ready to go and are itching to move on to the next.
After a lunch of homemade breads, homemade butter and a tasty little cheeseboard we move on to our rolls and focaccia. Although not a ‘traditional’ focaccia it’s a super simple recipe. Stretched to a rectangle and placed into a greased tin we leave it to one side to prove.
We continue on to beautiful little rolls and dunk them in a variety of oats, poppy and sesame seeds. After folding and rolling we feel the difference between the leftover dough and the miniature round buns we’ve just formed. Liz takes the words straight out of my mouth as I give them a prod: “They’re plump like a baby’s bottom.”
Then we get back to the focaccia. At this point it’s to push into the edges of the tin and we decorate them with sliced cherry tomatoes, pushing them down into the dough. So satisfying! A scattering of rosemary, a glug of olive oil and a good sprinkle of sea salt and they’re ready for a good poking with our fingers to form the dents on top. The end result is utterly delicious – I want to go straight home to make more with different flavour combinations.
Liz never dreamed she’d be running her own business and has no desire of running a larger, commercial bakery. The thought of being up at the crack of dawn for 6 days a week clearly doesn’t appeal. Instead, along with her classes she does one baking day, making around 80 loaves to be delivered personally to her neighbours within a one-mile radius. When you buy Ma Baker’s bread you buy into her, and once you’ve met her it’s easy to see why she has an ever-expanding client base.
Kneading and massaging our dough in this lovely microbakery reminded me of a recent trip to Italy where I watched artisan salumi producers work the meat and fat together with their hands. When I asked why they didn’t use a machine, the reply was simple: ‘You can use a machine, but a machine doesn’t have any heart’. You can feel the heart in Ma Baker’s kitchen, and it’s here in bucketfuls.
www.mabaker.london Introduction to Bread, London £85pp, max 4 people per class.