For my 26th birthday my loving boy, Kris got me the best present I could have ever asked for, a day of bread making at River Cottage HQ. I was utterly taken aback by this thoughtful gift as the drive alone is 6 hours of motorway hell and I never thought for a second I'd ever be so lucky. Do I have the bestest guy in the world?! I think I do!
We drove the grueling 350+ mile drive in 7 hours, we probably could have made it much sooner if the Tom Tom didn't keep trying to force us onto a traffic filled, accident laden road. Damn you Tom Tom. But, we rolled into Harmshay Farm B&B, a 16th century farm house at 8pm and readied ourselves for a short stroll to the local pub where we sampled some home made cider, and boy was it strong! Anyone planning a visit to River Cottage I can thoroughly recommend Harmshay Farm, with just 3 rooms it's a very intimate B&B resulting in fantastic service, the breakfast was to die for!
My day started at 9.30am where, upon arriving at River Cottage I boarded a tractor with the other bread makers to be and rode the steep downhill trail towards the farm. Myself and the other guests were offered tea, coffee or elderflower cordial and with us being blessed with the most beautiful day of the year the cordial was gratefully received. At 10am we moved into the main barn where Dan Stevens was waiting for us, as we sat down for our first demonstration a small group entered the barn to tell us Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall was indeed at RC and filming for the new series. How exciting.
Once the murmuring had died down Dan talked us through basic bread making and demonstrated his preferred method of kneading which was super fun and super messy. I never knew you could get a bread dough as wet as he showed us but it really made it much easier to work with. After leaving our bread for it's first rise Dan demonstrated how one basic dough can be used to make several types of bread like English muffins and flat breads. Whilst nomming upon Dans freshly baked treats we moved outside into the glorious sunshine where a huge table was set up adorned with amazing pizza toppings. After a quick demonstration we were instructed to make our very own pizzas before placing them into the huge, and very very hot, wood burning oven. Dan explained to us that for a pizza to be a true representation of the pizzas made in Napoli they must be fully baked in no more than 90 seconds. Mine, topped with caramelised onion, goat cheese and smoked ham took little more than a minute and was utterly delicious.
After two more rises from our lovingly created loaves it was finally time for them to go into the very same oven. Each member of the class was prompted to slash our loaves in a slightly different way to ensure we could identify them when they were done, once slashed Dan spritzed each specimen with water to emulate the steam injection of industrial ovens. About 40 minutes and a hearty lunch of pressed pork coated in honey mustard and seasonal salad later and the loaves were out of the oven, cooling in the afternoon sun. Once cool enough to handle Dan picked out what he thought was the best example, and which loaf did he choose, mine! Yep, I was over the moon even when mocked by the rest of the class for being teachers pet. Hurrah!
As the day came to an end we all gathered round as Dan fried a huge batch of doughnuts while answering all of our questions. I had the most wonderful time and can't thank my Kris (you can see his photos from his day of exploration here) enough for such an amazing present. I came home a better baker and a happier girl harboring a bit of a crush on Dan. Oooops.
Oh, and I almost forgot to add, I spoke to Hugh!! Or rather, he spoke to me and I grinned like a loon! Not only this but I stood and watched the crew filming H-FW discussing strawberries when I stole away from the group for a bathroom break. It was so bizarre watching the show I tune into every week actually getting shot, so if you see a wee girl in a black dress milling around during the show, that's me :D