What could be better after a long, stressful day than a visit to a bakery? Perhaps only visiting the bakery for a course in crafting baked goods of your own. In my case, the bakery was London’s Bread Ahead and the course was croissant making.
The Bread Ahead staff welcome each class member with tea and brownies, before ushering us to our places at a long workbench. The group is of reassuringly mixed abilities, from experienced bakers fresh out of the afternoon’s doughnut lesson to those who have never made a dough before. And me, who sits somewhere in the middle. We bond over our mutual love of eating.
Aidan Chapman, an experienced baker who goes by the name of ‘Dough Anarchist’, begins the workshop promptly at six and we are armed with aprons, rolling pins and copious amounts of butter. To fit a three-day process into three hours, there are some ‘Blue Peter moments’ and shortcuts, but the course provides an excellent overview of three main stages of croissant craft: making a dough, lamination and shaping. The class also touches on how to transform our dough into an increasingly sinful series of pain au chocolat, pain au raisin and twice-baked almond croissants.
As we work, Aidan explains the importance of traditional bread making methods that use just a few, natural ingredients and a long fermentation process to create a soft, digestible wheat. By contrast, a cheap, long-life supermarket loaf contains high levels of salt, fat, sugar and yeast that are difficult to digest. For croissants, real butter and, again, a lengthy fermentation process is the key. We learn that the clues when seeking a real croissant are price (around £2.50) and shape: croissants made with butter tend to be straight, whilst those made with margarine are curved.
When levels of anticipation have reached fever pitch, the moment arrives to taste our croissants. Despite the time constraints, not to mention the class’s clumsiest member (me!) dropping their dough, the croissants are perfect. Crisp, flakey crusts break apart to reveal soft, gently steaming layers. There is no need for butter, just a dollop of slightly tart jam. As I travel home, the scent of 18 freshly baked pastries bursts from their paper bag and fills the tube carriage. I fend off envious glances with a smug smile and the knowledge that I will be popular at home and in the office.