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Sunday, 3 July 2011

London's Best Cookery Schools - Virtuous Bread

Demystifying Sourdough Bread-Making with Jane Mason

My first encounter with Jane Mason, the founder of Virtuous Bread, was a few years ago at a mutual friend's dinner party. A strategy consultant, Jane was heading a stressful project at a top-tier investment bank when, plagued by sleepless nights, she decided to start baking. With the current financial crisis, Jane decided to take the plunge and start Virtuous Bread.

I only recently bumped into Jane again at a tea-meditation morning organised by Pei of  Teanamu (reviewed here) looking much more fulfilled and about 10 years younger than I remembered- I hardly recognised her.

Intrigued, on a rainy Sunday day in London, I found myself at her magnificent flat in Hammersmith, accompanied by three other bread-making enthusiasts for a full day's sourdough bread making class (maximum class size is 4 people).

Kneading our first loaves

This 8-hour course gives you plenty of time to get to grips with the making of the rye and wheat starters (live cultures), how to use them to make sourdough bread, and how it differs from other types of bread by being a healthier and easier option to digest. Just as fascinating was to learn how easy it is to incorporate daily bread making into a busy working life.

Seeds soaking for bread-making

I arrived at 9.30 to a delicious breakfast of home-made bread, various jams and preserves, and a delicious spreadable German lard, which was perfect with Jane's rye bread.  Over a few pots of tea and coffee, I had the opportunity to get to know and chat with the other students before Jane gave us the low-down on the day ahead.

Breakfast at Virtuous Bread
It wasn't long before we got cracking, making our first loaves.  Jane taught us how to mix and knead the dough, using two varieties of sourdough starter - wheat and rye.  We left the dough to rise, while back in the living room Jane explained the terminology and processes of sourdough bread-making, demystifying the snobbery surrounding this style of bread. Her passion for her subject is contagious. I liked Jane's straightforward explanations, her natural ease of communication and confidence.

We made two loaves of bread each, and while these were still rising, we had a lovely lunch of smoked fish, pickled cabbage salad, freshly baked focaccia di Recco and various other delicacies.

Prior to baking, we  were shown how to shape the loaves which is an art in itself.  We also learnt how to make some delicious sourdough cracker bread which we sprinkled with celery sea salt and sesame and other spice seeds.

At the end of the class, we were given a lovely goodie bag with lots of bread to take home, as well as our own starter for future bread-making.

Of the other interesting classes on offer at Virtuous Bread, Bread Angels is one that will teach you to set up and run your own home baking business. Over a period of three weeks or a weekend, Jane will show you how to bake different kinds of bread, how to do sales and marketing both online and in the real world, and how to manage a small business. Throughout the summer, Jane is also hosting classes on Italian foccacia and ciabatta. For more information on Virtuous Bread classes click here.

In addition to Bread Angels, baking classes and organising bread events, Virtuous Bread also uses bread making to bring about social change. This is done through volunteering to build skills, relationships and individual self-esteem by baking and teaching in prisons, primary schools and elderly care homes.

Virtuous Bread's Sourdough Bread Class was one of the most enjoyable and life-affirming experiences I have had for a long time, and I got to learn how to make some fantastic bread too! I cannot wait to attend one of Jane's other fabulous classes.  Very highly recommended.

The London Foodie was a guest of Virtuous Bread


  1. Ah sourdough - the holy grail!!

  2. I've been wanting to learn for a long time, and these classes are very reasonably priced. I will be along very soon.


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