Hartingtons of Bakewell – School of Food

Isn't it strange how we hated school?
We moaned at the early mornings, the PE classes and all that homework. But let's face it, the hours (and the holidays) were pretty good and, although I wouldn't want to go back to school (mainly because teenage girls are simply vile, vile creatures), I don't think I'm the only one who wouldn't mind being a student again.


Sadly my student years are well and truly behind me. I have far too many responsibilities (i.e. a mortgage) to even think about going back so I have to get my educational kicks where I can. And although I get a fair bit of training at work, it doesn't really rock my world; unsurprisingly, my idea of some true class education has to involve food.


Which is where Hartingtons of Bakewell come in. Originally set up by food lovers Chris and Julie to hold food fairs, the business has transformed into a cookery school (although they have kept the food fairs going too). Based in the beautiful village of Bakewell (only about half an hour out of Sheffield – essentially head towards Eccy Road and sit on it) the cookery school is held in the roof of a newly renovated mill. It's a beautiful space; bright and airy. There are huge windows to each side of the room and as the mill is situated slap bang next to the river the views are pretty stunning.


Chris and Julie knew that they had to have the unit as soon as they saw it; it's big enough to offer enough workspace, ovens and hobs for the classes, but flexible enough to transform into a stunning dining area for their gourmet supper clubs. And flexibility is important to Hartingtons. Rather than employing their own set of chefs, bakers, butchers or fishmongers, or presenting the classes themselves, Chris and Julie prefer to draw on the skills and experience of food specialists around them and will call in local experts for each class. This means that the classes are absolutely top notch, that they can host a class on just about any aspect of cookery and that they also do their bit for promoting local food businesses.


Hartingtons have a whole range of classes including cheese making, Italian cookery classes and foraging events. Sadly the day job meant that I was restricted to classes at the weekend, but this wasn't too much of a concern as Hartingtons hold classes all week long. Spotting Sheffield based bread maker, Mick Saxton, on the list, I signed myself up to his sourdough bread making class.


I’d heard of Mick and his place on the Sheffield food map as an artisan bread maker, but he hasn’t always worked with food. It was only on spotting an opportunity to leave his day job in finance at the University of Sheffield that Mick decided to turn his bread making hobby into a business and he’s now been providing the South West of Sheffield with their daily bread since May 2011. Place your order with Mick by 4pm the day before one of three bake days a week (Tuesday, Friday & Saturday) and you can have some lovely fresh bread without so much as putting a pinny on.


But, some would argue that to really be able to enjoy bread, you must understand it and, of course, to understand it, you must know how to work with it… We started the class with a bit of a chat as Mick explained what we could expect from the day and we all shared our past experiences with bread making. It didn’t take long for me to realise that I was one of very few who had never baked a loaf before as the majority of my class mates were mothers and lifelong home bakers, but everyone was there to learn and to perfect their skills so I didn’t feel intimidated.


Having read Dan Lepard’s ‘The Handmade Loaf’ I knew about sourdough starters and that they can be used instead of yeast, but all the talk of a bubbling mass that grows and needs feeding kind of put me off ever developing one myself. After all, cooking and baking can be tricky enough without taking responsibility for a pet like ingredient that demands actual attention and care throughout its shelf life. But Mick explained that the rye starter we used is pretty stable and easy to look after, which was good to know especially as we being sent home with some of Mick’s own starter!


Onto the practical side of the class and we were each given our own workspace and the majority of our own equipment, although some things such as scales had to be shared. The class was small (12 people) so that wasn’t an issue and with at least six ovens, two large hand wash sinks and six sets of  hobs dotted around the room is well equipped.


Mick took us through each stage of a rye bread and a white loaf, explaining some of the science as he went along; how different flours react differently to water and the use of salt in the dough were some of the topics covered. And although Mick is respected as an expert in the bread making field, he was humble enough to take on ideas from others in the class and discus controversial processes used by others.


The class flowed quite gently especially as the dough needed time to rise which meant that we could have a couple of tea and coffee breaks. As well as taking in some refreshments, these breaks were a good opportunity to chat with Mick and get some further bread making tips. They were also good opportunities to chat with class mates too; sharing recipes and local ‘where to eat’ tips.


Lunch time was a real treat with Chris and Julie serving us a delicious ploughman’s style selection of pork pies, cheese, salad, meats and (of course) Mick’s own bread. As Chris and Julie were hosting the show they dealt with all the ‘behind the scenes’ stuff which left Mick free to keep us all entertained with his tales; another benefit to bringing in individual experts.


With lunch finished we moved onto the actual baking of our breads. The rye bread was the smaller of the two and we baked in a little loaf tin. We’d added some sunflower and caraway seeds too and it was a really tasty and dense loaf. It was the easiest of the two as there wasn’t any kneading involved (which made it a favourite for me)! Having said that I was really impressed with my white loaf; I had been worried that the dough was a little too sticky, but it came out looking pretty damn good and I was quite proud of myself.


Along with some of his starter Mick shared a couple of recipes with us so that, once we’d scoffed the bread we’d baked that day, we were equipped to bake more. And although I’m not entirely sure that I’m responsible enough to look after a live ingredient, I think I took down enough notes to make sure I’ve got half of chance of getting this right. It’s also good to know that Mick is only a tweet away as he’s on Twitter as @SaxtonBread.


After such an enjoyable day, I’m already looking into future classes (especially the pork pie class!) and I would recommend Hartingtons classes to anyone who’s interested in food. They host corporate events and will create an event around your requirements; I am already dreaming of going head to head with my colleagues in true ‘Masterchef’ style. Vouchers are available for sale and you can book classes as gifts for others and with Christmas coming up you might want to take a look at some of the upcoming courses; perfect for the foodie in your life.
Photos by Chris and Julie from Hartingtons of Bakewell.


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