Bread Making at the Philleigh Way Cookery School

Phileigh Way Bread Course

Friends often do each other favours and a simple “thank you” is sufficient. Occasionally the favour is a little bigger and warrants a bunch of flowers or a bottle of wine. My friends, Joy and Mark, think bigger than that – much bigger! As a thank you gift for a small favour they booked me onto a one-day bread making course – how fantastic is that? Everyone should have friends like Joy and Mark.

This is how, on a sunny Saturday morning, I found myself crossing the river Fal and heading over to the Roseland Peninsula and the Philleigh Way Cookery School. One of the reasons that I live in Cornwall is the relaxed pace of life but, as you sit and wait for the King Harry Ferry and then clunk across the river watching herons wading at the water’s edge, life seems to slow even further.

After a short drive up the hill I pulled into Court Farm and was delighted by what I saw. I love farms, I always have, and this farm looked really special to me; the perfect blend of picturesque stone buildings and a colourful farmhouse garden alongside evidence that this is a real, working farm, not a romantic pretence.

The cookery school itself is all brand new and housed in a beautifully converted stable. It feels comfortable and homey (albeit a very chic home) rather than “cheffy” and I felt relaxed and welcomed from the start. The school is run by brothers-in-law George and James. George, the chef, is a Pascoe and his family have farmed at Court Farm for five generations. Between them, they could not be more welcoming – although anyone who greets me with the offer of fresh coffee and homemade croissants is on to a winner.

There were seven of us on the course; a really friendly group of all ages and we were soon engaged in comfortable chat about our bread making joys and disasters and life in general.

The format for the day was established, George would demonstrate how to make a particular bread, then we would take the recipe and go to our own workstations and make it. James, meanwhile, was indispensable; running around, supplying us with water and bread to taste (always with the addition of a little homemade jam or chutney), doing prep work for James and washing up for the students. Best of all, mid-morning, he brought us champagne to sip whilst we were kneading our dough. I certainly don’t get that at home.

We started the day with a classic white round loaf. I have made simple white loaves before using a variety of recipes; some more successful than others, but this one was as simple as it gets: Flour, water, salt and yeast – the basis of all risen breads. In recent years I have mostly used dried yeast but, on the course, we were using fresh and I suspect it really makes a difference. George’s top tip was to ask for it at the bakery counter in your local supermarket – apparently Tesco don’t charge you for it – maybe the others don’t either…

The most important thing I learned was to trust the recipe. When a dough seems too sticky I have a tendency to add more flour but we were encouraged to persevere and, of course, George was right – the dough will all come together beautifully in the end. A scraper helps with this process allowing you to retrieve your dough when it sticks to the surface. I also learned to take more care when shaping the dough. We were making round loaves and I would normally just shape the dough into a rough round and assume all imperfections would disappear in the final rise but apparently it really helps to smooth the top taught with your hands whilst turning the dough repeatedly on the work surface. This surface tension helps to form a better crust.

The final tip I will share relates to the bake. I already knew to tap the bottom of the loaf (a hollow sound indicates a good bake) but sometimes I am not quite sure if it sounds hollow enough. George recommends cooking it a little longer if you have any doubts at all. More cooking will only ever result in a slightly thicker crust which is infinitely preferable to a soggy, undercooked crumb. Obviously there is a limit to how much longer you can cook your bread before it becomes burnt but a dark crust tastes great.

While the white bread was proving we made focaccia flavouring it with olive oil and Rosemary picked from the herb beds outside the school. This was a first for me but it certainly won’t be the last time so I’ll give you the details in a future post.

After all the kneading it was time for a break and we all wandered out into the gardens to enjoy the sunshine and a bit of a chat before returning to knock back and shape the white bread dough and turn the focaccia – by which time we were ready for lunch. To be honest, if I had learned nothing about bread making it would have been worth attending for the lunch alone: Cheese stuffed focaccia, ham hock terrine, a variety of dips and the best red onion jam I have ever tasted, all washed down with wine. It’s a good job I was driving and capable of restraint or the afternoon’s baking might have been messy.

Lunch at Philleigh way Cookery School

Lunch at Philleigh way Cookery School

After lunch George talked about making sourdough bread – we didn’t make it on the day but we did each make a sour dough starter to take home and make friends with. When mine is ready I will post the method and a sour dough recipe – watch this space.

The last loaf we made was soda bread. Now, I was raised on soda bread and I have posted on this before so I didn’t expect to learn much here. I also admit to raising a slight sceptical eyebrow when I saw the recipe which used baking powder instead of bicarbonate of soda and which used milk without any additional acid in the form of yoghurt or buttermilk. I needn’t have worried, apparently the baking powder creates the reaction needed as the cream of tartar provides the acid which, when combined with the alkaline bicarbonate of soda, gives off carbon dioxide to make the dough rise. Apparently you can teach old dogs new tricks and, I have to say, the soda bread was as good as any I have made before.

We were obviously quite a capable group and we got through the content of the day quite quickly so George added in a few extras demonstrating how to make flat breads (which is when I learned the phrase, “it’s not burnt, it’s golden black”) and sharing his knowledge of other bread making techniques. As a major bonus he whipped up a Cornish version of Moules Marinieres using oysters which had been hand dived from the Fal the day before, Cornish Rattler cider and cream from the farms own dairy. We ate that with sour dough bread – just because we could. I have to say the mussels were huge and incredibly tasty – they can be bought on the King Harry Ferry if ever you are out that way.

We ended the day with a bag full of wonderful bread to take home, a tub full of sourdough starter, full stomachs and huge, beaming smiles. I thought the day might involve hard work (with all the kneading) but I left feeling relaxed and happy, as if I had just had a lovely day out – which of course I had.

Huge thanks to Joy and Mark for their generous gift and to George and James for the great day. All I have to do now is decide which course to do next; I quite fancy learning more about fish preparation but butchery would be good too or there is always foraging…

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Paul Hollywood’s Bloomer Recipe

Bloomer Last night I watched the first episode of Paul Hollywood’s Bread and today I baked some bread.  Me?  Influenced by television?  Never!  Unless it is a cookery programme that is.

Paul baked a beautiful bloomer and so did I.  Try it, it couldn’t be simpler but you do need some time – it is left to prove twice for around two hours each time.

The hardest thing about this loaf is leaving it to cool before you eat it!


500g / 1lb 2oz Strong White Flour, plus extra for kneading

10g / ¼oz Salt

1 x 7g sachet of Instant Yeast

320ml / 11½ fl oz Cold Water

40ml / 2¾ fl oz Olive Oil, plus extra for kneading

extra Oil and Flour, for kneading


Place the flour in a bowl, add the salt to one side and the yeast to the other side of the bowl taking care not to have them touching. Add the oil and 240ml / 9fl oz of water.

Mix the ingredients together with your hands. Gradually add the remaining water (you may not need it all), until all the flour is incorporated and you have a soft, rough dough.

Pour a little oil onto a clean work surface. Sit the dough on the oil and begin to knead. Do this for 5-10 minutes until the dough becomes smooth. Place the dough into a clean, oiled bowl, cover tightly with cling film and leave in a warm place for about 2 hours or until more than doubled in size.

Once risen, place the dough onto a floured surface. Knock the dough back by folding it in on itself repeatedly and pressing with your knuckles. Do this until all the air is knocked out and the dough is smooth.

To shape into the bloomer, flatten the dough into a rectangle. With the long side facing you fold each end into the middle then roll like a Swiss roll so that you have a smooth top with a seam along the base. Very gently roll with the heal of your hands.

Place on a tray lined with baking paper, cover and leave to prove for a further 2 hours at room temperature. It should be doubled in size.

Lightly spray the loaf with water and dust with a little flour. Make four diagonal slashes using a sharp knife across the top.

Preheat the oven to 220 °C / 425°F / Gas Mark7

Place a baking tray filled with water on the bottom shelf of the oven – this will create steam when the loaf is baking. Place the loaf on the middle shelf and bake for 25 minutes. After this time lower the heat to 200°C / 400°F / Gas Mark 6 and bake for a further 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack.

You can find the original recipe here along with some technique videos.

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Baking Baguettes at Home


A friend of ours – hello Nigel – recently returned from a holiday in France where he and his family had enjoyed long lazy lunches in the sunshine.  On returning to a slightly damper and greyer Cornwall they decided to recreate a favourite French lunch in order to prolong that holiday feeling.

It is really easy to find great French cheeses or even to source their British counterparts (I love Cornish brie and camembert) and every deli worth its salt will stock at least one wonderful pate but Nigel really struggled to find an authentic baguette.  I can sympathise – over the years I’ve had soggy, underbaked pain de campagne and baguettes so crisp they are all crust and no bread.

Our own love affair with baguettes began on a family camping trip to Brittany back in 1989.  Each morning we would walk down to the shop to buy freshly baked bread and Madame would squeal with delight as our daughters, then aged 3 and 18 months, would each greet her with  a very proud and serious “Bonjour Madame, comment ca va?” We would then wend our way back to the tent with each girl clutching a baguette in the vertical position.  We had to throw away each end of the loaves as one end would always have been nibbled and the other grazed along the ground.

So when Nigel challenged me to find the perfect baguette recipe I had to accept.  Thus started the research and the more I read the more daunted I began to feel.  The general consensus of French artisanal bakers is that baguettes cannot be baked at home – domestic ovens are not big enough and something gets lost in the process of making a smaller baguette.  With a slightly ironic gallic shrug I resigned myself to baking a less than perfect loaf.  Bread also tastes different when baked in traditional stone ovens – I’m afraid I don’t have one but for once my trusty Rayburn might actually be an advantage.

Every recipe I found used exactly the same ingredients – flour, salt, yeast and water – but in such varying quantities and combinations that I didn’t really know where to start.  The simplest recipes I found had all been written by English, Australian or American bakers – the more complicated ones were French.  I decided that authenticity is probably a complicated business so opted to focus only on the French.

A couple of recipes called for a starter to be made the night before.  I know that long slow proving can really improve the flavour of a loaf so figured this was an essential step.  Apart from that my recipe is a bit of a mixture of 3 or 4 others that I read.  Most recipes call for French bread flour but I confess that I used ordinary strong white bread flour – I don’t know what difference the “real thing” would make but I couldn’t find any locally.  I could have, but didn’t, order it on line.

I bought a baguette tin especially for this recipe (actually it is sillicone not tin) and that did the job really well.  You can sprinkle a tea towel with flour and fold it to create a cradle for your bread to rise in but I tried this and it sounds easier than it is!

Overall, this recipe is lengthy and time consuming with multiple risings – you need to make the starter the evening before you want to bake the bread and even if you start early next day it will be mid-afternoon before you can eat your bread.  As I’m used to making soda bread (40 mins from weighing to eating) this seems excessive for a regular bake.

So was it worth it?  I loved the research and enjoyed the baking and the eating!  My bread was not as good as an authentic French baguette (but they come accompanied by a large serving of sunshine and lazy afternoons) but it was much better than anything I have bought here in the UK.  As always – the only way to judge for yourself is to give it a go.

Over to you Nigel…


Makes three 15” baguettes


4 fluid ounces / 120 ml cool water

1/16 tsp Fast Action Bread Yeast (yes just one sixteenth of a teaspoon)

4 ¼ oz / 120g Strong White Bread Flour


1 tsp Fast Action Bread Yeast

8 fluid ounces / 240 ml Lukewarm Water

15 oz / 420g Strong White Bread Flour

1 ½ tsp salt


Day 1   Make the starter

Mix the yeast with the water in a medium sized bowl and stir a few times.

Mix in the flour to give a soft dough.  Cover and set aside to rest for 14 hours at room temperature.  The best time time to do this is the evening before you want to make the bread.

The starter should be well risen and bubbly.  If by any chance it is not then your yeast is probably no longer active and it’s time to buy some more!.

Day 2

Mix the yeast with the water in a large bowl and stir a few times.

Add the flour, salt and all of the starter and mix well until a dough is formed.  This amount of water should be enough so be patient but you may need a little more.  (Apparently you need more water in winter or in a very dry climate!)

Tip the dough onto a work surface and knead well for about 5 minutes until smooth and pliant.

You can of course do all of this in a food mixer using a dough hook.

Place the dough in a very lightly greased bowl, cover with cling film or a clean tea towel and leave to rise for 3 hours.  After the first hour has passed gently deflate and turn the dough, re-cover and leave once again to rise.  Repeat after the second hour has passed.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface and cut into three, equally sized pieces. Shape each piece into a rough oval and flatten it out with your palm.  Cover with lightly oiled cling film and leave to rest for 15 minutes.

Fold each piece of dough in half lengthways and seal with the heel of your hand.  Flatten out a little and repeat.

With the seam side down, cup your fingers and gently roll each piece of dough into a sausage shape approximately 15” long.

Place each dough “sausage” into the wells of a baguette tin.*

Cover with lighly oiled cling film and leave to rise for around 1 ½ hours until risen and puffy.

Towards the end of the rising time pre-heat the oven to 230 C /450 F /Gas Mark 8

Use a sharp knife to make three long, diagonal slashes in each baguette.

Spritz well with warm water which will help your baguettes to develop a really crispy crust.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until your baguettes are a deep golden brown.  Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.

Baguettes are best eaten on the day they are made but you can re-crisp them in a hot oven if necessary.

*If you don’t have a baguette tin you can do the final rising in the folds of a floured tea towel – when the dough is fully risen gently roll it from the cloth to a flat baking sheet.

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A Plate Full of Nostalgia

bread and jam

My first distinct food memory is of eating soda bread and blackcurrant jam at my Aunt’s house in Tipperary. I was just five years old and, along with my parents and five siblings, stayed at Mary Ellen’s farm for two blissfully happy weeks of fresh air, chicken chasing and generally running wild.

Whilst this was probably not the first time I had ever eaten soda bread, my mum used to bake it all the time, a whole set of visual and emotional memories clustered around this one family holiday to ensure that it stayed forever fixed in my mind. Sunny days were spent visiting my dad’s family and friends and afternoons ran into evenings full of talk and laughter. When darkness fell we engaged in precarious walks home across the fields – the only time in my life I have actually walked straight into a cow.

On the first morning of our holiday I woke up to the sound of a cockerel crowing in the yard outside and the soft murmur of voices in the kitchen below. Unsure of the rules in this strange house I tentatively ventured forth in my pyjamas – and promptly fell down the steep stairs. More shocked than hurt, my tears were quickly dismissed and my no nonsense aunt shoved a piece of thickly buttered, hot soda bread into my hand and topped it with a dollop of her home made blackcurrant jam – instant and perfect comfort.

I don’t know whether my young legs really couldn’t cope with the steep stairs or whether my unconscious mind was seeking more of the same comfort but I swear I fell down those stairs every morning for the rest of the holiday. After a day or two Mary Ellen realised that the boxes of cereal she had bought for our visit would remain unopened and we all ate her bread and jam for breakfast. By the end of our visit we had consumed a year’s supply of jam, the hens had developed a taste for cornflakes and I had developed a lifelong love of soda bread.

The rest of my childhood consisted of the usual round of school work, household chores, friendships (made and broken) and sibling rivalries but every week was punctuated by wonderful, carefree Sundays. Sunday was about days out in summer, winter roasts with my grandparents and the ubiquitous smell of baking. At the end of the day preparations for Monday began; bath time, my long hair dripping and steaming in front of the fire, last minute homework, my mum frantically ironing a mountain of school uniforms and then a Sunday tea; boiled eggs and soda bread and a simple tray bake – always iced and shimmering with hundreds and thousands.

To most people, soda bread tastes wonderfully earthy, salted with butter and maybe sweet with jam. To me it also tastes of family, warmth and safety; the ultimate, nostalgic comfort food. On cold winter days, when I find myself at a loose end, freshly baked soda bread still has the power to release in me the carefree joy of a much loved, chicken-chasing five year old.

Soda Bread Recipe

Soda Bread

Soda Bread with blackcurrant jam

You can make soda bread with white or wholemeal flour – I find all wholemeal is a bit heavy so I tend to make it with a mixture of the two. You can use ordinary plain flour and really don’t need a strong bread flour. Soda bread uses no yeast and doesn’t have to prove – the bicarbonate of soda makes it rise – so the whole process is really quick and simple and you could easily be eating your bread 50 minutes after you got the flour out of the cupboard.


250g Plain flour

250g Wholemeal flour

2 tsp Bicarbonate of soda

400ml buttermilk

A good pinch of sea salt


Pre-heat the oven to 200°C, 400°F or Gas Mark 6.

Sieve the flours and bicarbonate of soda into a large mixing bowl and add the salt.

Stir in the buttermilk to make a soft, pliable but not sticky dough. If it is a bit dry add a splash of milk. If it is a bit wet add a light sprinkling of flour.

Tip the dough onto a lightly floured board and knead it gently until it comes together into a ball – no more than a minute. This dough does not require kneading and won’t look like the smooth elastic dough you may be used to, work quickly as you do want to get it into the oven whilst the bicarbonate of soda is still doing its thing (that’s the science bit).

Dust a baking sheet with flour and place the dough in the centre – dust the dough lightly with flour. Using a sharp knife cut a deep cross in the top and place it in the oven. Bake for approximately 40 minutes then check it. The loaf is done when a crust is formed and it sounds hollow when you tap it on the bottom.

Cool it on a wire rack. You should probably cool it completely but I can’t resist eating it warm so that the butter melts. If the crust is a bit hard for your taste try wrapping it in a clean tea towel to cool – the bread will steam slightly and as the steam gets trapped you will end up with a softer crust – but you may never have lovely curly hair…

Soda bread doesn’t keep well and is best eaten on the day you make it – if you do have some left next day it toasts well or can be eaten dunked in a good soup.