On Saturday I spent a good couple of hours doing the most simple and loveliest of things: baking bread, kneading, chatting and sharing a glass of wine around the kitchen bench at String + Salt.
Since our friends Michelle and Dave opened their gorgeous store and cooking school in Warragul I have wanted to do a class (or three), in particular their bread classes with Tasmania’s Margaret Dargan. A few weeks ago Matt did their lamb butchering class, a Father’s Day gift from Eleanor and I, and loved it. So I promptly booked myself in for a day of dough and flour and bubbling yeast – my idea of a good time.
Margaret is a wealth of knowledge for all things bread, the kind of knowledge that comes from years and years of mixing four basic ingredients, kneading, prooving, knowing, feeling and growing an intuition. A class in bread baking can only really be a starting point, baking truly delicious breads comes with time and experience. Margaret assured us though that bread doughs are very forgiving, and she advised us to go home and bake 20 loaves of bread…on number 16 or 17 you will ‘get it’. The feel of the dough, how to treat it and care for it. It’s simple stuff really, there’s no great secrets or tricks.
We shared lunch, cured meats, artichokes, freshly made ricotta by Michelle, a glass of red with our warm breads from the ovens of course. The atmosphere and vibe at String + Salt hardly makes it feel like a cooking ‘school’ at all, more like your mum’s kitchen full of familiar faces, tastes, smells. Michelle and Dave’s appreciation for food has completely overtaken their lives, in a good way. They live and breathe their ethos of ‘grow, cook, share’…
Maragaret stepped us through several different types of bread, all very basic and super simple – just as bread should be! The overnight no-knead bread will become a staple in the Brindabella kitchen I’m sure, as will pizza dough made with the fougasse recipe for Summer evenings under our chestnut tree with Matt’s pizza oven. Just to be a real show pony (but with minimal effort) Margaret showed us how to make a saffron and cardamon infused bread, spread liberally with butter, brown sugar and laden with dried fruits, then formed into a log, a wreath, sliced, baked and glazed. Oh. My. Goodness! This bread! Perfect for Christmas morning with champagne.
A Saturday spent getting your hands dusty with flour, kneading and pressing, finding a rhythm in your method, is a Saturday well spent. We noticed that everyone had a very different method of kneading, yet there was no right or wrong. Margaret very much encouraged us to find our own method and rhythm, whatever works for you, and the more you knead and feel your dough, the more familiar you will be with your method and rhythm. In time, it will become second nature.
There is something very humbling about baking bread, I think because it is so simple, yet so satisfying. It’s ancient and slow, sometimes just what we need in our kitchens. I came away with a new confidence to make Eleanor some little saffron buns, knowing that I’ve lovingly made the dough, prooved, kneaded, prooved again and baked them for her to gobble up. What’s better than that?
String + Salt is at 42 Smith Street, Warragul.
Michelle and Dave run cooking classes from sausage making to Malaysian street food, wine tasting and matching to risotto 101, and everything in betweeen! Their beautiful shop is also chock full of drool worthy cookery tools and homewares, as well as their gorgeous Aga, Falcon and Rayburn cookers.