Cactus Studios, 1 St Luke’s Avenue, SW4 7LG
Jimmy, Gennaro and Jamie, we’re all on first name terms with today’s TV chefs; they pop into our living rooms like flickering angels, promising so much but never quite delivering. They tempt us with their deliciousness but somehow their food remains untasted by us mere mortals, remote and somehow intangible. So the clever people at Cactus TV, set up by Jonathan Ross’s elder brother, have done something about it. In partnership with culinary giant Michel Roux they have set up a cookery school, Cookery School of the Year no less. Apparently Michel loves home baking and so I have been invited to review a class entitled Bake Bread the Roux Way.After coffee, delicious pastries and excited conversation with the other baking boys and girls, we headed into the classroom. Our teacher was the redoubtable and talented Bridget Colvin who has worked behind the scenes with …Jimmy, Genaro and Jamie and right in front of us was a bowl of sourdough starter marked with Michel Roux’s name. We all went into a little swoon at the thought of being so close to greatness…But we were here to bake not to fawn.Our first challenge was to make a Courant Bordelaise (Bordeaux crown) but before we we started Bridget inculcated us into the mysteries of the sourdough starter. We learnt about using the best local flour, how the bacteria on your hands is very important and how the yeast starter has to be fed, has a life of its own and is prone to take over your life!After our starter had risen we were taken through the relatively complex procedures to create the loaf. Each step was clearly explained and we had a fab team of helpers who would lay out our ingredients, clear up after us and pull us out of trouble with an endearing combination of charm and firmness.After a visit to the oven our loaves reappeared transformed into objects of lightness and beauty. With a firm crust and a deliciously tangy interior I felt transformed-the bread was really good too…Glowing with our success it was clearly time for a fine luncheon-Panzanella, green salad and cold meats and cheeses were on the menu washed down with some excellent wine it was back to our workstations. Next up we were to make Irish Soda bread using a mix of spelt and self-raising flour and bicarbonate of soda as the raising agent. We learnt to handle the dough with care, not to stretch it but to work it with a light touch. Bridget encouraged us to create two loaves, a sweet and a savoury, and showed us how to be creative with ingredients which we added with alacrity. In went coriander, pumpkin and caraway seeds with a sprinkle of thyme. Next up was cocoa flour, sour cherries and roughly chopped dark chocolate and hazelnuts. Soda bread is relatively straightforward to make and pimping it up with these flavours is a great way to create something special for a dinner party without too much effort.Whilst our loaves were baking Bridget demonstrated how to make fougasse and breadsticks, again relatively straightforward to create at home once you know how.
I loved my day at Cactus Kitchens. It was a deliciously pleasurable way to learn. After we finished some of the others snuck into the Saturday Kitchen TV studio for a look around but I sauntered off into the Clapham sunset bearing my boxes of bread feeling rather smug that I could now add the initials AB for artisan baker to my name.