Ever fancied doing a private French baking class?
I’m standing in a kitchen in a terraced house in Hale, surrounded by strangers, and a man is telling me to put my shower cap on. It’s not a direction I was expecting to hear during a French baking class but then this is not your ordinary cookery school.
I recommend making some room in your freezer beforehand if wallowing in carb-induced inertia for the next day or two is not feasible
One Mile Bakery was started originally by Elisabeth Mahoney in her domestic kitchen in Cardiff in 2012. Her idea was simple: to deliver home-made breads, preserves and soups by bike within a one mile radius of her home.
With a focus on seasonal, local produce and a minimal carbon footprint, Elisabeth quickly amassed a loyal customer base. She then began teaching intimate baking classes from her home and they too became wildly popular.
It didn’t take long for her idea to propagate. Now there are five OMBs in the UK including a branch in Hale - the first in the North - run by Matt Townley. Matt is an ex-teacher, originally from Wiltshire, who has now turned his passion for baking into a dream day-job.
From his Ideal Home kitchen, all glossy white ties and copper light fixtures, he whips up weekly batches of bread with the help of a small industrial oven, before hopping on his bike to deliver it.
It’s been such a success, he is currently fully booked for deliveries, but you can join the waiting list. On Friday mornings (and the odd Sunday) he hosts relaxed, fun baking classes - which is why we're here.
There really is nothing like the smell of freshly baked bread. It's whiff permeating through the house like parental arms reaching out for a cuddle.
I have been smitten since baking my first wonky loaf in Home Economics, and have had my fair share of disasters and delights since then. From a salty, wholemeal pizza base that could have been repurposed as a clay pigeon to a cheesy accordion loaf that had my friends issuing marriage proposals.
Although very much an amateur, I love baking, and I’m excited to learn more.
My fellow students are a mother and daughter from just a few streets away who tell me they don't have much bread baking experience. Matt's classes are popular with parent/offspring duos, as people turn more to experiences as birthday gifts (we don’t need any more stuff, and nor do the landfill sites.) His students come in all shapes and sizes - much like the loaves they produce.
Today there are just the three of us, as two dropped out at the last minute, but his maximum number of students is six. Small classes mean he can give personal attention to every student.
Matt is a natural. His years teaching primary have clearly given him the patience needed to deal with a batch of amateur bakers who have watched one too many episodes of Bake Off. He greets me at his front door with a Paul Hollywood smile and I feel right at home.
I arrive already sporting a soggy bottom, middle and top, having made the unwise decision to walk from Alty metro station. It’s a pleasant 20 minute stroll via a leafy park but halfway there the clouds had exploded. I recommend driving if you can or it’s a short cab or bus ride from the metro.
After a brief health and safety chat, we don our powder-blue OMB aprons and prepare to get messy. The wetter is better, apparently, and Matt tells us he had one guest who couldn’t stand the feel of the squelchy dough. If that sounds relatable, this is probably not the experience for you, as we are up to our wrists (and in some cases, elbows) in it for much of the day.
We bang out enough loaves to feed the 5,000, no fish required. In fact, I recommend making some room in your freezer beforehand if wallowing in carb-induced inertia for the next day or two is not feasible.
Making use of three different types of dough, all prepared with fresh yeast, we produce several types of baguette, including a deceptively easy but impressive looking pain d’epi, a fougasse, a rich brioche, and those all important croissants.
But it’s not really the fruits of your labour that’s the point here. The whole experience is a tactile and satisfying end in itself.
We chat away like old pals as we roll and knead. Mid-morning, we share a few slices of toast made from Matt's own bread and slathered with his rhubarb jam. The bread he makes with spent grain from his beer-brewing is a revelation.
A two-course lunch of asparagus soup followed by a vegetarian mezze spread is accompanied by a couple of glasses of wine or Matt’s home-brewed beer, the light dishes a welcome contrast to the richness of our baking.
Like all good teachers, Matt makes everything look suspiciously easy, and I certainly need a bit more practise, but I leave inspired.
As a keen baker, I learned plenty. There is only so much that a cookbook can do for you. Nothing beats somebody showing you where you're going wrong and reassuring you when you're doing it right.
Matt has a proven talent for baking and a love of sharing his knowledgable tips and tricks. If you’re still wondering what that shower cap was all about you’ll have to book onto a class to find out.
A bread baking day class costs £125 which includes all the ingredients to take home, a basket full of bread as well as a mid-morning snack, a home-cooked lunch with wine, beer or soft drinks, and as much tea or coffee as you can manage. There are several different classes to choose from. See more at One Mile Bakery.