We always love to welcome one of the most respected authorities on baking, Dan Lepard, into Cookery School. His sourdough baking classes with us remain extremely popular thanks not only to Dan’s extensive knowledge, but also to the style of his teaching.
We caught up with Dan to find out some of the secrets to his success, what he feels are some of the trends within bread making and why he enjoys teaching here at Cookery School…
Q:What are some of the most surprising things you have learnt from teaching people how to bake bread?
One of the things I have learnt is perhaps connected to my aging as well. When I was younger I went Gung-ho into things and I was, in a way, happy with mistakes. But as I have got older I have become more questioning, a natural progression connected to our life experiences and things going wrong. So what I try to do now is blend some of that youthful optimism and lack of fear with more caution, which is something I’ve only learnt through doing years of classes.
Q: If you were on a desert island what bakes couldn’t you live without?
I love sourdough but I really do like a simple straight yeasted bread that I can get from flour to bread in about four or five hours. Because it’s something I can do every day and a way that I can create a simple lunch for myself every day.
My second thing would be a simple short crust pastry. If I was on a tropical island I could take tropical fruit and make a tart. Or maybe there would be birds so I could make meringue pies.
The third thing would have to be cookie dough, so I could make coconut cookies or dry mangoes in the sun and make coconut and mango cookies.
Q: What are some of the most common mistakes that people make when they are starting to make bread for the first time?
Something we all do is not read the recipe through completely for the first time, so they don’t plan enough time for it. Linked to this there is an impatience about how long things take. We live in an age where people are fearless about what they want to make, be it panettone, bacon or Stilton but these things take time. When I am making sourdough I am working in the realm of fermentation and people commonly don’t give the process the space it needs and want to rush it through. So generally my tips are: remember to give bakes more thought, more space and more time.
Q: Which do you feel are the easiest loaves to make and which are the hardest?
I have recipe for an Easy White Loaf on the BBC’s website. You take 400gm of flour, 300gm of water, a teaspoon of salt and teaspoon of yeast and you pretty much just mix them together and it makes a great loaf of bread. I wrote the recipe around a decade ago and I still make it today.
The hardest thing… you know what, I love carrot cake but everytime I go to make it, it goes on and on! Complex cake making with lots of chopping of nuts, fruit and different spices and frostings is actually quite hard. I love things like this, but think people should applaud themselves when they make them well.
Q: Do you think there will be new trend in terms of bread? Do you think we are over sourdough now or are there new things we can do with it?
I do and I will bring in the gorgeous Nigella Lawson into this who always has an insightful thought. I remember showing a sourdough loaf I had made on social media with lots of holes. She replied and said “Mmm it’s good but I really like a smooth sour dough with dense crumb”. I know where she is coming from. I think we are going to see more sourdoughs with a smoother texture. Something that’s more about nuts and seeds and grains too.
Q: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started ?
I started making bread back at Alistair Little’s restaurant in 1990 and I didn’t appreciate that sourdough would open up into so much variation and diversity. There are many different ways of making sourdough. Sometimes it’s complicated and sometimes straight and easy. I was never interested in whether it became popular I just wanted to feed myself. Also coming from a pre internet age I didn’t have any idea what was going on around the corner, but the internet informs us in unimaginable ways. I get very excited now by Instagram where I can see a baker in Hobart talking to and helping out a baker in Middle America.
Q: Where are some of your favourite places to teach?
I love teaching in Melbourne as I grew up there. I like cooking in San Sebastian as I have so many memories there. I love Japan as the country has taken me to their hearts. I would also love to teach more in Singapore, Malaysia and South East Asia.
Q: What do you like most about teaching here at Cookery School?
I hold every school up in comparison to Cookery School in London. It has some of the finest equipment, it is so well organised and is also so brave and inventive that I want everywhere I teach to match this. I think when students come here they can feel reassured that they will be taken care of and treated in a thoughtful and professional way. That’s not always the case in a lot of cookery schools. But Ros and the team here understand where students are coming from, can pre-empt any concerns they have and can develop something that is fun, bright intelligent and will fill them full of enthusiasm. So that when people leave they can think yes I can do this and I want to do this!
If you’d like to join one of Dan Lepard’s Sourdough bread classes, check out his next class dates here.