My River Cottage Bread Day

The lovely hubby, along with collective parents, sent me on a bread making day at River Cottage (yes, that’s right, THE River Cottage, home of the lovely Hugh FW, and his newly shorn locks) this week as an early birthday present! At the risk of upsetting all those who have previously given me presents over the years, this has to be one of the best presents I have EVER had! And it fits really nicely in with the whole Make Do and Mend Year ethos-lovely hubby didn’t actually buy me ‘stuff’, and I get to learn a skill that I’ve wanted to for ages.

I had such an amazing time, and am so enthused about the magic that is bread making, that I am going to bore you all silly with it.

I trekked my way into deepest darkest Devon to River Cottage HQ, on a somewhat showery and blustery morning. In the car park, we were met with a tractor and very comfortably equipped trailer to transport us down the hill to River Cottage HQ itself. There were 19 of us on the course, and I must admit I was worried that this was too many, and I wouldn’t get all that I wanted to out of it with so many other people there, but my worries were unfounded, as you will see.

We were led into our very own Great British Bake Off-like Marquee (the barn where the course are usually held is being re-built after a fire earlier on this year) and set the difficult task of eating delicious cake and drinking tea. Then it was on with the aprons and business for the day.

I met the lovely Emma on the way down to the Marquee who had travelled all the way from New Zealand just to visit River Cottage (actually she was going to a conference the next day, but had shoe-horned the bread day in to her schedule, and I kind of think that maybe she just booked the conference so she had an excuse to come over and visit River Cottage, but I’m not saying a word…)

The amazingly inspiring Aidan Chapman from The Phoenix Bakery in Weymouth, was our teacher for the day, and he was BRILLIANT! Very patient, and happily answered the same questions about 10 times without getting at all cross. His passion for real bread and for proper bread making really came across, and I know I will now feel very guilty if I ever buy another mass produced loaf..

During the course of the day we taught about the wonderful amazingness of Sourdough bread, and encouraged to go home and make our own starters to have a go ourselves; shown how to make Sourdough, flatbreads, pizza bases, a ‘soulful’ white loaf, foccacias and soda bread-phew!

Me with my very own ‘soulful white loaf’

The lovely Emma with her ambitious plaited loaf!

My ‘arty’ shot!

The most amazing stone fired pizzas



My creations!

The whole day was brilliant. I am so enthused by Aidan and his passion and love for all things Real bread. Aidan is an ambassador for the Real Bread Campaign, who are a bit like the Real Ale Campaign people, but for bread. You can do a search on their website to find your nearest Real McCoy bread maker if you don’t fancy having a go yourself.

I learned sooo much, far more than I thought I ever could/would. Here are my top 5 things I learned:

1) Real bread contains just 4 ingredients-flour, water, salt and yeast. Did you know that your supermarket sliced white can contain up to 19 ingredients…?

2) Sourdough is not as scary as I thought

3) Wetter is better-the wetter your dough is, the better loaf it will make, and the longer it’s shelf life will be

4) Bread making should be a two day process. This sounds like a massive faff, but actually Aidan showed us how easy it is to customise the process to fit in with our own daily routines. It really CAN be done!

5) I can do it! I made two gorgeous loaves, and having been previously disheartened with disappointing results, I am now inspired to have another go, the Aidan way..!

I hope Aidan won’t mind if I share with you his gorgeous soda bread recipe-as he said, a child could do this, and it is a great starter recipe if you have never made bread before. So go on, give it a go. And I want to see pictures!!

Apple and cranberry soda bread

  • 300g strong white flour (organic if poss)
  • handful of oats
  • 5g salt
  • 10g baking powder-did you know you can make your own baking powder? 2/3 bicarbonate of soda, 1/3 cream of tartar, sieved 5 times, bobs your uncle!
  • 1 eating apple, chopped
  • handful of dried cranberries (or raisins/sultanas etc)
  • approx 250-300ml cider (or you can use buttermilk, or yoghurt)

Pre-heat your oven to 220C (gas mark 8)

Mix all the dry ingredients together and then add the cider-you might need a bit more or less than this, it wants to be a fairly sloppy mix

Mix very sparingly-the more you handle the dough the tougher it will be. Then turn out onto a floured surface and gently mould into a roundish shape (again handle it as little as possible)

Place on a well floured baking tray and bake for 25-30mins

Enjoy, hot from the oven, slathered with real butter!

So there you have it. A fantastic day out that far exceeded my already high expectations. I am well and truly a real bread convert now (if I wasn’t already) and can’t wait to get my sourdough starter fermenting away! So a huge thankyou to all at River Cottage HQ, including the chefs who kept us more than filled up with delicious food, and the ‘meeters and greeters’ who helped the day run so smoothly, and especially to Aidan for sharing with us a tiny fraction of his huge baking knowledge. He even came up with some Make Do and Mend ideas for my very own bread scraper, bread stone and proving basket-stay tuned…

PS. I noticed a spot of Make Do and Mend at River Cottage HQ, and some brilliant upcycling ideas…

An old water trough, turned water butt/water feature/pond-fantastic!

The bar, made from wooden veg boxes

19 thoughts on “My River Cottage Bread Day

  1. Wow, this sounds like an amazing day! What a fantastic gift, your family hit on just the right thing didn’t they, and now I’m really rather tempted…
    Thanks for a great post 🙂

  2. Just found your review about bread making at river cottage. Yes an Inspirational place to learn to make bread with an Expert to help you get you started!
    We grown and mill our own cereal grains here at Imbhams Farm Granary on my farm, and make products for bakers to make at home. Do look us up. web shop or email to When your year of ‘make do and mend’ (brilliant concept, well done) is over, you may want a mill of your own in your kitchen to mill your own flour >fresh, and local, is best! I have created our own Soda Bread recipe which won a Gold Taste Award and this Autumn used chopped apple and with your prompt from Aidan will try using cider. Thanks and pleased you have joined the band of happy bread makers.
    All best. Maggie Barlow

    • Hi Maggie
      I am going to check out your mill-it sounds great. Whereabouts are you? The cider definitely gives the bread a distinctive flavour. I was wondering whether you could use apple juice too..?? All the best with your mill.

      • Jen, Hi.
        We farm and live near Haslemere on the borders of West Sussex and SW. Surrey. Cider would give the soda bread a strong flavour and for us would mask the taste of the fresh milled whole meal flours that we use but I am going to try it .
        There is no reason why a fresh apple juice should not as good as cider, perhaps with a milder taste but if adding fresh chopped /grated apple as well as apple juice too, I think the dough might be a little too ‘wet’ I am going to experiment with buttermilk/yogurt which we already use with a dash of apple juice or cider.
        Can we contact each other by direct email here or the business to share the results?
        We have lots of Farmers market events where we take along the mills to show people and I am demo baking at ‘Food Glorious Food’ at The Farnham Mailtings on Sunday November 11th if you live anywhere within travel distance to Farnham ? I will be milling flour there for the demo and will have the smaller homemills on show. It is a great ‘foodie event’ with other chefs demo cooking as well

        I have never replied to anyones Blog before, you are the FIRST, but now I must get back to milling and making products for the weekend Events!

        Enjoyed sharing with you. Loved your photos. Happy baking!

      • I am hugely honoured that I am your 1st ever blog comment-thankyou so much! Would love to see the results of your ‘experiements’-we could see how many others we could enlist too! I am going to try it with apple juice. Don’t think you need to worry too much about it being too wet-the one I made at River Cottage was really quite sloppy, but I am told the key is not to handle it too much.
        I have a horrid feeling I am working the weekend of your demo bake (which sounds great), and I am intrigued by your home mills.
        Lots of ways to keep in touch: e-mail:; tweet @makeandmendyear; or search My Make Do and Mend Year on facebook!
        Look forwards to seeing some soda bread loveliness.
        Thanks again for getting in touch. I am off to investigate your home mills!
        Jen x

  3. What a fantastic pressie from your family, a skill you can have for life and one that fits in with your ethos. Im green with envy- our family think anything can be solved if you throw money at it! We try and live a simpler life, but its not easy when they expect us to keep up with them (especailly as we cant afford to throw money away).
    I keep vowing that Im gonna start making my own bread one day but havent got organised yet.
    Your post is really inspirational and might give me the kick up the b*tt I need. Thanks for sharing.

    • Go for it Jojo!
      Follow Jen’s inspirational start to bread making. It is easier than you think, simple and satisfying to do. You are in control of what you eat when you make breads(and the 19 ingredients that you don’t need to eat) You dont need to be that organised apart from the basics and its something so rewarding, money just can’t buy.
      I ran a Workshop for Children today at our local Farmer’s Market, Celebrating Apple Day, flaking fresh grains to make fruited Mueslis, apple juice,chopped apples etc ……the simple pleasure and enjoyment……and smiles. Go for it !
      All Best

    • Do it Jo! Check out my sourdough starter as it is ‘growing’ on Facebook here, and I have made a ‘sponge’ or ferment today to make a white loaf tomorrow-not tried this 2 day technique before but I was assured by the lovely Aidan at River Cottage that it will make for the tastiest bread ever-I will keep you posted!
      Go on, have a go. It is one of life’s simple pleasures
      Jen x

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