Sourdough and brioche at Bodnant Welsh Food Centre


There is one thing I have to say……that Alex Gooch has singlehandedly ruined my post-Christmas diet.

Attending part two of his bread making course (this time the advanced class) was always going to be a struggle. It appears now that my resolution to cut out bread and cakes for the month of January was premature, especially as I seem to have given up smoking and drinking too. Smoking because I have long had a rule that I will only smoke if here is tobacco in the house and now everyone else has given up smoking too, so by default so have I and alcohol because it doesn’t mix with hefty doses of Cocodamol I’m taking for my back pain.

Now here we get to my other struggle, my slipped disc is not healing well and I knew I wouldn’t be able to lift, knead or stand for a long period but rather than cancel my place on the course, I took a helper along with me. That helper was none other than my teen.

You may laugh and raise an eyebrow as I know most teens would rather die than go make bread with their mother, but she did not scowl, moan or swear at me. She came totally of her own volition and even appeared to enjoy herself! It was also interesting for me to see how the course might appeal to someone who isn’t necessarily the ‘target audience’. Would she be bored or not keep up with instructions?



looking slightly miserable as still not fully awake


It is testament to Alex’s easy-going style and excellent teaching that she remained totally engaged (if a little monosyllabic early on, claiming that it was far too early for all this). Nothing was too complicated, it was well explained (even if she didn’t always listen or follow his instructions….but that is just being seventeen….clearly she knew better than anybody, even the expert!)

As a team we barely even bickered although she had the rest of the class tittering as she claimed I was sooo over controlling. She actually did most of the work while I sat watching and a bloody good job she did too.

But I have gone off on a tangent and you are probably still wondering why Alex ruined my diet….its totoally down to that apple brioche (this is where I sigh and drool in ecstasy) which was totally addictive. The teen and I ate our first chunk, still warm from the oven, glistening with the lemon, vanilla syrup in which it was doused and powdered with icing sugar in the car on the way home….and we haven’t stopped since. I promise I will share the recipe in my next post.


I’m not sure yet whether Bodnant has sorted itself out organisation wise. Again we had to help ourselves to tea and coffee and there were no drinks provided during the day, in the end Alex had to find jugs and fetch drinks for lunch.  Lunch itself was enjoyable, although there was nothing there that Rosie liked except potato salad and coleslaw (but as a vegetarian that hates mushrooms that was just unfortunate). Alex however has been consistently good and if anything this was even better than the last, more relaxed and comfortable, although that might be because most of us had been at on the earlier course together.

We once again whizzed through the making of three different types of bread; rye sourdough, light rye sourdough, olive and rosemary sourdough and that fatal apple brioche.



sticky brioche dough


sticky hands!

Teen handled all of them exceptionally well, regressing to a child like state as she worked the sticky dough on the table (a memory of play dough perhaps!). If anything she played around poking and prodding the dough a little too much so that our light sourdough did not rise as much as it should. A lesson learned.


sourdough in proving baskets


the olive and rosemary sourdough in the proving baskets…this one didn’t rise so well due to too much teen prodding and not enough resting!

I told her to listen carefully as she might learn something when we discussed sourdough starters. Alex told us he’d had his sourdough starter for seven and a half years!! Deb, the only other woman on the course, told a story of how sourdough starters are often passed down through the generations from grandmother to granddaughter, a beautiful historic link to the past and a way of life that has slowly been eroded by the modern world. Sometimes they are given as a wedding present to daughters to carry on a family tradition….Rosie looked totally horrified at the thought of being passed on a sourdough starter. I said she could have it as a wedding present….to which she replied “What for? It’s not like I’m EVER going to make bread again in my life! ” I’m now looking forward to the day when she comes to me and says “Remember when we went to that bread course…what did that bloke say about…”


Alex’s seven and a half year old sour dough starter

Her concentration only waned as the marathon bread baking began and we all stood chatting. She couldn’t be bothered talking to us boring lot so went to read her book, nipping back now and then as the next loaf came out of the oven.


dark rye sourdough


beautiful light sourdough


almost a full set


Rosie’s piece de resistance… brioche, with run soaked prunes


coating the brioche with syrup

She finally returned to wrap all the baked bread carefully in tissue and greased proof paper. Back at home she carried the box into the house with great pride “I made that” she said. I hope one day she will return to this memory and come back for her sourdough starter.


A box of carefully wrapped bread to take home

A course with Alex is a joy. Although there does tend to be a ‘typical’ audience (very male) don’t let this put you off, the course is fun for everyone…even a stroppy teen!!

To check courses and dates go to the cookery school page on the Bodnant website, or email for further information.

Moel Faban Suppers and Rosie McClearn were guests of Bodnant Welsh Food.


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Filed under baking, British food, cookery courses, home cooking, local produce, Uncategorized

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