Sussex is fast becoming known as a great foodie destination, with a plethora of Michelin-starred restaurants and some great local producers who are growing and rearing award-winning produce. Perhaps then, it’s no surprise that to complement our wonderful eateries and produce, there are now also a number of outstanding Sussex foodie experiences to be had.
In Sussex, food experiences range in shape and flavour from catching and smoking your own fish, to learning about grape and wine production (strictly speaking a drink experience but let’s not be pedants). And leading the charge of these great foodie things to do, has to be learning how to bake your own bread (or make your own chocolates) at The Artisan Bakehouse.
Setting the scene
The Artisan Bakehouse sits in the grounds of a pretty 16th century cottage just north of the South Downs and down a secluded lane on the outskirts of the quiet village of Ashurst. It’s owned and run by Les and Louise Nicholson, Les being Sussex born and bred but trained as an artisan bread maker using traditional methods in France.
Their warmth and passion for what they do and the experience they provide is palpable from the moment you arrive and as Louise quietly works behind the scenes to ensure you have everything that you need, Les’ knowledge and skill about all things bread is impressive. Their choice of bread-making courses is tantalising too. From classics like learning to bake a French baguette and Italian focaccia to learning about Mediterranean breads and gluten-free baking classes which include focaccia, flatbreads, crackers and scones.
Learning to bake mouth-watering bread
The bakehouse itself has both a traditional wood-burning oven as well as a more standard bread oven and a few tell signs of the couple’s time in France. The different courses are suitable for any baker, whether you are a total novice like me, or more experienced. I joined the Mediterranean bread-making class, all about Greek pittas, Italian pizza, Lebanese Maneesh and French Fougasse (the latter two were new to me but are an absolutely perfect addition to a summer barbeque, or dips and nibbles).
The art of baking
Under Les’ careful tutelage, amazing things start to happen with a few simple ingredients as the workshop gets underway. Flour starts to transform into dough, and students slowly gain confidence as they stretch, fold, pat and knead. The classes are also peppered with information about bread, yeast, flour types, French baking anecdotes and how the ingredients all work, as well as including a good mix of skills such as using a baker’s peel to slide your bread or pizza into the wood-burning oven (something I may never manage to master) or skills that you can take away with you and try at home (if you don’t happen to have a wood-fired oven in your kitchen). Lunch washed down with a glass of wine in the shade of a tree outside the bakehouse makes the perfect break and I have to say, my pizza was the best I’ve had in a long time (although that might be because Les helped me with mine).
Sourdoughs, pastries and chocolates
The Artisan Bakehouse also hosts workshops by Emmanuel Hadjiandreou. Emmanuel (currently based in Hastings) is an internationally renowned and award winning baker and author who has worked for Flour Power, Gordon Ramsay, Daylesford Organic and Judges Bakery. Join one of his classes and learn the craft and art of sourdough, Viennoiserie, pastries, bagels, or Christmas breads. Or join award winning Mike Noble, Owner & Head Chocolatier from the acclaimed Sussex based artisan chocolatiers, “Noble and Stace”, and make fresh cream truffles, caramel truffles and solid chocolate tablettes. Don’t mind if I do.
Bake and stay
A hop and a skip from the bakehouse are two charming cottages (The Brewhouse and The Milkhouse) and a luxury shepherd’s hut. With a swimming pool, and walks that lead straight to the South Downs these are a little bit of Sussex idyl in themselves and perfect for partners that don’t want to bake or those that fancy a mini break or holiday with a bit of a difference – namely bake and stay.
The joy of baking
Baking at The Artisan Bakehouse is relaxed and fun (I went on my own but what a great thing to do as a group or a family) and it doesn’t matter if you’re hopeless and messy or an expert in the making. But it’s also very satisfying and in some ways, quite profound. I’m not sure whether it’s that tactile connection with basic ingredients or that sense of doing something so simple as making and then breaking bread together that brings with it a sense of calm and wellbeing. It feels like getting back to basics and doing something that actually matters. Not to mention how innocently fun it is to find your dough has risen or to watch your bread rise in the oven. Who knew I could do that?
If you are looking for a Sussex foodie experience or want to learn how to bake your own bread, you can find out more at: The Artisan Bakehouse
Use the booking code “Gourmand” for a 10% discount.