I’m so sorry, but this is a column about lockdown baking. Please, come back. Stop gibbering. I too will scream if I see one more Instagram picture of a floury sourdough split down its perfectly aerated middle (#crumbshot); one more artistically wonky stack of chocolate chip cookies, one more 15 part Story zooming in on a sticky mass of dough destined to become another fucking lockdown loaf. One day there will be GCSE history exams and University Challenge Starter For Tens about the great coronavirus banana bread bake off; dissertations written exploring the instinct to sift flour in times of emergency. For now, we must simply ask ourselves, do I want to make doughnuts? The answer, Jeremy, is obviously.
Especially when they are as perfect as Bread Ahead’s doughnuts. Pre-covid, Bread Ahead had official status as *that* bakery and baking school in Borough Market, an essential #foodie stop renowned for its squidgy golden bundles of honeycomb creme-filled joy. A Bread Ahead doughnut is a right of passage in one’s Insta-eating career; if your feed doesn’t contain at least one picture of a Bread Ahead doughnut clutched against the blurred but recognisable green arches of the Market, it’s actually illegal to use the hashtags #eeeeeats or #foodgram. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.
In the new covid reality, Bread Ahead, like many of our much-adored restaurants, has adapted. Besides pivoting to delivery, founder Matt Jones has been hosting free Instagram Live tutorials from the baking school each day at 2pm, teaching thousands to make brioche, scones, focaccia and brownies. But as free tutorials don’t pay staff wages or rent on a prime central London site, they’ve now launched paid-for Zoom workshops for their most sought-after item: the holey grail, the doughnut. Over a two hour video call, you learn how to make the doughnut dough, including kneading, proofing, deep-frying and filling, as well as the fillings of creme patisserie, honeycomb and raspberry jam.
Back in the day, an IRL doughnut workshop would have cost £90 for three hours. The Zoom class is £25, a hefty discount reflecting the fact that you have to source your own ingredients, which for most will entail a low-budget action movie mission across London for strong white flour, eggs and yeast. You also haven't got Matt standing over your shoulder to help. The Saturday afternoon workshop I log into has squished in a rather greedy 240 people, from Johannesburg to Germany and Manila. Individual assistance is out of the question. We’re all on mute, but can ask Erika the assistant questions over chat, most of which she relays to Matt to answer. The pace is pretty damn fast, but Matt’s explanations and demonstrations are easy enough to follow, particularly with the detailed recipe sent in advance.
Look, it’s a bit of an odd one. Essentially, you are paying £25 to watch a live cookery video, which you can’t pause if you fall behind as you would on the bajillions of free tutorials available on YouTube. Then again, spending money forces commitment, like (sob) how we used to pay twenty quid for a spin class when we could have jogged for free, but never did. That £25 is also supporting our crippled hospitality industry, which can only be a Very Good Thing.
And any view I have on the value-for-money of the Bread Ahead Zoom workshop is impossibly biased by how impossibly brilliant my doughnuts turn out. There are no words. Seriously.
Look at these gorgeous, perfect darlings. These fluffy little lumps of jam are the best thing I’ve achieved in lockdown; their sugared skins sparkled in a day which was otherwise pretty grim. Ultimately that’s why we’re baking right now: because at a time when everything is uncertain, but certainly bad, there is still a very pure, essential joy to be had from kneading flour and water, whisking eggs and sugar and biting into a warm, soft squidge of dough. And then showing off about it on Instagram.