Dough, my dear

Rosie McGlade and son Bryn spend one of their best days of the school holidays making bread


Dough Works founder and artisan baker Ann Cudworth tells a lovely story about a mother whose relationship with her autistic son was transformed when they learnt to make bread together.

“It meant she could never buy a loaf from the shops again, but it was a hobby that brought them much closer together, and the tactile element of kneading and working together even helped him accept cuddles from her more readily.” 

I’m at Ann’s workshop kitchen at her lovely home in North Shields and the craic, as they might say in her native Ireland, is mighty.

Ann holds regular workshops here and she’s also available for private booking by groups or individuals and can come to you or a larger venue depending on numbers.

“We get an equal number of men to women and I’ve done small family groups to Women’s Institute gatherings. I’ve had a group of rugby players and I did a 10-year-old girl’s birthday party where a gang of them made pizzas, cupcakes and things.

“We’re also about to have a wood-fired oven installed in the yard to create a different dimension.”

Ann, a former nurse and midwife, founded Dough Works a year ago, having resolved to do something she’d always dreamt of after helping her husband through a serious illness.

“I also wanted better-tasting bread,” she adds. “Supermarket bread is made quickly, often with lots of additives, and it doesn’t compare to what you can make at home.”

Our four-hour session flies by and we leave with produce so stunning it seems a shame to eat it, except it smells – and tastes – delicious.

My son Bryn, 11, and I have made a focaccia studded with olives, rosemary, sun-dried tomatoes and basil, a more rustic French fougasse which is similarly flavoured, and two beautiful sourdough loaves which neither of us can quite believe we’re responsible for. There’s also enough of the basic dough left to make pizza for supper, which bakes in just five minutes to produce something your fussiest Italian would flush with pride at.

We feel a couple of geniuses, in other words, and while the joy in sharing this sense of achievement with your child is particularly wonderful, I can see it would be equally fun to do with your partner or friends.

Bread, for all that we spend our lives surrounded by it, or perhaps because of it, has a unique quality. There is a mystery about yeast, for a start. It’s alive. The basic bread dough we make first requires either fresh yeast, which Ann prefers (Sainbury’s or Morrisons do it), or dried, which we use as we have some left in the cupboard at home I’m now determined to make good use of.

The sourdough is made from natural yeasts which surround us in the air we breathe, and which Ann has cultivated into a massive bowl of gloop which literally moves and gurgles, like something from the Soup Dragon in the Clangers. It’s quite transfixing.

The basic bread dough is simple enough, but my results now are better than any previous attempts I’ve made. Knowing how to knead and for how long, understanding what you’re trying to achieve and how to test for it, makes all the difference.

“I use Gilchester’s organic ciabatta flour for this, which has a lovely flavour and is produced in Northumberland, but as long as you use a strong flour with a higher protein content, you’ll be fine,” Ann explains.

We knead for a good five minutes, which great for reducing your bingo wings as it’s pretty staunch exercise, and leave it to rise.

The sourdough recipe is harder work again as it’s particularly sticky, and Ann is strict when it comes to flouring the work bench.

I also learn how precise you need to be with your measurements. “The more water you can get into your dough, the better,” Ann advises.

We’re allowed a few sprinklings of semolina and have to pummel away with masses of dough stuck to our hands for some time before it’s in any fit state.

But it’s great fun, Ann is extremely nice company, there’s lots of time to chat, and I really think it’s something we’ll never forget and put into practice at home. Great for those long winter nights and, did I mention, it makes you so, so proud.

Peter, our photographer, a bit of a secret bread maker himself it turns out, is especially impressed with the fact that you can make up a batch of dough and leave it in the fridge for a couple of days, turning to it for pizza or focaccia or whatever you fancy in the meantime.

Normally, a workshop will last a full day, and include lunch and refreshments (we did get to sample the homemade biscotti, which were delicious), but if you find the whole thing a bit too much, Ann sells her national award-winning loaves at her regular stall at Tynemouth Market.

Taster workshops with Ann start at £50 and basic bread making is £75. Christmas or Easter workshops are £80, and there are other options in-between. Contact Ann, tel 0191 296 5393, or see


Ann’s Basic Bread

500g strong white flour

5g salt

7g fast action yeast

15g olive oil

Approx 300ml tepid water

Put the flour in a bowl, add the yeast and salt and stir by hand. Make a hollow in the centre of the flour, add the olive oil and the water and mix gently.

Turn the lumpy mixture onto a worktop and knead by hand until dough becomes smooth (5-10 mins).

Shape dough into a round, put into a bowl and cover with a plastic bag or tea towel. Leave to double in size for 1-2 hours (the longer the better the taste and texture). This is the first prove.

Shape the dough and place in prepared loaf tin (800g). Place in a plastic bag and loosely tie it. Leave to prove for one hour.

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 200C, 400F, Gas 5 for 30 mins. Check if it’s baked by turning it upside down and tapping it. It should sound hollow. If it doesn’t, return to the oven for another 5-10 mins, then turn out, cool and enjoy.

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