Paul Merry & Panary Baking Courses

Paul runs baking courses on different style breads from beginners to courses aimed at professional bakers wanting to set up their own bakery.  He also runs wood fired oven workshops at Panary and sells them.  Contact details are on the Panary site here, or email him; info@panary.co.uk

This is an easy post for me to write because if anyone were to ask me what I thought of the baker Paul Merry I have so many good things to say about him and his courses through Panary.  Let me go back a little first to the time before I met Paul this summer.

If you’ve followed my blog for the last few months you’ve noticed I’m heavily into bread...yeah Azélia I know…I hear you say...tell you something you don’t know already…right?  You might have also picked up this is more than just a passing hobby.  I’m in training to become a good baker.  I don’t know why…by the way...why I want to become a baker.  If you were to ask me a year ago, I was very happy with the idea of having a cafe selling fantastic cakes, pastries, salads and buying-in good bread to sell through a shop.  Something happen in the meantime.  I must’ve caught some kind of virus or something…the bread thing  got to me  without noticing it.  The family saw it coming.  The obsession with bread, one conversation after another, they’ll tell you…all they ever hear is sourdough.

The Quest for a Good Baker

Move forwards to this summer and I was in pursuit of some hands-on training for my table skills, the kind you can only get with producing loaf after loaf after loaf.  I started the process by myself when doing a few nights in a cafe at the end of July, I posted about it here, it was a start.  But I was ready to work alongside a good experience baker.  The problem I had was, what sort of baker?  There are plenty of experienced bakers around, with excellent table skills but I wanted more than that.

The trouble is you see, I’m a little older than most baker apprentices…ok, ok..I’m actually quite a lot older.  This means I’ve formed my own ideas, have taught myself through Dan’s method, other blogs and text books how I want to bake and what kind of bread I want to produce.  So many bakers in this country are just about kneading, they’re fixed on the idea that’s the only way to make a good loaf;  glutenous flour and lots of kneading.  Mixing the dough until a few inches short of its life.  If that’s your way, fine, no problem but it’s not my method.  I wanted to find me a baker who knew of the folding method and could help me in my quest to develop my own bread.  A lot of bakers set themselves into a narrow path of doing things, I needed an open minded baker.

From One Good Baker to Another

My theory was if I follow the recommendations of someone good, someone who has the same values as me, who can also smell out the rubbish that’s out there in the baking world then I’m likely to find the right person.  My enquiries started with asking Carl Legge, a blogger and twitter friend living the Good Life in North Wales on 3 acres.  Carl being an ex-lawyer is use to smelling out the bad from the good and he passed me on to Geraint, another good baker.  Geraint lives in South Wales, use to run a community bakery and runs sourdough classes from his home, and about to embark on another community bakery, he recommended Paul Merry to me.  My theory paid off.

That’s how I found myself at the beginning of August in the grounds of Cann Mill in Dorset which produces Stoate’s stoneground flour. Paul runs his workshops from here using their flour.  I attended one to one workshops on two separate occasions.  Paul was exactly what I was looking for.

First Panary Day

On meeting someone for the first time you never know what to expect.  On very first impressions I wondered if Paul was going to be a bit too quiet for me but then I was completely wrong as we proceeded to spend both workshop days with non-stop baking chatter.

The idea of the first day was to bake alongside Paul producing the different breads he makes for a local shop.  He produces a mixture of yeast loaves using sponge method, hybrids and sourdoughs.  It gave me the chance I wanted to practise my table skills.  We talked of old master bakers, current bakers, baking theories, equipment, mills, flours, French and German ways, English bakeries and I discovered how small the English baking world actually is.

Paul showed me the easiest way I’ve found so far of shaping dough, I wish he would do a youtube clip of it.  He introduced me to the 2hr fed levain which I can tell you has saved my backside on a few occasions when I’ve gone to bed and forgotten to feed the starter.  But even more importantly taught me how to control the acidity in my levain for specific purposes.  For this alone I’m grateful for knowing Paul.


Second Panary Day

The following week my second session with Paul was about my bread, my baking ways, what I wanted to work on and discuss the breads I was trying to create.  We worked on a couple of my doughs including a hybrid baguette and I found out from Paul all about “ripe” and “unripe” dough, and ‘bucky’ doughs, and why I was having problems with shaping my hybrid baguettes using the unripe dough method.

We carried on with our discussion of all sorts of doughs and styles of breads and what the perfect bakery set-up would look like.  Each time I left Paul my head was full of baking stuff, breads, methods, machinery, bakery set-ups and so on.

Great Skill and Intellect

Paul has become a friend but not letting that fact prejudice my opinion why I think he is a good mentor I’ll explain why I valued my workshops with him so much.  Paul is a very intelligent person, someone who understands theory but has years of bakery experience.  I would describe him as an intellectual.

He started baking in his early twenties.  He was born in Melbourne and having qualified as a lawyer he was doing the typical Ozzie’s rite of passage, travelling the globe before settling down.  On visiting England he decided he wanted to become a baker.  After a stay here he went back home to Melbourne and literally built his own bakery.  After 7 years of that he and his wife decided to come back to England and raise his family here. Paul worked in Andrew Whitley’s Village Bakery until he set up his own workshops and consultancy work through Panary.

Paul teaches all levels and a lot of his classes are for beginners.  If you’re beginning or want to improve your skills just like with Dan, Paul is another baker who will speak facts, not the baking nonsense there exists.  Paul also offers classes in how to cook in a wood fired oven, food as well as bread.

Mentoring

What was great about Paul apart from the tips I learnt was that he helped me to make connections.  At the point I met him I had formed a lot of ideas from the reading and baking I had done but there was still areas where I hadn’t formed conclusions.  If I asked a question he was very good at turning the question around, think out loud with me, and we would come to conclusions, it was a combinations of both our experiences.  I love him for that.

He’s a chilled out person, open minded, interested in learning and comfortable with discovering.  Difficult to explain what I mean until I tell you the worst example of person to learn from.

You know the kind of person who doesn’t really understand something but portrays like they do?  When you question them they get defensive, rather than say, “oh haven’t come across that” or “how do you do it?”, or worse still they make jokes or dismiss you.  Well I’ve met plenty of those in my life and have also encountered them in the baking world.  That kind of person is a terrible person to learn from.

I took along on my second day, my folding method and doughs and Paul worked with me and we talked about how to do this in the bakery and the practicalities. Paul is not a mix-it-to-death baker, in fact he favours very gentle mixing but doesn’t use the folding method although he knows it, knows Dan, and he was able to help me to think things through and ways of resolving problems.  He’s open minded, keen to absorb all sorts of methods, that’s why he was a great baker to work with.  He has a great combination of having years of a working life in a bakery and open to continuous learning.