Meet Maria the Bread Baking Goddess from Denmark!
Maria Mayerhofer founder of Bake With Maria, a Baking School based in St Johns Wood, London talks to us about baking as a child in Denmark and how her career has developed from a passionate home baker into an entrepreneurial cookery school owner and teacher!
Tell us about baking as a child, who was your greatest influence and what did you enjoy baking?
Growing up in Denmark, my mum made all of our bread for the family. We had to bring our own lunch to school and she would make us these small rye buns – which were a bit more fun for us to eat than the more traditional open faced sandwiches. My grandmother was a great baker. For every birthday party in the family she would make a large “Danish pastry” shaped like a pretzel. (It looks like this) In our family kitchen we had these small stools that we as children could stand on to reach the kitchen counter top. With our aprons on my brother and I would help my mum knead the dough for buns and when she was baking cakes we would be in there mixing the batter – and of course licking the spatula afterwards.
What inspired you to start baking classes in your home initially?
I initially wanted to open up a Danish style bakery in London. But after speaking to another Danish Baker based in London he made me realise that not alone is it physically hard work to run a bakery it is also very anti social hours. Being a person who loves entertaining at home and being surrounded by people I had to reconsider my idea. I was then thinking, that I couldn’t be the only one out there who was tired of eating tasteless shop bought bread. I set up a website listing a couple of different classes and within a week of my site going live I had people emailing me booking places. Teaching baking combines my love for baking with my social nature. I get to meet lots of people that I would normally never be in contact with.
How did you go about setting up The Baking Lab and choosing your staff?
When I first decided to take the next step and to move the classes out of my own kitchen, I looked at retail spaces located on the ground floor on smaller high streets. Unsurprisingly, these units were all very expensive and it was unrealistic to think that I could ever make enough money to cover the rent. I started searching the internet, and it turned out that my local council had a website listing all the buildings that they own and rent out. I set up an appointment with them, and they took me around to see a couple of different places. When I saw 81 Loudoun Road. I knew this was the right place. Despite all the dirt and neglect from previous tenants I could see the potential. I spent about 3 weeks turning the place from nothing into what I envisioned a Baking Lab should be. I had a lot of help from my family and friends as well as some professional builders who took care of the electric rewiring of the place and the plumbing. I wanted the space to have an “Industrial VIntage” feel to it. So with a mix of second hand stools, antiques, custom built workbenches and the obligatory IKEA pieces I think I have achieved this vision.
My first hire was Pino Ficara – a pastry chef. I met him in Paris in November 2011 where I attended a pastry class at the cooking school where he teaches (Cook’N With Class). We hit it off straight away and he asked me if I was interested in having him as a guest teacher at the Lab. Before getting back to London that weekend, we had already planned the first dry run for him. My second pastry chef – Ori Hellerstein (Ori’s Dessert Bar) - came recommended from a student who attended one of my baking classes (With a little help from twitter!) My latest hire is Emmanuel Hadjiandreou who came recommended through one of my intern who had done a shift with him at the School of Artisan food. Aside from the teachers, I have a whole team of assistants and interns who help out during class. These are great people, all very passionate about baking and with a great attitude.
Is there anyone who you would really love to attend one of your courses?
There is not one person in particular, my vision and hope is to get the general public interested in real bread. I would love for people to realise that you don’t have to devote oceans of time to baking and that with just a bit of time and planning you can make healthy and nutritious breads at home.
Tell us about your Baking Courses you run in Tuscany?
Every year I run a course just outside Lucca, Tuscany. I had the great luck to meet this amazing English lady who owns a beautiful villa in the Tuscan hills. The atmosphere there is so relaxing and a true break from everyday hustle and bustle. The next course I will be running in Tuscany is in May 2013, here we will be baking on two of the days – using an outdoor wood fired oven. The other days will be filled with Italian cooking classes, visit the local farmers market and a visit to a vineyard where we will taste the wines and olive oils that they produce. To me it is the perfect balance of food, good time with new friends and relaxation.
What is your favourite thing to bake?
Sourdough bread. I am a bit obsessed with sourdough bread and I have two starters – a rye and a wheat – in my fridge that I play around with on a regular basis.
Which kitchen utensil could you not live without?
It might sound basic, but it is my dough scraper. It makes kneading – in particular a high hydration dough (ie. very sticky) – so much easier.
Is there anyone in the food world that has inspired you?
In the UK it is Andrew Whitely, he has a passion for real bread that is infectious. I would also have to mention Claus Meyer who is a Danish food entrepreneur (One of the guys behind NOMA), he has done some great bread and cake baking books that are amongst my favourites
Have you got a favourite place where you like to eat out?
I like the pizzas at Pizza East in Shoreditch high street and my local sushi restaurant in Hampstead village is a true gem.
What to you makes someone a Kitchen Goddess?
A person who does not panic when things start getting burnt, but who can easily improvise and turn a disaster into something beautiful – whilst keeping her cool.