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Les and Louise Nicholson (©AAH/Alan Wright)

The Artisan Bakehouse presents guests with the opportunity to make beautiful home-made bread in a traditional wood-fired oven. Husband and wife Les and Louise Nicholson host a variety of workshops at their charming home in rural Ashurst, where guests bake anything from malthouse loaves and sourdoughs to baguettes and bagels.

If it sounds a touch continental, that may be because the Nicholsons spent eight years running a cookery school in Souvigné, in the Poitou-Charentes region of southwestern France. 

Louise said: ‘We wanted to escape the rat race, so bought a derelict farmhouse in France and renovated the plot to offer three ‘gites’ or holiday chalets. Our daughter was born there and we had eight fantastic years, hosting cookery courses using an Aga oven, and immersing ourselves in a different way of life. I would have stayed, but Les missed the football, as he’s a passionate Brighton and Hove Albion supporter! We returned home and nearly took on a restaurant in Steyning, but the deal fell through. That’s when we found the place in Ashurst and fell in love with it.’

‘At the time, there was also a growing movement to support local farmers and producers, so we thought that the Bakehouse could contribute to the Sussex food and drink scene. We had to patiently go through a lengthy planning process in order to create the Bakehouse and offer holiday cottages to guests, but eventually we were ready to launch in 2013.’


While The Artisan Bakehouse doesn’t strictly follow a French method of baking, the business is inspired by the value our neighbours across the Channel place on bread. Louise said: ‘In France, there’s a boulangerie on almost every corner, as bread is made the traditional way across the whole country. Good bread is a way of life. Even tourists adapt and walk into the village every day to buy a baguette or croissants.

But in the UK, life runs at a different pace and most people buy mass produced bread that isn’t very healthy. Our aim was to recreate the charm of France, both with the bread and the feel of the place. We could be more commercial and have manicured lawns, with bigger classes where everyone works on stainless-steel rather than wooden worktops. But in doing so, we would lose the soul and magic of the business.’


The Artisan Bakehouse hosts several courses each week, with guests working at their own bench, with all utensils and ingredients supplied too. Social aspects of the day are important, so courses begin with tea, coffee and home-made cookies, with a cooked meal provided at lunch. The most popular course is ‘Introduction to Breadmaking’, where groups make focaccia using authentic Italian 00 flour, baguettes with French T55 flour, spelt rolls and a regular seeded or walnut organic white artisan loaf. They are baked in a wood-fired or Rofco bakers’ oven, and guests take home the breads they make.  

Louise says: ‘This course is ideal for beginners and those who have tried bread-making before but want a better understanding of the processes. They learn about various wheats and flours, yeasts, kneading techniques, and how to shape and proof the dough. All bread is made the traditional way, simply with water, high-quality flour and yeast, or salt with sourdoughs. Another popular workshop is ‘Glorious Grains’, where we make wholemeal soda bread, malthouse walnut bread, raisin rye and a multigrain seeded bread. Wholemeal requires different kneading techniques and hydration levels, and dense bread is a common occurrence. We explain the reasons for this and how to avoid it, and also organise a visit from a local farmer who demonstrates milling from the grain.’


As demand has grown, new workshops have been introduced including ‘Bagels, Pretzels and Grissini’ and ‘Mediterranean Breads’, where guests make Greek pittas, Lebanese Maneesh and Fougasse Provencale. The ‘Pastry Making’ course features tasty tarts and profiteroles made with shortcrust, choux and puff pastries, while those on the ‘Weekend of Viennoiserie, Pastries and Enriched Doughs’ workshop make brioche, cinnamon rolls, croissants and pain au chocolat. An ‘Artisan Chocolate Masterclass’ is run in partnership with Mike Noble, Head Chocolatier at Noble and Stace. Here, guests can make truffles and ganache fillings. 

Les said: ‘The introduction course is fun and a good starting point. The specialist workshops can attract “bread heads” who want to delve deeper into the science behind different types of bread. We explain why certain things happen to the dough and what to do when things go awry.’ 

‘We also have sourdough courses, including a two-day workshop where we make flavoured rye, white sourdough, Levain de campagne and a seeded loaf. For these courses, we welcome Emmanuel Hadjiandreou, one of the most renowned sourdough bakers in the world. He has worked for Gordon Ramsay, established artisan bakeries and written several books, so his courses are always popular.’ 


TV programmes like The Great British Bake Off have also contributed to the growing demand for food-focused experiences. It is only natural that guests are often keen to recreate the same sense of community seen on such shows.

Les said: ‘We don’t take any more than eight on a course, so it’s always informal and relaxed. Some people may have been looking forward to it for weeks, while others enter with trepidation. They might have been bought a gift voucher and aren’t sure they’ll enjoy it. It can be quiet in the morning, especially when everyone is attending alone, but slowly they get to know each other and develop a bond. They become more enthused and supportive, especially when the bread comes out of the oven. Someone always asks, “Who’s Star Baker, then?”’ 

‘We welcome people of all ages, from teenagers to those in their 70s. Every course has its own dynamic and that’s why we enjoy it, as we love working with people. What is great is that you don’t need to be especially skilled in the kitchen to come along. You just need to follow a few basic skills and instructions and enjoy yourself. We have an ‘Exclusive Baking Club’ Facebook page too and people often post pictures of things they have baked later at home. This not only helps us to keep in touch with them, but also helps develop friendships. We’ve created a community where people can share tips, which is wonderful as the aim was always to encourage people to bake and enjoy good bread.’


The business celebrates its 10th anniversary this April, having got through difficult times during Covid. When they couldn’t run courses, Les and Louise instead supplied flour to the community, and hosted events in an outdoor marquee when possible. A business grant allowed them to create professionally-filmed and edited online masterclasses, which have been well received too. 

Post-pandemic, demand for courses has  returned and new classes are being added all the time, including ‘Christmas Breads’ in November. Les said: ‘There is a laid-back atmosphere, yet everything we do is  professional. Sometimes places can feel cold and clinical, but the Bakehouse feels warm and cosy, as it’s a representation of our family. When you see people coming back time and time again, you know they’ve had a good experience. It has been fun for us too, allowing us to meet fantastic people and helping them develop skills for life.’

WORDS: Ben Morris / PICTURES: Alan Wright

Further information: For details of future workshops, visit www.theartisanbakehouse.com

Article first published in AAH on 4th April 2022.