A couple of weeks ago I (Andy) took the train over to Bourneville in South Birmingham to visit the social enterprise LOAF. As well as running cookery courses, running a local food directory and blogging about real food in Birmingham, they also run a community-supported bakery.
Every Friday LOAF director Tom bakes loaves in his kitchen for 15 subscribers. These folk invest a certain amount each month and get a loaf baked for them which they collect in the afternoon. This benefits the small baker as they get a guaranteed income to buy the ingredients for the month and the investor gets a fabulous loaf each week. Tom bakes sourdough with a choice between a white or a rye loaf as well the appearance of an occasional guest bread .
I arrived on the Thursday afternoon for the start of my mini baking apprenticeship. I have been baking bread myself for the last year or so (before that it was with the aid of a bread machine) and feel like I have made progress from the first heavy loaves that came out of the oven as I have become more proficient with the bread making process. There is a real art to each stage; from choosing the best flour, measuring quantities, kneading, proving and baking. Things can go wrong (and have done) at every stage of the process and I’m only making a couple of loaves. Mistakes only make you stronger though and you don’t make the same mistake in a hurry.
So coming to LOAF would give me a chance to see a slightly larger operation at work, being run from home with conventional kitchen equipment, with a view to possibly replicated the scheme in Llanidloes.
The evening was spent talking about bread (I think myself and Tom will readily admit to our bread-geekery), looking through bread books and chatting about the state of bread in the UK (generally bad but with a smattering of incredible stuff happening) and how it could be improved (first steps are taking a look at what the Real Bread Campaign is up to).
We also took a look at the wood-fired oven he has built in his back garden whilst Tom chopped a bit of wood in preparation for Friday morning. Finally we made a list for the plan of events the next morning. It seemed like military precision was going to be needed to bake 40 loaves.
Tom keeps his rye and wheat sourdoughs in the fridge all week and takes them out on a Wednesday to allow them to get to room temperature and allow them to bulk them up in time for making the dough on late Thursday. Having calculated how many of each type of bread he is going to bake, he works out how much starter he is going to need using a spreadsheet with all the baker’s percentages programmed in. A nice way of keeping track of everything. So late on we were able to bulk up the last of the rye sourdough ready for the next day and also just before we went to bed, we mixed the wheat dough, kneaded it and placed it into large boxes to prove overnight.
I’m not used to being up that late or having to get up at 5.30am either. So by midnight I was asleep, dreaming of light fluffy ciabattas and fields of wheat blowing gently in the breeze.
Before I knew it the alarm went off and it was time to get up to bake lots of bread! It was a dark drizzly morning outside but we got the fire going, had a cuppa, folded the sourdough into thirds, made a ciabatta dough (for lunch) and mixed the borodinksy rye mix up. All before 6.30am…
Over the next couple of hours we gave the Ciabatta dough a couple of folds in thirds to stretch out the gluten and make it more airy before moving onto the rye mix. I’ve made a couple of ryes before but here we were making it in batches of 4kg! The spreadsheet was used to get the correct consistency. As Rye is a wet dough there isn’t any kneading involved but this means it is a tricky thing to handle. You have to get everything wet and shape it into a loaf. Bit like handling a wet fish I expect.
By 9am we had done 3 batches of rye and shaped the Ciabatta. When you are doing this much bread in a small space you really need to be organised, there is a lot going on at once. The check-list was very very important. And it worked really well. We even had time to have a few cups of tea and some bread and butter (of course!)
The oven was warmed (with a big chunk of marble inside to keep the radiant temperature warm) and we started loading it with rye loaves, 6 at a time, not something my oven at home could handle. Whilst doing this we were busy shaping the wheat sourdoughs and placing them into bannetons. Doing each 4kg batch with 30 minute breads meant that we could stagger the proving and put them into the ovens at this time difference later on. The ciabatta also came out the oven looking lovely and light.
The smell of all this freshly baked bread was too much by 11.30am, hunger had struck hard. So we had an early lunch with the still slightly warm Ciabattas and fried eggs from Tom’s chickens outside. Simply devine.
I’ll write more in part 2 about the afternoon bake in the outside oven and more about how community bakeries work later in the week.