The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

The Black Sheep Baker's blog

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The Black Sheep...


Sometimes, I think, it's best to start telling a story by jumping to the end. Especially when that story is still alive and unfolding.

It's Sunday morning and the bakery is open once again. On the sunlit shelves lie gently whispering baguettes,  butter laden pastries and warm, plain loaves.  Sunday bread.  Bread to make you feel good inside and sprinkle a touch of nostalgia over your long, lazy breakfast.

Through the open door to the street outside waft the irrestible scents of the ovens offering.

People fall in haphazardly. 

First are the devout.  Those well dressed for church, behinds still aching slightly from unforgiving pews.

Two croissants go first.  One each for Mr and Mrs Hughes.  A modest celebration for the Sunday table.

Children come next.  A mite shyly they set out on their first solo forays into the world beyond Mum and Dad.  They exchange warm coins for pain au chocolate and leave with the seeds of future memories growing within their minds.

It's an easy time to feel satisfied for the baker.  

Sunday has none of the frantic scramble of Friday and Saturday morning when the public are rushing and scrabbling to buy the items that their checklist demands for a successful weekend.

They amble and browse and hang around a little longer this morning.  They enquire after family and are rewarded with a little more care and attention.  Today if a queue forms people chat, enjoying this continental flavoured ritual.  

Dog walkers make up a lot of the numbers.  Carefully dressed for all weathers they linger outside admiring each others animals.  Certain dogs demand more attention.  These are the superstar dogs of my town, decidedly a doggy hotbed.  It's the done thing these days to patrol the beach with a an exotic breed in one hand and an amply laden dog poo bag in the other.



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The Black Sheep...



Here goes my first attempt at posting a recipe.  Alas I forgot to take any photos of this bread which is not altogether very helpful.  The recipe is also pretty rough and ready but this is a hard bread to get wrong.

For those that aren't familiar with Stottie bread it is a flat bread that originates from the north east of England.  It takes it's name (I assume) from being 'stotted'  (bounced) off the floor of the oven.




250g ripe starter (@ approx 80%)

200g potato flakes

650g bread flour

16 grams salt

Water ?  I'm sorry I can't be specific I never weigh it.




Mix potato flakes with paddle attachment and enough cold water to re-hydrate into creamy consistency.

Switch to dough hook and add starter and another cup of water.  Mix to incorporate.  Add flour and salt and mix for a further 2-3 mins at 1st speed.  Then mix for 4-5 mins on 2nd speed until a soft but silky dough is achieved.  Add extra water as required.

Tip dough into an oiled container and retard overnight.

The mix you have the following day will have 'pudged' significantly into an unholy box of gloop.  Allow to return to ambient temperature before spooning ladle fulls of approx 450 g onto a well floured board.  Quickly, using a dough scraper, work the dough into a rough circle before flipping over onto a floured peel.  Speed is of the essence!  Place the dough directly onto the oven floor, pre-heated stone or up turned tray.  Spray the oven and wait approx 8 mins before flipping over.  Cook for a further 8 mins or so until both sides have a gentle brown colour.

I tend to cook these at the end of a bake with the oven temp at around 400 degrees fahrenheit.

Real mashed potatoes can obviously be used but for convenience I use flakes which contain only potato, salt and cream powder.

People tell me they taste great when split, toasted and topped with soft poached eggs.  I personally have never eaten them as I am allergic to milk!  Once things settle down at the bakery and I stop flying by the seat of my pants I will make some with real potatoes, omit the cream, and give them a go.

Sorry for the lack of specifics.


Below are a couple of pics I took this weekend.


Andy- thanks for the pointer re- wood sourcing.  It has been decided though to make a concerted effort at cutting and using the willow that grows on the site.  This may be easier said than done as it has not been touched since being planted 15 years ago!

Thanks to all for the kind comments.



The oven was fired for 10 hours which turned out to be too much.  Most of the bread over proved while I was trying to cool the oven down fromm 800 degrees ft.


Inside the cavern!  I had to give up cooking directly on the oven floor as it is too hard to get all the loaves out from the back- it is 11 feet to the back wall.

1st attempt at croissants and apple/raisin pastries.



Today was a particularly satisfying day as I handed my notice in at work.  No more wages so this bakery had better work!


The Black Sheep Baker's picture
The Black Sheep...

Hi all 


Firstly- apologies for the lack of postings to those of you kind enough to read and post on this blog.  The past few months have been a mixture of intense activity combined with long periods of extremely frustrating inactivity.  I won't go into the specifics of why things have been progressing so slowly because I don't want to rock the boat where fragile inter-personal relationships are involved!

Anyhow,  even though we still have no electricity supply to the bakery we are finally moving in the right direction.  For the last month I have been baking bread for the farmer's market at Gibside (national trust property in north-east England) and the Quayside market in Newcastle.  It has been hard going working by myself at night then going straight to market in the morning but customer feedback has been great and it is an incredibly rewarding way of selling the bread.  I have kept my range quite small with three main types of bread (white, granary and pain de campagne), one special  (something with spelt), potato stotties and a couple of pastry products- mainly pain au raisin and chocolate brioche.

I hope to expand the range to include more pattisserie items and a soft yeasted white bread to be used for sandwiches.  Right now I am using a 20 qt Hobart mixer powered by my generator which is slowing production down a lot.  There is an 80 qt machine in the bakery but unfortunately the generator will not run it.

So far all breads are sourdoughs and I am working on around a 24 hour total ferment time- most of which is in the bulk ferment stage.    The breads range in sourness from the white which is mild to the p.d.c which is tangy, fruity even.  I was concerned that it may be too much for the general public but so far it has been the first to sell out.  I have been producing around 20kgs of each dough and have been lucky enough to sell out at each market so far.  Happy days!


This whole experience has been a steep learning curve but with each bake I am definitely getting closer to the kind of bread I hoped to make.  My shaping and slashing are improving along with general hand speed though I am surprised at the amount of back breaking labour that can go into producing a relatively small quantity of bread (200 loaves or so).  Understanding the oven has also been a challenge and I must thank Steve for his efforts during the firing process.  We really need to find a source of wood as far to much effort is being expended at the moment to find, haul and cut wood for the oven.


I promise that I will post some recipes on here ( I did make this claim before!) but I have to say my methods are fairly simple and there are probably far better recipes on other people's blogs.  Where I am lucky I think is cooking with the oven I have as when it is properly fired it is a dream to bake in and it can churn out a lot of bread.  Oven spring is tremendous too!

Below are some pics I took at the markets I have been attending- most pleasing was the bread for last Sunday's Quayside market.


Thanks for reading!


The Black Sheep Baker's picture
The Black Sheep...

A bakery re-born


Hi and welcome to my first blog and my first tentative steps into the bakery business.


My name is Robert and I have been a chef for the last twelve years.  I am currently lecturing in a north east (UK) male prison but a few months ago I decided it was time to give up the day job (and the night job too!) and setup myself up doing something I really wanted to do.  My vision was to turn a market trailer I owned into a fully self-contained, wood fired, microbakery.  Unfortunately after fitting out the trailer, installing an oven etc I was scuppered by the local planning authorities/town council.  However, fate intervened and whilst out one day trying to source wood for what has now become my mobile event pizza trailer (only minor re-jigging was needed) I happened across an interesting lead.  

I had arrived at a site in Northumberland called Earth Balance.  It was a project setup in 1999 that involved the local authorities buying a derelict farm and setting up a sustainable organic farming initiative.  On site there was a brewery, vegetable producer, poultry farm, cafe and best of all.... a bakery with 30 acres of willow planted to provide fuel for a huge wood fired oven.  Unfortunately the charity setup up to run the enterprise when bust in 2001 (despite being given all the funding in the world) and since then the place has frankly fallen into disrepair.   One of the original food producers took over the tenancy of the land, lake and some of the buildings and has been doggedly trying to keep the project going in some shape or form for the last ten years or so.  

On the day that I arrived I had a chat with a guy from the horticultural training facility on the site and just happened to mention my woes with the microbakery and he just happened to mention the vacant bakery!  I could hear the voice of fate calling so I got in touch with Marty (the aforementioned dogged tenant farmer cum organic fishery owner) and the rest hopefully will be history.  Marty told me that his plans were to reopen a small scale farm shop on the site and we agreed a deal for me to get involved and become the resident baker.


First day nerves.


As I mentioned earlier I am a chef not a baker and though I have knocked out many a half decent loaf over the years I have never baked on a large scale at all.  So when it came time to do a test bake in the oven I have to admit to being distinctly apprehensive about churning out bread in large quantities and of consistant quality.  

In the week prior to the test bake I fed up Viv (my partner's  buckwheat starter)  with wheat flour untill I had a 20 litre frothing, foaming, levitating beast on my hands and gathered together as many plastic bowls and linen squares that I could get my hands on.

The night before I made up three 8 kilo batches of dough: pain de campagne, white sourdough with French T55 flour for baguettes and a wheat and rye mix with malted wheat flakes and rye berries.  I hand mixed the lot with 20% (approx) leaven in each, put the boxes in the boot of my car since the forecasted overnight temp was 2 degrees c and went to bed trepadatiously.  In the morning lo and behold (and thank God!) the dough had risen so I gave each box a turn and set off with my fingers crossed.

The bakery itself is somewhat of a chaotic jumble of random equipment, currently has no electric and is lacking in workbench space/shelving so working conditions were not ideal.  Anyway I made the best of things and the (poor quality) pictures below are what came out of the session.  

The results were generally encouraging though I have highlighted several areas for development- not least my slashing technique.  The oven performed pretty well but this was the first firing for ages (years maybe) and the fire was only started 12 hours previously so it didn't hold it's heat for as long as I hoped.  I had to make a top up fire half way through the bake.


If anyone is interested I will share recipes in a later post but I will end this entry now as I don't want to bang on and on and bore people.  

Thanks for reading (assuming anyone does)!



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