The Fresh Loaf

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Opening a Sourdough Bakery in Cambodia

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bakingbadly's picture
bakingbadly

Opening a Sourdough Bakery in Cambodia

Hello guys, hello gals,

It's been a long while, hasn't it? Well, I can tell you now that I've been busy. Very busy. Soon I'll be opening my own sourdough (micro) bakery in Cambodia, a country situated in Southeast Asia.

Spectacular, isn't it? Or perhaps crazy considering that I've no prior working experience in a bakery.




Last Sunday I hosted a bread taste-testing event at my house. I invited a few of my friends and a handful of strangers, keen on getting feedback on my sourdough zopf, mixed nut sourdough, and cashew nut sourdough.

Funny thing, the sourdough zopf was slightly controversial. Zopf is a popular braided sweet bread in Switzerland and highly relished by the Swiss. Zopf is rarely baked in the form of sourdough... and my attempts seemed to have offended my Swiss friends. 




In total, we had 10 taste-testers excluding myself and my business partner. Prior to their arrival, I was anxious. Nearly trembling with fear, actually. Reason being, one participant was a Swiss native (the only person who's familiar with the Swiss zopf), two were retired chefs, and another was a former professional baker (he owned and managed 4 bakeries, and helped opened one of the largest sourdough bakeries in the Netherlands).

Man, oh man... The pressure! 




Here she is, our baby... Suzy. She's a single deck oven, convection, no steam injector, and heats up to 400C / 750F in approx. 30 minutes. She's a beauty, despite some of her faults when it comes to bread baking.

Moreover, Suzy arrived only a week ago. I also had never operated such an oven before her arrival. Think about it: can you imagine how stressed I was before the taste-testing?




Their critiques and feedback. 

The sourdough zopf was, in my eyes, a failure. Despite that the majority expressed a liking to it, our Swiss guest was disappointed. According to her, it wasn't "fluffy" enough and too bland.

Back to the drawing board.

The cashew nut and mixed nut sourdough, on the other hand, were a hit! Especially the mixed nut, which contained cashews, walnuts, and hazelnuts. With enthusiasm, the ex-pro baker informed me that the mixed nut sourdough had a "very good flavour". Immediately after, he pointed out visual defects on the bread which only a fanatic / professional could detect... Rather than feeling down or upset, I was ecstatic to finally meet somebody who knew a thing or two about bread. In this case, lots of things!



Deviating from the above topic, I'll tell you a bit about my bakery and how I'm evolving as a baker.

The name of my bakery is Bäckerei, German for "bakery". Ironically, we're not a German bakery. We offer "fusion" breads, with major influences from central Europe, combined with ingredients grown in or native to Southeast Asia. As some of you know, I like to experiment and produce non-conventional breads. But something happened... In the past few months I began to appreciate the complexity of "simplicity". Flour, water, salt. Limiting yourself to those ingredients is, in my opinion, challenging... and utterly delicious and rewarding if used correctly. 

As I continue to bake more often for others, I noticed a certain neglect. Gradually, I ignored my preferences and listened to what my friends and the community wanted. They wanted nuts in their bread, so I gave it to them. They wanted a less tangy sourdough---absolutely no problem. Now they're demanding whole rye or wheat breads... Unfortunately, as much as I want to, this I cannot provide. It's practically non-existent in Cambodia, but you can bet your baker's butt that I'll do my best to get it into town.

What does it mean to be a baker? What responsibilities must I fulfill with such a profession? These are questions that I'm beginning to ask myself more and more often... And the more I understand, the more fulfillment I feel. I can tell you now with open honesty, at the taste-testing event, when I saw my friends and guests enjoying my breads, I nearly broke into tears. That's what I worked so hard for. For the dedicated baker, I think, bread is an expression of love, and to have others reciprocate with a full belly and smile is all we ever want.

Thank you for the read, TFLoafers. Until next time... 

Wish you all the best and jolly bakings,

Zita

P.S. I'll be very busy during the upcoming few months. If you'd like to keep updated with my doings, please feel free to visit my bakery's Facebook page and "like" it. There, you will see my progress, including hardships and hopefully many successes.

https://www.facebook.com/SiemReapBackerei

Comments

Mebake's picture
Mebake

What a cheerful news, Zita! Despite the stress and anxiety, you managed to pull this off! you deserve a round of applause :)

Lovely Suzy! the oven looks great. I think that flour coating your loaf top helps reduce excessive browning with such shallow ovens. I'm glad your guests enjoyed their dinner; they should.

As to whole wheat, i doubt that there would be any challenges. Whole wheat flour/ indian/chinese flour must be readily available in south east asia, right? Rye would be far fetched, i know, but as an adamant person you are, i think you'll find a way to source some.

Good luck with your new micro bakery, Zita. 

We are all watching your progress with interest. I know i am.

bakingbadly's picture
bakingbadly

Thank you, Khalid. Your kind words and support.is much appreciated.

Luckily, I did find whole durum wheat flour (i.e., chakki atta) in bulk---its flavour profile is absolutely wonderful. However, I would really like to get my hands on spelt, emmer, einkorn, or other wheat varieties, plus rye. Preferably unbleached and organic. The problem I'm having currently is finding such flours in bulk at reasonable amounts and prices. Importing from outside of Cambodia is very, very costly unless I order by the tons. If I had the storage space and money, I'd buy in an instant. 

Regardless, I'll find a way. It's just a matter of time. :)

Best wishes to you and your endeavours,

Zita

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

You need to decide what country you want to import rye from and how you want to do it.  You might find a food broker who is already importing food from Europe or the USA and he can tag along an order for rye and WW for you.  Or you can find a supplier yourself and a freight forwarder who has offices in the source country and in Cambodia and with offices in both countries to open a letter of credit for payment.  Import/ export and customs clearance is really easy with the right bank and freight forwarder,.

Glad your tasting went well and good luck with your new oven and business.

 

bakingbadly's picture
bakingbadly

Thank you, Dab! Great to hear from you.

That's all sound advice. I have been contacting potential suppliers and my biggest obstacle is getting such flours in bulk at reasonable prices and quantities. If I had the storage space and money, this wouldn't be much of a problem. There's also the issue of making enough money to cover overhead costs, and since I'm only starting it may be best to keep a lower supply of flour. Whether or not I succeed is a mystery, but I am optimistic.

Best wishes,

Zita 

Xenophon's picture
Xenophon

I don't know where in Cambodia you are but I'm in India and over here even a pretty mediocre baker could run a good business if located in a spot where some expatriates live and tourists come by, the local products just aren't the same.  I know I could make a business out of baking if I'd want to (but it's just a hobby for me).  Over here the biggest hurdles are getting good quality raw material, there's wheat and grains flour in abundance but not the required quality for baking good western style breads.  

Hook up with a food importer, you might be able to get a good deal on container space for flour etc.  It's not the shipping cost that's the major hurdle, it's getting the stuff in that poses problems (at least here) and a person with the right connections can greatly simplify your life and 'facilitate' things with customs etc.

And the products...customer is king...if you run it like a business it's not about baking what's technically best but about what they want to purchase.  What brand of oven is it you have there, does it have steam injection?  If/when I get back to Europe I intend to purchase one of the following for home baking:  http://www.rofco.be/ovens_EN.html

PS:  apparently getting electricity all the time in Cambodia is not such an issue, over here it can be a huge problem, depending on  where one is situated.

bakingbadly's picture
bakingbadly

Thank you for commenting Xenophon!

I live in Siem Reap, the home of the renown Angkor Wat. Despite that thousands of tourists flock into the city each year, they are not my target market, at least not directly. I have been focusing on supplying to boutique hotels and restaurants, thus my heeding to chefs, restaurateurs, and hoteliers. There's literally dozens of them in Siem Reap. One of the benefits to this market is that they want more premium products, which translates to more creative and flavourful breads. This suits my bakery perfectly because that's what I offer, and several already took notice.

Unfortunately, the oven I have doesn't have steam injection. It's really a "budget oven". I need to find a solution for this but I'm sure I'll figure something out.

Power outages is common in Cambodia and can last anywhere from a few minutes to an entire day. Although, in some areas the power could be cut for days. Consequently, at this time, I cannot rely on electrical equipment and have adapted my methods to avoid certain problems. Meaning to say, I've been learning how to mix dough in larger quantities, do not chill or freeze my dough, and use a gas oven. Of course, I can purchase a generator but that's presently outside of my budget... plus, I prefer doing things more traditionally.

Jolly bakings,

Zita
 

hanseata's picture
hanseata

and I keep my fingers crossed for your succeeding in your venture. The Zopf looks perfect to me, and probably sometimes you allowed to think outside of the box.

My husband is traveling to Cambodia, as we speak, probably in Siem Reap tomorrow.

Best wishes,

Karin

bakingbadly's picture
bakingbadly

Thank you, Karin. As simple as it looks, the logo took a lot of time and effort to design. Hopefully it encapsulates the spirit of the bakery.

What a coincidence... I take it that you're not visiting Siem Reap? Would love to meet you some day, as well as many members in this community.

Jolly bakings,

Zita 

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

I've never really been in retail sales of anything, but your thinking about how to make your bakery successful makes lots of sense to me.

Best of luck!

One excellent source of information about running small bakeries is the Bread Baker's Guild of America. They have a web site - www.bbga.org You might consider joining. They are very generous and often wise in their advice.

David

bakingbadly's picture
bakingbadly

Thank you, David! I did consider joining the BBGA, but for whatever reason it escaped my mind. Hectic days and being preoccupied with the bakery is likely to blame. Nonetheless, I'll join and see if it's beneficial to me. I know it's based in the US but could be useful to international bakers.

Thanks again and happy baking,

Zita

onlyincambodia's picture
onlyincambodia

This is fantastic! I love reading about your adventures in bread baking. It's inspiring. 

I tried using einkorn flour once to bake a loaf of bread. It was very dense, but delicious. More practice is definitely needed. 

Keep up the great work!

Nikki

bakingbadly's picture
bakingbadly

Wow, Nikki, you're a member of the The Fresh Loaf? That's fantastic!

Thanks for the support and keeping up-to-date with the bakery. It's a great pleasure and relief to know that I have fans already. ;)

All the best,

Zita

Mirko's picture
Mirko

Check this link http://www.akademie-weinheim.de/diploma-course/

Baking school in Germany for international bakers!

bread basket's picture
bread basket

posted on you face book site. would you post your SD Zopf recipe here? Would love to try it!

Barbara

isand66's picture
isand66

Congrats Zita!  I'm so happy to hear that you are fulfilling your dream and it looks like you are into a successful start.  I have no doubt you will figure out a way to get the ingredients you desire and will have a growing and thriving bakery in no time. 

Pit sounds like you have a good marketing plan which is always important.

look forward to reading about your continuing adventures and you know you can always count on us bread heads at TFL for encouragement and help.

Good luck Zita.

Regards

Ian

bakingbadly's picture
bakingbadly

Thank you for your encouragement, Ian! Really appreciate it. 

I recently contacted a potential supplier for whole wheat and whole rye flour, but I have to travel outside of Cambodia soon to strike a deal. The trip will be well worth it if I can get the flours into Cambodia, knowing that it doesn't exist in bulk there. I'm very excited.

Wish me luck!

All the best,

Zita

pantone_000's picture
pantone_000

Congratulations! :)

Hopefully in the future I can open up one here, too (Manila, Philippines).

bakingbadly's picture
bakingbadly

Thank you!

Also, good luck on your endeavors. With hard work and persistence, anything can happen. (My efforts seems to be an example of that.)

Zita