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)!