The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

A new blog for a new bakery

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

A new blog for a new bakery

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)!




gmagmabaking2's picture

I will be very interested to see how your project progresses... Congratulations on grabbing FATE by the horns! Sounds like a huge and hugely rewarding adventure!

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

Thanks for that mate!  I didn't expect such a quick response (or any really!).  


chouette22's picture

...reading about your adventure. Talk about jumping in and learning how to swim! I wish you best of luck and may this new path bring you lots of satisfaction.

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

Thanks Chouettezz

I guess I have been reading everything I can regarding breadmaking to learn the required techniques and hopefully this coupled with the organisational skills that come from being a chef will get me to where I want to be.

For the next bake I think I will make the baguettes fatter and cook them on a tray as the spaces between the oven floor tiles kind of messed them up.  Also I must have more razors around as my new fancy lame snapped on me almost straight away.

This is going to be an interesting learning curve.




sandydog's picture

Your new/old bakery and its WFO sounds very exciting - I think you know more about baking than you are letting on about.

I live at the Newcastle end of the Spine Road and bake a bit of bread myself - If you fancy some company for a bake, let me know and I could come and lend a hand. 

I've seen your blog cos I'm up late tonight waiting while Dave Snyder's SFSD (Version 6) bulk ferments - As soon as I can get it into brotforms, and into the fridge, I can go to bed.

Cheers Rob, and best wishes for a successful venture.



Damp Patch's picture
Damp Patch

Good on you for taking such an exciting opportunity and going for it. I look forward to hearing more about it. Best of luck.


FlourChild's picture

best of luck with your new venture!

ananda's picture

Hi Rob,

Welcome to the Fresh Loaf.

I am based up the road in Powburn, near Alnwick.   I actually did some consultancy work with the original bakery group at Earth Balance back in 1997.   I was also a founder member of the Red Herring Co-op where most of the same group did their training back in the mid 1990s.   So the history of Earth Balance goes further back than you think...a lot further actually.   I'm thinking "Bread Not Bombs" in the mid 1980s!

If I can be of any assistance to you in your venture, please do drop me a pm; it would be great to hear from you.

Best wishes


yozzause's picture

Congradulations Black Sheep

It all looks good and sounds very exciting, I wish you all the success in the world, and hope to see many more postings, might even get the chance to drop by whilst roving the UK around about July.

Yozzause (Aus)

isand66's picture

Thanks for sharing your venture with all of us.  I admire your courage in taking on something new.  Best of luck and keep us posted!  



gmabaking's picture

Good for you for following your dream. Wish you all the best. Your breads have that earthy goodness look about them, I imagine they taste wonderful. Keep us posted on your adventure and I hope you do share those recipes when you have time.

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

Thanks for all the good wishes and encouragment.  All your kind words are much appreciated.

Brian and Andy I will certainly be in touch in due course, after a bit of cleaning and organising has taken place and I can see the tree from the woods a little!  It would be great to be involved in a bit of a baking community here in the north east. Andy I read your blog and I think we have met before at an open evening at Newcastle college that my wife attended.  You were kind enough to give me a gluten free bread recipe that I unfortunately left in a trouser pocket prior to a meeting with the washing machine.  Perversely gluten does not agree with me too well and I have been on a gluten free diet for three  years.  I think it was this period that has influenced my decisions to get involved with breadmaking.  As a chef I think I took gluten for granted and it was not untill I had to learn to cook without it that I began to appreciate the magical qualities that it has.  I do eat my bread though and seem to be okay with spelt, which is what I use when baking for my family.




fancy4baking's picture

Hey Robert,

Congratulations on pursuing your dream and starting your bakery.

As for your loaves and what you described as an issue in slashing, i see that you have done pretty well and surpassed most of those who had been baking for years.

I wish you all the best...and surely am interested in your recipes and good work.

Good luck again....and keep it up :D


sweetbird's picture

Are you calling it the Black Sheep Bakery? I love the name. I admire your courage and spun; you'll enrich your community with wonderful, tasty rustic breads.

I wish you good fortune!


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

Hi all

Last night I decided to have a play around with a much firmer dough, in my dodgy home gas oven, to see if this made slashing baguettes any easier.  
To some extent it did but the crumb certainly suffered as a result.  I also bought a new lame which is definitely easier to work with but the design does not lend itself to very deep slashing- see photo.

I am still working a couple of days at the prison and it seems that my constantly banging on about the virtues of good bread is sinking in to my group of learners.  Today one guy asked me for a basic bread recipe that he could make as he does not want to eat "additive laden rubbish" (his words) when he gets out.  I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by this as the cohort have all been raised on white sliced pap and are usually quick to remind me that while they think the bread we make in our class is good, it's still not Kingsmill!

I received 'Knead to Know' in the post today- the book produced as part of the real bread campaign (UK based).  It is reassuring to read the testimonies of others who have taken the plunge to begin baking professionally (often in micro bakeries) and feel compelled to get their bread out there.  The Real Bread website is an excellent resource and I have duly sent off for my membership.  Of particular interest to me are the community based bakeries though I don't think that it is a route I can go down just now as I am hoping to earn some sort of crust for my family, however meagre it may be.  Maybe one day I would be able to incorporate some sort of bakery based training for ex offenders as part of a rehabilitation programme.  It is clear to me that it is only through finding meaningful work for ex offenders that we can reduce the horrific re offending rate that exists in Britain (something over seventy percent).  My learners certainly seem to be responding enthusiastically to the extra bit of baking that I try to sneak into the NVQ curriculum.  Though, as my partner Viv likes to say, "I shouldn't try and fart above my arse" and I plan to dedicate the coming weeks to mastering the WFO and nailing the four breads that I hope will be the staples of the bakery.  Next bake will be white sourdough boules\miche and more baguettes.  I am very happy with my leaven management at the moment as the bread I am making has, for me, just enough of a tang to be recognisable as sourdough and not enough to put the majority of people off.


Regards to all and once again thanks for all the encouragment




ps yes the name of the bakery will be The Black Sheep Bakery and it will form part of Black Sheep Organics.


heidet's picture

How is it going? Did you try the glutinous free? How about rice bread?good luck,looking forward to reading about your exploits.

ringa's picture

Hi Rob

best wishes with your new venture

great to see you're living your dream

 hope it is a success

I'll pop over and see you if that's OK when I'm on holiday 1st week in march


Steve Perry