The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

The Black Sheep Bakery stumbles into life

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

The Black Sheep Bakery stumbles into life

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!



dabrownman's picture

everything will work itself out and you can concentrate on yourr fine bread, customers and interpersonal relationships :-)

ananda's picture

Hi Richard,

Maybe these people could help you out for wood?

Nice Bread

Best wishes


yozzause's picture

Hi Richard the bread does loook good  well done to you and your helpers

regards Yozza

plevee's picture

And there aren't any recipes for potato stotties!

isand66's picture

Beautiful looking breads.  I'm sure all your hard work will pay off in the end.
Good luck.


swiggin's picture

It may seem like an obvious choice, but try looking for local saw mills. The cut-offs, and wood with minor defects, make a suitable choice for burning (at least for our gueulard-styled oven), and are usually cheap . I know that the there is a time aspect associated with cutting the wood into reasonable sizes, but a couple hours a week, plus the investment of a chainsaw and axe, is worth the effort. The other hang-up is the quantity you need to order is quite large- at our boulangerie we order a quantity that last about 3-4 months. Good luck.

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

........ and the beginning a gas fired one! Alas my love affair with the wfo here at Earth Balance is coming to an end. Since last August the oven which I posted about earlier has become an integral part of life. She has been a demanding mistress to say the least, always ready to swallow another load of logs, burn a loaf not positioned just so, inexplicably lose temperature all together and even occassionally bake a few half decent loaves. I feel comfortable in sharing with the world (well with tfl anyway) that I am just not man enough to satisfy her demands!

Some weeks ago I dispensed with the notion of cutting my own logs and began to buy wood to fuel her. After trying a multitude of different suppliers I finally found a local tree surgeon who could accomodate her refined tastes (if anyone is in Northumberland- UK Darren is your man for firewood btw). Unfortunately I soon discovered that her appetite for wood and my meagre attempts at making a living are at odds. It is just not economical it seems to run a commercial bakery (albeit a one man enterprise) with this oven. I suspect there is a lack of thermal mass around the vault for her to retain the lofty temperatures that I aspire to. At times it feels like I am fueling her with £10 notes!

So it is with a heavy heart that I would like to announce to the world (well tfl anyway) that I have wussed out and switched to gas. I have not told her yet that I have a new 'bit on the side' (a bakers pride stone deck pizza oven) as I need to bake with her a few more times and I feel that she is such a tempestuous madame that she will burn every one of my loaves black out of sheer spite! Robert -a baker with one foot out of the door.