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Real Bread blog archive

***You can find more recent blog posts in the articles section of our website***

NB Views expressed are those of their respective authors, which might not necessarily reflect those of the Real Bread Campaign or Sustain. Oh, and as we're a charity project, rather than a membership organisation, since 2015, we have called the people who chip in to enable us to keep doing this work 'supporters' rather than 'members'.

Awareness week awareness
Best bacon butty blindspots
Another reason to choose organic Real Bread
That’s what I go to school for
What price loaf?
Not just bread
Britain's bread binning
The old ones are the best
Dave says doh!
Park loaf
The sourdough pizza revolution
Would-be Real Bread social enterprise for ex-offenders needs advice
Boxing clever
Ludlow Loafer's London Layover
From offender to dough tender
Dreams of a microbakery
When brewer met baker
Championing Real Bread on BBC2
Crumpet voluntary
Isle of Man of Kent
A Community Supported Bakery for Totnes?
Crate expectations
Unexpected consequences
Chewing over The Big Bread Debate
Working for an honest crust at The Cake & Bake Show
Who kneads Allinson factory loaves?
Wheat free baking at Welbeck
Artisan or artful? The half-baked truth of Tesco’s bakery revamp
Roti report
Bread and Portas
Into the Lion's Den
Local Loaves for Lewes
GM wheat? Not in my loaf!
Wholesome news
Ducks (and we?) need better bred bread
Real Bread spokesman in Stocksbridge
Real Bread on the rise in e5
Melton Big Bake
Kids: Junior Bake Off wants to hear from you!
In case you needed another excuse…
Bread and breakfast
Mending library
Better bred sandwiches
Fare's fair
A trail of Real Breadcrumbs
New adventures in sourdough
Crumb together
Ciabatt-outta hell
The bakerer's apprentice
Ode to a French baguette
Spelt grass roots
A time for giving
Jimmy's Food Factory
Biofuels: a letter to The Times
Brixton's better bread
Hit the road, Jaques
A Local Loaves for Lammas diary
Lammas loaf
Lammas: a national celebration of Real Bread
Mary Queen of Shops needs you!
Hidden processing aids: allergens and GM

Awareness week awareness

11 May 2015

As you might know, it’s Real Bread Week, which is the annual celebration of picking up a loaf of it from your local, independent Real Bread bakery or baking your own. At any given moment, an awareness day, week or month for something or other is in progress, so it should come as a surprise that our own one coincides with others. Of those running right now, four have particular resonance with the Real Bread Campaign’s work…

Mental Health Awareness Week is of great interest to us. Since the Campaign began in 2008, we have come into contact with some inspirational initiatives that help people living with mental health issues to benefit from baking Real Bread. Their stories range from kneading helping someone to feeling calmer and more relaxed, to others having baking as a focus while battling through bouts of depression. Some people have even found their vocation as Real Bread bakers when mental illness had hindered them from holding down a steady job, let alone a career.  Here's what we have learned so far and the Together We Rise project we’re trying to get funded.

We love sandwiches…but only if they’re made with Real Bread! As it’s British Sandwich Week, we urge you to make your sarnies from bread you’ve baked yourself or bought from a Real Bread bakery.  If you’re buying them ready made, please read the label or – if they’re unpackaged – ask the vendor exactly what went into the slices (or wrap, bap, bagel, baguette, panino, whatever) to make sure you and your kids are being fed a cocktail of artificial additives. If he/she can’t tell you, we suggest you walk away.

Real Bread lovers spare a thought for people living with coeliac disease, for whom anything containing wheat or just gluten (no matter how long your ferment it) is toxic. Even though it is possible to bake naturally gluten-free Real Bread, very few bakeries we know make it, let anything closely resembling a white sandwich loaf. During Coeliac Awareness Week in particular we urge anyone who has problems eating either Real Bread or industrial loaves to get tested to find out whether they have the condition or an allergy. We really don’t want anyone putting themselves at risk, or even further discomfort.  Equally, we wouldn’t want anyone who hasn’t in fact got an allergy or coeliac disease to miss out on Real Bread unnecessarily!  If you do rule both of those out then perhaps it’s not wheat or gluten but something else that’s the issue

National Doughnut Week was created to raise money for great work being done by The Children’s Trust with kids living with brain injury and their families. While the Children’s Food Campaign might question the juxtaposition of sugary, fatty foods and a children’s charity, it can also be argued that the week is aimed at adults, and there’s nothing wrong with a doughnut as an occasional treat.  The Campaign’s advice for anyone wanting to support the Trust in this way is much the same as for sandwiches above - seek out a local, independent Real Bread bakery that makes their ‘nuts without the use of ‘clean label’ processing aids or other artificial additives.  If in doubt, ask the baker to let you know exactly what he/she uses.  And while you’re picking up that doughnut crafted without a concentrate as a crutch, please pick up a loaf or two of Real Bread…


Best bacon butty blindspots

27 Feburary 2015

As a PR stunt, an insurance firm announced today that ‘the nation’ (well, around 1000) people had declared its favourite combo of carbs and condiments for building the best bacon butty.  

We at the Real Bread Campaign believe that the results support our assertion that Britain needs more local, independent bakeries producing loaves the proper way – that is, with plenty of time and care not industrial loaves rushed through with a cocktail of artificial additives.
After all, had more of the survey respondents actually tried Real Bread, surely more would have expressed a preference for it?

Then again, even if they had, they would not have been able to say so. We asked the PR agency whether Real Bread from a local bakery had been given as an option to survey participants. It hadn’t.
As we see it, the survey had another fundamental flaw. While debating ketchup versus brown sauce, it overlooked the other key ingredient – the bacon itself. There was no opportunity for people to declare that they preferred, say, rashers from porkers reared on certified organic or other higher welfare farms , lower salt options, grilled rather than fried.

All in all, a right pig’s ear of a survey, might you say?

Another reason to choose organic Real Bread

17 July 2014

Today, our friends at Pesticides Action Network (PAN UK) published a report that reinforces our message that, to avoid unnecessary substances in your daily loaf, your best bet is to choose Real Bread that is also made using organic ingredients.

The new PAN UK report is based on figures from the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (Defra)’s Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food (PRiF). It reveals that of 2909 supermarket loaves tested by PRiF between 2000 and 2013, more than 61% contained residues of one or more pesticides.  None of the loaves tested was Real Bread from a small independent bakery.

The industrial loaves tested were not produced to organic standards and, looking down the list of mostly well-known brands in the PRiF studies, were of the type typically produced using a cocktail of artificial additives and, increasingly, undeclared processing aids.

Meanwhile only 7% of 42 organic loaves PRiF tested contained residues of any pesticide, and PAN suggests even this was likely to be due to cross-contamination during production or storage.

Our Campaign defines Real Bread as made without the use of so-called processing aids or other artificial additives. People wanting to avoid such unnecessary extras can look for The Real Bread Loaf Mark, or bake their own Real Bread. 

Shoppers wanting assurance that their Real Bread has been produced to organic standards (which include control of the use of pesticides and other agrochemicals) should look for the mark of the Soil Association or other approved organic certification body.  PAN UK’s further recommendations of what you, retailers and the government can do to reduce exposure to pesticides are on pages 9 and 10 of the report.

The PAN UK report can be found here.

The PRiF reports, including brand names indexes of the industrial loaves tested, can be found here.
About organic certification

See also:
Why go organic?

That’s what I go to school for

28 April 2014

Campaign member Cucina Restaurants's Executive Chef Andy Wilcock explains why it is so important to the company to put Real Bread on the menu in the forty three secondary schools they serve.

Considering that Real Bread is one of the healthiest foods on the planet, and also so easy to bake, it’s a real shame that a lot of school caterers buy in just about all of their loaves and rolls. When your catering operation is fixed on margins alone, you make so many of your decisions based on price. In doing that, you are compromising the quality of the food that you can offer.

One of the great things about working at Cucina Restaurants is that the bottom line is good food. What I mean by this is that the one constant that doesn’t change is food quality. We then have to build our business model around this.

Because the quality of our food is non-negotiable and because we pay good chefs in all of our schools, as a business we absolutely have to keep the kids coming back for more every day. Baking good, fresh Real Bread is one way of achieving it.

We encourage our chefs to develop their own loaves using all sorts of different flours, rye, spelt, wholemeal and so on. From a business point of view, variety is another factor in keeping sales buoyant.

Baking Real Bread ourselves might cost us more, but look at all the advantages of doing it. We get to talk to our customers – around 43,000 kids a day - about what goes into bread and how we achieve all the different tastes, shapes and colours that they see.

As Executive Chef, I travel around many of the schools we serve and see our head chefs engaging with the students in this way, encouraging them to taste and try the loaves made in the kitchen just that morning.

The next step, of course, is for the students to have a go at home baking and I’m pleased to say that we are seeing more and more of this.

What price loaf?

24 April 2014

The wars drums are sounding. After their profit trajectory hopes were bruised over Christmas in the face of competition from the discount chains, the big supermarkets are apparently gearing up for a price war. As usual, an early salvo has been slashing the price of industrial loaves.

This group of arguably indistinguishable rectangular blocks are known in the trade as a KVI, or Known Value Item.  The theory goes that, whether consciously or subconsciously, shoppers decide on which multiple retailer to pick based on the price of just a handful of KVIs. So, cut the price of an industrial loaf, maybe your milk and a few other basics, and shoppers will perceive your store as cheaper than your competitors, regardless of whether or not you’ve bumped up your prices on other items to offset the cost. Well, that’s the general idea.

Such a retail battle in 1999 got so ridiculous that loaves were being sold for 7p, a move which made unions, and even the industry body that represents the majority of the big loaf fabricators, squeak.

The problem with such a race to the bottom is that it artificially skews people’s perception of what is the ‘right’ price not only for a factory loaf but, by misplaced association, for Real Bread as well. ‘Why,’ someone might ask him or herself, ‘should I pay the honest price for an honest crust being asked by my local, independent bakery for a loaf of Real Bread, when I can get something marketed as ‘bread’ for less at the supermarket? After all, it’ll go brown in the toaster or keep my fingers dry when eating a sandwich, so it’s basically the same thing, right?’

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: not all loaves are created equal!

But beyond the chance to feed your family food that’s been crafted, not created with a ‘chemistry set’, buying Real Bread from a local independent bakery helps to sustain more skilled jobs per loaf than grabbing an industrial product from a supermarket. That money you spend with the member of your local community whose bakery is helping to keep your high street alive is more likely to get reinvested locally than supermarket pounds that end up in the pockets of distant suppliers, advertising agencies and fat cat shareholders.

Feel unwilling or unable to invest in Real Bread from a local bakery? One option that will result in an additive free loaf for about (or less than) the 75p being asked by more than one of the chains for their ‘standard’ wrapped, sliced loaves, is to make your own.  If you shy away from rolling up your sleeves, then dig out or adopt an unloved bread machine to do it for you.

Real Bread Maker Week: From 10-16 May, Campaign members around the land will be sharing ways everyone can have the chance to enjoy Real Bread – the true value loaf.

See also Fare’s fair

Not just bread

Campaign member Liz Sienna of Just Bread in south London writes about how the Real Bread social enterprise she set up is helping refugee women to develop skills for employment, gain confidence and improve their English.

I volunteer at a weekly drop-in centre for refugees in Balham, south London. Last December, a woman from Eritrea brought in a home-baked loaf as a gift for us all. It was beautifully made and the pattern of the proving basket she used had left its mark on the top crust. She said it was hembasha, a traditional Eritrean celebration bread, which she wanted to share it with everyone to show her gratitude for the help she had received. It really was delicious: slightly sweet, densely textured, exotically spiced with cardamom and other spices.

I was really touched by this simple gesture from a woman who was herself destitute and I couldn’t forget the wonderful taste of the exotic, unexpected bread. I thought wouldn’t it be nice if we could help her put her natural gift for bread-making to work?

I soon realised this lightbulb of an idea potentially had the power to help transform the lives of many refugee women who want – and need – to support themselves, their children and contribute to society here in their new home.  I began researching possible partners that could help turn my idea into reality.

When we kicked off our pilot course in early January, we did not anticipate the extent of therapeutic benefits our trainees, who have been through the worst of life’s ‘school of hard knocks’, would experience. That’s why we are thrilled to see that women in the group are already showing increased self-esteem, they are becoming more communicative, they are telling us that their achievements are giving them a greater sense of purpose, and that there is growing trust between trainees, who quickly developed an ability to work as a team.

One trainee, who originally was quiet and reserved trainee has really come out of her shell.  She amazed us all when, unannounced, she volunteered to step forward and demonstrate how to make a special cheese bun from her home country.  She had brought the ingredients and was beaming, happy to be photographed as she shared her recipe and shaping techniques.

Another trainee, while articulate and well-educated, shared that she struggles with obsessive compulsiveness disorder (OCD).   She told us she’d trained as a clinical psychologist, described how OCD affects her life, and that she couldn’t bear to have messy hands.  Now, through the unintended effect of repeated exposure to the dough, she says she enjoys getting her hands messy and regularly makes Real Bread at home. 

We are now working in partnership with the Refugee Council them and operate under their umbrella…with deepest gratitude.  Our partners also include Virtuous Bread and Myatt’s Field Park, with generous support from Bakery Bits and Shipton Mill. If you like the look of what we are doing, please stay tuned!

Read how you can support the Real Bread Campaign's planned Together We Rise project that will support and bring together organisations like Just Bread so thousands more people can benefit from the therapeutic, employment and social opportunites Real Bread making offers, here.

Britain’s bread binning

7 November 2013

As WRAP releases its latest food waste report, Chris Young ponders why as a nation we’re still so half-baked when it comes to making the most of the food we buy.

While there is a lot of good news in the new report by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), we’re still binning far too much!

It's great that there was a 21% reduction in avoidable household food waste between 2007 and 2012 and the consequent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions was around 4.4 million tonnes of CO2 (equivalent to taking 1.8 million cars off UK roads), but as a nation we still threw away about 7 million tonnes of household food waste* in 2012. That’s enough to fill Wembley Stadium nine times and a whacking great 4.2 million tonnes of it was avoidable.

You’ll be unsurprised to read that my interest in the figures has a bready bias, so my questions include why:

  • did we sling 24 million slices of ‘standard bread’** in our bins per day?
  • of all avoidable food waste was ‘standard bread’ the most wasted food type?
  • was 28% (460,000 tonnes) of the 1.6millions tonnes of ‘standard bread’ chucked?
  • could we consign more than half a billion quid’s worth of ‘standard bread’ to the bin?
  • were 9,000 tonnes of bakery products found in the sewer? I mean, why would you do that?

Well, the report concludes that the biggest reason bakery products were thrown away was ‘not used in time’, that is that they went mouldy, stale or simple passed their use/sell by date. Which does beg the question - are the preservatives the Big Bakers say consumers demand actually working? Anyway, the cost of this national farinaceous folly? A stonking £540 million quid! But the question remains – why?

What the report doesn’t do is make any distinction between factory loaves, supermarket (and similar) in-store ‘bakery’ loaves, loaves from high street bakeries and homemade Real Bread. The chances are, however, that – in line with industry sales figures – the first two of these categories account for the vast majority of the discarded items. If that’s the case, then two possible reasons spring to my mind:

Industrial loaves are sold cheap. In some cases very cheap. Is it that people simple don’t value these so-called ‘value’ loaves? They only cost pence, so why would most people care about a few slices or even a whole loaf away – especially if it came in a BOGOFF deal.

There is little to no food education in the country. Many people don’t know how to store Real Bread (or industrial loaves) in a way that will make them last longer. They don’t know that putting a loaf in the fridge will actually speed up the staling process, and if the loaf’s in a plastic bag the cold can create condensation that may promote mould growth. 

So, what can we do as a nation to cut the waste further? Well, the first thing is to eat Real Bread! If you’ve paid an honest price for an honest crust at a local, independent bakery for a delicious, crusty, genuinely fresh loaf, and to help support your local high street and skilled jobs for people in your local community, surely you’re more likely not to throw any away. If you buy genuine sourdough (be careful, the word is not protected so be sure you’re getting the real thing) then its natural preservatives will make it last longer. Alternatively, you could make your own. Whether by hand or in a machine, having lovingly crafted it yourself, you’ll probably treasure it…or just eat it too fast to go stale.

And if you do let it go stale, some of the finest foods on earth are made from leftovers – bread and butter pudding anyone?

You can find more of our tips on how to not be a waster here.

All statistics are taken from WRAP’s Household Food and Drink Waste in the United Kingdom, which can be found here.

* Shocking though these figures are, they don't even include stuff ploughed back into fields at the whim of supermarkets or binned by retailers and caterers

**Which the report defines as: Granary [I assume they don’t know that’s a TM of Rank Hovis, so mean anything sort of brownish with bits in it], white, wholegrain [which I take includes wholegrain, not just undefined nebula of things marketed as wholegrain] baguettes, loaves, rolls, crumbs, crusts, whole slices and pieces.

The old ones are the best

17 October 2013

It’s about this time of year that The Brockwell Bake Association’s founder and secretary Andy Forbes starts feeling seedy.

Heritage wheats differ significantly from modern wheat, most obviously because the crop is typically twice or more the height of modern wheat which has been dwarfed to allow (and require) the use of chemical fertilizers. The decrease in height has the effect that weeds have a much better chance to out-compete the crop. The consequence is that in ‘conventional’ farming herbicides are universally applied, in addition to a range of petrochemical pesticides, fungicides and growth regulators that are also required in typical modern wheat cultivation.

It’s a major part of Brockwell Bake's mission to bring back into cultivation several landrace wheats with good bread making qualities that were typically grown in the British Isles (and more specifically Kent) prior to the early 1800s, which is when British farmers moved towards varieties more suitable as animal fodder and British bakers began to rely on imported grain. This should be of special benefit for organic and biodynamic farming into the future. It will, however, be a few more years before we have enough to mill rather than put back in the ground.

In the meantime what we have the most of (though still not enough to mill) is our Lambeth Latino winter mix, a selection from the heritage mix given to us by wheat conservator and grower John Letts (around 3%, hopefully emphasising good baking wheats) with the addition of some Spanish heritage lines collected in the 1920s. This season's seed stock was grown on WoWo organic Farm, East Sussex with the kind support of the farmer Paul Cragg, his family and staff.
We have a good quantity of our Lambeth Latino mix available (donations very much appreciated in order for BBA to be able to continue its work) for small scale educational plantings, especially on school and community gardens, though will also supply private individuals and/or for decorative borders around bakeries! It needs to be sown from now till around mid-November, though in some years one can get away with a little later than this.

We are also keen to hear from any organic or biodynamic farmers (especially located south of London and preferably near a railway station) interested to help trial and multiply our heritage seed stock and/or grow as a commercial crop in future seasons.*

The Brockwell Bake Association's website contains a plethora of information on wheat breading and growing, including this document on their current programme.

Find details of how to order winter wheat seeds or get involved in The Brockwell Bake Association’s work here.

* In accordance with the frustrating and controversial Seed Marketing Regulations, at this stage the project is purely non-commercial and the seed wheat is being distributed for educational and research purposes.  

Dave says doh!

7 October 2013

A week on from a deluge of derision directed at David Cameron for giving a down to earth answer to a clichéd ambush question, Real Bread Campaign coordinator Chris Young ponders how the PM could have answered any better.

How much is a pint of milk? It’s a hoary old chestnut that media types drag out every now and then, presenting it as if it’s an infallible test of how in/out of touch a politician is. At least LBC radio’s Nick Ferrari embroidered the well-worn gauntlet last Tuesday morning by substituting the pinta with a ‘value’ supermarket loaf before throwing it in front of the Prime Minister.

Before I go any further, I should make it clear that neither the Campaign or this blog post is party political. I’m not defending the Tories in any way or Cameron as their leader.

So, back to the studio. What was the right honourable member for Witney to say? ‘How the hell should I know? I’m a millionaire with a housekeeper who does the shopping and that sort of thing,’ sure wasn’t gonna win him any votes. Conversely, trotting out ‘about forty-seven or forty-eight pence, which I know because I pick up a couple of loaves on my weekly trip over to the Swindon Asda’ simply wouldn’t wash. Having had his fingers burnt by bungling a profession for loving the people’s pasties last March, he knew claiming to be a sub-fifty pee sliced white kinda guy would see him toasted once more.

With buying loaves such a hot potato, Mr. C. turned to home baking, unaware of the political minefield into which he was walking. Though making Real Bread at home takes very little of your time*, many people don’t appreciate this fact. ‘Oh, it’s all very well and good for him – or his housekeeper – but Joe Public doesn’t have time!’ the meeja would have cried, incorrectly.

Cut to the Conservative leader’s internal monologue: ‘Hang on a mo, what about a bread machine!  How many millions of households have one of those at the back of a cupboard already!?  How easy is it to use? How little time does it take? How cheap are flour, water, yeast and salt?’ Bingo: he’d hit upon the perfect egalitarian answer! Add in a nod to a local, independent, family-owned flour mill and he’d struck paydirt. Or had he?

Quite how using a piece of common kitchen equipment, one that can be found for nothing via websites such as Freegle or Freecycle (and in many charity or second hand shops, or auction websites, for about the twenty quid mark) is ‘out of touch’, I’ve no idea. And what sort of a sorry state are we in if we feel the need to vilify a man for choosing to feed his family genuinely fresh Real Bread (by which we mean no hidden processing aids or other artificial additives), made using local, higher fibre flour, instead of additive-laden supermarket white pap?

In fact, I can only see the Premier having put a foot wrong by the line of flour he chose to name. While we as a Campaign believe in the many values of supporting local business, flour that’s over £4 a bag isn’t the ideal one to be citing when you’re being challenged in the arena of local talk radio as to how down to earth you are.

So, good on David Cameron for flying the flag for choosing Real Bread – the true value loaf.  If you’re reading this, Dave, and would like to find out just how easy and therapeutic it is to move on from the machine and make loaves by hand, please feel free to join the Real Bread Campaign! Membership includes discounts at more than forty of over 100 baking schools we know around the UK, and even chances to win Real Bread making classes.

To read more about why the Real Bread Campaign supports the use of bread machines, click here.

To read about the therapeutic baking project for which our charity needs funding, click here.

*Other than a few short bursts of mixing, working, shaping and loading in and out of the oven, dough takes care of itself unsupervised – for hours at a time given the appropriate recipe and method. I bake on Saturday, for example, leaving the dough to prove all day, shaping it when I come home and popping it in the oven with dinner.

Park loaf

2 October

Campaign member and ‘keen bread maker’ Phil Coles shares how, though he’s not running a business doing it yet, it seems after Sourdough September he’s heading that way…

I work part time in two jobs as a support/mentor worker for people with disabilities but I have been making natural leaven bread for a few years at home. I’d had the usual friends and family saying ‘you should sell it,’ so (even though I’d never really planned or wanted to do so) eventually I decided to pursue the idea.

Yeon (my other half) and I got place for a stall at our local annual Queen’s Park Day event back in September but having not done this before, having never even baked more than a dozen loaves at once before, we were excited and nervous.  We put a lot of thought and it took ages to get all the gear together. I had the kitchen pretty much set up to go as I love to experiment and have a large fridge-freezer I converted to a prover-retarder, which I can set from below freezing to very warm. For our first stall, though, we needed to get a bit more gear to bake more loaves. As we don't have a car, we also needed to get a trailer for the bicycle to move it all to the event, which still took three trips …

We had some good feedback on the loaves. We had a try-a-slice with jam for 30p, which after a slow start, did well and people often bought a loaf as a result.  Yeon even sold a loaf to retail guru Mary Portas! I was oblivious as I was serving another customer at the time, but he was very excited about the fact she bought one. Being totally naive we made a few mistakes, baked too many loaves for such an event and the number of people around that day was (according to the organiser) about 40% down due to the weather.  All in all it was a great learning curve, though and we’re still buzzing with enthusiasm.

I guess my aim with the bread (we’re just making the one type at present) is to develop a sort of everyday loaf that people will use:  not a ‘speciality’, just good old fashioned bread, like my father’s father used to bake for his family. I want one that people will use for all the things they would normally do with the crap usually bought from supermarkets. So our 600g loaf is made at 71% hydration using a 50/50 mix of wholemeal and white organic flour. It’s still a work in progress you might say as I'm never happy with it, even though the feedback is great. Recently I even convinced my sister, who was just ‘not interested’ in Real Bread before, but had no choice when she came to stay  - he he! Now her husband and she are both converts.

We now have a website, which Yeon built from scratch (self-taught for this occasion) and my next step is to try and persuade our landlord to let me bake a bit at home. I would also like to do some small scale teaching, and then we have a few ideas from Queen’s Park Day to pursue…

Campaign members can find a photo of Phil at his first ever Real Bread stall in The Gallery of True Loaf magazine issue 17.

The sourdough pizza revolution

23 September 2013

For Sourdough September, Campaign member Ottavia Mazzoni talks to an Italian pizzaiolo from whom far too many pizza makers in the UK need to learn that a great pizza relies on a great base.

When I go back to Italy for the summer I always make plans to eat pizza at least twice a week and more often if possible. I simply love pizza and I have a preference for the simplest of them: Margherita, though only the best ingredients and the perfect dough make it worth eating. Good toppings are crucial, but they cannot hide a bad pizza base.  I have a preference for a napoletana style, which is slightly thicker and chewier than its romana counterpart. Since last summer I have become addicted to what to me amounts to a complete revolution in taste, texture and digestibility: the pizza con la madre or pizza made with a sourdough base.

Common pizza dough in Italy is made with flour, water, salt, and as little as possible yeast, which is given a fermentation of up to twelve hours. A genuine sourdough base does not, of course, include bakers’ yeast and the best ones are prepared up to twenty-four hours in advance using only stoneground Italian wholemeal flours. 

Maestro pizzaiolo Beniamino Bilali has led the way in Italy in rediscovering the roots of pizza making and, having thoroughly researched its sourdough history, is reinterpreting this typical Italian product in a modern key.  Tradition informs his innovation, which has also led to Bilali developing a method of dough making he says is based on starch hydrolysis. This dough is made without bakers’ yeast or sourdough culture, instead relying on the naturally-occurring enzymes in wholemeal flour to promote fermentation. The dough is prepared starting from cracked wholewheat grains onto which hot water is poured to start natural gelatinisation and fermentation processes.

After forty-eight hours of fermentation in controlled conditions, it produces a lighter and more easily digestible pizza with a honeycomb-like structure and a clear wheat flavour that can be enjoyed straight from the wood-fired oven. To me a Margherita made with hydrolysis of the wheat, topped with exceptionally good tomatoes, genuine mozzarella fiordilatte and a drizzle of raw extra-virgin olive oil is as close as I can get to paradise on earth.

Here’s to a new pizza Margherita, long live the queen!

Ottavia is a food lover and baking enthusiast from Bologna, who runs baking and cookery classes in Wiltshire.

Would-be Real Bread social enterprise for ex-offenders needs advice

15 August 2013

While planning and seeking funding for Together We Rise, we've come into contact with some great projects that need support NOW! So, here's a different post than usual - a call for assisitance.

A charity in Northampton is researching the possibility of setting up a Real Bread social enterprise to offer ex-offenders work experience, training and qualifications; and generate a sustainable income for the charity. They now need to put together a business plan and need advice from a small baker (or bakery café) to get an idea of:

  • set up and running costs
  • production costs
  • sales prices
  • likely turnover

If you run a small, professional bakery/ bakery cafe and are willing to let the charity's social enterprise manager pick your brains, please email us and we'll pass your contact details on

realbread [at]

To give you a bit more of the story, here's what she told us:

"We will be employing one full time craft/artisan baker who would not be responsible for training clients (female ex-offenders and other vulnerable women) but would need to train/pass on know-how to another staff member who would then train others (is this practical?). We will also then need someone to manage the bakery (staff/customers/stock/money etc) and someone to co-ordinate the clients  making sure they know their hours, providing training, dealing with issues etc.  These last two functions could possibly be provided by the same person.

There will be approx 4 – 8 clients who initially will volunteer in the bakery serving/baking etc. Later we will have an apprentice scheme and all future recruitment will be done from within the client base.

So far we have talked about a retail bakery (craft bread/rolls/pastries/savouries) with the possibility of coffee & filled sandwiches and also selling wholesale to local restaurants etc.  What I’ve come to realise from Knead to Know is that we could actually consider being wholesale only, at least to begin with, and this is quite an attractive idea as it would mean we could get cheaper premises.   I would love to get some advice on how to decide whether to just go the wholesale route or do a bit of both?"

Boxing clever

6 August 2013

Campaign member Dominic Salter on his Real Bread journey so far.

We’re just a little old sandwich shop in the heart of Cheltenham.  The shop is run by me and my mum: I mainly bake and she mainly tells me to clean the flour up.

A few years ago, the lovely ace bread bakery we used imposed a wicked minimum spend on our daily order, forcing us to take action and bake our own Real Bread. This has happened to be the best thing that we have done to date. Since then I am woken not only by my alarm but by mad sourdough ideas and the thought of an overnight dough going in the oven.

We have always followed the Real Bread Campaign and adhered to its rules on the way our bread is made.  I have had very little training, though  I've done some short courses at Shipton Mill and The E5 Bakehouse in Hackney.  We now make all our rolls, pitas ciabattas, focaccias, baguettes sourdough pizzas etc. Every Friday we bake around 100 loves for sale including sourdoughs.  It does mean I tend to start at two in the morning and work till around eight at night to deliver and sell it all!

We have always played down our baking and often worry it isn't up to scratch. This was all until a friend of mine put us forward for an ITV1 baking program. We did very well for a little sandwich shop and made it further than we could ever have thought.

With this fresh in our minds and a real feeling of confidence we feel it’s time to start shouting.  We really want to make people aware of Real Bread and also promote our own products.  My mum and I have worked here for nine years - since I was 18 – and we now feel it’s our time to do well. I have just entered two of our breads in the World Bread Awards just to see what happens! We also have loads of ideas for Sourdough September – can’t wait!

Dominic (and his mum) run The Sandwich Box in Cheltenham.

Ludlow Loafer's London Layover

29 July 2013

Real Bread Campaign member and volunteer member of the not-for-profit company that organises Ludlow Food Festival, Peter Cook tells of his recent opportunity to showcase Price & Sons’ Real Bread in The Smoke.

Having been a baker for over twenty years but only ever in my own bakery in Ludlow, this is a situation that has taken me out of my comfort zone.

It's 2pm on the day after Andy Murray's win at Wimbledon, and I’m in the pastry section of the kitchens at the InterContinental London Park Lane watching Luis, the Columbian chef, construct an icing plaque to celebrate the victory. Normally sugar craft isn't my thing, but seeing how Luis has had just one hour’s notice that the new tennis champion is coming to the hotel and the General Manager would like to greet him with this piece of artistry, I am astonished.

I came as part of ‘Ludlow Food Festival Comes to London,’ during which the hotel's Cookbook Café is holding a preview of our famous food festival and bringing some of the fabulous producers from our town and region to the capital. Our food and drink is taking pride of place on the menu for a week and each evening one producer presents a demonstration or talk to the diners. It really is a wonderful way to bring to London a taster of what Ludlow has to offer.

Of course, as part of those meals they need bread, and that's why I'm here. The Head Chef, Paul Bates, wanted a Ludlow baker to come and bake some speciality loaves for the week's menu. I chose a few of our favourites such as Dark Ale & Walnut, Green Olive & Pumpkin Seed, Pain au Levain and Sunflower Rye, along with a loaf I have never made before, Goat’s Cheese and Red Onion Sourdough.

The pastry section is no bigger than a domestic kitchen so it is wonderful of the chef to let me take over half of it for the day. The previous evening I mixed the sourdoughs and put them into the storage fridge, two floors down. Then in the morning, I had to retrieve them via the goods lift along with all the other ingredients. It really made me realise just how convenient our own small bakery is!

So the morning continues, mixing, folding, stretching, scaling, shaping, proving and baking, using the small three deck oven that is squeezed into this area. Eventually after a twelve hour shift, there are eighty large loaves and 100 mini Pear & Perry sourdoughs stacked up in the kitchen corridor. The large loaves should see them through the week and the mini loaves are destined for the giveaway goodie bags for that evening’s media launch.

A quick shower and change and I go out to meet the other producers and help set up the display in the café. The evening is a great success, with food journalists and bloggers being able to talk to the passionate producers and sample some of the finest food and drink that Ludlow offers.

For me, it was a wonderful opportunity to take our Real Bread to London and bake in a totally unfamiliar situation amongst some very talented people. Not to mention, get a small taster of five star living!

Peter will be running a Real Bread demonstration at the Ludlow Food Festival on 14 September and the annual Festival Loaf trail around the town runs from 10am-4pm on the same day.


From offender to dough tender

With the Campaign working hard to secure funding for our planned Together We Rise project to help people use Real Bread making to help them face a range of challenges, we asked new member Francesca Barker to share her story. She tells us how ‘Honest food, inspires honest living. Out of the shadows of ex-offending comes a beautiful baking beginning.’

I am Francesca, I'm 25 and a first time offender. I was handed a suspended sentence of 18 months and a probation order of 12 months in February this year.

It was a shock to the system as I hadn't been in trouble before but having been involved with the Greater Manchester Probation Service for a few months now, I have been introduced to a variety of agencies that are helping me. The first of these was Ex-Cell, which helps support ex-offenders to rebuild our lives and provides access to education, mental health support and a range of training schemes that equip people with new skills. In my case, it was being sent on a course with Virtuous Bread.  Before my arrest, I’d had the opportunity to audition for BBC’s Masterchef, but due to the fact that filming was taking place in the middle of my court case, I couldn't pursue it.

I have now set up The Barker Baker, my own Real Bread social enterprise. This will include a bakery making 100% natural loaves, which we’ll sell at farmers’ markets, and a training scheme for other ex-offenders. Being involved with the criminal justice system is sometimes an overwhelming process, and people often lose hope and self value. I believe that I can help some people regain these by encouraging a passion for great baking. To bake handmade artisan bread, allows passion and creativity to flow through each and every loaf. I’ve started to raise money through crowdfunding and other sources to launch a sustainable, passionate business, in which I can involve other ex-offenders to help us all build real, tangible careers within the food industry. 

I am proud to be involved with O2 Think Big, who provide excellent support and advice for new social enterprises and projects. I’m looking forward to pursuing my business and any help from other agencies or businesses would be a great help.

I look forward to being involved with Together We Rise as I think any opportunity for ex-offenders to get involved with learning how to bake Real Bread is an absolutely brilliant idea. I have seen first hand how the discipline and creativity can really streamline and ground people with low self esteem, mental health problems and people who generally can't see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Facebook: The Barker Baker
The Barker Baker’s crowdfunding page

Dreams of a microbakery

10 April 2013

Jo Medhurst's post on how here plans are going won her a copy of Microbakin' in issue 14 of our True Loaf magazine.

My mini microbakery is on the way.  Well you could call it a mini eeny weeny tweeny microsciopic bakery to be accurate.  I am being very tentative and cautious, just baking a few loaves a week for a local restaurant.  I am hoping that the name of the restaurant in Leicestershire, The Three Horseshoes, will bring me three times as much luck on my journey to my dreams of a fully fledged microbakery and who knows, even a real proper cosy bakery of my own.  For now though I am content to practice, to hone my skills in a safe place.

I believe baking is as close as you will ever get to heaven.  There is something about the whole process, the time, the energy, effort and creativity it draws upon, somehow healing deep dark wounds within the soul.  If I feel low, down, or I am grieving, I bake and there is a part of me a spark which stays alight.  Perhaps it is the knowledge that I am making connections to the world outside, bringing pleasure, and it is something I can do day after day after day.

Working in offices leaves me feeling cold through and through, a cog in a wheel, meaningless, but when I bake, I am the wheel, with the power to lift my own spirits and others.   
So, I am standing on the platform, lets call it platform 13, unlucky for some but lucky for bakers! The train is on its way and I hold on to my bag of dreams and ideas packed tightly and carefully, bulging at the seams. 

I recently completed the three day Professional Bakers Course at the School of Artisan Food which was a real awakening to the science of bakery, percentages, temperature measurements and the wonderfully slow process of proving and developing doughs. 

I have baked my own bread at home for about fivr years now, inspired by my grandfather, a grocer by trade, who baked  bread even at the grand old age of 93.  All I have ever learned has now turned completely upside down and gladly what I gleaned from my course, has opened up a big, big map, full of potential journeys in the wonderful world of baking.  At the grand age of 45, I know that even if I bake until I am 100, I will only have scratched the surface of this vast and exciting bready universe.

As my train pulls up, the doors open and on I step into my first leg of the journey, cooking the simplest of breads, a Whiter than White, a Horseshoes Wholemeal and a special of the week. This week the special bread will be Burns Night Buns, a sweet sticky bun glazed with whisky marmalade. Of course, in addition to these first breads, a sourdough mother is about to give birth, and then the chef can work her sour magic, the birth of a few bread babies to come.
I am restricted at the moment to using the restaurant’s oven, capacity six large loaves, which I can only use for a short time in the morning. My own oven is the most basic gas oven, though we will be moving house in a year, to a cottage, and the oven is my utmost priority.  I see the next year though as a practice, a series of short journeys around one continent, though my suitcase will always be bulging with hundreds of worldly ideas.

The plan is to extend my travel overseas, to take the plunge into the big wide world of baking for a living, by which time I will have done a business plan, looked into funding and gained more experience.  I dream meanwhile of a proper baker’s stone soled oven, lovely earthy wooden baskets and peels and my own soul warm and at peace, surrounded by my loaves in arms, well for a few minutes anyway, then into the mouths of one and all.

When brewer met baker

19 March 2013

If you’ve been following our work for a while, you might remember our invitation to the launch of Everards’ Project Artisan. Great Food’s Matt Wright chats to one Real Bread baker being helped by the Leicestershire-based brewery’s scheme.

Bakers out there with their own businesses, or those thinking of setting up professionally, might like to take a look at the seemingly win-win partnership formed between Birmingham’s Loaf Community Bakery and Cookery School and Everards Brewery.

Everards has provided Loaf, founded by Real Bread Campaign member Tom Baker, with a low-risk route to a bigger, fully-kitted-out bakery and cookery school with high street presence. In return, Loaf is adding value to Everards’ new property and helping the family-owned brewer achieve the goals of its exciting Project Artisan scheme.

The family-owned brewer and property owner is committed to partnering talented, up-and-coming food and drink businesses to the mutual benefit of both parties. Everards buys a property, works with the partner business to redevelop it, and then puts the tenant in the refreshed building while offering business support. It’s simple and ingenious. And when the formula is right, it pays off for both parties. It’s the sort of approach that could benefit more up-and-coming bakers.

‘Everards heard about me through the Real Bread Campaign,’ says Tom. ‘Their MD Stephen Gould called and told me he wanted to buy a property, co-develop it with me, and then give me the keys so I could run Loaf from it.’ A little suspicious, Tom said no at first but was eventually won round. He explains: ‘After thinking it through I decided to meet up with Stephen in a greasy spoon opposite what is now Loaf HQ. I told him that I really liked the idea of having a landlord that’s also a food and drink business. I also liked the reputation Everards has for nurturing its tenants and helping them to grow.’

Tom continues: ‘Everards are a family-owned business interested in making long-term gains from property investment as well as brewing. But they choose to do that in a way that enables small businesses, entreprenuers and artisans to evolve and progress at the same time. It’s a win-win for both parties.’

To find out more about Everards’ Project Artisan, email Stephen Gould: stephengould [at]

A longer version of this article appears at

Read our original announcement of Project Artisan scheme here.

Championing Real Bread on BBC2

12 February 2013

As it's been a while, Campaign coordinator Chris Young wanted to pen a post...

A Real Bread rant is what BBC 2’s Food & Drink wanted and a Real Bread rant is what they got. Great to see The Real Bread Loaf Mark on the telly, too.

At the end of last night's piece, devil’s advocate presenter William Sitwell asks 'Surely there is also room for bread that is nutritionally iffy, that's cheap, that's crappy and that's white?'

So, what do you think? Should such industrial loaves be Britain's goal? Or should more people be joining our Campaign to seek, find and share ways that everyone in the UK can get to enjoy Real Bread baked as locally as possible?

Real Bread is delicious, all-natural, represents genuine value for money and can be made by anyone from a child for pennies, to a genuine artisan local baker (like Cinnamon Square’s Paul Barker who appeared in the feature) who can elevate flour, water, yeast and salt to a thing of wonder and deserves to earn an honest crust for doing so.

Sadly, rather than this universally accessible reality of Real Bread, all of the presenters except Michel Roux Jr. seemed to cling onto a misguided concept of 'artisan bread' as some fancy schmancy 'speciality' that relies upon handfuls of seeds or other extra ingredients, is expensive and stales quickly. These things might apply to certain products advertised by some multiple retailers and other industrial loaf manufacturers seeing ‘artisan bread’ merely as a question of aesthetics, something that can be faked quickly with chemicals, and as a bandwagon that needs jumping upon, but not to what we call Real Bread.

Even Mary Berry, queen of home baking, missed the opportunity to point out that anyone can make Real Bread themselves at home for less than the cost of a factory loaf.

Am I ranting again?

Anyway, if you’re in the UK you’ll be able to watch the feature yourself while it remains on iPlayer here. It’s on from 13m 25s into the show.

Crumpet voluntary*

17 January 2013

The best way to learn many of the skills and much of the knowledge you need to run a successful Real Bread enterprise is to spend time in professional bakeries with skilled Real Bread bakers. Vicky North has been doing just that at E5 Bakehouse and last month sent us this report.

I find myself whistling across London with a tub of malt extract in my rucksack and a couple of hot loaves under my arm. It’s remarkable where donning a pinny can get you.

Eighteen months ago, a producers’ market burst into life in my home town of Cardigan. I vividly recall my first visit and keenly wanting to be a part of that creative hubbub. I began with a cake stall, progressed onto sourdough and people loved it. It may not be Parisian patisserie but I have always baked with integrity. And the bread is improving.

As an amateur microbaker – see how I search for these labels – baking is an ongoing conversation. Each bake throws up a comment, a suggestion, a question.  And it is through this that I find myself on an internship at the grooviest of bakeries, E5 Bakehouse in Hackney, east London. Lively with the song of Real Bread, conversation revolves out around the bake, the dough, the temperature, the temperament of the starters, the health of the rye.  I am in my element. 

My understanding of E5 is that it is a bakery with soul, a bakery with a very human element that inspires both those who work there and those who shop there. It is more than a production line and its growth and success is a sterling reflection of that.
By its nature, a good bake house is a place that people are drawn to – a place of warmth, creativity and companionship.  E5 has always had eager volunteers as part of the team. They have now formalised this arrangement and have given it more structure in the form of an internship, of which I am taking part. Essentially it is a six-week programme, two days a week, with dedicated components to each day.  I start on the rye, I work up to the wheat, I am always mixing and shaping. The programme will culminate in The Bake – which involves a 4am start and a big paddle.

There is nothing to compare with the experience of being on site and absorbing the impressions of a working bakery and the rhythms of the day.  One of the most practical aspects of the experience is the insight into the systems necessary to produce bread on a large scale every day.  I have been introduced to the concept of making, scaling and shaping the dough the day before the bake. The dough is then retarded in baskets overnight, ready to be fired early doors the following morning.  It is no doubt common practice amongst the professionals, but for an amateur such as me, it was a light bulb moment and an instruction in not only good bread but also good time management.

I’m three weeks into the programme.  Thus far, I’ve been mixing by hand. The spelt mix in particular is an early intern test to sort the wheat from the chaff.  I love mixing up the vast quantities of starter refreshment, whisking up to a fizz the water and flour mix, tending to a living thing, no less. The ciabatta is, quite frankly, a purely sensuous experience – oily and silky and a joy to manipulate.  My next session will involve The Big Mixer – an impressive looking, diving arm arrangement that, whilst it is a thing of Italian beauty to behold, it is fraught with temperamental issues. I am a little nervous.

You can read Vicky North's continuing Real Bread adventures at

If you run a Real Bread bakery and would like to offer voluntary placements to budding bakers click here to find details of the Campaign's scheme.

If you run your own scheme and would like us to add the details to our bakeries that offer voluntary placements page click here for details of how.

* Before anyone else asks - this is simply a pun on trumpet voluntary.

Isle of Man of Kent

Having worked at Ceres Bakery on Portobello Road in Notting Hill in the ‘seventies, Simon Rowan has found himself going back to the future.

In 2012 my nephew Miles reintroduced me to the art of naturally-leavened bread, which I now realise is what I used to do at Ceres Bakery without really knowing it!

Having worked for a year at E5 Bakehouse in Hackney, he’s just set up NOA Bakehouse in a converted carpet warehouse in Douglas on the Isle of Man. I helped a bit on the carpentry side and a bit with the baking, which was a bit of re-education for me too! While we were busy building, we had people popping in on a daily basis with comments like ‘I might even stay on this island if we're going to be able to get Real Bread!’

Miles has had a lot of support. A very nice guy called Peter, who is one of Miles’ former E5 Bakehouse colleagues, came over to help and give some useful pointers for a week. We have also met the macrobiologist manager of Laxey Glen Mills, who told us they had switched from imported to locally-grown grain. As well as supplying Miles with their lovely flour, they are very keen to support, advise and help him to produce the product he wants.

Back home here in Kent (after an in-flight exploding sourdough starter incident), I got back to experimenting with what I actually want to produce, muddling about what kind of business I want to set up. I certainly like the community bakery idea, which could be a positive addition to our village, having lost 99% of its shops over the last thirty years. Having registered as a food producer, it was then time to arrange a visit from the hygiene police…

In mid-December I took my second batch of bread, just six loaves, to the local farmshop. Although this only opens for three hours in the afternoon and they didn’t have many customers five loaves sold! Then Jerry, the farmer, said 'I read your promotion leaflet. How about I set aside an acre to grow wheat to your specification in the new year?' WOW!

I managed to buy a second hand Scandovia fridge in Maidstone and can now up my production to 24 loaves a day. I’m hoping to go back to NOA bakery soon to see how Miles is doing and learn how to make baguettes. This is just so cool. Funny how things suddenly start dropping into place after all these years. Feels like the start of something real!

Simon runs Slow Dough by Crunchbox in Kent and Miles runs NOA Bakehouse on the Isle of Man.

A Community Supported Bakery for Totnes?

17 December 2012

Tony Homfray, The Ginger Breadman, has Real Bread plans for his home Transition  Town.

I joined the Real Bread Campaign and purchased Knead to Know early in 2012, when I was thinking about retraining as a baker. My desire is simply to be making fantastic, Real Bread for as many people as possible in my local community. The book is brilliant and has inspired me to pursue this dream.

My plan for setting up a Community Supported Bakery in the next few years is in its very early stages. In September I did a one-month voluntary placement through the Campaign at Tracebridge Sourdough. This gave me a good taste of the long hours and early starts but confirmed my desire to pursue a career baking Real Bread.

I am now in the process of setting up a microbakery from my home and currently supply a couple of monthly events run by friends. I also plan to start a bread club for friends and colleagues in the near future. All of this is preparation for the next stage. Once I'm confident with the quality of the loaves I'm baking and the level of demand, I intend to start selling at a couple of local markets, eventually reducing hours in my day job so I can set up the CSB.

I live in Totnes and, with help from the Transition Town REconomy group, am planning on having a space at the ATMOS site for the CSB. At the moment I envisage it as a workers’ co-operative supplying Real Bread to people in the local area with a less money-focused outlook: free bread in exchange for doing deliveries; discounts for people on benefits; possibly running it as a not-for-profit. As well as thinking maybe the bakehouse should be built to passivhaus standards, I am also involved with a group of people who are looking at the possibility of growing/milling grain locally to increase resilience in our community.

Basically I have lots of big ideals and dreams at the moment and will be happy if half of them turn out!

Crate expectations

11 December 2012

Lucie Steel tells us about the microbakery she runs from a rather unusual venue in west Berkshire.

You’ve heard of a bread tin, well Birch Cottage Bread is a bakery in a tin: a shipping container in my back garden, to be precise.

I come from the very north of Scotland and grew up surrounded by home-baked bread, cakes, milk puddings etcetera and baking was just something you absolutely had to know how to do! I now bake yeasted and sourdough Real Breads with fantastic organic and stoneground flours. I mostly supply my local shops, a local catering company and community markets on Saturdays, although I do also supply a local artisan café on two weekdays too.

The shipping container is lined and insulated and equipped with a baker’s oven, stainless steel table, mixer, double sink and big fridge: everything my little bakery needs. Being just a few steps from my cottage door, the walk to this floury sanctuary in the garden is the shortest commute to work I have ever had! I also teach bread baking courses, which I absolutely love. The look on students’ faces when they see their Real Bread come out of the oven or break open a warm loaf at the lunch table is just brilliant. I get a real kick out of passing on the skills to make great bread at home.

I started this venture thanks to Jane Mason and her Bread Angels and I haven't looked back! I can't imagine ever getting tired of making bread as every time I bake I learn something new. There are endless recipes to explore, flours to find and customers to talk bread with. As a small baker I am constantly evolving and changing, always in search of that elusive, absolutely perfect, loaf of bread, there’s no chance of stagnating!

Unexpected consequences

29 October

When we published our Lessons in Loaf guide to help put Real Bread on the timetable of more primary schools in Britain, there is no way that we could have predicted the following story. This week’s guest blog post is from Marc Vogels in South Africa, who took inspiration from the guide when setting up his social enterprise bakery.

Together with the Stenden University and the local Rotary Club, in November 2011 I started up Silikamva Bakery in Port Alfred as a social project. Your Lessons in Loaf guide was VERY useful. Thank you for your support.

I began classes with ten unemployed people, allocated by Social Development Eastern Cape, who knew nothing about bread making. At first, it wasn’t easy. Three of them never showed up and by the time the practical lessons started there were only four left. Today, eleven months later, nobody from the first group is there anymore.

BUT… now that we have a new group of people everything is a little bit smoother and they are baking about 240 loaves a DAY. I 'm now making a plan to start the same thing in Johannesburg because there is even more poverty there than here in the Eastern Cape.

Watch Silikamva’s progress from rebuilding the bakery to making bread here.

Marc now has a copy of Knead to Know, which we trust will be even more useful to his Real Bread enterprise.

Chewing over The Big Bread Debate

3 October 2012

As outlined in my previous blog post, just over a week ago, I participated in a debate around the state of bread in Britain. I asked my fellow panellists for their views on what came out of the discussion.  Here are a few extracts from their comments... 

‘For me, the main point was that we need to get the Government to take our movement seriously and start making ground to actually get legislation to protect Real Bread. When it comes to labelling and marketing, people need to be sure that bakers and loaves are what they say they are! The word artisan for example can be used by anybody; surely this is a crime against the real deal!’
Aidan Chapman, The Phoenix Bakery

‘What was clear was the passion of the bakers on the panel, all of whom spoke eloquently about a career they were unequivocally proud of.  The audience cited the higher cost of artisan bread as a reason for not choosing to buy it.  I explained how microbiological activity in sourdough results in organic acids that lead to better shelf life for sourdough breads, which means less wastage.  The panel also urged customers to shop at small bakeries where they can ask questions from the bakers themselves about the different grains used, uses for different breads, and methods of production.

I would say that at a time where unemployment is high, small bakeries offer a means of generating satisfying local employment, keeping wealth within the community, and creating a centre point for local people to shop and meet.  But it takes that same community to wake up to the benefits of good bread, compared to supermarket pap, and to support those bakeries.  I would urge people to start baking from home and see if there is a local appetite for their products.  Attaching the genuine cost to the bread hopefully means less of it will be wasted.  There are plenty of uses for old bread, all of which make delicious dishes.  Bread and butter pudding being just one!’
Ben Mackinnon, The E5 Bakehouse

‘My point was that the key ingredient of artisan bread that is missing from factory loaves is time, which is the greatest ingredient. Historically, bakers would make dough at the end of the night with just 2oz of yeast per 70lb bag of flour and then leave it to prove. Then, only when the yeast was completely exhausted, the dough was rich in flavour and the natural enzymes of wheat had begun to break the gluten down into nice short digestible pieces, would it go into the oven.  The result was perfect digestibility and good flavour.

Industrial production uses all sorts of chemicals, including l-cysteine (which, until it was synthesised in 2001, was produced from human hair, pig bristles or chicken feathers) and vast amounts of yeast in order to be able to mix, mould and bake a loaf without 'wasting' any time to allow the dough to develop into something digestible. Is it any wonder so many people have IBS, coeliac disease, diabetes, malabsorption syndrome and other diseases of the immune system? Almost all illness starts in the gut; I believe that factory loaves disrupt its delicate ecology and creates the preconditions for disease.

All this to save a few pennies on a food that, even when made properly by artisan bakers, is already the cheapest component of our modern diet.’
Craig Sams, Judges Bakery

And the last word goes to the debate’s chair:

‘Events like the Cake & Bake Show reveal that the public are interested in baking, in bread, (and cake obviously) but we need to do more.   It was a good debate, if a little one sided. For me the way to move forward is through education. Non Chorleywood Bread Process (CBP) loaves should advertise this fact and soon the CBP will be like battery eggs or GM. While getting into schools is important, I think that young adults need support too. One particular question came from a student in the audience who she said she was about twenty. She said that her friends couldn't believe she made bread.

Above all Real Bread should not fall into the same trap that organic fell into. It shouldn't be an expensive middle class lifestyle choice: it should be a basic right. After all it's been one of the simplest things eaten by nearly all of the world for thousands of years.’
Andrew Webb, food journalist and broadcaster

Working for an honest crust at The Cake & Bake Show

26 September 2012

Though Campaign coordinator Chris young has seen Campaign ambassadors being asked to sign books and pose for photos, full-on bakermania was something he’d not experienced before. Last weekend’s Cake & Bake Show changed all that.

Maybe I’m wrong and the phenomenon to which I bore witness was merely a miasma of icing in the Earl’s Court air sending visitors on a sugar rush. Advance ticket sales, however, suggest otherwise. The entire original allocation of 20,000 was snapped up weeks ahead of the farinaceous fandango, prompting the organisers to extend Saturday opening to eleven hours in order to accommodate more visitors. I even heard a rumour that one-day tickets were being advertised on ebay for £80 each, up to eight times their face value.

I suppose that all of this should come as little surprise, what with the show falling in the midst of a thirteen week series of inadvertent adverts, AKA BBC Two’s Great British Bake Off (or GBBO for short), the stars of which were the event’s headline acts. And stars they are: living up to his surname, GBBO judge Paul Hollywood was mobbed by autograph hunters at every turn. Right by our stand, I witnessed him chased and cornered by a near-rabid, camera-wielding chap demanding ‘my wife needs a photograph with you!’ I daresay that now is the first time in her more than five decade soggy-bottom-policing* career that Paul’s fellow GBBO expert Mary Berry has needed a security escort.

Inspiring bread makers
Though ambivalent about celebrity culture, I’m pleased that Real Bread bakers with integrity and true artisan skills are gaining the recognition and status they deserve. As Campaign ambassador Aidan Chapman said when I chatted to him for our True Loaf magazine, ‘when I started out, bakers were the lowest of the low.’ Now it’s something to which people aspire. During the weekend, a woman led her fourteen year old daughter to our stand and, saying that the girl had her heart set on becoming a professional Real Bread baker, asked me for advice on the best career path.  Let’s all continue working to inspire such people, whilst making sure that Real Bread values are not forgotten in the glitz.

Even if I do say so myself (and I hope I’m not alone in thinking this), the Bakery Theatre that the Campaign encouraged the show to host, for which we proposed presenters, to which Aidan helped to rally the troops, was a success.  Against a tide of pink and polka dots, Aidan was joined in this Real Bread bastion by fellow ambassadors Tom Herbert and Richard Bertinet (both of whom have garnered their own fans to set aquiver), as well as Campaign members Phil Clayton, Duncan Glendinning, Patrick Moore and Patrick Ryan. The bready bill was completed by globetrotting doughmonger Dean Brettschneider, Paul Hollywood and GBBO winner Edd Kimber. Campaign influence was not limited to one stage, with Aidan, Richard, Paul Barker and Ben Mackinnon all running workshops elsewhere.

Flour, yeast, salt
I did hear some criticism that savoury baking was under-represented in the marketplace, with Campaign members Doves Farm Foods, Marriage’s and Wessex Mill being more or less the only stalls of interest to Real Bread bakers. Then again, as one member pointed out ‘once you’ve bought your flour, salt and yeast if you’re not doing sourdough, what else do you need? A proving basket, dough scraper and maybe tins?’ To which came the response: ‘Yeah, we don’t really do sprinkles, do we?’

Tucked away at the back of the hall was a mini Bread Street, populated by the Real Bread Campaign with the Soil Association, the National Association of Master Bakers, and Flour Power City. Being the only stand at the show selling bread, the latter had been cleaned out of almost its entire Saturday stock of 2000 loaves and other baked goodies by early afternoon.

Back in the Bakery Theatre, the climax of the whole weekend was The Big Bread Debate, which we and the Soil Association ran under the title An Honest Crust? Chaired by journalist and broadcaster Andrew Webb, keeping it real on the debate panel were Aidan Chapman, Ben Mackinnon, Patrick Moore, Green & Blacks founder Craig Sams, and me.

In the other ‘corner’ we welcomed, erm… In the interests of balance we had sent multiple invitations through different channels to Allied Bakeries, Hovis, Warburtons, Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose in the months leading up to the event. All either declined or ignored us. The Federation of Bakers, the trade body that represents the wrapped-sliced loaf industry turned us down on the grounds that they ‘don’t believe in the premise of the debate.’ In the end, it was down to a less-than-vociferous heap of factory loaves to representing the industrial baking industry. Thankfully, questions from people in the hundred-strong audience – including National Association of British and Irish Millers director Alex Waugh - helped prevent it turning into a total group hug.

The questions we discussed included:

  • Do you believe that everything that goes into a loaf should appear on the wrapper or shelf label?  
  • What hidden costs might lie behind the low till price of an industrial 'value' loaf?  
  • Should there be legal definitions for bread-related terms including 'artisan', 'craft', 'freshly-baked', 'sourdough', ‘wholegrain’ and even 'bread'?  

We plan to collect together panellists’ recollections of the debate for a future blog post. 

So, here’s a salute to the show organisers and all of the Campaign members who helped to ensure that the crustmongers’ crashing of cupcake central was more than just a token gesture.

* Non-GBBO viewers will be relieved to learn that this refers to pastry pie cases and whatnot, rather than a sideline in proctology.

Thanks to Campaign member Peter from SC Price in Ludlow, Campaign volunteer Madeleine, Malcolm from the Children’s Food Campaign, Alex from the Campaign for Better Hospital Food, and The Soil Association’s Lee and Michelle for giving up a chunk of their weekend to help me staff the stand.

Who kneads Allinson factory loaves?

19 September 2012

In light of today’s ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority on a complaint about Allinson brand loaves by the Real Bread Campaign, Chris Hackley, Professor of Marketing at Royal Holloway University of London comments on the case.

Advertisers know very well that implied meanings are powerful, even if they are not literally believed by consumers. Through the choice of font, the design and the juxtaposition of images, I would say that this ad works to create an implied association between Allied Bakeries’ modern production methods and the integrity of the Allinson brand’s Victorian origins. The picture of hands kneading dough is a particularly loud signal of this intent.

The font, colour and juxtaposition of imagery in this ad are designed to evince a Victorian era in which bread making had a special integrity. I agree that sophisticated consumers would not necessarily take this literally, but I’m also sure that the agency creative brief didn’t say ‘tell consumers a story of Victorian bread production that they won’t take literally’. Ad agency creative briefs state what the consumer must be led to believe, and also why they might believe it. It would be useful if the ASA saw the creative briefs and also the brand positioning documents so they could assess whether the intent behind the ad was to tell the consumer the history of the Allinson brand, or to create an implied association between Victorian baking integrity and the modern day factory loaves sold under the Allinson brand.    

Of course, much advertising implies far more than it states explicitly. This is where the fun, and also the power, of advertising resides. Advertising is interpreted much like art and therefore its implied meanings are beyond the scope of regulation, except where public opinion and state intervention decree otherwise. There are areas of public health in which the implied meanings of ads have indeed been subject to regulatory scrutiny, notably cigarettes, alcohol and, to some extent, car ads. There is a case, given the catastrophic consequences of processed food on British health, that this focus also be placed on food ads that deliberately imply they are more healthy than they are.

You can read full details of this case here.

Professor Hackley posted a longer article on the case on Royal Holloway University of London marketing blog and his own blog

He also explores some of these issues in his book Advertising and Promotion: An Integrated Marketing Communications Approach (Sage) 2010.

Wheat free baking at Welbeck

29 August 2012

People often contact the Campaign office to ask where to find wheat-free and gluten-free Real Bread recipes. To date, answers we have found have been limited. As such, we were intrigued when the School of Artisan Food announced a new wheat-free baking class, from which Ian Fitzpatrick sent us this report.

When I eventually found my way to the School of Artisan Food, tucked away at the back of the magnificent 15000 acre Welbeck Estate, Nottinghamshire, I was greeted by the sight of two beautiful freshly-baked loaves of Real Bread from The Welbeck Bakehouse and a huge pile of pastries, all surrounded by pots of locally made jam and slabs of cheese. Having cycled all of five-and-a-bit miles from Worksop on an uncomfortable fold-up bike in heavy rain, I was happy to oblige. Nothing better than starting a one day course with a taste of things to come.

The School of Artisan Food is another product of The Bakehouse, which shares the same building. It was while The Bakehouse was being set-up that the founders recognised a skills shortage and a training opportunity.  The School opened in late 2009 providing short courses in artisan food production ranging from baking and butchery to brewing and pickling. Since 2010, the school has offered the UK’s first and only Advanced Diploma in Baking.

Today was another first: the school’s first wheat-free baking course, taught by the hugely experienced baker, and author of How to Make Bread, Emmanuel Hadjiandreou. This course was aimed at the increasing number of people with coeliac disease or wheat intolerance, as well as those interested in non-wheat breads. It was designed to give people the skills to make their own wheat-free bread without having to rely on supermarkets and ‘free from’ processed foods.

After a quick run through of the plan for the day, we were let into the well-equipped teaching space and immediately put to work. We were going to make five different kinds of breads, three gluten-free and two wheat-free loaves. A production line was set up to speed things up and we measured out the dry ingredients for each loaf, repeating the process seven times so that each of us could make our own. First up: a gluten free loaf with twelve ingredients. That’s three kinds of flour (buckwheat, potato and rice), four kinds of seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, linseed and poppy), buckwheat flakes (to help keep the bread moist – gluten-free bread is notorious for cracking and drying out fast), molasses, salt, yeast and water.

We then made the other two gluten-free breads: 100% buckwheat (buckwheat flour, yeast, salt, water) and plain gluten-free bread (using Doves Farm gluten-free flour and salt). The fourth loaf was a 100% rye loaf with lemon zest, using a pre-ferment (or poolish) made the day before. Our final loaf was a 100% Kamut loaf. Kamut, which is actually a registered product name for a particular variety of khorasan wheat, can be considered one of the ‘ancient grains’ along with teff (used to make Ethiopian injera), and other members of the wheat family - emmer, einkorn and spelt. Kamut grains are almost double the size of  modern-day wheat and have a distinctive nutty and buttery taste.

While we waited for our loaves to prove, Emmanuel gave us a fascinating demonstration of the power of gluten. After washing out the starch from a bowl of flour, he let the remaining gluten mass sit for a few hours, then after kneading it and letting it prove, he baked it with spectacular results!

The only slight disappointment was the lack of sourdough or long-fermentation (other than the pre-fermented rye recipe) in the course. This is in part due to the difficulties of teaching a multi-day process in under eight hours. There is plenty of information around about wheat-free sourdough - rye flour is especially suited for use in a sourdough starter as it ferments easily - but not a great deal yet on gluten-free sourdoughs. Emmanuel himself explained that he did not have a great deal of experience with gluten-free breads – which are a fairly novel concept - but imagined that gluten-free recipes could easily be adapted to a sourdough approach.*

The course was superbly managed, with help from the bakery coordinator David Carter, a graduate of the School’s diploma course, and bakery technician Andy Innes. Our bodies were well-fuelled by a delicious lunch served up by the School’s own hospitality team, with Stichelton Dairy (also based on the Welbeck Estate) providing the cheese and nearby community farms providing the vegetables.

With the total UK gluten and wheat-free market worth over £130m and sales increasing by around 15% year on year, baking wheat-free breads could provide important added income to small scale community bakeries, helping to wean people off industrial ‘free from’ products (which tend not to be free from xanthan gum and long lists of other additives) and promote experimentation with unfamiliar kinds of flours.

* Andrew Whitley’s Bread Matters has a whole chapter on gluten-free baking without artificial additives.

Ian is preparing a forthcoming Sustain report and project under the working title The Children’s Future Fund, due to launch this November.

If this article took your fancy, then when not join the Real Bread Campaign and read more like it in our quarterly magazine True Loaf?

Artisan or artful? The half-baked truth of Tesco’s bakery revamp

13 August 2012

Perhaps genuine artisan bakers should be flattered at Tesco’s current attempt at cashing in on people’s love of fresh Real Bread and the happy experience of visiting a local bakery. But beneath its rustic-looking crust, is the retail behemoth’s latest marketing onslaught a genuine attempt to up its game, or merely pretty window dressing to shill a few more pounds out of unwary shoppers? Will this push help to bring Real Bread to more local communities, or take more jobs away from them? We at the Real Bread Campaign strongly suspect what’s at play is little more than what Joanna Blythman once dubbed ‘bogus “retail theatre.”’ 

According to a recent Daily Mail article, Tesco has seen a 28% increase in sales of ‘speciality breads.’  So who could blame a profit-making machine for wanting to capitalise on the fact that its customers are turning away from factory loaves towards arguably more interesting options?

Viewers of the current Tesco TV ad see hands strewing flour and working dough, before the friendly voice tells of ‘over thirty new varieties of bread available from your fresh bakery in store.’  ‘Great news’, some might think. ‘The UK’s biggest supermarket chain is creating jobs and providing comprehensive training in an ancient craft to the next generation at all of its stores,’ they might go on to muse. ‘And I get a choice of fresh Real Breads, to boot!’

But what British Baker readers now know is that the revamp will stretch to only 850 of its 2,979 shops. Worse still, eagle-eyed TV viewers might have spotted the small print admission that scratch-bakeries will only be appearing in 539 Tesco branches. In fact the vast majority - 82% - of the company’s stores, and as many as 63% of those in which it believes it is ‘creating the kind of atmosphere you’d find in an artisan bakery,’ won’t be offering the kind of jobs you find in a real artisan bakery.

Consequently, if you pop into a Tesco with an in-store ‘bakery’, whether it has been zhuzhed up with wooden shelves and chalk boards or not, these numbers prove that you are more likely to find bake-off loaves than genuinely freshly made ones. That ‘bakery’ probably won’t have created artisan bakery jobs and artisan baking skills training for people in your area: it's more likely to be trucking loaves down the motorway from many diesel-guzzling miles away, and then adding a second baking to their carbon footprints, too. But will those facts be made clear to customers at a store in which the only ‘bakers’ will be people loading part-baked products into a ‘loaf-tanning salon’ and pressing the on button? We doubt it.

As for the remaining minority of Tesco stores in which loaves will be made from scratch, will any of the bakers be true artisans with many years of experience in crafting Real Bread with nothing but natural ingredients, time and care, simultaneously passing on their knowledge and skills to eager apprentices from the local community? We don’t denigrate individual supermarket bakers, but when a company starts bandying around the phrase ’artisan bakery’, we want to be sure that it is creating both loaves and the type of job opportunities that justify using the term.

Ultimately, the Real Bread Campaign believes that people seeking more than just the ‘wonderful smell’ of freshly baking bread, instead wanting the pleasure of knowing that they are supporting the future of their high street, more local jobs per loaf for local people, and the life of their community in general as well, won’t find this in the chilly aisles of a supermarket.

An extract of this piece appeared in the 10 August issue of British Baker magazine.

For more on the issue of the word 'artisan' see our call for an Honest Crust Act.

Roti report

26 July 2012

A guest blog from the Real Bread Campaign’s man in Malaysia, Martin ‘Mustaffa’ Prior, of White Brick Oven bakery in the village of Kubu Gajah, near Kuala Lumpur.

Recently we had a group of ten home schooling mums and around twenty of their children visit the bakery. We showed them milling rye grain, mixing rye bread dough and baking in the wood fired oven. They all enjoyed a drink of cocoa and one of scones. Several of the mums are already baking either in the oven or a bread-maker and we were able to answer questions they had about the bread making process and some information on flours.

One day a week is set aside for this activity, and since these trips have gone viral on facebook, we are getting new requests everyday.

We recently had an apprentice from Singapore for a month. At 55 he is part of a government-sponsored program to retrain older Singaporeans in new careers to face their retiring years. It seems that their pensions and savings are proving insufficient. Have we heard this before? He registered in a culinary program and thought upon completion he might end up producing meals for airlines, the army or prisons in one of the large government catering organisations. By taking the initiative to come to us instead, however, I just heard that he has obtained a place in a large French-style bakery recently opened in Singapore. The lesson is? It pays to use your initiative. We wish him well he was a great help to us and a good student.

It's an exciting life we lead. On Sunday we had a retired Italian admiral over for tea and scones. He asked me if I could make michetta, a special bread  from Milan. I told him I would try. When I called him over to have look at my effort, he was quite taken aback - an Englishman who could make perfect michetta! He even checked for the hollow interior and found it. He is threatening to tell all his friends and says we will be inundated with orders.

The life of a baker!

Bread and Portas

30 May 2012

On 26 May, Local Government Minister Grant Shapps announced the first twelve towns selected to receive support to revitalise their high streets by testing recommendations in Mary Portas' High Street Review.

Bread, or products that are marketed as such, is an integral part of most of our lives, and someone in the vast majority of British households will shop for it at least once a week. It is unsurprising then that The Portas Review of the state of Britain’s high streets makes more than one reference to bakeries.

Sadly for far too many of us at present, strolling up the road to a local, independently-owned Real Bread bakery is not an option. As the review notes: ‘In 2008 the Competition Commission found that “the number of bakeries declined from around 25,000 in 1950 to around 8,000 by 2000.”’ We live in a land of Real Bread deserts: places in which there is nowhere within walking distance from which to buy a locally-baked additive-free loaf.

Let’s be clear: what many communities have lost is far more than simply a nearby supply of delicious, crusty, and genuinely fresh loaves, free from lacings of unnecessary industrial adjuncts to flour, water, yeast and salt. What they have lost are small businesses that create more jobs-per-loaf than factory production or multiple retailing do. They have lost enterprises that offer local people the opportunity to learn highly rewarding craft skills in making the Real Bread. What they have lost is a community asset: a place where, as with a library, post office or pub, friendships and community relationships are nurtured and maintained. Does a time-strapped dash through a supermarket afford this? As the review quotes Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities from 1961 as saying:

'The trust of a city street is formed over time from many, many little public sidewalk contacts. It grows out of people stopping by at the bar for a beer… comparing opinions with other customers at the bakery… Most of it is ostensibly utterly trivial, but the sum is not trivial at all. The sum of such casual, public contact at the local level…is a feeling for the public identity of people, a web of public respect and trust, and a resource in time of personal or neighbourhood need…'

Mary Portas concludes her review with the following advice:

‘Finally, I believe that in a climate where the generalists rule the roost, smaller shopkeepers should reassert their specialism. One thing most of us understand is the value of a real expert. Most of the better examples of new British retailing are guided by the hand of a specialist in one form or another. Specialist bread shops… Specialist retailers know how to express and manifest their expertise across everything they do.…I believe if you put the customer first, compete on a higher playing field and bring something genuinely different to high streets, then the customer will come and find you.’

We look forward to seeing every one of the first twelve ‘Portas Pilot’ towns supporting local independent Real Bread bakeries.

Portas Review recommendations or particular interest:

  • Establish a new “National Market Day” where budding shopkeepers can try their hand at operating a low-cost retail business
  • Make it easier for people to become market traders by removing unnecessary regulations so that anyone can trade on the high street unless there is a valid reason why not
  • Government should consider whether business rates can better support small businesses and independent retailers
  • Local authorities should use their new discretionary powers to give business rate concessions to new local businesses
  • Make business rates work for business by reviewing the use of the RPI with a view to changing the calculation to CPI
  • Town Teams should focus on making high streets accessible, attractive and safe
  • Address the restrictive aspects of the ‘Use Class’ system to make it easier to change the uses of key properties on the high street
  • Introduce a Secretary of State “exceptional sign off ” for all new out-of-town developments and require all large new developments to have an “affordable shops” quota Encourage a contract of care between landlords and their commercial tenants by promoting the leasing code and supporting the use of lease structures other than upward only rent reviews, especially for small businesses
  • Developers should make a financial contribution to ensure that the local community has a strong voice in the planning system
  • Support imaginative community use of empty properties through Community Right to Buy, Meanwhile Use and a new “Community Right to Try”

Into the Lion's Den

16 April 2012

Campaign member Steven Croft on his recent visit to spread word of The Real Bread Loaf Mark at a major food industry event.

The launch of the Real Bread Loaf Mark certainly caused the big-boys of the baking industry to show their colours this last year, with a number of spats in the public domain about the value of Real Bread. So I was a little nervous about going to FoodEx, the national exhibition of the food industry, particularly after promising to give out Campaign leaflets.  

In the event the experience was an education in the power of the market. As I drooled over mixers and ovens there was no shortage of interest in the growth of Real Bread and the growth in the artisan baking sector (there was a gorgeous two-deck two-tray reconditioned Tom Chandley oven that Mrs C just can't see the need for!). Most exhibitors were only too happy to talk about Real Bread...just so long as they thought there was a future prospect of me buying something from them.

The real economic education though was the monster-machine manufacturers. I expected them to see the Real Bread Campaign as a threat, and I expected them to be hostile. They weren't. Disappointingly I got the impression they see the Real Bread movement as something of a sideshow. I tried to talk with a man stood beside a machine that chucked bread rolls off a conveyor belt at a rate of about 15 per second, he was pleasant enough but just laughed when I offered him a leaflet. These boys are absolutely profit driven and are more concerned with the rate at which they can deliver the finished product at the lowest unit cost than the philosophy and social relevance of bread. Anathema to us lot I know.

So where does that leave our Campaign? I think it tells us that the real battle is in the hearts and minds of the public. After all they are the marketplace and will tell the big manufacturers what they want...won't they? Of course the big boys have all the marketing expertise to convince the public that their product (that's what they make...product, not bread!) is wholesome. In any case is that what we really want for the food industry to be convinced that they should make Real Bread? Or is it more that we are campaigning for more of a revolution in the whole world of food - who wants a food industry after all?

Keep up with Crofty's #realbread talk on twitter

Local Loaves for Lewes

23 March 2012

A guest blog from Lewes’ Community Chef, Robin Van Creveld.

The Lewes Bread Club has now been running for almost a year, and I’m delighted to say that it is going from strength to strength. . .  

I set up the club because I'm a bread head of the first order, well floured and proud of it! I love making bread and I love teaching it. I worked as a baker for a few years and while I’m interested in the commercial side of things, I’m far more passionate about small scale community baking in all of its colourful forms.  I know from my experience running Community Chef that bread is a highly effective tool for bringing people and communities together. Baking bread is deeply rewarding and helps people to be more confident cooks. Good bread, home baked or artisan produced is a tangible, physical everyday food and has the potential to inspire people help create a more ethical, ecological and sustainable food system.

We have run 14 Bread Club sessions which were attended by 90 people. We baked 38 different breads and the recipes will be available as an e-book later in the year. The club generated £4500 and we spent £3000 on room hire, subsidised places, ingredients, marketing, guest bakers and publicity. The £1500 surplus will be spent on bakery equipment for the Lewes Community Kitchen. 

Thank to funding from the National Lottery via Chances4Change, we will be piloting Bread Clubs in Brighton, Eastbourne, Bexhill and rural East Sussex.

The Lewes Community Kitchen will be fully operational in June and the Bread Club will continue to run from there. In addition to this, the kitchen will be offering a full programme of cookery classes and training and will be host to a small scale artisan bakery.  People who want to get more involved with the Lewes Community Kitchen, can join us for open work days in April and May to help get the kitchen up to scratch.

GM wheat? Not in my loaf!

17 January 2012

A guest blog from Eve Mitchell, co-ordinator of GM Freeze.

Real Bread has a heart of real wheat. In 2010 UK farmers grew enough wheat to cover an area 90% the size of Wales. But this spring Rothamsted Research will plant an open air trial of a new genetically modified (GM) strain of wheat in Hertfordshire. It’s a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist, and a growing number of people, organisations and businesses are saying it just isn’t worth the risk.

The wheat in the trial has had transgenic material (i.e. genetic matter from outside the species*) spliced into its structure to cause it to produce a ‘chemical alarm signal’ that aphids give out when they are attacked. Rothamsted hopes the chemical will drive aphids off the crop and attract aphid predators to the area.

The first problem is that this might not work: previous research shows that aphids may get used to the alarm and ignore it. Even if it does work, changes in aphid behaviour could have big impacts on the wider ecosystem, especially on birds and insects that eat aphids. Or it might simply drive the aphids onto neighbouring non-GM crops: a disaster for farmers working with nature to control aphids, rather than against it.

And that’s before we consider the potential consequences of GM material crossing into other organisms (as has been reported with some GM maize) or undergoing unforeseeable mutations in the future.

The fact is, encouraging natural aphid parasites and predators like ladybirds already works without the risks of GM. No other country is growing GM wheat because there is no market for it. We just don’t need it, and precious research money would be better spent elsewhere. Find out more and help us to keep GM wheat out of British food and farming now at  

Download the leaflet ‘GM wheat: What’s happening and what you can do’.

* This is different to traditional wheat breeding, in which new genetic material comes only from wheat and other cereals with which wheat can breed naturally.

Wholesome news

11 November 2011

It's always nice to have a study that reiterates what has been known for years. As reported across the media today, an Imperial College study published in the BMJ has found that for every 10g a day increase in fibre intake, there was a 10% drop in the risk of bowel cancer. Hooray for wholemeal Real Bread!

One thing - other research has found that to get the most out of wholegrain cereals, they should be fermented in the presence of lactic acid bacteria - e.g. genuine long-fermented sourdough Real Bread.

Cereal bran contains phytic acid, which inhibits the body's ability to absorb certain nutrients – e.g. it binds with calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc, making them unavailable to us. The bacteria found in sourdough cultures provide an environment favourable to the production of phytase, which breaks down the phytic acid, allowing the body to absorb more of those nutrients.

Be sure it is real sourdough, however, not a short process loaf made with commercial yeast that has just had sourdough powder added for flavour.

Ducks (and we?) need better bred bread

A letter by Chris Young that the Mail declined to print...

2 November 2011

In response to Richard Littlejohn’s somewhat hysterical rant entitled ‘Armed police! Drop the bread and step away from the duck pond', the fact is that not all loaves are created equal.

Though the Real Bread Campaign champions the many pleasures and benefits of long-fermented loaves baked from stoneground wholemeal flour, we also celebrate people’s right to choose and enjoy locally-baked white Real Bread.

When it comes to nutritional value to ducks, however, the RSPB has made it clear that factory white sliced (I single this out as sadly it’s the stuff that makes up the majority of sales in the UK, therefore most likely to be tossed to the birds) is deficient. They will stuff themselves full, leaving no space for the natural foods that would provide them the nutrition they require. Oh and no, we’re not just hearing about this now – the RSPB gave this advice at least as far back as May 2008, and the Mail ran a similar story back in October last year.

Instead of insulting the people of Manchester and Hampstead, perhaps Mr. Littlejohn’s energy might have been better spent asking ‘of how much use is white sliced to our kids?’ Despite the big manufacturers’ insistence that any loaf makes a valuable contribution to the daily diet, even the body that represents the industrial loaf business admits that eating six slices of their white sliced stuff would only contribute around 20% of the average fibre requirement for adults. As for other nutrients, much of the iron, calcium and B vitamins in a white loaf are synthetic versions added in an attempt to compensate for the nutrients stripped away by modern flour milling. A government report way back in 1981 reported that two of these – iron and thiamin were added in forms that the body probably doesn’t absorb well.

So, if you’re lucky enough to have a local independent bakery, instead of buying supermarket white sliced, this week consider picking up a delicious loaf of Real Bread for your family, and leave the ducks and fat cats to find others way to feed themselves.

Real Bread spokesman in Stocksbridge

Guest blog from Knead to Know reader Dave Foster of Stocksbridge, who describes himself as 'a keen cyclist, runner, baker and chef.'

22 July 2011

I have always baked my own bread and sought out organic or local produce.  Until April I was a manager in education increasingly demotivated by a combination of the state of public sector finances, the state of education and a declining enthusiasm for management.  The opportunity came to jump ship and it seemed to me a good opportunity to start my own business.

In my past life I had been a chef and I have always been a keen amateur caterer doing family weddings, club barbecues, dinner parties etc.  Bread making was just something I did for myself, making all my own bread since university days and always developing techniques, extending recipes etc.  I thought long and hard about what I should do in my new life and how I could combine my recreational interests to create a business opportunity.  Cooking was at the fore and cooking in other people's houses seemed the sensible way forward as I did not want to have huge outlay nor did I want to have to work a five to seven day week.  Transport wise I wanted a sustainable means of transport and cycling was the obvious choice.  That was my initial idea catering for people in their own homes travelling by bike with my batterie de cuisine towed behind.  Then I sought business advice!

It seemed that my idea was okay but on the way to the initial meeting with enterprise advisors I started to fantasise further.  What if I towed a small catering operation?  Here the idea of griddled cheese sandwiches came through.  I would cycle to running, cycling events towing a trailer carrying sourdough bread and locally produced cheese.  The trailer would be designed to transform into a catering outlet with a portable griddle serving hot griddled sandwiches.  Being a cyclist I could get to fell races, cycling events.  Competitors would finish their events and I would be there waiting to serve them.

The advice was met by raised eyebrows but a general nod that in principle it was okay.  Baking from home was not a problem and would only require minor adjustments.  So I planned my bakery.  I researched the field, read Knead to Know from cover to cover and back again.  Contacted bakers around the country, visited bakeries, sought more business advice. 

Along the way I got in touch with European bakers and even bought a Rofco oven from Belgium on the advice of Dutch bakers.  I also sought locally sourced produce and get all my flour from Worsbrough Mill in Barnsley.

I had the bakery, the web site was in the design stage and in May I started to expand my customer base initially from friends and colleagues.  The reaction was generally positive although sourdough was not a universal taste.  I adapted, changed, sought further advice, new recipes and did more taste tests.  I now have twenty regular customers, forty who buy less regularly, and I have done two country fairs and several running events.

My expansion plans are for regular farmers' markets, Christmas markets, 'pop up' events and the bicycle delivery service.  To date 60% of my delivery has been by bicycle and it is seen as integral to the service.  I also intend to return to education and provide lessons on baking to the local community.

Knead to Know  is a regular reference and reassurance book.  It provides me with advice and accounts of other bakers' experiences.  Most importantly it provides me with contacts which I have used continually.  The website further has given me information on operations throughout the world and I have just returned from Berlin where I visited a community bakery and the Soluna bakery.

I still have much to learn but it is an interesting experience and I always wanted to be my own boss and to do something enjoyable, healthy, evangelical and a little bit wacky.

Real Bread on the rise in E5

Chris Young is invited to the launch party of an east London bakery’s new home and sees the beginning of the latest chapter of a Real Bread success story.

29 June 2011

It was just eleven months ago that I visited Ben Mackinnon at the E5 Bakehouse. Having begun baking professionally since January 2010, he’d recently moved his baking operation from his kitchen, via an Italian restaurant, to a railway arch in London Fields. From there he and a part-time baker were producing around 28 loaves at a time. Campaign members can read more of Ben’s story in issue 6 of True Loaf.

So it was fantastic last night to see that less than one year later, demand for Ben’s Real Bread has grown so much that he’s had to move to larger premises a few arches along. In that time, production has swelled to around 160 loaves a day, making Real Bread available to people to many more people locally – a key aim of the Campaign. 

E5’s meteoric rise can’t have been harmed by praise for its bread from the likes of restaurant critics AA Gill and Fay Maschler in their reviews of the restaurant Brawn, and from Michelin-starred chef Michel Roux Jr on BBC 2’s Great British Food Revival.

As important as the loaves, the bakery is now providing skilled employment for six bakers, plus counter and delivery staff.  And not only is the bakery offering Real Bread and fulfilling jobs for local people, it now has a café as a place for members of the local community to meet. They are also running courses to help pass on Real Bread making skills.

Let’s hope the success of the e5 Bakehouse in such tight times provides inspiration for other people wanting to bring Real Bread to the hearts of their own local communities.

Click here for pictures.

If you have a story about the rise of a Real Bread bakery near you that you’d like to share here, please email it to realbread [@]

Melton Big Bake 2011

28 June 2011

by Chris Young

I had a great day at the Melton Mowbray Country Show on Sunday with a peel (there’s an online moot in The Real Baker-e on the subject of collective noun for Real Bread bakers and that’s my current favourite) of Campaign members.

After a night helping local baker Paul Jones stock up for the event, Vincent Talleu of The Artisan Bakery and Dilly Boase spent the day in blazing sunshine inviting visitors to have a go at making and shaping Real Bread. The popularity of this mini-masterclass resulted in an almost endless stream of mini-baguettes coming from Paul’s two wood-fired ovens.

Meanwhile, my dad (who’d come along to see first hand what I get up to these days), The Brockwell Bake's Andy Forbes (another veteran of the previous night’s baking) and I took kids and several parents back to the start of the Real Bread journey. Starting with a great display of sheaves of heritage wheats, we explained how these are threshed to free the grains. Visitors then had the chance to grind wheat using Andy and Paul’s collection of hand-turned stone mills, then bolt it through progressively finer sieves to separate out the bran, semolina and flour.

The professional baker categories of this year’s Melton Big Bake was more or less a two-horse race, with Hambleton Bakery just pipping Northfield Farm to take the most engraved bread boards back to the bakery, including the Upper Crust award for their sourdough. 

I plan to add a few snaps to the Real Bread Campaign Flickr feed but in the meantime, you can see a few at the Great Food Magazine website.

Well done to Sallie Hooper and co of Leicestershire Food Links for organising the show, which hopefully will see even more Big Bake entries from professional and homebakers in 2012.

Click here for pictures.

Kids: Junior Bake Off wants to hear from you!

26 May 2011

A guest blog from Love Productions, the makers of The Great British Bake Off.

Does your child love baking and fancy putting their skills to the test?  Can they make the most mouth-watering shortbread; are they potty about pies or simply bonkers about bread?

CBBC is looking for junior bakers aged between 9 -12 across the country to take part in the brand new Junior  Bake Off.

The series is about promoting and celebrating British home baking and we want it to demonstrate the diversity of baking in the UK today. This new and exciting series stems from the successful BBC2 show The Great British Bake Off.
Do you have or teach kids who love baking? Do you know family or friends who have children who love baking?

For an application form or more information, parents and guardians can visit:

Tel: 0207 067 4876
Twitter: @juniorbakeoff

In case you needed another excuse…

13 April 2011

This guest blog is from Christine Haigh, a food justice campaigner for the World Development Movement.

As Campaign members may have read in issue 6 of True Loaf , the banking sector, not content with causing the financial crisis and awarding themselves record-breaking bonuses while everyone else is tightening their belts, has yet another offence to answer for: pushing up the price of your daily loaf.

This is because in recent years big banks including Goldman Sachs and Barclays Capital (the investment arm of the high street bank) have lobbied governments to water down regulation of commodities markets. Since the 1930s, this regulation had prevented excessive involvement of financial institutions in the futures markets that were set up to allow farmers and buyers of food, such as millers and bakers, to protect themselves from fluctuating prices for produce such as wheat and maize.

As a result, recent years have seen the number of contracts traded on these markets increase fivefold, and food prices become increasingly volatile, hitting record highs, as in the food price crisis of 2007-08. Though other factors such as climate change and demand for biofuels are also pushing up food prices, speculation rides on the back of supply and demand fluctuations, exacerbating food price spikes.

Just last summer, following a drought in Russia that caused wildfires and damaged the wheat crop, the price of wheat skyrocketed. Yet with a bumper crop in the US, the global wheat harvest was the third highest on record – there was no shortage of wheat. The price spike was due to speculators piling into the market, anticipating a shortage and looking to make a quick buck.

While this type of profiteering is affecting people’s grocery bills around the world, the World Development Movement is particularly concerned about the impact of food speculation on the poorest people in developing countries, who typically spend 50-90 per cent of their income on food.

The good news is that the US has already passed regulation to prevent excessive speculation on food, and the European Union is bringing forward similar proposals. Even the G20 leaders are talking about the need to regulate food speculation right across the globe.

WDM is calling on the UK Government to support proposals from the European Union to regulate the commodity markets to prevent excessive speculation. The bad news is that with the UK’s historic tendency to favour “light touch” regulation, we’ve got our work cut out. We need everyone who wants to see a food system that serves people rather than profits to join the fight – you can do so now at

Christine is also a project officer on Sustain’s Children’s Food Campaign.

Bread and breakfast

2 March 2011

Guest blogger, Ike Gibson of Woodland Bed & Breakfast, with a tale to inspire hoteliers and home bakers alike…

I started baking our own bread during the bread factory strikes in about 1974, while living in Hertford.  Having been served by Real Bakers for 18 years, when they retired, one of the factory bread makers offered to continue the round as there were no other small local bakers.  A few months later the factories went on strike and I had two children, six and eight years old, with no bread in the house. So I got angry and said we'd make our own. I followed a recipe (knowing nothing about bread making) and it said "allow to rise for 1 ½ hours, knead and divide into tins. Allow another 1 ½ hours and bake".  Great - if your kitchen is at 37°C!!   Mine was at about 15°C - but knowing nothing, we followed instructions and baked three loaves, which ended up something akin to breeze blocks.   My poor wife and kids ate it grimly with me saying "not bad" when in fact it was terrible.  The second batch was much the same but on the third attempt (I’m amazing we weren't deterred) I mixed it together and Ann, my wife, was due to do the rest.  I then went to work and she went shopping.  Ann returned about five hours later and, even in our cold kitchen, the dough was climbing out of the bowl.  We've never timed a rise again – it’s risen when it’s risen!!

Of course, we've improved and experimented but we've very rarely bought any bread since then.  We make excellent loaves of several types (white, wholemeal, seedy, fruit etc.) along with fine rolls, panini, bagels, muffins, stollen, panettone and real teacakes - all of which we and all our friends enjoy.  We also make a very heavy fruit and nut loaf (the idea came from the New Farm Market in Brisbane, Australia) with about 5 lb of mixed fruit (including chopped apricots and dates) and nuts (hazels, almonds and walnuts) and only 2½ lb of white flour, plus mixed spice - delicious, especially toasted,  but far too expensive to be commercial.

After the first few goes, we've always bought our flours in 16Kg or 32Kg sacks directly from bakers or mills - much better quality than the supermarkets.  In Hertford the rise was often quite slow as the water there was very hard. When we moved to Ullapool 16 years ago, a friend here talking about bread recipes said "add a slosh of white vinegar." When I asked why, she said yeast worked best in slightly acid conditions. I knew that - I was a lecturer in the biology department of Hatfield Poly.  Although I never had cause to use yeast at work, many of my biochemical colleagues did - and  so I well knew that it was always grown at pH 6.5 - I'd just never connected yeast growing at work with bread making at home.

I now always use a 'slosh of vinegar' even though the local water is very pure and neutral, and the rising is usually pretty quick.  We've run a Bed & Breakfast for the last sixteen years and all of our guests get a fresh hot white roll and white and wholemeal toast for their breakfast (with homemade marmalade and jam), alongside home-smoked kippers and salmon.  We must be doing something right as, according to the latest edition of the Lonely Planet Guide to Britain, we serve a "memorable breakfast". In previous editions it was "arguably the best breakfast in town."

And you're right - no smell is more welcoming than freshly baked bread!

 The Mending Library

14 February 2011

Just a humble lending library, I could be so much more.
I’ll be the centre of your world if you just come through that  door.
Bring your Real Bread Campaign, your flour and sourdough
Share your gluts, exchange your seeds and help someone to grow

I am the custodian of knowledge I want you now to share
Use me for your skills exchange, swap all that you have spare

Let me help in your transition to a low-tech life
Bring your darning, knitting, yarning, bread, cheese and a knife
Show a student how to darn, learn to mend your boots
Swap recipes for local food, starting at the roots

I have the books and DVDs, the peacefulness and quiet
On the high street, not out of town. I’m not inciting riot...
Just a quiet revolution, a reclaiming of our spaces
From supermarkets and the like to people who have faces. 

Oh, let your lending library become the place to dare,
To make and mend and do and think, to cook and eat and share

Make me this year’s Valentine. I will be yours forever. 
Make me your mending library. Let’s get ourselves together.
The hardest times can bring good things and I have waited years.
Come on, baby, thrill me, fill me, with the language of ideas.

by Veronica Burke at Fried Green Tomatoes and Bread Matters

Better bred sandwiches

7 January 2011

As Bee Wilson pointed out (City of Sandwichistas, London Evening Standard, 6th January), 'to make a great sandwich you must care deeply about the provenance and quality of food.' Sad, then, that in the scramble to differentiate one lot of chilly wedges from another, attention is focussed almost exclusively on the fillings. What about the bread? In his book, Eat Britain! 101 Great British Tastes, Andrew Wheeler says: ‘The people of Britain need to be reminded that bread isn’t just something to keep your fingers dry when eating a sandwich.’ So it is great to read that London is having something of a sandwich epiphany, with more and more people who truly understand and care about real food offering consumers a growing choice of Real Bread alternatives to the additive-laden excuses that are to be found interred in the strip-lit morgues (sorry - chiller cabinets) of chemists, newsagents, petrol stations and supermarkets across the land. We believe that it's high time that purveyors of pap get real or get out of the sandwich trade.

Fare’s fair

11 June 2010

The perennial issue of the price of a loaf came to bloom in the press again recently. The Real Bread Campaign believes in an honest price for an honest loaf but that doesn't mean that all loaves of Real Bread could or should be priced the same. 

Some Real Bread bakeries do produce a number of loaves that come in at around the same price as additive-laden branded wrapped sliced or re-baked supermarket in-store bakery loaves. However, there are a multitude of variable factors that influence price differences, both between bakeries and between types of loaf in a bakery.

By its nature Real Bread does not have a uniform set of production costs that applies to everything under this banner. There is room in the market for Real Bread in almost all price brackets but using a 50p ‘value’ wrapped sliced factory loaf as a benchmark price simply is not fair.

Beyond basic economies of scale, just how is a supermarket is able to sell a wrapped sliced loaf at this sort of price?

Here are some questions that you might like to consider:

  • I might be getting a cheap loaf, but what about the baker, the miller and the cereal grower?  Are these hard-working people all getting a fair price for their work to help them feed their families?
  • Is a supermarket doing me a favour by taking a small loss to make the loaf more affordable, or is it simply making up the minor shortfall in its multi-million (or billion) profit elsewhere in my basket?
  • What corners might have been cut in terms of quality of ingredients?
  • What 'performance enhancing' additives might have been used to force the dough to be oven-ready sooner than if it had been left to ripen naturally?
  • Has anyone studied the long-term effects of a cocktail of such additives? 
  • A tomato that has been forced to ripen (well, redden, at least) using ethylene gas just doesn't have the flavour of a sun-ripened one - doesn't the same apply to 'forced' factory loaves? 
  • More importantly, an unripe tomato can contain toxins that that can irritate the gastrointestinal tract: what effects might an 'unripe' loaf have on me? 

In short, what are the true costs that could be hiding behind the price of a ‘value’ loaf and how high might our national thriftiness be driving them?

Perhaps harder to answer is the question: why do we not value our daily bread?  As a nation why are we bent on driving the price we pay at the till for a loaf down as low as possible no matter what negative effect this may have on purity, taste, quality of ingredients, the livelihoods of those who produce it or perhaps even our health?

A trail of Real Breadcrumbs

11th May 2010

Four days holed up in London’s Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre flew by in a flurry of flour as several Campaign volunteers and I (thanks again to each of you) joined millers, Real Bread bakers and hundreds more producers and passionate foodies for the Real Food Festival

Highlights of the trail of Real Breadcrumbs that we laid through the weekend included Campaign working party members Richard Bertinet and Andrew Wilkinson of Gilchesters Organics ranting on the Rude Health soapbox and the Festival Loaf taste-off, which saw festival goers voting for Give Peas a Chance by Artisan Bread Organic over loaves by Flour Power City and Campaign member Pullins Bakery.

For sustenance, Campaign working party member Tom Herbert of Hobbs House Bakery grilled his co-star of the recent BBC Four documentary In Search of the Perfect Loaf, as The Shepherd’s Loaf became toast. Meanwhile, Jim O'Brien of DeGustibus laid on his usual charm whilst talking customers through the bakery's range. 

I'm looking forward to The Real Food Festival 2011 already and in the meantime you can see holiday snaps in the Real Bread Campaign photostream on Flickr.


New adventures in sourdough


12th April 2010

Since adopting an unloved breadmaker a month or so ago, I have been determined to prove that making a loaf of Real Bread using natural leaven is possible. Other than Andrew Whitley’s bread machine recipe on this website, none I have found has even permitted fresh yeast, let alone a starter culture.   In fact, all but one has decreed ‘thou shalt use instant yeast only.’

Each time I come across a new bread machine recipe book, eagerly I turn straight to the index, look up sourdough and, if it promises one, flip to find the elusive secret.  Without exception, my hopes have been dashed.  All require you to throw in an extra raising agent and as for those recipe writers who think that an overnight sponge seeded with additive-laden instant yeast counts as sourdough starter…

Given the cycles on my model (the longest being under five hours from start to finish), making real sourdough requires a workaround (turning the machine on and off at appropriate times) to allow the sourdough colonies to build up and sufficient proving time. 

After a few abject failures, I have started to get some pretty decent results.  Olga (my rye starter of Russian extraction) and I have baked a few loaves that, whilst not yet as good as handmade sourdough, have tasted great and made pretty good toast.

Though going off menu with your bread machine might produce a brick or two and could well invalidate the guarantee, if you are prepared to take the risk, we’d love to hear how you get on with your own genuine breadmaker sourdough.

You can read the notes from my more successful experiments here.

Chris Young

Crumb together*


Second in the batch of two blogs by Chris Young from his stint at Fifteen London.

I’m a tea drinker but having managed only a few hours’ sleep during the day, the coffee Kenny passed me as I arrived for Saturday’s night shift was unusually welcome. 

As we began to set up, Kenny and I chatted about his plans for Fifteen London’s bakery.  Until last year, the restaurant had bought their bread in.  It was having seen – and tasted - what Kenny was up to with the apprentices at Fifteen Cornwall, that London executive head chef, Andrew Parkinson, realised what he was missing. 

Though being prised away from his beloved daily surf was a wrench, Kenny’s enthusiasm for the opportunity he now has is infectious.  Reeling off the specials planned for the rest of the year, the field trips he’s working on for his team, the ideas he has for linking in with other local organisations and bakers around the city, Kenny rarely pauses for breath.  In all of this, what really seemed to excite him the most was that, of the three sections in which Fifteen’s apprentices can choose to specialise, so many of this year’s intake had picked bakery. “They’re a good bunch of kids and it’s gonna be great, man.  You should come back.”

Overnight (well, day) I’d forgotten half of what I’d been shown but Kenny and Stu weren’t fazed, they just showed me again and repeated that over time, things would start to stick.  Even now on just my second shift, this was the case with moulding and shaping the muffins, which had begun to feel familiar and comfortable actions.

Though adeptness at coaxing the traditional form and crumb structure out of unbelievably slack ciabatta dough is some way off for me, slathering and massaging ladles of rosemary oil into acres of focaccia was effortlessly therapeutic.

As it looked like time and oven space would not be as tight as the previous night, Kenny decided there’d be chance for Salvo and I to try our hands at an enriched bread.  Working from a basic flour, milk, egg, sugar and butter dough recipe, Kenny gave Salvo and I suggestions for fillings and forms, then told us to get stuck in.  The resulting pecan and cinnamon buns from Salvo and my walnut and cardamom loaf looked and smelled amazing.

Though my days in professional kitchens – which I must stress didn’t amount to much more than holiday jobs on pot wash – are behind me, after two days at Fifteen, I cannot help but envy the apprentices who’ll be getting the opportunity of Kenny and Stewart’s demystifying grounding in traditional craft baking.

You can see photos from Chris’s mini-apprenticeship on Fifteen London's Facebook page. 

*for more of these dreadful (breadful?) puns, see our silly loaf songs top 10.


Ciabatt-outta hell*

8th February 2010

In the first of a two-part blog, Chris Young of the Real Bread Campaign reports on his weekend on the night shift at Fifteen London, getting a glimpse at the training in bread making skills on offer to the restaurant’s apprentices.

"Here, Chris – get yer nose into this.”
“Squeeze that.”
“Feel how this is gassing up already.”

Within minutes of arriving on the last Tube to Old Street for the first night of my mini-apprenticeship at Fifteen London, head baker Kenny Rankin had me smelling and touching everything.

Though it’s been over a decade since I’d been anywhere near a restaurant kitchen, it was all very familiar.  After a wade through the health and safety bible and a grand tour of the fire exits, I was back in the twilight world where Joy Division blares out from a battered stereo and non-stop ribbing between the crew belies mutual reliance and respect.

“I want you to get yer hands on as many of these breads tonight as you can,” said Kenny.  He threw me two lumps of white dough that, assuming I didn’t mess things up, were destined to become muffin-like oven bottom cakes.  Along with his right hand man, Stewart Bowen, Kenny then showed Salvo Licciardello - who was joining us from the front of house team to learn about the bakery - and I how to shape both at once.

The purpose of repeated prodding became apparent immediately upon feeling the difference between the original shapeless lump of dough and one of the glossy, taught spheres we’d created.

“People don’t realise how clever their hands are but after not long of doing that over and over again, you won’t have to think about it because they’ll remember for you.”

For now, the window in which Kenny and Stewart have to bake is very short. For example, after dinner service on this particular Friday, it was after midnight before the chefs had cleared enough of the kitchen to allow the bakers to start mixing up. From then, the four of us had only until around six thirty to make from scratch all of the loaves, flatbreads and pancakes for both the restaurant and trattoria; on most nights, the bakers work as a pair or even solo. 

Despite the time-pressure and unpredictable kitchen temperatures that required constant re-jigging of their to-do list, Kenny and Stewart remained fully-focussed on their two apprentices.  They showed us the different handling required by the each of Fifteen’s range of Italian and English breads, giving Salvo and I continual reassurance that we were on the right track. 

As dawn passed, I became aware that I was losing focus and asking the same questions more than once but Kenny simply demonstrated again. “I don’t hold with this idea that the only way you can teach someone to be a good chef is by yelling and calling them a t**t, “he explained.  “Treat people with respect and they’re more likely to put their heart into it.” 

By the time the breakfast chefs arrived to begin their prep, we’d produced eighteen loaves of ciabatta, enough for a few hundred portions each of two different focaccias, a mountain of piadinas, dozens of breakfast muffins, four triple-sized white bloomers, half a dozen or so barm breads and sticky malt loaves, plus a bucket of pancake batter for good measure.  And that’s not to mention mixing up the bigas and overnight sponges that would give the next day’s loaves their characteristic depth of flavour, refreshing sourdough starters and recycling leftover loaf ends as the breadcrumb coating for arancini.

I collapsed into bed at nine a.m. exhausted but looking forward to night two.

Come back for part two next week. You can see some of Chris's photos from his mini-apprenticeship on Fifteen London's Facebook page. 


The bakerer's apprentice

29th January 2009

Time to roll up my sleeves: I’m going baking.

To help celebrate the official announcement of their first in-house Real Bread baker, Kenny Rankin, Fifteen London has invited me to spend next Thursday and Friday nights alongside him in their bakery.

As part of the campaign’s work towards developing an officially accredited Real Bread training scheme, this is a brilliant opportunity for me to get a taste of one of the country’s best-known existing apprenticeship schemes for myself.

Fittingly, my ciabatta-filled stint alongside Kenny and Fifteen’s real apprentices falls in National Apprenticeship Week 1 - 5 February.

I’ll be sharing my experience in this here blog, so keep an eye out


Real Bread Campaign: The Real Bread Campaign finds and shares ways to make bread better for us, better for our communities and better for the planet. Whether your interest is local food, community-focussed small enterprises, honest labelling, therapeutic baking, or simply tasty toast, everyone is invited to become a Campaign supporter.

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