Do you want to make the perfect loaf of bread?
PUBLISHED: 13:46 15 August 2016 | UPDATED: 15:45 15 August 2016
Have you taken the plunge and attempted to bake bread for your family at home? Or perhaps you are one of the many who seek out artisan bakers who use methods and ingredients which haven’t changed for decades – all in the pursuit for the perfect loaf? Steph Mackentyre gets to grips with all you kneed to know about dough.
C Humphrey & Sons
Nigel Broom has been a baker for 40 years. His father was a carpenter but due to the building industry being on a three day week when Nigel finished school, he found he had to take a City & Guilds in Catering. Much of his work throughout his career has been with commercial bakeries, but six months ago he was given the opportunity to realise a dream.
‘Paul Humphries is the owner here at C Humphrey & Sons near Chelmsford and he knew I was doing night work as a wholesale baker,’ explains Nigel. ‘I told him I could make all his pies by hand if I worked for him, plus open up a bakery. I made him a pie a week for six weeks and at the end of it I don’t think he could refuse me the job.’
Instead of working continual nights, Nigel now gets up at 4am and makes the dough. While it’s proving (no artificial improvers here) he sets to work hand crafting the meat and fruit pies. ‘At the moment we sell bread here on a Friday and Saturday and we also make all of our own meat and fruit pies, which includes cooking all of the individual fillings. Our most popular pie is our chicken, leek and ham, closely followed by steak and ale. When I started here six months ago, we used to buy in the sausage rolls and we’d sell around 12 a week. Now we are making our own with the meat from the farm and its increased sales to 100 a week. We also sell around 200 pies each week. I also make all of our pasties, apple turnovers and of course the breads in most of the traditional shapes, as well as French baguettes and cheese-topped rolls. It’s all begun from scratch, whether its pastry, pie fillings or bread dough.’
All that work made me wonder how many Nigel is in charge of in his kitchen. ‘I’m on my own, there’s just me! It’s absolutely brilliant. I like the challenge of it all and it’s something new. Plus it’s the first time I’ve been my own boss.’
Mayfield Farm Bakery
Nick Anderson has baking in his DNA and is a fourth generation, artisan baker. ‘I bake the way my family has always baked — just local, traditional, baking. The good thing is today people want to know what’s in their food and they also want to know how to make it. We have pictures of my dad, granddad and great granddad on the walls of the bakery here and all were traditional bakers.’
The family were also ground-breakers when it came to bread. ‘We were one of the first bakeries in London to have electric machinery. We have a picture taken of the shop from 1912, just before World War I.’ Nick remembers growing up with his father as a baker. ‘We were always keeping quiet because dad was in bed and holidays were few and far between.’
Initially Nick carved a new path for his career. ‘I was always interested in cooking but in those days only girls did Domestic Science. So dad would take me to London every Friday night so I could work in the bakery there, greasing tins, making teas and frying the doughnuts. At the time I was only 10 years old. I was really interested in cooking. So I went to work in the hotel industry in Guernsey. Dad had opened up four shops in Harlow and a manufacturing plant. He found he couldn’t get bakers to come into the industry, so I reluctantly went to work for him, just on a temporary basis. However, I stayed for 18 years then left to set up my own business.’
In 2005 Nick was invited to help develop a bakery at a watermill. After overseeing the project he decided to stay on and bake the bread too. ‘I went to Redbourne Mill and set up the bakery and project managed getting the mill back up and running. However, I live in Sawbridgeworth and it was a bit of a trek, so I went to Old Harlow and set up a small unit there. Initially the idea was to work just Friday, Saturday and Sunday. However, the sales from the bread increased so much that we moved into more of the cow sheds here and now we are open all week and my wife Jane helps me.’
Nick also teaches the art of bread making with regular courses held most Mondays. ‘Our bakery is very open. You can come in to buy bread and see us baking and talk to the baker. We also teach on Mondays as we have a bakery school open to anybody. We like to bust all the myths on baking bread and make it fun.’
Delightful Tea Bake School
If you’re bitten by the baking bug but you want to learn all aspects of baking, the Delightful Tea Bake School might be just what you need. It opened in November 2013 and for owner Sarah Plumb there have been a lot of new developments, including new courses, new tutors and investment in lots of new equipment to enhance classes.
‘Our next step is to introduce another new tutor specialising in cake design and hopefully to increase the size of our premises to allow us to further extend our scope for new courses and also for the events and hen parties we host.’
People come from all walks of life with very different skill sets, explains Sarah. ‘Since the launch we’ve taught many hundreds of students with a range of different baking, cake decorating and patisserie skills. It’s just been amazing. While we still offer some of our original courses, including our very popular bread making introductory class Real Bread: For Beginners, we’ve added to our range as well as reworking some of our older titles to make them even better for our clients. New this year is a class covering French-style croissants and pain au chocolat. We also host pork pie making classes, a macaron class and we also have new cake decorating topics like our Swiss meringue buttercream course.’
One of the school’s popular bread making classes is Italian Bread Making. ‘It covers pizza, focaccia and ciabatta,’ adds Sarah. ‘In addition, we have a further five courses spanning a range of topics including French breads, bagels and pretzels, plus real doughnuts. We are one of very few schools which offer doughnut making as a fully hands-on session rather than demonstration-based, which has meant this course has been in high demand. We try to make our classes the perfect mix of high quality tuition and learning combined with fun, which appeals to first-timers and returning students alike.’