The Magic Number - 18th July 2019
I’m not sure when my pig-barn bakery was built, but I’m sure it’s pretty old. And old, means history, happenings and ghostly-goings on, right? Well, that’s what Shirl and I believed a few weeks ago…
It all started on a particularly busy “shaping” day, when we’d been preparing sourdough loaves to be readied for baking the following morning, to take to Hitchin Farmers Market. We’d returned back to the bakery after a well-earned pint and scampi-and-chip lunch from our second home (The Red Lion) to find not one, but TWO number 44’s written in the flour on one of my stainless-steel benches!
“Did you do that??” I asked Shirley. “No,” she replied, looking equally flummoxed as myself. We stared at each other for a moment open-mouthed, thinking how on earth could this have happened. “I’m going to take a picture!” I exclaimed, so I whipped my phone out and took a couple of shots. We carried on with the job in hand and eventually put the bizarre event to the back of our minds.
What followed over the coming weeks was even more peculiar. The number 44 kept cropping up in a variety of incidences. We’d count how many loaves that we had sold at a market: 44. At another larger market, we’d count how many loaves were left to sell: 44. We’d work out what was left owing on a customer’s account: £44. It truly seemed that all our answers eerily ended up, as 44.
I wracked my brains last night to think of a witty ending to this update but nothing has emerged. Having stayed up to watch another confusing episode of Killing Eve, I gave myself an extra 15 minutes on my alarm and spookily, it landed on 4.44. I woke earlier than this (as is usual) and got into the van and started the engine. The clock showed 4.44am exactly. I think it’s going to take the skills of Scooby-‘Dough’ and the gang, to ‘’prove’ that this mystery is just a ‘batch’ of coincidences.
Sing it again, Frank! - 9th May, 2019
People often tell me, “you need to get some help,” in response to watching the gaping hole in my face as I throw my head back for my second hearty yawn in less than a minute. “I know, I know,” I chortle back with a smile. I suppose I could get help with the easy stuff, like sweeping, or greasing tins or delivery driving - and maybe even help with selling on my market stall. This might well afford me to put in some much-needed ‘zeds’ action in the bedroom, but in terms of affording paid staff, well, I’d have to ramp up production for that and this is where the term business expansion frightens the bejeesus out of me. Besides, being full frontal with my customers is one of the joys that I have, for what I do. Apart from the odd annoyance of a request for a Tiger loaf, I get to metaphorically ‘break-bread’ with interesting people on a regular basis, about their dietary habits, the weather, holidays and of course, about how bloomin’ good my loaves are.
So for the time being at least, I will keep calm and carry on, forever poised for the odd extra crumb of business that materialises and to keep my sanity, I shall continue to ‘Dough’ it My Way.
Go Nuts for Real Bread - 13th March 2019
Expanding my little business hasn’t been an easy ride so far. My mornings have got earlier and my daytime naps more necessary to sustain a growing list of orders. One of them is with an online veg & fruit box company, delivering across 3 counties. They now also offer my large sourdough loaves to some of their customers and so far, the feedback has been very positive, yet I continue to be on the edge of my seat each week to see if the orders go up, putting more pressure on my working day. Recently, they had a complaint from a customer that their loaf was missed from their delivery, as it wasn’t in the box when they returned home that day. “Yep, we definitely dropped it off,” said Terrie, the vexed lady who runs the delivery service. Concluding that it must have been pilfered by some local bread-loving oik, the customer decided to check the CCTV. It transpired that a brawny, self-assured little brown squirrel climbed up onto the box and whipped it away for his lunch. Who knew a small mammal could heave more than its own bodyweight in baked goods! I draw great comfort to learn that even squirrels go nuts for my Real Bread.
Say It With Flours - 17th January 2019
Up until November, my Real Bread bakery was at one end of a converted pig barn, with Jim the mechanic in the middle, and Darren the Chef at the other. For the last 3 years, I’d been envious of the chef as his was a large one; his unit was 3 times the size of mine! So when he moved out, I moved in. As well as a sizeable working space, there was a smaller room which I designated as a storeroom. My rent increased 3-fold, so I needed to make savings. I was upgraded from ‘domestic’ to ‘trade customer’ by my flour supplier, which gave me a greater discount and I submitted my first bulk order via email using new product codes. Imagine my delight, when 2 days later, a big truck arrived and a nice chap off-loaded a huge pallet of flour sacks - 500 kilos to be exact. Excitedly, I waved him off and then together with my friend Gordon (a retired train-driver and now keen home baker) we set about carrying the heavy sacks into my store room. I happened to notice that the code on the sacks were different to usual; then a hot sensation began to crawl through every fibre of my stressed body; I realised that my first order (about 8 weeks supply) was a pallet load of cake flour instead of bread flour! It rumbled through my mind how on earth a baker who only bakes bread, was going to ‘up her game’ and introduce cakes to her repertoire overnight???!
Thankfully, the mill who supplies my flour were very understanding and the very next day, their friendly rep visited in a black transit van, which was fully loaded with replacement sacks of the correct flour. After such a scary experience, I’d happily say that this was the best bunch of flours I’d ever received.
Unwise Words- Thursday, 27th September 2018
Maybe it’s just that I am approaching that womanly ‘age’ or maybe it’s because I get so tired, but sometimes there are questions that can really tip me over the edge. “Do you do Gluten Free?” is one of my all-time favourites. “Have you got any rolls?” is another, particularly when I’m surrounded by about 150 loaves of 15 or so other bread varieties. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against rolls, but as I specialise in Sourdough and have an extremely limited working area, the line has to be drawn somewhere. The latest gem, happened at one of my smaller markets, where a senior lady approached my stall and enquired about my loaves. “How long will they last?” she said. “They were all baked this morning”, I told her, “so they should last a week in the bread bin.“
“Hmm,” she said. “I’ll leave it for now.”
Next time, I shall hire a trailer and bring my ½ tonne twin deck oven to the market, so that they can be freshly baked…
Happy Sourdough September!! (Yes, it’s a real thing, time to go out and support your local independent baker and choose Real Sourdough over supermarket Sourfaux!).
Live Loaf To The Full - 17th August 2018
I’ve just celebrated 7 years of running my little bakery business. It’s not been easy and never more so than a couple of weeks back, when a huge rock crashed into the wheels of my apple cart and I found myself incapacitated, owing to a recurring back injury. Letting my customers down in the 2 weeks before my annual holiday was unthinkable, so instead, help came in the form of Shirley’s little boy Callum; a not so petit 6ft 1 of of him meant that I was able to keep going. Ironically, we are currently staying in a village in France that has recently suffered the worst floods in 50 years; all of the local businesses have been affected and are closed, but the Boulangerie is one of few that has re-opened.
Their baguettes are staggeringly good and I intend to use my best French to interrogate the Boulanger for his hints and tips and maybe a little lesson ‘a la baguette’ before returning to the UK.
It just goes to show, that even with injures and acts of god, you cannot keep a good baker down.
Our Little Friend - 19th July, 2018
Once a month, I make an obscene amount of sourdough loaves for Hitchin Farmers Market. Shirl and I turn up bleary eyed at an ungodly hour and set about arranging the different varieties of loaves on the stall. After the obligatory bacon baguette from the market caff (their bacon, my baguette) we stand back and wait for the gentle drip feed of shoppers to roll up. I have such lovely customers, many of which are now regulars and some who we have come to know through cheery chatter, if not by name and status – (We have top BBC man who buys my Spelt Loaves!). There is one chap who rocks up every month whom we call our little friend. In the beginning, he used to eye up our “samples” with scepticism and try and buy part loaves instead of the ones that were actually for sale. Nowadays, we confidently exchange ‘good morning’s as he still continues to scrutinise and squint at my wares. “What’s this one,?” he questions, pointing at a small brown loaf. Following explanations, he then points to a focaccia with olives [fock-at-cha] and says, “and this one?” Seemingly satisfied with our explanation, he departs, telling us that he will have a think about it and will come back later. And sure enough about an hour or so later when our stocks are running low, he returns to buy the same loaf as he did the month before; and the month before that and the month before that. There’s nowt so queer as folk.
Oven Spring - 22nd June, 2018
My bakery is a converted piggery, in a quiet area at the rear of a farm, approximately 7-10 minutes’ drive through some narrow lanes, which are blessed with stunning views of the countryside, dazzling sunsets and fiery sunrises. It has to be one of thee best commutes, particularly in early spring mornings, when the only other road users are startled groups of Does and Bucks crossing from one field to another, randy rabbits, fleeing this way and that, as they scatter from my van wheels and flirty frogs, making their way in huge numbers in the damp rain, trying to reach the puddles and ponds so they can safeguard the survival of their species. Returning to the bakery from a farmer’s market with Shirley last week, we noticed an unfamiliar BMW parked yards from my door. At first, it appeared to be empty, but then on further inspection we noted that a couple of windows were partly open and we could see some movement in the rear of the vehicle. I think I must have made a loud mutter to Shirley, along the lines of, “Oh, I am glad they are enjoying a nice afternoon out!” It wasn’t long after, that the car departed and we saw both occupants looking very shame faced as they had to pass us in the lane whilst we walked to the pub. Obviously, the annual spring re-awakening of the animal kingdom in my little corner of the countryside is not just limited to our amphibious and furry friends...
Mini - Update (Mupdate) - 5th June, 2018
Morning Chris and shouty Si; apologies no decent Bakery update this week as, like you, I had a week away for half term, followed by birthday celebrations (mine on Sunday) and today (Tuesday) is my son’s 10th birthday, so I’ve got a bit of party planning to do. His name is Bruce, he loves playing his electric guitar and has a good bash at the drums when I know that SG’s (Shirley's) husband Tom isn’t working nights and sleeping during the day. Anyway, I’d love it if you could play Seven Nation Army by the White Stripes for him; I’ll play it on catch up for him when I get back from the bakery this morning around 7.15. He’d be made up, Thank you.
Don’t Fence Me In - 25th May, 2018
With the help of my trusty neighbour Shirley (affectionally called Shirl Girl), I can treble my loaves to take to Hitchin Farmers Market at the end of each month. She helps with the washing-up, tidying and general passing-me-stuff so that I can achieve my goal in relative sanity and consciousness. Along the way, there is chat and banter – and I’m often able to manipulate tasks so that we can factor in a cheeky pint at the local pub. Last month, as it was warm, we had both the exterior and interior doors open and had installed my third temporary “fly” door on two hinges in the middle, to keep out beasties. Having reached a pause in proceedings, beer o’clock was calling, courtesy of The Red Lion pub. In a moment of experimental foolishness, both the inner and outer doors were pushed shut with the fly screen still in the middle whilst locking up. Unfortunately, SG was outside and I was locked inside, unable to turn the door handle. After a considerable panic, which lasted all of 9 seconds, I was able to remove my key from it’s keyring and kick it under the 3 doors for SG to open. As the sun and fresh air licked my face, my rescuer greeted me in fits laughter and our walk to the pub was all the more jolly and our need for beer all the more deserved.
Wrong made Right - 17th May, 2018
Chris, I struggle enormously for space in my little bakery. When preparing for a large bake, rising dough needs to be slow so that I can juggle the use of my one and only fixed table, where I weigh, mix, shape, prove and get loaves ready for the oven. I have one fridge that can hold about 70 kilos of dough, or about 55 shaped loaves. Recently, I’ve discovered that squeezing in a folding table onto what remains of my limited floorspace allows me to lay out more free-form loaves to prove up in the cooler overnight temperature. Only - it isn’t that cool overnight anymore as we trot towards summer. On Saturday morning, despite getting up super early (2am) I found that my roasted garlic & herb loaves had over-proved and were decidedly floppy.
Rather than just shove them in the oven and ignore the fact that they’d turn out as flat (but very tasty) torpedoes, I decided to fold them over into thirds and hope for the best, which was the right thing to do.
Thankfully, I had managed to create some delicious ciabatta and avert potential disaster with a batch of…. Chia-flatter.... and my customers were none the wiser.
Initiation - 26th April, 2018
Hi Chris! Thanks for letting me be your baking correspondent, what an honour, I shall try not to let you down like the previous incumbent (No hard feelings Luke) and hope that I have fulfilled the brief - mundane and with a punchline. Do I also get a quirky theme tune, like Pete the Market trader? -[I have his old one!]
I am often forced in to doing a little ‘pirouette’ on my market stall for the odd mis-informed customer to prove that eating real bread doesn’t make you put on excessive weight, to be rebuked by ripostes of, “oh, it must be all the kneading that you do in the bakery that keeps you trim.”
Although my little bakery is small, I can turn out between 200 and 400 loaves a week – most of which are kneaded by my mixing machine and not by my own hands.
If I have to go through this conversation again at Hitchin market this weekend, I shall simply tell them,
“A friend who kneads, is a friend indeed.” And leave it at that.