Tag Archives: sourdough

Bread Hero, The Better Health Bakery #realbread

18 Jul

The Better Health Bakery

Community Workshop at The Better Health Bakery
(Photo credit cc the Real Bread Campaign)

 Bex Clarke opens the door of east London Campaign member The Better Health Bakery, at which she volunteers.

Tucked away behind Kingsland Road, just around the corner from Haggerston station in Hackney, is the Better Health Bakery. Taking up most of the ground floor of an unassuming industrial building, the bakery has now been going for about six months, with a focus on traditional handmade artisan bread made using all organic ingredients and a sourdough levain. Many of the loaves are left to prove slowly in the fridge overnight for around fourteen hours, and then baked early in the morning.

Dough to be different

What sets this bakery apart is that it is run by the Centre for Better Health, a charity that has been working in Hackney and its surrounding boroughs for over fifty years. The charity provides support for adults who have suffered from mental distress, helping them find or regain their place in the local community. Over the last three years, it has put its energy and expertise into three key services: low-cost counselling; a training and employment social enterprise; and a community hub offering courses and workshops that range from literacy to yoga.

Social enterprise

In 2010 the Centre began to explore using the social enterprise model to enable people living with various mental health issues to gain on the job training. This involves giving trainees opportunities to learn new skills, build confidence and engage in team working, helping them move closer to employment. Ashwin Matthews, the Centre’s director, said ‘We wanted to shift away from simply running a sheltered employment workshop to a model that built individuals’ confidence, employability skills and provided a genuine path to further training or employment. We were also keen to develop a real business that had the potential to sustain itself financially.’

The first such project set up by the Centre involves trainees making products for the healthcare industry, offering them the chance to learn the whole manufacturing process. While looking for a secondary enterprise to build on this, Ashwin found the inspiration locally. He explains, ‘I saw Ben from E5 Bakehouse cycling around one day and just stopped him at the side of the road. The making of Real Bread was something that seemed to tick all the boxes, both as a project to support recovery and as a commercial activity. The skills and therapeutic process of making long fermented, quality bread, as well as the satisfaction in selling that bread to people in the local community, captured our imagination. It’s from that conversation that we are where we are today.’

The Swedish Chef

A key member of the team is head baker, Robert Agren, who hails from Sweden. Formerly a chef and originally coming to the UK to study graphic design in central London, he was soon tempted back into the kitchen. It was while working his way up through the kitchen ranks to become a chef that he discovered the wonders of Real Bread baking from a fellow chef who knew how to work with wet doughs to produce satisfying sourdoughs and ciabattas.* When not at work, he carried on experimenting with sourdough at home, supplying a local supper club. He also started volunteering two days a week at the aforementioned E5 Bakehouse, which eventually led to a job there.

Robert’s plan had been to set up some kind of bakery himself in east London but when he heard about the Better Health Bakery project, he approached the Centre to offer to set it up and lead the bakery team. ‘I have always been interested in community projects and the idea of sharing knowledge with others, so this was an opportunity for me to explore this further. It is great to see what the art of bread making can do for society,’ he said.

100% Rye Sourdough (Photo credit cc the Real Bread Campaign)

100% Rye Sourdough
(Photo credit cc the Real Bread Campaign)

Yeast tenders

At the moment around three trainees can be found in the bakery on any given day, each on a placement of one to four days a week for three to six months. On top of baking skills, they benefit from ongoing training in health and safety, first aid, numeracy, literacy and IT skills, all designed to help open up routes for them into employment, catering or further training. More than this, making Real Bread from scratch is a labour intensive and therapeutic process. It’s a true craft and skill that the trainees can get involved in. Seeing wild yeast, flour, salt and water turn into a physical loaf is rewarding, a little magical and it gives people a sense of achievement.

To monitor trainees’ progress and ensure each receives support tailored to his or her own needs, the charity uses a tool called Work Star. This is incorporated into a framework for one-to-one sessions, where trainees can assess their own journeys and progress from the start of the placement. It provides the basis for each trainee to identify key areas he or she would like to work towards and set goals in relation to these. Work Star focuses on seven core areas, which range from job-specific skills to stability. The self-assessment dynamic of Work Star is crucial so that the trainees can see their own progression, build confidence, self-belief and ambition.

Getting better all the time

The Better Health Bakery’s Real Bread is proving popular, particularly the Country Sourdough, Country Rye Sourdough, and the baguettes made with a mix of sourdough levain and a yeasted poolish. Loaves are already available from Stoke Newington farmers’ market, supermarket antidote Unpackaged, and a range of local cafés, pubs and restaurants.

The Centre has a very holistic approach at its heart, looking at mental health from a social perspective. In May this year the bakery opened its doors so local people can now drop by for their daily loaf, coffee or sourdough sarnie. As Ashwin says, ‘Hackney has so much happening right now, but often the people we work with are not part of that buzz. Being able to open our doors and invite our neighbours into the bakery offers our trainees a chance to be included in it.’

Though relatively new, already some of the trainees are really keen to learn more about baking pastries and cakes, with which the bakery is currently experimenting. There is also talk of having a weekly pizza day, where they can learn how to make pizza and enjoy a shared lunch. Now the bakery is open to the public, it will give the trainees more opportunity to learn skills in a range of roles such as customer service, food preparation and barista training.

As Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote, ‘there is not a thing that is more positive than bread.’

betterhealthbakery.wordpress.com  @BakeryHealth

* I’m not going to get into a debate as to whether the plural of ciabatta should in fact be ciabatte…though you’re welcome to do so in The Real Baker-e [ed.]

**This article originally appeared in the Real Bread Campaign members’ magazine True Loaf. Find out more and join at realbreadcampaign.org**


Satisfied Dough

26 Mar

Baking with sourdough is never going to be an instant hit, it’s a learning process that once you get, you’ll be addicted to the charm and character of your dough and that final loaf.

When I first started my loaves were disappointingly flat and pretty heavy, they are now well risen, lighter and have a delightful open crumb. From what I can gather, this is a combination of how active the starter is, the temperature and time allowed for the bulk fermentation, the flour and shaping of the dough, so basically all the key steps of baking with a wild yeast. I also haven’t bought a loaf of bread since June 2012!

Bonita wheat starter, 50% white, 50% wholemeal

Bonita wheat starter, 50% white, 50% wholemeal

At the moment my first winning loaf is a Pain au Levain recipe with a hydration of 68% (the percentage of water to flour) adapted from Andrew Whitley’s Bread Matters made with a rye leaven. Just under half the dough is made from the leaven so it is quite sour and a cold bulk fermentation is used for three/four days at the bottom of the fridge with a turn twice a day. The rest of the flour is white stoneground organic, so the result is nutty and reasonably light, perfect for spring, wherever it has gone to.

I still have a way to go on shaping, which can only be improved by more practice. This recipe is great as you don’t need to be around all the time, just early in the morning and in the evening. The bread will also keep well for a week, if you don’t munch it first. I normally freeze the second one for later in the week or give it to a friend.

Day two fold

Day two fold

SCHEDULE for two medium sizes loaves

Day one

1. Feed the starter in the morning to make her super active – equal amounts of cold tap water and flour mix (I keep Bonita in the fridge these days and feed her once every fourth day).

2. Mix 100g starter with 300g light rye flour and 600g water that evening and leave out overnight in a large bowl with a kitchen towel covering it (it needs at least 12 hours to do its thing).

Day two

3. The leaven should be bubbling away. Mix 700g of the leaven with the final ingredients – 850g white wheat flour, 24g sea salt, 230g water. Compost any leftover leaven or make pancakes.

4. Knead the dough without adding any extra flour, for around 12 minutes until it’s smoother and satiny.

5. Shape into a round and oil a large bowl and place the dough in the bowl covered well with a clean plastic bag so the dough cannot dry out.

6. In the evening press the dough out flat and shape firmly into a round and place back in the fridge covered as before.

Day three or four

7. In the morning repeat the above process and again in the early evening if possible,  so this is done at least four times.

8. In the evening remove the dough from the fridge to warm up, about two hours depending on your kitchen then divide the dough into two, shape, dust in rye flour and place in proving baskets or a large sieve lined with a cotton kitchen towel or linen cloth.  Leave to prove until the dough comes back slowly when poked with your fingertip, between 2-3 hours.

9. Preheat the oven half an hour before baking (220 c) with a baking stone or metal tray on the bottom of the oven.

10. Gently turn out your first loaf onto a well floured wooden board and slash, spray with water and put the loaf onto the stone or tray. After 25 minutes move to the top shelf for another 10 minutes for a browner crust. Leave to cool and enjoy that first mighty slice. Repeat with the second piece of dough.

Three day Pain au Levain style sourdough

Three day Pain au Levain style sourdough

Pain au Levain style sourdough

Pain au Levain style sourdough

The second loaf is more of a 24 hour loaf with a hydration of 65% which you’ll need to be around the whole day on and off, from Daniel Stevens River Cottage Handbook, a fabulous book as an introduction to baking. I gave my sister the book for her birthday a couple of weeks ago and a bread kit. She’s been baking her way through the book with uni friends queuing up for tastings.

This recipe uses less starter than the first loaves and has a less sour taste as the bulk fermentation is done over four hours, a much shorter time, but it’s still a great loaf for a weekend treat, as it’s 100% white flour. It’s pretty much the same process as the first loaves, but done over a shorter time with a warm bulk fermentation. What’s your experience of baking with wild yeast?

24 hour white sourdough

24 hour white sourdough

Bonita Applebum, you got it going on #sourdough #realbread

21 Sep

Bonita on her first day

I’ve been playing with sourdough since making my starter at the beginning of June. She’s called Bonita Applebum inspired by the hip-hop classic from A Tribe Called Quest’s debut album – People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. It’s all part of the nurturing and feeding process, giving her a name, you respect her and she respects you, well that’s the plan.

Bonita was started by mixing half strong white flour and half strong whole wheat flour with an equal amount of lukewarm water. She was then hand mixed to get the consistency of thick double cream with no lumps! She was then left in a cool, shaded part of my kitchen with a clean tea towel covering her for three days. Bonita was now bubbling away happily, in other words she was fermenting and ripe like a strong cheese, ready for her first feeding.

To feed her, around 80% of the wild culture is discarded (You can make sourdough pancakes with this) and replaced with equal amounts of lukewarm water and the flour blend mentioned above. I then fed Bonita every day at roughly the same time, the morning is a good time for me. I could see the balance of the yeast and bacteria establishing themselves with the rise and fall of Bonita. She also had a very distinctive aroma, sharply acidic and then sweet just after the feeding.

Bonita Leaven!

Bonita Leaven!

My first sourdough bake was three weeks later when Bonita was rising and falling in a predictable pattern. I now keep her in the fridge with a loose lid and feed her every fourth day and get her out two days before I’m planning to bake!

My first ever county sourdough loaf!

My first ever country sourdough loaf!

Just an important note about the type of flour I have been using – it’s organic, stoneground, unbleached, strong bread flour from Doves and Marriage’s in Essex. This is to ensure my bread is full of nutrients, often lost during roller milling and the spraying of pesticides, environmentally friendly and unadulterated unlike most of the bread consumed in Britain today.

My current sourdough bible which was recommended by a friend of mine is the distinguished  Tartine by Chad Robertson. The sourdough country bread illustrated recipe is about twenty six pages long, but don’t let that put you off, there are lots of other recipes which I’ve yet to try!  Although, real bread does take time, so don’t rush it. If you’d like to experiment I’m very happy to share Bonita.

My second attempt

My second attempt

As you can see my loaves have come out rather flat, although with a decent crumb, I’m working on getting a better structure and final rise. The below loaf is a country rye, with twenty percent of the flour being a light rye flour. It was delicious but also a bit flat and not the best shape. Today I’m trying out Chad’s baguette recipe which uses part sourdough leaven and some dried active yeast with a mix of plain white flour and strong white flour.

A light rye sourdough

A light rye sourdough

Find out more about the rise of Real Bread here and find your nearest source with the postcode finder.

**A starter is a mix of flour and water in which natural yeasts and bacteria grow to produce a bubbly mixture that is regularly fed with more flour and water**

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