Brook Farm Bakery – The world is in need of great Bakers.

bread, WyeDean Deli Confidential, bakery, bakers, sourdough, David Broadbent Photography,
bread, WyeDean Deli Confidential, bakery, bakers, sourdough, David Broadbent Photography,
Spelt sourdough. Brook Farm fabulous artisan sourdough bakery, Brockweir.

It’s 4.30 in the morning and the awakening Wye Valley dawn is a promising start to the otherwise wettest May on record. The air is fresh with the scent of dewy grassland and the fresh green leaves of late Spring. As I rumble along the sinuous farm track toward Brook Farm Bakery, baker Paul Grover is there in the gloaming to welcome me to his small batch sourdough bakery. His nascent baking corporation is based entirely within the small family kitchen! Don’t be fooled. This new baking HQ belies his recent start in the supply of bread to the local community. From small acorns…… Paul maybe new to commercial baking but this is no table top affair. Great food producers, and this is truly great sourdough bread, are marked out by their subject expertise, passion and pride. There’s the impressive small batch oven. The bakery organisation, the cold proving fridges, timers, alarms and his strict adherence to his pre-planned schedule, scribbled just about everywhere. All of this says “serious”, serious about producing the highest quality sourdough and serious about breadmaking. Like all great producers, he is also a well-read student of his own discipline.

bread, WyeDean Deli Confidential, bakery, bakers, sourdough, David Broadbent Photography,

The tables have turned on this former lecturer in architecture as he now discovers the thrill of learning new skills and developing his craft at the hands of inspiring mentors. All of this is based in, possibly, the most idyllic bakery you have ever seen in your life.

bread, WyeDean Deli Confidential, bakery, bakers, sourdough, David Broadbent Photography,

Paul see’s himself baking a couple of days a week to serve his stockists at Cowshill Farm, The Pantry at St Briavels and Brockweir Village shop. His Bread Club customers choose delivery (within 5 miles of the bakery) for a pound or collect at the bakery door. The rationale being that’s how he wants to do it and, in any case, properly made sourdough will last all week.

There is a recurring myth in business. It’s called growth. Economists, traders and politicians are obsessed by it for wholly different reasons which basically all boil down to the same thing – money. But if you believe that business can be sustainable whilst supplying a living wage – what is wrong with that? After all, “Baker” – one of the oldest of trades imaginable. One of the exclusive group of trades that gave rise to British surname dynasties. No one in ancient Britain was called Baker until someone made a bigger oven and began allowing local working people to use them.

bread, WyeDean Deli Confidential, bakery, bakers, sourdough, David Broadbent Photography,

It’s really refreshing to hear someone say, and mean it, this is it. This is as big as it’s ever going to be. A couple of bakes a week and that’s all she wrote. It’s sustainable business with a long pedigree.

Some time ago, I noticed in the Pantry village shop in St Briavels a rice sticker on a loaf of sourdough from an unfamiliar brand. I took my loaf home and tasted it. I knew instantly that I needed to meet the person who had made it. I’m a massive fan of proper bread and sourdough in particular. Brook Farm Bakery make proper sourdough bread, earthy and solid and verging on a bakers deep-bake colour with a great taste and texture.

bread, WyeDean Deli Confidential, bakery, bakers, sourdough, David Broadbent Photography,
Brook Farm fabulous artisan sourdough bakery, Brockweir.

Great bread, and in my humble opinion, and this is great bread, is made by people that set out to do just that. Paul is both student and master of his craft. Brook Farm Bakery’s range includes, farmhouse, spelt, seeded and olive sourdough recipes all of which taste as good as they look.

Starting this type of business is always exciting and scary in equal measure. You know you can make it, you’ve made it in a Dutch oven in your kitchen and your friends raved about. They implored you to scale it up and make it for other people. You know it tastes good because you like it. But one loaf at a time is never going to feed the five thousand. Now there is a leap. A leap to scaling up (not in this case in the conveyor belt sense of the term) and now comes the inner self doubt. Is it that good? Am I that good? Will people buy it? What if they don’t like it? What if someone finds out I’m not a proper baker? If I’m wrong, we can’t eat 12 loaves a day.

bread, WyeDean Deli Confidential, bakery, bakers, sourdough, David Broadbent Photography,
Seeded sourdough.

Very seldom do humans first ask “what if it all goes right?”. What if it all goes right, I convert the kitchen into a mini bakery, mortgage an oven, get up at four and try not to wake the family, make bread and people like it? It’s true we need to stay grounded and logical but we still need to dream. We still need to, having though it through, get on with it.

rofco, bread, WyeDean Deli Confidential, bakery, bakers, sourdough, David Broadbent Photography,
Brook Farm fabulous artisan sourdough bakery, Brockweir.

We briefly breath the valley dawn again as Paul steps outside with four perfectly rounded rustic spelt loaves. Set on a wire rack the misting honey sprayed over the wholemeal spelt sourdough scents the early morning dew point and sweetens the smell of dawn.

Inside the kitchen, there are no vats of unruly starter, just carefully measured, small amounts of chemistry, flour and water mixed and set aside for the next batch. Just enough and just in time. Enough starter for the mix with some left over for a new starter. Any left over after that is made into a batch of Pennant millstone shaped and coloured table crackers. And repeat.

bread, WyeDean Deli Confidential, bakery, bakers, sourdough, David Broadbent Photography,

For every wheatgerm of idea, there is a right time. A time to do. Do you do this thing you have dreamt of or do you choose caution and spend the rest of your life wondering what if…? Who knows? May be the pandemic has been a catalyst to all sorts of things starting and ending. Sometimes there isn’t an answer, it just is. Maybe Paul, supported by his family, this was just the right time. I’m glad that Brook Farm Bakery’s time has come. If you haven’t tried it yet, do so and you will be very glad their time has come too.

bread, WyeDean Deli Confidential, bakery, bakers, sourdough, David Broadbent Photography,
Paul the baker, Brook Farm.

You were right. You have been found out Paul Grover. People have found out that you are the sourdough making real deal so good luck with keeping the baking to a few days a week.

 

Stuff

Brook Farm, Merricks Lane, Brockweir. NP16 7GD 07841 903036

https://www.brookfarmbakery.com/

https://www.instagram.com/brookfarmbaker/

Abergavenny Bakery Goodies

The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny, David Broadbent Photography, bakery, bread, baking, artisan, Cross Street,

We talk sourdough and all things bakery with the innovative bakery team at The Angel Bakery in Abergavenny. Unbelievably good!

Exactly one week ago I was sitting in the middle of the A40 roundabout in my stricken Landrover, holding up the juggernauts of the morning rush hour on the A40 roundabout just outside Abergavenny. Sitting helplessly waiting for a recovery vehicle when I should have been talking sourdough with the staff at The Angel Bakery, Abergavenny.

No panic though, my meeting With Jo at The Angel Hotel to see their new bakery has been temporarily put on hold and I’m thinking that today could have gone better – good coffee, the smell of fresh bread and pastries enchanting my sense of smell. Sadly, that will now have to wait for another day. So with time on my hands until the breakdown gets here it occurred to me just how well some of our local DeanWye towns and villages are doing. We’ve written before (The Pantry) about the effect that home working may be having on our previously “dormitory” villages and towns. In fact, a little like Brexit, our towns and villages seem to be bucking the UK trend of the last 30 years against all the predictions of the naysayers.

The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny, David Broadbent Photography, bakery, bread, baking, artisan, Cross Street,
The Angel Bakery, Abergavenny.

Abergavenny is a case in point. Vibrant, lively and with a significant proportion of independent shops (new rates assessments permitting)  as well as well-known high street brands – the town is faring better than some of its neighbours.  The Angel Hotel on the towns Cross Street is a particular beacon of this new found hope for our high streets. Stylish and trendy with well trained staff to ensure attention to detail and a top quality service, the hotel is working hard to offer visitors a quality experience in this great Welsh market town. All in all there are good reasons for confidence to be up! And so in this optimistic mood, The Angel has furthered its already impressive and ambitious plans and gone and opened a bakery across the street!

And now one week to the day since my breakdown (car), I’m standing in the bakery early morning amidst all of the buzzing, but focussed activity of the 5 staff. Baguettes and sourdoughs are already out, croissant (breakfast with an espresso) and pain au chocolat are on the counter together with, a very sexy looking, rhubarb Danish. In the clean spacious bakery engine room behind the tall plate glass which fronts onto the narrow street, dough is emerging after its 36 hour incubation to fulfil its destiny and be turned into flavourful, bread and buns with taste and great texture. My baguette (eaten at lunchtime back in the office) was crisp and strong with beautiful real bread flavour. A long bake made for a nice crispy crust, perhaps not one for the denture wearers, and the result of having had a decent amount of time to prove properly was a light open texture inside. These little cavities now swallowed more mayonnaise than is probably good for me, lashed to my cheese and tomato filling – wow, fantastic.

The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny, David Broadbent Photography, bakery, bread, baking, artisan, Cross Street,
The Angel Bakery, Abergavenny.

In the old days of the Tour de France cyclists used to slice a baguette and hollow out the centre so that it could hold even more nutritious carb fillings for the long cycle ahead. At the Angel Bakery that light airy centre is fantastic so you’ll want to keep it in and just stuff everything else in as best you can.

The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny, David Broadbent Photography, bakery, bread, baking, artisan, Cross Street,
Sophie. The Angel Bakery, Abergavenny.

The bakery opened officially on 23rd December and so now, a couple of months in, and the principal bakers Sophie and Polly, have the place running like a sewing machine. It’s well equipped with the latest bakery apparatus but the work is still all about traditional hand crafting. The two ladies met whilst working at the well-known London artisan bakery, The Little Bread Pedlar. This Bermondsey based bakery tucked into several railway arches has developed an enviable reputation and you can see the DNA of the Pedlar here in the work of the two ladies at the heart of The Angel bakery. Traditional methods and proper proving, deep bakes that are all about flavour, texture and crumb all done with style and innovation.

The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny, David Broadbent Photography, bakery, bread, baking, artisan, Cross Street,
Rhubarb Danish. The Angel Bakery, Abergavenny.

The results are all good. And the sourdoughs are amazingly so. A good bake really brings out their natural nutty flavour and again the texture is fab, nice crusty outside and soft, firm inside with an open texture to capture a good spreading of butter or mayo. Sourdoughs are great family loaves. They taste great, obviously, but they also keep well and make the most amazing toasted soldiers for soft boiled eggs. We also tried the fig and walnut sourdough – triumph! Nutty sourdough flavour again combined with crunchy walnuts pieces and figgy goodness throughout with every now and again a little motherlode pocket of sweet hit of fig. Really, really tasty.

The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny, David Broadbent Photography, bakery, bread, baking, artisan, Cross Street,
Fabulous Sourdough. The Angel Bakery, Abergavenny.

The steampunk coffee machine with its enormous lever handles makes great stealth espresso using home roasted coffee without uttering a sound, unless the steam jet is activated. There are a few seats in the modest customer area which, really nicely, has a view into the bakery too, so you can see the magic unfold.

The Angel Bakery with Sophie and Polly at the helm will go from strength to strength. They have a great base to work from and the quality of what’s on offer is impressive. Even if you don’t live in Abergavenny, it’s worth going to the bakery for the croissants alone!

The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny, David Broadbent Photography, bakery, bread, baking, artisan, Cross Street,
C’est Magnifique. The Angel Bakery, Abergavenny.

Web: http://www.angelabergavenny.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lovetheangel/?hc_ref=SEARCH

Twitter: @LovetheAngel https://twitter.com/lovetheangel?lang=en-gb

 

Longhope Bakes – classic, traditional and super tasty.

 

Preparing for a spring trip to Rome, I was chatting to an Italian friend within a larger group of friends. Someone asked Rosella how to ask for gluten free bread in Italian. Rosella cast a doubtful eye in his direction and, when pressed as to the availability of gluten free in Italy, she thought for a moment and then said “I think that you can get gluten free flour in some pharmacies in the cities and big towns”. Low and behold though, during our visit, some of the shops in Rome’s tourism areas were advertising “gluten free” varieties of well-known Italian staples. Why is it, it occurred to me, that as the demand for gluten free bread and other similar products seems to be inexorably on the rise here, it is a rare product you need a prescription for in Italy?

Traditionally made bread from the Forest Bakehouse at Longhope.
Traditionally made bread from the Forest Bakehouse at Longhope.

This certainly isn’t a mystery to Sue of The Forest Bakehouse team. This small co-operative bakery, based in modest premises tucked away in the pretty Longhope village centre, produces outstandingly good “proper” bread. During a lovely morning interviewing Sue and Chris, another member of the team, Sue discussed the co-ops passion for producing a real quality bakery range. Turns out that many of the problems digesting wheat and flour some people seem to suffer from may just be a consequence of how it’s made!

Traditionally made bread from the Forest Bakehouse at Longhope.
Traditionally made bread from the Forest Bakehouse at Longhope.

Modern bread, especially the arch criminal sliced white, takes a fraction of the time a traditional and experienced baker takes to produce a loaf. The bread that makes up the volume of that on offer in our supermarkets is made in vast bread production lines where it goes from cheap raw ingredients to sliced and bagged in just a matter of hours. No doubt this is a profitable business based on volumes alone. But in part consumer demand for ever cheaper stuff is also to blame. Take a supermarket sliced white value loaf at the royal price of 40 pence (link below – worth looking at the ingredients list too to see how many you recognise). Just what is it that we think we are getting for our hard earned 40 pence when a traditionally made loaf costs around £2?

Traditionally made bread from the Forest Bakehouse at Longhope.
Traditionally made bread from the Forest Bakehouse at Longhope.

Modern large scale bread is made in super quick time with bulk bought ingredients, which need flavour and texture additives to make them palatable. And there is the problem – that speed of production and super-charged fermentation misses a very necessary opportunity. That opportunity is time to allow the process to change and soften the effects of the gluten. Time in fermentation breaks down those things we may have trouble digesting and gives our system a fighting chance. Luckily for us that time spent resting and proving also adds bags more flavour and character to the bread. There’s more of the science on the subject on their website, but the taste and quality is something that the crew at The Forest Bakehouse are really proud of.

 

The bakery is a community supported and part funded project, but don’t think that this is anything other than a successful business. It’s just one operated on a different model. Sue and Chris, we have already mentioned, but Ciaran and Peter complete the co-operative, although not there on the day we visited. The workload is shared between the members and they have now taken on an apprentice too! Sue, was candid when asked about working as a co-operative, “we have learnt a lot, in the beginning we thought that it meant we all had to agree on everything! As we developed, we split the tasks into responsibilities and we each get on with our fair share of running and working in the business. It really works”. The community aspect of the project also means a great deal to the team who see the business as giving something back to the community investors who helped them get going in the first place.

Traditionally made bread from the Forest Bakehouse at Longhope.
Traditionally made bread from the Forest Bakehouse at Longhope.

That’s the business stuff over with – let’s talk about the taste! I tried their sourdough at the “See, Taste, Buy” event in the spring and was already hooked. The prospect of it straight from the Longhope ovens was just too tempting, and so that was the first target for tasting! The Bakehouse product range is really rather good for a smallish bakery. Alongside their sourdoughs, there are rustic looking farmhouse breads, savoury breads, their Latchen (soft white yeasted bread approximately 250 light years from supermarket sliced white), baguettes and ciabattas.

Traditionally made bread from the Forest Bakehouse at Longhope.
Traditionally made bread from the Forest Bakehouse at Longhope.

The small café in one corner of the Bakehouse next to the entrance serves croissants and cookies, pizza slices and the most fantastic sausage rolls all made right there on the premises (also available from the Dean Forest Food Hub pick up points). If you don’t believe us, call in for a cup of tea or coffee and watch it coming out of the oven!

Traditionally made bread from the Forest Bakehouse at Longhope.
Traditionally made bread from the Forest Bakehouse at Longhope.

My money is on proper bread every time.

Whats in a 40p sliced white http://www.tesco.com/groceries/product/details/?id=258742688

The Forest Bakehouse     www.forestbakehouse.co.uk     Longhope village 01452 830435