A Real Baker

Azélia  wants to know why I say I’m not a real baker? One of my talents is annoying people – I don’t have to try, it just comes naturally. I think there is a lot of bullshit talked about baking and particularly sourdough baking and I have a habit of saying so.

Where can you by good bread? In this country, I really don’t know. A few years ago I did a rapid tour of the recommended bakers in London and bought samples. I was seriously unimpressed. Now the Real Bread Campaign has a map with dozens of pins stuck in it leaving you just a click away from Real Bread. Do you believe that?

In France, which is the only other country I know fairly well, there are your Eric Kayers, Poujerons, etc., that come into the celebrity class, who are extremely good especially if you live in Paris and are pretty well-heeled. I know of a couple of excellent exceptions but, given France’s reputation, they have more to answer for than British bakers. At least 90% of France’s bread is rubbish.

In France they have thousands of individual bakeries most of which use frozen or chilled doughs or premixes. They cover the area that factory bread producers fill in this country. It just looks prettier.

I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the remaining “craft” bakers in this country because in the main they don’t make good bread and they have no imagination when it comes to surviving in changing economic circumstances. They want to do it the way it has always been done. Except they put up a new sign over the door saying “Artisan Baker” and have a display two thirds of which is taken up with iced buns.

And then – look at this:

A few years back, I developed this bread which had very particular characteristics. Most breads are variations of other breads, but this one had an unusual ingredient combination that I hadn’t come across before. I very foolishly described the method in some detail on a popular bread forum because I have always enjoyed sharing ideas with other bakers assuming they have a basic grasp of right and wrong. Some months later I discovered that one of these respected “craft” bakers had entered this bread in a competition and had won £5000 + the chance of a supermarket contract.

When I challenged him he admitted he should have told me what he was doing (not asked). When pushed he turned a bit nasty. He said he was a good man, contributing to his community and keeping people in employment. Unlike me, real bakers had shops in the town square and had overheads like business rates to pay.

I got the message. I bake two days a week in a domestic kitchen in a small terraced house – not even a deck oven.

I am very grateful not to be a real baker. The bread’s not too bad though.

Categories: Uncategorized

6 thoughts on “A Real Baker

  1. This is a bit of a downer, Mick. Doesn’t seem like you think anyone is baking anything worthy of buying.
    Perhaps you need to do your tour again – you might be pleasantly surprised.

    A

    1. Hey Andrew

      I wasn’t talking about you! And there are loads of bakers I haven’t tried (including you for that matter!). But all my experience leads me to think I’ll be disappointed in the main and only occasionally pleasantly surprised. Do you believe that under the majority of those pins on the Real Bread Campaign map you’ll find bread worthy of a journey?

      I will make it over to Crich some time, honest.

      1. I think there’ll be more than there were, Mick. I hear about more businesses like mine opening up all the time.

        Phew that you weren’t talking bout us – was worried!

        Just about to take on more space for production so that we can produce even more ‘real bread’. Exciting times.

        A

  2. I love the post, Mick – mostly I love it because it shows how we tend to wear our hearts on our sleeve – and it certainly opens what is one of the downsides of humanity – but, if I may, let me dig a little and suggest that there are some positives to be uncovered here as well. First is that universally, none of us are coming up with our new ideas out of the empty recesses of our own minds – those ideas are the result of ‘inspiration’ that we’ve come across here or there along our experiential life journey. As a student, I always had trouble with the concept of ‘plagiarism’ because how the hell does anyone write something that was not inspired by someone else? And then, there’s the concept of ‘adaption’, which I often fall back on myself in my bread baking, to sooth my conscience in an attempt to convince myself that ‘Yes, this bread is my idea!’. Yeah, I guess I’d admit you had a good argument if in fact this guy used your unchanged formula to win the prize – then I’d think he owed you a share of the prize and an attribution.

    As an old guy now, I’ve walked down the road far enough to know that if you lived your life trying to do the right thing, you’ve learned by now that more often than not -maybe even always- doing the right thing is its own reward. There is a ton of benefit in self-satisfaction! And you sleep well too.

  3. Do you know Mick this is the first time I’ve read this post tonight and only because I was trying to find an old post of yours around Christmas time..then to see my name jump out at me took me by surprise! I don’t even remember asking the question but then I do tend to have one of those brains..attention span of a flee…or maybe it’s having 3 kids that does it..either way not good!

    I went to Paris last week in seek of good bread..it was a nice day out and enjoyed the company of someone who’s religious about sourdough using ancient grains…as far as finding inspirational bread..well..still looking…but it doesn’t mean there wasn’t good bread amongst it…it’s just that baking at home with a love for producing that loaf in the most perfect way possible to you can never I think quite compete to something produced in a bakery…well most of the time anyway!

    Pain des amis was a loaf I was eager to try in Paris, when I did the crumb was dull but the crust was special, quite unusual to anything I’ve tasted before.

    What Jean-Philippe drove to me that day was the quality of the flour and I think he’s right…I saw and tasted breads well made but if the flour and the miller used is just so-so then there’s a limit to the end result, that’s the view I’m coming round to.

    1. Hi Azelia
      With a few exceptions I’m always disappointed with professionally produced bread.
      I’m with you on flour though – I just wish I had the time to experiment with different flours to see how to develop more interesting flavours.

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