Product Development

Bet you’ve often wondered about the rigorous scientific process we go through in designing a new bread.

Phone rings just as I’m opening a bottle of wine. Shall I answer it? Naaaah. Probably just Laithewaites again asking for Mrs Wilson. My latest reply is, she’s in rehab.

Little later think, I wonder if someone’s died? Switch on the messages. “This is a message for Mick. I wanted to order some bread. I’m organising a yoga weekend near you ….”. Aaaaaaagh!!!

There’s this place a couple of valleys away where people go for non-religious retreats, Wicca ceremonies and generally to soak up the celtic myth. They live in neo-neolithic huts which I always imagine to be damp, cold and muddy underfoot, and they get told stories that go on for days The proprietor owes us £4.50.

Every six months or so someone organising an event there phones us up with a list of their demands usually the day before they arrive. They want a variety of breads which always include spelt, gluten free, wheat free, vegan. They start to get less enthusiastic when they discover the time it takes to make sourdough, that I’m not certified organic, that I don’t do gluten free and finally enter a state of disbelief when they hear my eco-vibe is so green I don’t possess an internal-combustion-engined vehicle and that therefore I don’t deliver.

As I never tire of saying, the two most corrosive elements of modern life (after royalty and celebrity of course) are sport and religion, and yoga’s a sort of mix of both, isn’t it? Anyway, against my better judgement I return the call and find myself talking to a very pleasant and seemingly normal person called Charlotte. She’s giving me plenty of notice and isn’t concerned by my organic status – she just wants to buy some good bread and is quite happy to collect. This is going a bit too well.

Turns out they’re not staying in Druidland but at a well-appointed centre the other side of the valley. Judging by the website they might even have central heating.

Over the next few days we negotiate a bread order. The last loaf to finalise is a fruit bread. I suggest Currant & Cassis. Charlotte would prefer something with dates or maybe raisins, preferably dairy free – and then it starts to emerge that some of the group are vegan and a couple have peanut allergies. I knew it – bloody hippies! Immediately issue a disclaimer stating our bread cannot be regarded as allergen free.

This is where the subtleties of bread design start to emerge. First, I think, I have some dates in stock, but when I weigh them there’s not enough so I make up the difference with sultanas which I also have in store. Then I remember a carton of soya milk in the cupboard left over from the last time we had a vegan student and still well within the use-by date. Soya milk is nearly as good as spelt as a sales point with a certain class of customer (i.e. bloody hippies).

The soya milk puts me in mind of D Lepard’s Soya & Golden Linseed. The flour combination here, 73% Strong White/13.5% Rye/13.5% Oats, would be good with the fruit so I plunder the formula. The oats go into the dough as a soaker with an equal weight of boiling water. The proportion of fruit is taken from my Fig & Walnut Wholemeal recipe at 60% (dates 45%, sultanas 15% because that’s what I had). Honey at 10% from my sweet Brioche recipes. Starter 28.5% because 25-30% is about average in my breads.
yr ocar 001 smallI tell you what, it was absolutely delicious. The only adjustment I had to make was to double the soaker water because of the absorption capacity of the oats.

Charlotte and her mother, Jenny, turned up on the dot of the time we had arranged for collection. They were quite charming people and, you know, almost normal. A bit healthy looking but not everyone’s had the hard life I have ….

The place they were staying is called Yr Ocar so we couldn’t resist naming the bread Off Yr Ocar Loaf.

Last night I received an email from Charlotte which included “Not only did your bread go down a treat but the new off yer rocker loaf had not a crumb left! it’s a keeper!” What more can you say?

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