Flours and Factories – A visit to Shipton Mill

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(Above: A box of different grains, Shipton Mill lorries and grain stores, flumes in the mill).

I started my bakery career not as a baker at all, but as a product and industrial designer. As a designer, I took a great deal of joy (don't laugh) in industrial processes - in having things produced and the tidiness of production lines. During my masters I started to look into how food, our most important product, is mass manufactured and was totally horrified by it all, but at the same time also sort of amazed at our ability to stop people from starving through using industrial processes. I remember thinking, of the mass production of food that grew more prevalent post WW2, ‘OK, so pumping your food with loads of E-numbers and other substances isn't great, but was also the antidote to feed a starving, rationed nation. Things have moved on since then, money being more of a motivator for mass production than hunger and what goes into processed food remains a contentious issue. Nowadays, I don’t deal in mass anymore - I work as an artisan, using small scale, handmade production techniques to make bread, rooting mainly for the little guy, the independent maker and the batch producer – but I am still totally fascinated, albeit suspicious of big production. So when my bakery colleagues suggested a visit to our flour supplier, Shipton Mill to look at their roller mill, my ex industrial designer brain got quite excited.

We gathered at the bakery early one morning and drove out of the city into the rolling, flowery Cotswaldian hills until we reached an ambling canal close to Tetbury. There has been a mill at Shipton Moyne Wood since the 1300s and today this older site produces flour using traditional stone grinding methods. Milling is an old thing you see, one of the oldest types of food processing and definitely one of the first forms of production – taking one thing (grain) and using clever hands and clever tools to turn it into something else (flour). We, however, were on the newer site of the roller mill – a process that is more suitable for mass production and, therefore, for feeding more mouths. Though it was a Sunday and the canal boats were sauntering down the water lazily, the noise of the machines hummed away behind the huge lorries full of grain and the corrugated factory façades, always at work. We spent a couple of hours at the mill, lead through each level, peering into every heaving room with all its industrious machines that would have been at home in some kind of 1960s’ film about space exploration, each of them working away to store the grain, inspect the grain, separate, sort and sieve the grain until some of it was nothing more than fine, white dust.

The aim of milling is to turn the three different parts of grain - the bran, the germ and the endosperm – into something we can bake with and eat. The bran and the germ are the ‘brown bits’ which very often end up as a bi-product of milling but contain lots of fibre, fatty acids, proteins, B-vitamins and minerals. The endosperm is the largest part of the seed, the ‘white bit’, containing most of the carbohydrates and some vitamins, proteins and minerals. The whiter the flour, therefore, the more endosperm it contains and also the less nutritious it is, but it isn’t as bad as everyone thinks, providing its made by a miller with integrity who doesn’t strip it of all its goodness (some millers will bleach their white flours, for example). The process of milling looks enormously complicated. But actually, when you break it down, all the roller mill does is roll and separate the bran, germ and endosperm, essentially sieving them each down to powder. The biggest sieve, or mesh, is at the top of the process - think of a cylindrical colander with extra large holes and then, as the grain moves downwards through each level of the factory, it moves through finer and finer meshes to turn it into smaller and smaller particles. Simples really. Different strains and different parts of the flour are then remixed and used for different products – the finest, whitest concoctions might be used for something like Italian 00 flour or French flour; robust brown flours with more flecks of bran and germ are used for wholesome whole wheats, or mixed back into white flours to add nutrition.

I had always assumed, before visiting the factory, that Shipton was a small producer. The quality of the flour is real nice to bake with and I often notice a difference in batches, sometimes the flour is delicate and we can’t put it through the mixer for very long, sometimes it is tougher and I suppose variation and quality are things that we automatically associate with batch or small production. But flour, just like the yeast in our bread, is a living thing, sensitive to a huge number of outside factors and so to have no variation is impossible, even if it is being produced on a large scale. Visiting the mill has sort of changed my mind a little about mass manufacture – we (me included) are very often whipped into a frenzy of being afraid of how our food is made and what goes into it. Big can be synonymous with bad. But, actually, sometimes, we are so disconnected from food production that we either don’t think enough about it or think about it too much. We should instead be more rational. Flour production, for all its heavy machinery, is still a simple thing. Grain goes in. It gets a bit of a shake. Flour, the backbone of so many recipes, comes out. And once it’s out instead of worrying so much where it's come from maybe its best, if we know that it's been produced, as in the case of Shipton Mill, by a good pair of hands, to look to the future and do something good with it, as a way to say thankyou to it.

Written by Julia Georgallis

Jersey Cabbage & Nutmeg Rolls


Above: laying the dough over cabbage leaves

When I was 18, I found myself living in student digs in deepest, darkest, suburbanest Surrey. I stayed in a building that was originally a women’s prison down the end of an incredibly quiet residential road, complete with graveyard, living alongside a weirdly high proportion of Channel Islanders, mainly from Jersey and Guernsey. I have no idea why they were all in Art School, but there they were, navigating how not die without their mums along with me. There were some particularly hilarious meals that I remember from my first year away from home, a three course dinner made entirely with the fondue set, 3 am Melton Mowbray eating sessions, endless potato smiley faces and that one time someone brought home a pheasant (I did say I was in Surrey, didn’t I?). But a recipe that has stuck with me over the last 10 years was the mystical cabbage loaf (dough baked in cabbage) that a very dear Jerseyite friend mentioned to me which is native to the Channel Islands. I’ve finally got round to giving it a go. The lovely thing about this recipe is that cabbages are almost always in season and it works well with most types (red is a bit tricky). Wrapping the bread in the cabbage gives it a really nice, almost salty, flavour and keeps it very moist. I’ve mainly experimented with bread rolls as they cook through better when covered by the cabbage’s leaves. Enjoy!

Makes approximately 5 rolls

1000 g white strong bread flour
700 g water
20 g fresh yeast
50 g natural yeast starter
10 g salt
1 tbspn nutmeg
A good bit of pepper
Cabbage leaves that have been oiled using olive oil (use any type but red)

1. Dissolve fresh yeast into water and leave for 20 minutes.
2. Add sourdough starter to the water and yeast.
3. Add flour and mix into a rough dough, leave to rest for 20 minutes.
4. Dissolve salt into 2 tbspn water and add to the dough, stretching and folding until you have a smooth consistency.
6. Add in the nutmeg and pepper, making sure it is evenly mixed throughout the dough. Leave to prove for 3 hours, stretching and folding every three hours.
7. Weigh and shape the dough into balls of 210 g balls and leave covered in the fridge overnight.
8. In the morning, lay cabbage leaves onto a floured surface, then arrange the dough balls onto oiled leaves. You can use any type of cabbage, but the leaves must be bigger than the dough balls, as they shrink in the oven.
9. Score the dough and lay another leaf on top, so that the rolls are covered.
10. Bake for 35 minutes as hot as your oven will go, adding water to the oven to create steam for the bread.
11. Take the cabbage leaves off the bread once baked.

Photo and recipe by Julia Georgallis

An Interview with Matt Fountain


Above photo: Baking out at Freedom Bakery...

It’s one thing to work for a social enterprise that uses bread as a rehabilitating force – I go to work, I feel good about what I’m doing then I go home. It’s easy for me to romanticise about my job because I see the nice sides to it. But when you’re the person running an enterprise like this, I suppose things are very different. Things are hard. You don’t get to see the rehabilitating bits because your head’s in the books and you’re pushing the thing onwards. It was interesting for me to hear about this side of operations from Matt Fountain, the very inspiring founder of Freedom Bakery in Glasgow. I have heard rumblings of Freedom for the last few years – a bakery inside a prison that teachers ex offenders how to bake. And so I caught up with him over the phone whilst he was stuck in traffic one early Spring evening to ask him a few questions about what it’s been like to get a thing this good off the ground…

TBC: Thanks for interviewing with me, Matt. I suppose the first thing I would like to ask you is, how did you end up in the business of baking and how did you come to run a charity?

MF: I’d never baked. I’d picked Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s book (How to Make Bread) but I was rubbish at it - I’m not a master baker at all. I had a post graduate degree and was going to do a Phd at the end of 2012 at Oxford but I’d never wanted to be an academic and wanted to do something with food and people, but didn’t have any way of knowing how to get there. So I ended up deferring my Phd for a year and did some charity work - I got a feel of how the charity sector work and, also, an impression of how bad things were for small charities – so I decided that there was a lot in it. I was always very interested in how the 3rd sector funds itself – there are huge inconsistencies in funding. Quite often for the people relying on charities, the thing that goes wrong is lack of continuity. So I thought the only way consistency could come about was if people had the space to take charge of their own destiny (without relying on funding). I’d heard about something called San Patriagno – a charity in Italy that owns loads of co-ops where people who have lost their way train up in a trade like baking, so those in recovery get an opportunity to learn skills and build self-esteem. I actually read about them in a food review about their bread and thought, ‘that’s flipping amazing because it’s all about the food at heart,’ not the fact that it was a charity.

TBC: So why team bread and prisons together?

MF: A prisoner is someone in prison. But a group of prisoners embody a lot of other social problems that are treated individually but not as a group. 80% of people in Scottish prisons are of low-level education, 80% have had addiction problem in the last year and 80% are suffering from mental health problems. Baking is a good activity for general wellbeing - the every day quality of bread transcends all these social boundaries and problems and unifies people. If I was going to be working with people who might not have experience of work or education I knew that they would know what bread is. And it would be quick to teach them and to get early success means they’re more vested in carrying on and moving forward. Aside from the start up costs, bread is also quite cheap – for example, last week we lost 75 kg of sourdough because the guys over salted it but it’s ok, it doesn’t cost that much.

TBC: What was the beginning like?

MF: It took me a while to get Freedom set up - we didn’t have funding but the difference is that we sell what we produce and so our business is a cushioned business. But at first, I couldn’t get anyone to believe in me because there wasn’t anything like it. I put the idea forward and it didn’t work out and I left the country for a while, but when I was away, a Scottish prison got in touch with me and said ‘we have this small prison kitchen – could we work together?’ Once we got going, having a kitchen in a prison helped me convince funders that I had something tangible – all I needed to do was to prove that I could survive. We didn’t make any money and we were at capacity within one year, but with more capacity we could do bigger things and eventually I got quarter of a million pounds of investment and have just opened a second bakery. This allows me to offer more jobs to people as they leave prison and at the same time we can focus on wholesale demands and build enough work and money.

TBC: Have there been any stand out moments or success stories with the ex offenders going through your programme?

MF: So what’s been quite interesting for me is that I don’t get too hung up on the romance of all this. Though we’ve probably had 15 people through the programme, most of my day is working on my own or attending meetings so I don’t necessarily see the process… We did have a guy who was around 40 years old and had been in prison since 15 – he gets out with no job prospects and is put up in a halfway house for people in recovery and he starts baking croissants for everyone at the hostel because that’s the thing that makes him happy – he’s not just taking what he learned as a skill that’s going to help him get work, it's also about contributing and doing something productive. We’ve had 5 people on the programme who have left prison and 4 of them have jobs. The thing for me is to make people feel like people – there’s a fine line at Freedom in the distinction between prisoner and bakers because they’re all bakers really.

TBC: What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far and how have you worked through them?

MF:My biggest challenge is that we exist within a prison, which makes it really labour intensive and costly and adds a level of complexity. It’s hard to be an entrepreneur – I’d never really had staff before, I’d never really had a proper job before! That’s baking though, there are a lot of people who come into it from other careers. Artisan baking is also not sustainable financially, so we’ve had to think outside the box. We’ve looked at bakeries in Australia and the US – how do we create a model that’s bigger and can survive better? We already do some wholesale now – we have 18 customers on the books and we’re going to expand to about 80 which we feel confident that we can do. With more space we can do more variety and build our rep, but it’s quite difficult because though what we do is really good, we don’t get exposure – we’re all the way up in Scotland! It’s difficult for us to generate social and media and photos because of the nature of working in a prison and the press do see us as a bit novelty. We want to show what we can do and the creativity of what we do – it’s not just that we work with prisoners, we want to be a well respected bakery for its bread and what I’d like to do is let Freedom get seen as reviving Scottish bread making traditions - I’d love to get a cookbook deal.

TBC: Scottish bread making traditions sound wonderful - that leads me to the question, tell us a bit about your bread, then!

MF: We do a standard rye, a white sourdough, bloomers, rolls, baguettes BUT we’ve been looking at Scottish bread. Struan, for example, which is like a seeded wholemeal with heather honey to help the yeast – it’s quite a dense bread. People go nuts for it. We also do something like a bear bannock – bear is a grain that is a grandfather of barley but with six chambers. It’s an incredibly earthy flavoured, deep ochre coloured bread - incredibly healthy and, again, quite dense like a soda bread. No one’s ever heard of it and we have to get the flour sent from Orkney but when we get someone who likes it they’re hooked!

Mega thanks to Matt for chatting to me! If you want to find out more about Freedom, who are based in the wonderful Glasgow, you can visit their website: www.freedombakery.org

Photographs courtesy of Freedom Bakery

Saffron & Pistachio Hot Cross Buns


NOTE TO READER: (*I have written this entire recipe with a Cornish accent in my head. You must read this to yourselves only in Cornish accents, otherwise I don't think the Saffie buns will turn out very well*)

I’ve often noted that it takes roughly the same amount of time to get from London to Cornwall as London to Iran – about six hours, that is. Or at least whenever I’ve been driving it’s taken me that long. And whenever I do end up down Cornwall way, it always feels like I am extremely far away from anywhere. As well as liking the far awayness of the place, I’ve had some pretty good Cornwallian eating experiences over the years. Picking mussels off rocks, the whole ice cream with clotted cream on top situation, crab sandwiches, catching fish and eating them. And. Saffron buns. Toasted, the yellow dough slathered in butter. Yum. But also, how? I mean, I always associate saffron with the East. Persian rice puddings and Moroccan saffron chicken spring to mind when I think of this precious, luxurious spice, more expensive than gold. How the bloody hell did it end up in Cornwall? I looked into this. It was the Phoenicians (kids who hung around the Levant for a while) who shipped it over, swapping their saffron for Cornish tin. The Cornish loved it they did, and quite right, because it’s beautiful and eventually it started to be grown in Essex, Devon and Norfolk, all along the sea’s edge. Saffron buns and cake (or saffie buns and saffie cake) have been eaten around the coasts of the more southerly parts of the UK for hundreds of years now, originally just for celebrations. I was in the middle of my saffie bun making experiments when Easter cropped up, so I thought I’d decorate the buns with some hot crosses on top, as we often do during Easter time. If it’s not Easter when you’re reading this, you can do without the cross. Rather than just currants, my recipe uses more eastern fillings – pistachio, almonds, mixed sultanas, dried apricots and an apricot glaze to signify a little hand shake between those Cornish and those Phoenician fellers, who exchanged some strands of red, edible thread for shiny tin all those years ago. Enjoy!
Makes 16 saffie buns

Ingredients for the dough:
300 ml Jersey or whole milk
1 tsp of saffron threads
(If you want a deeper colour you can also had a pinch of turmeric or a tsp of yellow food colouring, but this will alter the flavour slightly so I don’t recommend doing this – it’s just if you’re saffron doesn’t end up so yellow and them being yellow is important to you)
100g cubed butter
140g unrefined caster sugar
2 eggs
200 g warm water (about 20 degrees)
3 tsp of vanilla extract
8g dried yeast or 16g fresh yeast
100g chopped dried apricots
100g toasted almonds
100g smashed pistachio kernels
150g mixed sultanas, raisins and currants
1 tsp cinammon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cornflower
8g salt
800g bread flour

For the egg wash:
1 egg
Splash of milk
Beat together gently

For the glaze:
400g apricot jam (homemade or otherwise, I won’t judge!)
200g water

For the cross:
150 g bread flour
150 g water
Yellow food colouring or a bit of turmeric

1. Heat the saffron with the milk and butter until the butter has melted. Leave for about half an hour for the saffron colour to develop.
2. Add the eggs, sugar water and yeast to the saffron milk.
3. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, nuts and dried fruit.
4. Slowly fold in the liquid to the flour until well combined. Leave for an hour to prove.
5. Line a square or rectangular tin with baking paper and divide the dough into 80g balls. Roll into balls and arrange in the tin with a small gap in between each ball. This is so that there is space for each bun to prove and grow.
7. Leave the dough covered under a tea towel for 30 minutes. Heat oven to 200 degrees.
8. If you are piping crosses over these, make the cross mixture now while the buns are proving and leave it to rest for a little while. Add a lot of food colouring or turmeric for a nice yellow cross or leave it white.
9. The buns should have proved so that they are touching each other. Brush them with egg wash, then pipe on crosses.
10. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
11. When still hot, slather on apricot glaze over the top of the buns a couple of times so that the buns are sticky.

Recipe & Image by Julia Georgallis

Sourdough 101 (How to make a yeast starter)


(Above: Yeast up close)

Sourdough bread is bread made with a natural yeast (also called a sourdough starter) that has been fermented by the baker, rather than fresh or dried yeast which comes from a packet. I found making my own starter scary at first - What if I killed my yeast? Or what if I poisoned someone by making the wrong yeast? What if my starter took on a life of its own and formed some kind of illegal drug ring in my kitchen whilst I was out at work during the day? Over the last 3 years, I've tried to pool all the information that I’ve learned about creating, keeping and maintaining a sourdough yeast culture for you to glean – here it is, I hope it helps…

How to make a yeast starter
USE IF: You don’t have a starter and want to make one from scratch

Day 1 - In a clean, sterilized tupperware mix equal parts water and flour. You can use whichever kind of flour you like, wholegrains like wholemeal and spelt tend to speed things up a little bit, but you can use anything. I suggest, for your first step, use 200 g flour and 200 g water. Yeast bacteria lives on the flour – the water acts to kick-start the organisms into life, and then once they are awake, they feed off the sugars on the flour. Once you have mixed the flour and water together so that it is combined, cover the tupperware and leave it in a dry, warm and dark place.
Day 2 - Keep an eye on your yeast, it should start to form bubbles and the smells that it emits will change, from floury, to cheesy to alcoholy or fruity. Smells depend on many variables, so often using different flours, different temperatures of water, different temperatures in your kitchen alters the smell.
Day 3 - Your yeast should have started to bubble, but don’t worry if it hasn’t yet, it may be that the flour you have used doesn’t have very active little beasts in it. You are now going to give it a second feeding. Tip out half of the flour and water mixture down the sink. Then add in another 100 g of flour and a 100 g of water and mix well. Leave it out of the fridge once more, again keeping an eye out for smells and bubbles.
Day 5 - Give your starter another feeding, again by tipping out half of the mixture and adding in another 100 g flour and 100 g water.
Day 7 – Happy Birthday, your starter is a week old. Give it its fourth feeding in the same way by tipping out half and refeeding but this time, find it a home in the fridge.
Day 9 – Day 14
You will have started to notice changes, smells, bubbles and the fact you’re your yeast is growing, doubling in size with every feeding. Keep feeding it every other day and keep it in the fridge. After 2 weeks, you will have a lovely bubbly starter that is ready to use for sourdough.

How to feed your yeast starter
USE IF - If you’ve been given someone else’s yeast starter, are feeding the one you’ve made yourselves, your starter looks dead, you haven’t fed your starter in a while.

1. Tip your yeast into a clean, sterilized tupperware. Add in equal parts water and flour and mix so that it is combined. Cover the tupperware, leave it in a dry, warm and dark place.
2. Leave your yeast for 2 days at room temperature, then on the 2nd day, tip out a third of your flour and water. You can use this tipped out mixture for making bread, give it to someone so that they can grow their own starter or just tip it down the sink. Add more flour and water, in equal parts and mix.
3. Once you have mixed your flour and water together, pop the starter back in the fridge. Depending on how often you make bread, feed it by tipping out a third and adding more flour and water to feed. For tips on how often to feed your starter, see below…


How often do I feed my starter?
Your starter needs to be kept active for you to make a nice loaf of bread. The rule that I generally go by is that, if I want to make bread on Wednesday, I will feed it on the Monday before, so that the yeast has time to reactivate. However, this is only applicable for a starter that is being regularly fed, say once a week. If you haven’t fed your starter in a while, go back to the guide about ‘how to feed your yeast starter’ and spend a week feeding it up before you use it for bread.

What if I don’t feed it?
Remember – water wakes up the yeast that lives on the flour, the flour provides it with food. If you don’t add in water and flour, it will starve then go to sleep. (But it won’t necessarily die…)

Is it dead?
Probably not. Yeasts are tough cookies. If it looks dead (if it is mouldy, smells bad, grey etc. etc.), get rid of the nasty looking bits then try going back to the ‘how to feed your yeast starter’ recipe and feed it up for a week or so until it is bubbling and smells better.

Seriously though, I really don’t want to feed it.
If you aren’t going to make bread for ages or are going on holiday or really can’t be bothered to spend your life caring for miniscule organisms in your fridge, don’t worry. If we go by the priniciple that water wakes up the yeast and flour feeds it, then don’t add so much water into your mixture, so that it is less active, but still has something to eat. Therefore, rather than creating a mixture made from equal parts flour and equal parts water, make a mixture that is two thirds flour and one third water – you will end up with quite a stiff, floury mixture instead of a gloopy one. The stiffer it is, the less you need to feed it.

What should it smell like?
Starter is a ferment, so it should smell similar to other fermented things like cheese, beer, wine, champagne. It can also smell quite floury at times or like fruit. If it smells like feet or death, don’t bake with it. Instead, feed it until it smells acceptable again.

What’s this brown goo?
Very often, you will end up with a thin layer of brown or grey liquid sitting on top of your starter. It looks terrifying but, essentially, it’s hooch, or, pure alcohol that the yeast excretes. Yeast wee, basically. Don’t drink it, don't panic, just tip it out and throw it away.

How much yeast starter do I need for a loaf of bread?
Recipes vary, but I generally use between 100 – 200 per cent yeast starter. For those not familiar with the baker’s percent, that means for every 1000 g of flour, I would use between 100 g and 200 g of yeast starter.

How long will my starter last for?
Sourdough starters can live for decades, some even say centuries. They are living things that change all the time. If you feed them and look after then properly, they will go on giving you bread for years to come, they might even end up becoming heirlooms!

*If you would like to learn more about making sourdough and using different yeasts, my ferment focussed bread-making classes are running until May 2017 in Leyton, London. Book here.*

Writing and images by Julia Georgallis

Yeastie Beasties


(Above: photo of yeast starter Franz making a mess on my work surface with some wholemeal flour)

When I was a child I went through a phase of keeping bugs, hiding them away in boxes so that I could inspect them and watch them grow. Aged 7, I decided to ensnare about 5 bijillion caterpillars and hatch them in my classroom, much to my teacher’s despair. I liked looking at their miniature worlds and at how they changed every way, convinced these worlds were similar to my own, but a bit smaller and more buggy. So bugs were cool. They were my friends.

A few years ago, without knowing too much about it, I started making bread. I knew there was very precise mixing followed by a lot of waiting around for things to do their thing, but what those things were and what they were doing I didn’t know. I found out that what I was waiting for was yeast. So first I tried making bread with packet yeast, then I tried fragrant, fresh yeast and then, finally, I was introduced to making bread using a natural yeast starter. A starter is a ferment made by mixing water and flour together. Various bacteria, yeasts, live on and in flour. The water wakes them all up so that they happily munch on the flour’s sugars. These yeasts create the bubbles in our bread, making it rise and there have been hints of them also being a bit good for your gut, but that’s to be discussed another time. All the term ‘sourdough’ means, in fact, is that it has been made with one of these naturally cultivated yeasts instead of factory made fresh or dried yeast.

Yeast, be it packet or fresh or natural, is a type of fungus - a living, breathing organism. The only way you can see proof of life, however, are the bubbles it leaves behind. The first starters I made were anonymous bits of goo that kept forming brown skins and that hung around the back of my fridge ominously until I remembered them, got a bit frightened about eating them and threw them down the sink. How would I know they were alright to eat? It was like watching all my bugs again, but I didn’t have the fearlessness of a 7 year old. But I persevered. I noticed changes. Bigger bubbles. Smells, sometimes cheesy, other times like booze. All of a sudden I was taken back to being small, watching the caterpillars turn to cocoons, keeping an eye on these little worlds. But yeast is much easier to catch than bugs. It’s everywhere – on your hands, on your skin, in the air... It comes from the environment that it has been produced in, depending on where it’s been or who has mixed it or which flours have been used to feed it. Which is what I liked about it – it was tailor made food to the extreme – if I moved it to a different country or asked someone else to mix it for me, the bacteria in the starter would be different.

I began to name my starters. There was Alan and Beryl, who were combined to create Caja, who was shipped off to Sweden and looked after by a Swede called Magnus for a year. Once she was back in Blighty, she was mixed with South American corn flour and became Dolores who was, in turn, mixed with yeast starter from the bakery that I work at. All of a sudden, I had a soap opera of yeasts, personalities, flavours that lived in my kitchen – the goldfish at the back of my fridge that I would feed with more flour and more water to keep alive. And now I can’t go back. I understand now, why I have heard stories of people in days gone by leaving their homes in search of new lives with nothing other than a few clothes and a yeast starter. There are sourdough hotels that offer to feed starters whilst their owners are on holiday. I even went to a 60th birthday party a few years ago… for a starter. But I totally get it. These are the bugs in my garden; our pets that help us make bread. Cultivating your ferment really is the ultimate way to grow your own food – but rather than needing a patch of soil or an allotment, you can, literally, grow it by harnessing thin air and asking the little worlds that live all around to give you a helping hand.

*If you would like to learn more about yeasts and how to cultivate your own starter, I am running a series of 12 workshops up until May 16th called ‘Yeast in the East’ which explores the differences between packet, fresh and natural starters. Book *

Dusty Days - A day in the life of a baker


When I’m not running The Bread Companion, I work as a baker for Better Health Bakery in East London. The Centre for Better Health is a 50 year old plus Hackney charity, offering training placements at the Better Health Bakery and Bikery for adults in recovery from mental ill health. There are also opportunities to volunteer for those who want to learn how to make bread or fix bikes (this is how I started baking). This is a brief overview of what my shifts feel like...

I open my eyes. It is early, but not too early. I fall out of bed, turn Radio 4 on, boil the kettle, jump in the shower, have a cup of tea, notice how late it is and run out the door onto the bus. I pound up the pavement and see the white flag, BAKERY, jutting out of the bricks and I steam through the double doors. Depending on who has been baking, classical music generally blares from the sound system, coaxing us all to be industrious. MORNING, MORNING, MORNING we all say to each other. I change out of my real life clothes that are progressively becoming more like pyjamas and change into my uniform, which is basically a set of pyjamas. Then I make another cup of tea with the variety of alternative milks that have arrived in the fridge since Veganuary and sometimes eat the mistakes from the day before; a broken cookie, a burnt Danish. I think, wouldn’t it be nice if we could eat all of our mistakes.

There are two Dough Shifts, or day shifts. The early shift and the not so early shift. The early starts at 8 am and is for days when there is a lot of dough to be made. I weigh the flour and the leven, which changes in smell all the time – sometimes it is fruity, sometimes it smells of champagne. I work out what the water temperature should be and pour the ingredients into the mixers. I might have company by asking one of the trainees or volunteers to weigh flours, salt, water, oil tubs and act as my arms. We fold the dough, together checking the temperature to make sure everything is proving at a right speed. If I am not on the big mixes, the second day shift starts, slower, at 9 am. I oil and flour tins, make sure all the starters, levens, soakers and mixes are on the table ready for our volunteers and trainees. Once everybody has arrived, we congregate round two steel tables to divvy up jobs. And then we’re off! Mornings buzz, volunteers, trainees and bakers work together to measure, mix and prep the handmade loaves. Sometimes this process is smooth. Sometimes it is not. But if things do go wrong, making mistakes turns into lessons about dough. Bread is forgiving. If we go wrong, nobody dies, nothing bad will happen. It is simply, bread. A main part of my job, therefore, is to know the dough well enough to see how things can be fixed if it does go pear shaped and still have a saleable product.

It is always the mornings that fly by, that never relent and never let me have a moment to think or to worry. We stop for lunch by flouring bannetons and toasting cheese and chutney sandwiches. On Fridays we have pizza. Surprise pizza - pear, celery and rosemary potatoes all having made guest appearances as toppings. Some lunches are calm and we munch on carbohydrates and chat, others rushed as us bakers work to make sure our dough is ready.

Just as how we started our day, we huddle round the steel tops for post lunch shaping. But now the tables are covered in beige wooden boards, scales and flour. Music is important. It makes or breaks an afternoon. Sometimes we have ‘Power Hour,’ playing something obnoxious to kick us out of our cheese toastie slump. Shaping is the glue of the day. We all do the same task, looking directly into each other’s faces and we talk about things. All sorts. It is the thing that is the most like therapy. If I have noticed people open up, calm down, brighten or gain confidence, this is the bit that I see it in. And not just from those in recovery, either. I see the same thing happen with volunteers who have joined the bakery for many different reasons other than baking – maybe they are seeking direction or a change. I even see it sometimes in customers – smiling at us as they wait for their sandwiches, watching us pull the dough into little balls and stick them, seam side up into paper pulp shapes, telling their children ‘will you watch the bakers make bread?’ This is the bit I like best. After shaping, cleaning. But I always forget to clean myself properly, and I still have bits of dough up my arms and a light coating of flour in my hair, on the tip of my nose or white eyelashes as I stand on the bus on the way home. The shutters go down. When I first started, this was hard, pulling the heavy steel chains. Now I can do this easily, as well as lift flour bags and boards of dough, with no problem. I will end up looking like Popeye. I wind up the street off home, a paper bag which is always about to fall apart bundled into my arms containing the day’s left over bread.

The time that I scurry through my front door from a Dough Shift is about the time that my eyes flicker open for a Bake Shift, or night shift. This is the magic bit. The bit where we bake. In this case I wake up between 6 and 7 pm. In the summer, the sky is pastel. In the winter, it is dark, illuminated by orange streetlights. I make myself a feast worthy of a Sumo wrestler and finish some of my normal-life work. I arrive at work past midnight, when the streets are quiet. I turn the key, there is always a beep, a creek and a buzz that greets me as I open the door – the bakery is saying good morning. I grab the step-ladder because I am too short to reach anything without it, switch on all the lights and put very loud music on – something upbeat, often frantic and sometimes embarrassing that I would never play during the day when there are other people listening. With the lights on and the music terrible, I forget about the ghosts that I know live in the bakery. ‘Have a good bake’ is usually scrawled on the bottom of the production sheet – I find this sentence always feels like a hand shake or a pat on the back. Sometimes I find it almost monastic, like we are part of some baking religion – I imagine bakers, dressed like friars bowing their heads and saying things like ‘May your bake be merry.’ I start by shaping bread sticks then I begin baking, taking the dough out of the cold store, tapping it onto boards, scoring it with a razor and loading it into the hot, hot oven, over and over again until it is 5 am and until I have baked it all. Then, cleaning, slicing, packing, setting up shop. 8 hours alone, with the bakery ghosts and the bread that sings to you as it comes out of the oven. Crackle, crackle, crackle, it says. By the time I throw open the shutters at 8 am, my eyes are red, my skin is parched. And I am very, very dusty, as if I myself am a floured bit of dough, waiting to go into a banneton. MORNING, MORNING, MORNING everyone says to me. ‘How was your bake,’ is the first question everyone asks. Another secret-handshake-baker question and I imagine the baking friars again. I drag myself home, flourier than ever. I eye up the ‘Baby on Board’ badges that pregnant ladies are wearing, I wish that Transport for London would offer a badge that said ‘I’ve just been baking all night and would really like to sit down please’ as the trains and busses are still full of commuters.

I am tiered.

It is a totally different sort of tiered than had I been working on a laptop or in an office. It is the type of tiered that gets through to your bones, but it also gets right through to your heart. It is a content kind of tiered, a tiered that I don’t get bored of because I know I have achieved something, running around a bakery at silly o'clock, turning flour and water into something of substance. It is midday now and I fall into bed, peaceful. I smell like bread. The smell is everywhere and it sends me into a doughy, dreamless sleep.

Written by Julia Georgallis

The Pickliest of Pickles: Why I started baking...


(Above: The first ever prototype of The Bread Companion, on its maiden voyage, having a slight pickle with a lorry)

As TBC turns 3 years old this month, I’ve been thinking a lot about the beginning of it all. I am often asked how the project started and I always seem to give different answers, not because I’m making it up or I can’t remember, but because it wasn’t really a straightforward beginning. 3 years ago. What was I up to? Well. I was a grumpy, wobbly design student in my final year at the Royal College of Art with no real direction... with my school work or otherwise. I was in an almighty pickle - a pickle experiencing an existential pickling crisis. Luckily, my tutors could see me floundering and threw me a rope, setting me a project to 'become an expert' in something – I had 3 weeks to learn a new skill without any pressure as to what the end goal would be. This is possibly the best piece of advice anyone has ever given me ever – to just do something.

I was immediately drawn to bread. Why? I suppose the simple reason was it was something that I didn’t know how to do yet and food and design seemed linked in many ways. But on another level, at a time when I was feeling negative and lethargic, bread struck me as positive and industrious – within a few hours I could make something tangible and useful and this felt good when so many things take and were taking so much longer to come to fruition. In those three weeks, mastering baking was something that gave me confidence and some much needed direction – it made me see that I could do things on my own steam. After the project ended, I started volunteering in a bakery on Saturdays, continued researching bread and baked in my spare time until the whole thing turned into my graduation project in June 2014. After I finished university, I left the first prototype of TBC in my mum’s garage for a while and went back to being a designer, but found myself back in a jam six months later. So. for the second time, I decided it was about time to commit myself to The Companion and I went almost full time on the project in January 2015 - bread, it seemed to me was my little, doughy lifeboat.

You may have noticed a pattern, just in the those two short paragraphs - I would get myself into pickles often and never quite manage to get myself out of them. But baking lifted me from foggy thoughts. As much as my project was about solving the problem of bad bread (mass produced, damp wonder white), The Bread Companion project also sought to spread the word that homemade bread isn’t just good for your stomach, but that making bread is also very good for your brain and your heart. Being able to provide for ourselves, as I found out, is empowering. But many of us don’t have the time or the space to grow our own veggies or farm animals or go fishing. Knocking up a loaf, however, is totally doable. I wanted to make people feel as elated as I felt when I started making my first loaves – it’s a nice feeling to pass on.

And so TBC is a light-hearted project that aims to encourage people to take control over their own food a little bit more. It was designed to solve the problem of terrible bread and make good bread accessible to everyone (by making it in their own homes.) But, in the process of setting this project up, I’ve also discovered the healing properties of flour and water. Learning how to make bread, for me, was the pickle to end all pickles, and I haven’t found myself in one since.

The Accidental Cake: Cocoa and Cardamom Fika


(Above: The last Fika. Cocoa and cardamom cake)

This is the easiest cake in the whole wide world and I discovered it totally by accident whilst cooking for Designers on Holiday in Sweden this summer. On one of the last days of the trip, I looked in the fridge to find a little bit of left over cream, a dash of milk, Swedish sour cream called Fil Mjolk and half a pot of yoghurt. We also had half eaten chocolate bars lying around. So I decided to do a fridge spring clean and mixed the various dairy product remnants in with some cocoa powder and cardamom to make a cake. I then used the leftover chocolate for the topping. We had it one day for our Fika (Swedish version of high tea) with a big pot of coffee and some grapefruit and it was voted cake of the week by 20 hungry campers.

Ingredients for the cake

200 g plain flour
140 g caster sugar
40 g cocoa powder (drinking chocolate will do, but good quality dark cocoa powder will be better)
2 tsp cardamom
A pinch of sea salt
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
175 g soft butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
200 g sour cream, yoghurt, or cream (a mixture of these amounting to 200 g also works)
2 eggs

1. Grease and prepare a round baking tin.
2. Preheat oven to 180 degrees.
3. Measure out all the dry ingredients and then throw all the wet ingredients and cream together until you have a nice smooth mixture.
4. Spoon into the prepared tin and bake for between 35 – 45 minutes until a knife comes out of the cake clean. (Check it every 15 minutes).

Ingredients for the ganache

200 g double cream
200 g broken up pieces of chocolate. I like using milk chocolate but you can use whatever you like really.

Bring the cream just to the boil and immediately take it off the heat (don’t let it boil for too long or it will curdle and make sure you stir it continuously). Throw in the chocolate (it melts better if it’s white or milk chocolate). Stir until there are no lumps left and you have a nice, glossy mixture. Spoon the ganache onto the top of your cake. Dust with cocoa powder, grate some chocolate or maybe even some cinnamon over the top if you like.

Recipe and photo by Julia Georgallis

Old Clothes & Hot Dough


(Above: Munching on a chivirico)

Food in Cuba was difficult to navigate, swinging between the mediocre and the delicious. However we were NEVER hungry. Ever. Every country has their version of ‘poor food’ – that is, dishes that are cheap to make masses amounts of and fill up on, quickly and a lot of the food we encountered fell into this category. Using this premise of cooking food that can be made on the cheap and longing it out for as long as possible over the week was my mission when cobbling together these 2 Cuban style recipes. I’m not saying that these are authentic recipes, mainly because I am absolutely not Cuban, but it’s a nod to Cuba’s hearty, affordable and easy eats. I hope you enjoy trying these out.

Recipe: Ropa vieja (Cuban stew)

Literally translated as ‘old clothes,’ most Latin American countries have a version of this pulled meat dish cooked in an earthy, spicy sauce. This is very much like a tagine, and it does indeed have some Arab roots. The brilliant thing about this dish is that you can get a couple of different meals out of it – using the broth that cooks the meat as a soup or gravy base and also eating the stew over the course of a few days (in fact, it’s better a day or two after cooking) with rice, pulses, in a sandwich or just with a simple salad.

For the soup broth:

450 g of pork shoulder (I’ve used pork but you can use lamb or beef… beef seems a lot more authentic, but pork shoulder was cheaper.)
3 cloves of garlic
1 red onion
1 white onion
50 g of butter
1 vegetable stock cube
A handful of mushrooms (this is my addition – it’s not very Cuban but mushrooms really bring out meaty flavours in stock.)

1. Heat the butter gently and add in the chopped garlic and the onions until slightly browned.
2. Brown the pork shoulder for a couple of minutes.
3. Pop the stock cube on top of the meat before pouring over some boiling water.
4. Bring the water to the boil.
5. Simmer on a low heat for at least 4 hours (leave it longer if you can!). This will ensure that the pork is easy to pull apart.
6. Once the soup is ready, remove the meat and shred.
7. Drain the soup into a pot or Tupperware and discard the vegetables. Keep it in the fridge for up to a week.

For the sauce:

The key to this dish is layering flavours slowly over time. You want to essentially make a pasta sauce base AND THEN add in the herbs AND THEN add in the meat so that the flavours develop over time. It’s a simple recipe but it requires a little bit of patience.

The shredded meat from the broth (including the fat)
2 tins of tomatoes
2 sliced red bell peppers
1 medium spiced chilli
1 large red onion
2 cloves of garlic
A good helping of oregano
1 heaped tsp powdered cumin
2 tsp of cumin seeds
Salt and pepper to season
Olive oil for cooking

1. Add a glug of olive oil or butter to your pan and fry chopped garlic and onions until browned.
2. Add the tomatoes, bell peppers and chilli and turn the heat up. Cook until the vegetables have started to go very soft, probably for about 15 minutes or so (careful that they don’t burn – you want to keep stirring them).
3. Add in the oregano and a generous amount of cumin, cook on a low heat for another 20 minutes or so, stirring occasionally.
4. Next, add the meat and season to taste, cooking for another 15 minutes.

Chiviricos (Fried Dough)

So, I appreciate that the idea of crispy, fried bread is not the most exciting of dishes - it kind of sounds like a really bad version of a doughnut. But, many, many cultures have a version of this and if you think of chiviricos as the sweet version of a tortilla chip, eaten with ice cream or dipped in mashed bananas, then that changes things dramatically eh? This recipe is a REALLY good way of using up any flour that you have in your cupboards (which you shouldn’t leave lying around fyi, because it can actually go stale).


For the dough:
200g flour
70 g of water
A pinch of salt
1 egg
1 tablespoon of sugar
2 tablespoons of oil

For the topping:
200 g of sugar
4 tablespoons of finely ground cinnamon
Grated peel of 1 lemon
Grated peel of 1 orange.

1. Measure the water and add the flour, salt and sugar. Knead for a few seconds until combined.
2. Make a well in the middle of the mixture.
3. Beat the egg and oil together, then pour into the middle of the well.
4. Knead gently for a minute or so.
5. Leave to rise for at least an hour (2 hours if you have time).
6. Roll out into thin strip (about 3 mm deep) onto a floured surface.
7. Heat some oil to 180 degrees.
8. Drop the strips of dough into the oil and fry for 3 minutes.
9. While still hot, roll the chiviricos into the cinnamon & peel sugar.

Serve with ice cream, or with mashed bananas.

Recipe and photo by Julia Georgallis