A little over a year ago, on a weekend home from uni, I had my first taste of real bread. Never before had I considered bread and it’s possibilities, other than a sandwich or toast.
I cannot claim to be a life-long bread lover, as until I had sampled the dark caramelised crust and nutty open crumb of slow fermented bread, I hadn’t spared it much thought. The bread I am referring to is shaped, scored and baked just shy of 10 miles from my front door, in a village called Orford, in Suffolk.
Pump Street Bakery produce some of the finest naturally leavened bread around, picking up awards on a national and international stage. It is here that my curiosity for dough evolved into a passion, and ultimately an obsession.
I began baking at home immediately, not such an easy task in student halls of residence, searching books and the web frantically for the perfect recipes. I was amazed that with just three ingredients (flour, water, salt), such varied results could be achieved just by alterations in time and percentages.
I was quickly baking more bread than any one man could eat in a normal diet, so I started to sell my test-bakes to other students living close by, providing me with an opportunity to test more recipes, and giving them an alternative to the Chorleywood processed bread at a large ‘saving you money everyday’ supermarket close by.
Four months later and I was still chasing the perfect loaf, a little part of me hoping to never catch it. I realised that in order to find the bread I was after, I needed to return to where my bread mission had began, sat at the communal table of Pump Street Bakery’s cafe.
After half a dozen emails and tweets, and heaps of faith and kindness from co-owner Joanna, I had managed to secure a summer job at the bakery, waitering in the cafe where the bread and pastries are sold daily. As the summer went on and on, I caught a word with the bakers whenever I could, quizzing them with how’s and why’s.
I slowly began to understand Pump Street bread, and the slow fermentation techniques they employed to create their signature sourdough. Something I had not considered, however, only became clear to me at the end of my first shift in the bread section of the bakery. It was a huge piece of the puzzle that I had not even thought of, and that was passion. The bakers expressed it in different ways, but it was evident in every bit of contact they had with the dough. This passion made the bakery an exciting place to work and learn, and became infectious.
After a handful of 13 hour days, starting at the bakery and finishing in the cafe, the fatigue was catching up with me. I was struggling to fit sleep around family life, work, and my time in the bakery, but wasn’t willing to give up any of them. One morning when I arrived at the bakery, everything changed.
I walked through the shutter door to an incredible pattern of sound and light. Orange sunlight leaked through the wide windows of the bakery, catching particles of flour in the air and creating a haze of yellow light. The alarm from the deck oven rang, signalling the end of the doughs journey, and harmonised with the singing of bread on the rack, as the crust cooled and crackled.
It was then I knew I wanted to be a baker, and my journey to do so had begun.