I wrote the first post of this blog during my time at a very special bakery. At the end of each dough shift I would walk home up a steep and wet Forest Hill Road – tired, covered in flour, but inspired. Brick House bakery was an inspiring place to be, and an environment that I doubt I will come across again in it’s entirety.
I have so far met two kinds of baker: he who bakes with his hands, and he who bakes with his heart. In December last year I was lucky enough to spend two weeks working with the latter of the two, Fergus Jackson and his team, in an industrial unit in Peckham.
I started learning from the second I tied my apron, and continued to do so right through until I hung it up again on my last day. I began to gather little gems of information given to me every shift, and before I knew what was what I had a treasure chest. “When you fold the dough, pick it up as you would a book, and try not to claw at it with bent fingers” said Julia, a Canadian who had been baking with Fergus since Brick House opened in the summer of 2012. Passing comments like this may not have seemed much to the bakers at the time, but collectively they have changed the way I work with bread.
Every baker had contact with the dough from start to finish, with absolute minimal involvement from machinery. All senses were engaged in monitoring the dough’s progress, and making alterations in the method where needed. Without realising it I was learning something that no book could ever teach me: bread sense.
The slow-fermented loaves were baked daily to a standard that was dangerously close to perfection, both in taste and aesthetic. When I wasn’t baking I was laughing, and at no point did I want to be learning what I was learning anywhere else in the world. Almost all of the bakers previously had careers in other trades, but had turned their hands to baking. This communal choice meant that there was an extremely high standard of passion and enthusiasm. Standing at the dough bench shaping loaf after loaf was where they wanted to be, and this created an incredible environment to work in.
I was taught the importance of temperature, technique and time at Brick House, all of which have made me a better baker, and have given me more confidence when I bake at home. More importantly, I witnessed the importance of bread. As cliche as it sounds, bread does bring people together. It’s the building block of communication, it speaks no language and can be shared by anyone, anywhere and at anytime. Seeing people visit the bakery while we were at work, in hope that there might be a loaf left from the last bake, proved to me its importance.
Fergus and his team, whether they would like to admit it or not, are changing the face of bread in London. They bake honest, wholesome and no-nonsense produce, and do so with a laugh and a smile that makes your loaf taste all the better for it.