FOR ME THERE’S nothing better than opening your oven and inhaling that wonderful aroma of freshly baked bread. Jon Wood is one of few artisan bakers around these days and I was privileged enough to catch up with him and find out what a day in the life of a baker is like.
Bakery Andante opened in Morningside nearly three years ago and has grown steadily ever since. The bakery employs nine people and prides itself on making bread the traditional way - using few ingredients, no additives and, most importantly, giving the dough time to do its job naturally.
Jon lets me in on a few baking secrets and tells me what he thinks sets Bakery Andante’s products apart from mass
produced supermarket offerings:
‘Our secret is simple – we add time and care.
‘Bread made properly is naturally flavourful and fulfilling, as well as mould resistant and longer lasting. If we add time and care, we simply don’t need to add any more ingredients.
‘Our sourdoughs, for example, only have three ingredients: flour, water and salt. Our wholemeal bread has six ingredients, which when you compare it to an organic wholemeal bread from a neighbouring supermarket that uses 12 ingredients, tells a story in itself.
‘The modern Chorleywood Process or ‘no time’ doughs only use the yeast to give a bloom in the oven and it spends so little time in the dough that it doesn't have a chance to work its magic.
‘All the additives make it worse, but a lack of time is the main culprit. I’m always amazed at how sweet our wholemeal bread is given we add no sugar or sweetener. I believe that it’s simply the slow process that releases the natural flavours and sugars.’
It’s hard graft being a baker, there is no doubting that. I wondered what a typical day was like for Jon and his staff:
‘Generally, we start at 5:00 a.m. I was keen not to work night shifts on a regular basis, as it would be unhealthy for my family life, and I like that we have warm bread at 9:00 a.m. for customers, rather than bread that’s already been out for eight hours or so.
‘First job is to turn on the ovens and start the morning’s mixes. We have croissants and some of the bread's ready to go immediately. As soon as the oven is up to temperature, we get them in to bake.
‘The sourdoughs get turned to strengthen the dough and even out the air pockets, then we start to weigh and shape the breads.
‘We have doughs in three stages: those that have been mixed the day before, and made up; a larger set that have been left in bulk and either chilled to slowly ferment, like our sourdoughs; then those that we mix in the morning.
‘We try and start the sourdoughs for the next day at about 7.30, then move on to prepping the yeasted doughs for the next day.
‘We mix our baguette dough and leave it overnight to prove slowly; that means that while we have a reduced volume, it doesn’t puff up as much in the oven and we get a much richer flavour.
‘Home time beckons when we start to prepare our poolishes and feed the sourdough cultures so they are nice and active for the next day. We clean the equipment, lay out the next day’s recipes and call it a day.’
That sounds like hard but rewarding graft, indeed; one that must require a great amount of passion and determination. I wondered as to the source of Jon's committment:
‘It’s tempting to say that it’s in my blood as my maternal great great grandfather was a German baker who emigrated to London before WWI, and on my father’s side, my grandmother’s family owned a large bakery in England.
‘More realistically, my mother used to bake wholemeal bricks, which as a teenage boy I used to devour.
‘When I left home I missed real bread, finding what was available tasteless and unfulfilling. After a while, I bought a bread machine and from there I experimented and played, and discovered how much I enjoyed the process as much as the end product. ‘
The Great British Bake Off has done a great deal to encourage people to give home baking a go. Such shows are not only a great way to get people into the kitchen, but also remind us of the classic cakes and bakes that are engrained in British heritage.
What advice would the master baker himself give to the home cook?
‘Funnily enough I would not call myself a master baker – I’m a hobbyist who has taken it a bit far! I still have a huge amount to learn. My experience came from reading in books, having a go, doing it again until I got it right.’ That in itself is great advice.
‘The best advice has to be “give it a go and don’t feel forced to ‘create’”. I think that there is a tendency with things like Masterchef, GBBO and the plethora of celebrity chefs out there to think that to do it properly, It has to be fancy with hundreds of ingredients and flavours skilfully interwoven, cooked and presented with precision.
‘Some of the best meals are really very simple and start with great produce. There is no better meal than a great baguette, some fine cheese or pate, a flavourful tomato and a glass of good red wine or beer.'
Jon’s bread flies off the shelves at my work and I’m amazed at how many people say it’s hard to find good bread in Edinburgh. With supermarkets growing ever more powerful, it’s important that we remember our amazing baking history in the UK and support our artisan producers.
Once you’ve tried proper bread, you’ll grow increasingly disappointed at having to accept a supermarket alternative – trust me on that one!
‘We need to create opportunities for people to try it and be able to justify why it costs more, but is still good value. Thankfully, consumers these days are aware that cheap is not best, and to eat good food you do need to pay a bit more.
‘We also need to promote the benefits. We know that much of the issues people have with bread is less to do with the product and more to do with the process of how it’s made.
‘Research in Italy recently found that sufferers of coeliac disease could tolerate properly made breads. I believe that giving the yeasts as much time to do the work as intended makes the wheat easier for us to digest and unlocks more nutrients.
‘Some legal support would be good too because when the likes of Sainsbury’s (next door to Bakery Andante) can advertise itself as ‘Your Local Bakery’, when all that happens is that frozen bread, sometimes up to a year old, is merely put into an oven, and when other supermarkets can call themselves ‘Scratch bakeries’ when all they do is add water to a premix, it makes it difficult for consumers to see the differences.
Get along to Bakery Andante and sample the fantastic products Jon and his team have available. As Jon himself says: ‘Once you’ve eaten proper bread, it’s hard to go back to eating cotton wool and air.’
You can find Bakery Andante at:
352 Morningside Rd, Edinburgh, Midlothian EH10 4QL