It was always there in the background: the knowledge that local planning restrictions stated that there was to be no baking at Two Magpies between the hours of 10pm and 4am. As inexperienced bakers beginning a new venture, we chose to ignore those restrictions. After all, we were comfortable and secure with what we knew: the night shift routine of mixing, shaping, proving and baking before sunrise, even when ultimately it became detrimental to health and happiness.
A change in personal circumstances in 2015 forced me to address the issue: it was no longer just about complying with planning law; there was also the very urgent need to make the baking and day-to-day management of the business more viable for just one person to oversee. Burning the candle at both ends wasn’t a good long-term proposition! I knew that the night shift had to stop and felt that there must be another way to get our Real Bread on the shelves in time for opening, but where to begin? To an inexperienced baker with an equally inexperienced team it felt like a monumental challenge.
I quickly discovered that I was not alone with my problem and that bakers in the Real Bread Campaign network truly are a community of people happy to share their knowledge, time and expertise. I started by making contact with Kate and Richard at Holtwhites in Enfield, and George at Peel & Stone in Birmingham, who guided me on the possibilities offered by different schedules and equipment.
Then I had my big break: finding Martha Brown at The Forge Bakehouse in Sheffield. Her incredible generosity of time, energy and expertise was beyond anything I could ever have hoped for. We had not met before but we had a link in that my bakers and she attended The School Of Artisan Food. Another connection was that she had faced similar planning restrictions when starting her bakery.
I arranged to visit Martha, who tirelessly answered my questions, shared details of her equipment and production schedules, explained endless spreadsheets and even let me have some of her recipes! That day with her gave me the information and confidence to take the next steps to making the necessary changes.
On my return I presented my bakers and shop staff with the news that change was on its way. We began a series of recipe trials and test bakes, whilst also researching what new equipment would be suitable and would fit into our small bakery. Help and assistance continued from many different avenues, including Dominic Schoenstaedt at Shrewsbury Bakehouse showing me how to use my small prover retarder effectively to become an invaluable tool for my production schedule.
Someone else I hadn’t known before, but who was willing to give me his time is Wayne Caddy at The School of Artisan Food. Over the course of several long phone calls to him, I knew what equipment to buy. The Real Baker-e forum also helped me to gain invaluable advice from my fellow Campaign supporters – thank you guys!
Martha visited and we spent many days (yes, days!) poring over recipes, testing and tweaking the bakes and production schedules alongside my bakers. On 17 March we did our first day mixes and piled our fridges high with all the different doughs - some were bulk fermentations for scaling and shaping in the morning, some snug in their bannetons for a long, slow prove. The oven was set to automatically turn on at 3am to heat up and the prover retarder set to transform our croissants into quivering crescents ready and waiting for the early shift baker to load them straight in the oven.
It’s been an amazing journey and we’re still learning every day how to manage our schedule and make the best Real Bread we possibly can. Change is always hard, especially when you lack the necessary expertise, but my baking companions made it all possible!
Originally published in True Loaf magazine issue 24, July 2015