Sourdough in Spain

With a handfull of Hackney Wild sourdough culture safely tucked into his carry on e5 Bakehouse owner, Ben, made his way earlier this week accross to Spain to teach a special bread class at Las Chimeneas a restuarant owned and run by British a couple, David and Emma Illsley. 

An (ad)venture made only possible through ‘Driving Over Lemons‘ author Chris Stewart. Chris stumbled across E5 Bakehouse and was so taken with the Bakehouse’s values of organic and sustainable food growth and production…and of course sourdough that he was desperate to get a spot on one of our breadmaking classes to learn more about the ins and outs of how we produce our loaves. Unfortunetly, a combination of the popularity of our courses and Chris being based in Alpujarras ment that a suitable date was hard to come by. Thus, an invitation was extended to Ben – why not just bring the class and sourdough starter to him!

The chance to spread the word about the importance of good quality bread on sunnier shores was too good to miss and on Wednesday 12 people (mostly expats living in the area) shared great views, delicious food and a passion for sourdough under blue skies. 

A great experience all round and we look forward to the amazing possibility of teaching classes that combine bread making with wine making, foraging and even yoga(!) in the near future.

Many thanks to David and Emma Illsley for hosting in such a welcoming enviroment and to Chris’ enthusiam to get the ball rolling!

Check out his latest book ‘Last Days of the Bus Club’ for a read as carefully crafted as our bread! 


The Cheese Cave

We realised it would be great to better understand the cheeses we serve with our breads.  Neal’s Yard, a stone’s throw away, were only too happy to accommodate us.  One wintery afternoon we headed south and over the river to their HQ.  Greeted by Katy we spent the afternoon learning how they tease the very best from these cheeses and finally we sat around with a pile of bread and tried many cheeses.


Read on for our chef Will’s take of the strange world of cheese:


The  maturation  arches  looked  wild,  like  a  


In the soft cheese room, the second of three arches, big white boxes control the atmosphere around little pale shapes slowly growing mould in the dark, which are similar I guess to what you imagine a dark wet stomach to look like. Move away from the big white boxes and you meet a conveyer belt where the little pale shapes are packed, labled and shipped to more stomachs. COnnecting together, in a wider network, the cheese is produced in a small dairy in Cumbia with affluent workers from Japan, Amereica or parts of Europe, with everything moving along tubes of movement.


Walk around Neal’s Yard Dairy maturation arches and you are remindered of how the whole business runs along these tubes.  The dairy itself grew out the cheap rent of the warehouses around Neal’s Yard and Covent Garden. Once the market went south, the dairy moved in, reappropriating the old space. Travelling along tubes the dairy spread out along old lines of trade and movement.


It is no coincidence that the factory itself looks like a submarine where past and present, country and city, real and artificial enter into the same shpere. You can see this in the dairy where a brick room, wrapped in a huge plastic bag and mysteriously named ‘room O’ is used to mimic the atmosphere of a cave.


From here the leap can be made to the bakery, located under the railway arch in Hackney, the bakery like the dairy re-appropriated the old unused spaces of the city into new community lead spaces. 




Outdoor winter BBQ? Why not!

On a wintery weekend at the end of January, we came together with the talented chefs of Burnt Endz to host a three-night food and music festival, in the courtyard at the back of the bakery. This was the second pop up festival we’ve run, following on from the success of last summer’s event back in the blazing sunshine of July.


Luckily the cold didn’t put off the crowds, or dampen spirits or appetites as umbrella-wielding people formed an orderly queue to purchase the delights of Burnt Endz’ finest offerings, cooked by restaurant owner Dave Pynt and his crew on a hand-built wood fired oven. And what fine offerings they were; succulent slow roasted pulled pork sandwiches on freshly made burger buns; whole cider-braised suckling pig; juicy smoked beef and fire-roasted leeks accompanied by crispy hazelnut and sweet burnt butter. 


We set up long, candlelit trestle tables to provide warmth and atmospheric seating inside the railway arch, whilst outside crowds gathered round fire pits to toast handmade marshmallows, and to listen to a range of live music over the three nights. From Hackney’s very own post grunge outfit, H Grimace and progressive funk band Mimika heading up Friday night, to the rich sounds of Senegalese Aboulaye Samb and the foot-stomping delights of gypsy folk Barbarella’s Bang Bang on Saturday, to the final rousing close on Sunday by swing jazz and bluegrass Ed Hicks & the Night Caps.


We transformed a disused shipping container into a spot-lit and fully stocked bar, with Five Points Indian Pale Ale on tap, Kernel bottled beers, warm mulled Burrow Hill cider, hot spiced rum and Sicilian wines. And we knocked up some hibiscus and ginger infused cocktails, to top it all off. 


If you missed out this time, don’t worry. We’re already concocting plans for another event this Summer…watch this space!

Copenhagen – Dough exchange

We are going to Copenhagen.  There are 6 of us.  Eyal (head baker), Pete (stalwart), Will (philosopher), Franzi (pastry chef) and BenG (taster) and me (chaparone).


Why Denmark? Why Copenhagen?  Asides from being a nice city by all accounts, the Scandi’s are bread connoisseurs.  They have held onto a tradition of slow fermented sordough breads, principally using rye flours.  They also have a small, but established, group of farmers and millers specialising in old varieties of grain (wheat/spelt/rye) which we are less au-fait with in the UK.


We are in the fortunate position of having some good contacts, including one Per Grupe a farmer some 40 minutes outside Copenhagen and the famous Meyers bakeries have invited us for a trip.


Denmark, lets face it seems to do things well.  So we’re going for a break, and to soak up ideas and inspiration so that we can enter 2014 firing on all cylinders.


Day 1


Following the impressive metro train journey (shiny) we quickly checked into the Generator hostel and despite the impending snow were keen to begin exploring, and so set off find Meyers bakery and meet with Jens the production manager.


On route we spotted a nice looking bakery, with a similar name, it was called Emmerys.  We bought a chocolate rye bread, along with a seeded wheat bread and another rye bun.  The nicest was a the slightly seeded sourdough which had a lovely thin crust, but all of the breads seemed quite salty. The guys working in the shop were friendly though and happily told us about the breads.


Meyers looked good as we walked in, and soon Jens had us down in the bakery space, which was set down from the shop area and visible through a window.  He was incredibly generous with his time, talked us through all of their different breads, how they are made, why they do certain things and their sourcing of grains.  Interestingly they use their rye sourdough leaven primarily for flavour.  The high acidity reducing the activity of yeast, so that fresh yeast is added to the rye after the dough is mixed.  The cinnamon buns were very popular amongst us, as was the offer to join their bakers early the next morning.


Day 2

And so the next morning the e5 bakers joined the Meyers bake shift observing how the bulk fermentated wet doughs were simply cut and shaped before being put directly into the oven.  These wheat breads were made using spring sown wheats and had soft crumb and crust and a great mouth feel.  Very delicious!


Next it was back to the hostel to meet Sofie Romme, chef and guide for our trip.  She arrived in a battered minibus and suddenly we felt like a band on tour as we made our way to Nordisk bakehouse.  Lennart, the owner and main baker had been warned of our arrival.  We settled into the cosy cafe, eyes fixed on the burning logs in the wood fired bread oven.

We were brought plates of delicious cheeses, smoked ham and chutney, chocolate cake and cinnamon buns.  All freshly pulled from the oven only hours before.  Lennart is developing along similar lines as e5, in that he is building his bakery up step by step, and is a true ‘giver’ loving the simple act of handing over something his hands have made.  However, we couldn’t dally as we had to head out of Copenhagen to Per Grupe’s Farm.  


The minibus was soon driving through large expanses of arable land with next years crops poking their heads up and then our map said we had arrived.  We were actually at a neighbour’s house, but instinctively Per had come looking for us and we heard him hollering before meeting the man.  So it was we found ourselves in a tremendous barn.    A long table was set with a spread of cheeses, sausages and lashings of biodynamic apple juice from a neighbouring farm.  Per held the table as we crammed in yet more food.  


He explained how yesterday himself, Fintan and Paul had milled 6 different varieties of grain.  These flours were now bagged, and lined up for us.  Our task was to devise a method for assessing the merits of each flour once baked off as a loaf of bread.  Which meant we first had to come up with a recipe.  Per had prepared us his sourdough the day before, so we had a litre of nice, active leaven bubbling away.  We plumped for a 75% hydration dough, with 5% of the water being added with salt after a 30 minutes autolyse.  We made all of the doughs with commercial yeast, and the 3 extra doughs with just the sourdough and no added yeast.

We folded the dough at 1/2 hour intevals and they were put in a fridge after 3 hours.  We now left Per, Finton and Paul in peace for the night, eager to bake our loaves the following morning.


Day  3:


All of the doughs were nice and active when taken form the fridge the following morning, some as much as doubling in size, others slightly less.  We tipped them onto a floured surface, divided, gave a little tuck and fold, and popped on a tray into the oven.  We were quite happy with the results.  Probably our dough should have had a higher hydration, but asides from that we had consistent bread with which to do a taste test.



It seems we went a bit low hydration wise overall, and in hindsight should have headed for around 90%.  This meant all of the breads had a slightly tight crumb.  Flavour wise, there were clear favourites, number 2 and 5, whilst number 4 although a beautiful colour had a kind of weird taste which none of us fancied much. 

Before we left Per gave us a a tour of his fields, autumn planted spelt, test plots, and then the milling equipment and various types of farm equipment.  I think we were all surprised at how much work goes into sorting and cleaning the grain, let alone all the tools needed to grow, plant and harvest it.


We left beaming, amazed at the farms warm welcome to us Englaenders.


As we hit Copenhagen Sofie tracked down a boutique cake shop, it was very stylish and again we were invited into the kitchen for a look and the baker gave a quick speech.  The macaroons were delicious.  Next we went to BROD, here the loaves were reminiscent of the breads made by ourselves.  

Gilchester’s Farm: Heritage Wholemeal Wheat

With reverence to our new website, we will intend to offer up more regular blog postings, and what better way to start, than reporting on a new flour which we are using.


Flour is obviously THE ingredient in bread, and yet it’s quality, integrity and essence are often overlooked.


Initially, we sought out organic, locally milled flour.  It turned out that whilst milled locally, the grains themselves were mostly from very far away.  


British wheat strains are understood to deliver weedy, weak wheat of around 8% protein, more suitable for making biscuits than bread.  To meet demand for fashionable, plump, white loaves, wheat has been imported from around the world, typically Kazakstan, Australia or Canada.  Imported wheat is nothing new, as early as the 9th century wheat was arriving by ship up the Thames from the Baltic to be milled and blended with our own.  


Since the 1950‘s, when American wheat breeders created a high yielding dwarf wheat, the genetic diversity in wheat has been dramatically homogenised.  One style of wheat now dominates, and is popular for no other reason than yield.  


Grown under a highly controlled environment of pesticides, fertilisers and herbicides to deliver a maximum output.  Flavour, mineral content, and the ability to grown without chemical support, are rarely selected for.  Which is why we welcomed Andrew from Gilchesters Farm when he visited us recently to explain about the heritage wheat he is growing and milling at his farm in Northumberland.  Having studied wheat breeding at Newcastle University, Andrew set about converting his farm to organic farming in the 1990’s and has bred a unique variety of heritage wheat strains which are suitable for the soil and climatic conditions of his farm.  Thrusting their roots deep into the soil these plants absorb minerals their commercial brethren would miss out on.


Andrew has taken the step of investing in excellent quality mill stones, and trained millers and is therefore able to deliver fresh, single origin, wholemeal wheat. 


We found that just mixing water with this wheat created a sourdough starter in just a few hours, whereas it can take up to 3 days with strong white wheat flour, testament to the rich microbiological populations present in this fresh flour.  The other advantage of freshly milled stone ground flour is that all of the essential oils are still present making for a more flavoursome and more nutritional bread.  Whilst the resulting loaf may be less plump than more cultivated alternatives, it’s far more exciting for us to work with this flour.

Flying Crust

We sometimes hear back from students on the bread making class with questions from where to buy Malt Powder to a detailed description of the state of their sourdough starter, and the question, is it still alive?

Bill got in touch to ask why there was such a split in his loaf, the top, full of large open holes, the bottom a dense loaf.  I have heard quite a few hypotheses for this result, which is often called a ‘flying crust’.

It is most likely caused by an overdeveloped dough.  I recommended that Bill keep his dough at around 23oC during the 3 hours of bench time, whilst the dough is intermittently stretched and folded, with the shaped dough proving for no more than 18 hours in the fridge, where a lot of flavour and structure is building up in the dough.

We also noticed that the crust sealed too quickly, and the coloration suggested that the top element was probably too hot.  The crust’s formation can be delayed by introducing more steam into the oven; using a tray of boiling water at the bottom or, by cooking the bread in a pre heated cast iron pot.  In this case, leave the lid on for the first 20 minutes so trapping all of the moisture from the baking dough into the cooking chamber.

Growing Communities

We first got to know Growing Communities when Ben carted loaves to Hackney City Farm, to coincide with the weekly vegetable box collection.  There he became acquainted with Ximena and learnt about the patchwork growing project they have implemented in East London. 

An East London social enterprise organization, Growing communities HQ is in Stoke

Newington. They are committed to community-led trade, harnessing the collective buying

power of local communities and directing it towards farmers and growers working in lowcarbon, small-scale, sustainable ways. They started an organic veg box scheme in 1994, and

set up Stoke Newington Farmers’ Market in 2003. Growing Communities produce

everything organically and won a highly commended in Soil Association Organic Food

Awards 2011.

Growing Communities supplies e5 Bakehouse with Hackney-grown organically certified salad leaves, using an old milk float, Daisy.

Want more information? Go

Best behaved group ever

Best behaved group ever! A group from Tower Hamlets school who are growing wheat at school popped in to learn how to make ciabatta and bagels.

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