I went around to Geraint Robert’s home in Dinas Powys this morning and, over fig and fennel loaf with coffee, found out what’s new in the world of micro-bakeries.
Geraint got hooked on baking while working at the Embassy Café in Cathays, Cardiff, after a customer donated some sourdough culture. He joined the Hungry Planet Co-op in Adamsdown earlier this year, and helped them set up a bakery in a converted garage to make sourdough loaves for their store and café: rye, wheat, spelt and gluten-free. This artisan bread is also sold in Milgi, The Pot, Roath Deli and other places in Cardiff.
Sourdough is a micro-bakery favourite, because it is not something that can be mass-produced. “It is made with yeast that is naturally present on the grain”, explains Geraint. “So you just start out with flour and water, and each day you refresh the mixture with more flour and water until you build up the yeast enough to raise bread”. The different strains of yeast and bacteria present in individual cultures make this the most artful strand of bread-making. “Even the Co-op and my home cultures may have different strains,” he says. It is the symbiotic relationship between the yeast and the lactic acid and acetic acid bacteria that is all-important. “Lactic acid bacteria give the sourdough its flavour. You can do various things to give the sourdough a stronger or gentler flavour.” One method is by varying the temperature during the proving stage: “Certain bacteria like cooler and longer fermentation, others prefer it shorter and warmer. You are trying to get a balance between flavour and yeast development for raising the bread.”
Geraint warns against the sourdough bread that is appearing in some supermarkets and sandwich bars. “They produce sourdough loaves that bear little resemblance to real sourdough”. Processing aids are used and the loaves are made quickly. "It’s not sourdough,” insists Geraint, because that involves yeasts from the atmosphere and artisan production. There can be regional variation due to the different yeasts present. A specific strain of yeast has been recognized, for instance, in San Francisco - a place where sourdough is taken very seriously. The Real Bread movement would like to see the term sourdough protected, to exclude inferior and generic products that merely mimic sourdough.
In addition to his work with Hungry Planet, Geraint has been teaching bread-making since April in his home kitchen. Courses on yeasted breads and sourdough are available, which he hopes to take fortnightly by the end of the year.
Geraint sees Bread Subscription Schemes as a way forward for micro-bakeries, and this will be the subject of a future blog post.