Before the start of last week I had been a “Fabulous Foodish Baker” a grand total of once in my life. Aged 11 and armed with my first cook book, Happy Days with the Naked Chef, I set about making Jamie Oliver’s stuffed bread. Preempting Man vs Food by almost a decade, I thought it would be amusing to treble the recipe quantities. My parents just about had to re-mortgage the house to buy the quality of ingredients I demanded. I then of course didn’t have the strength to knead the dough, nor an oven big enough to bake it. Hours later, after a spot of improvisation, the bread emerged. I can still recall that first bite. The crunch of the crust, the oozing cheese and the salty prosciutto against the fresh basil. I had found my calling in life – I was destined to bake. Or so I thought…
Despite this early triumph, subsequent attempts proved less successful. Many years later, in a moment of madness, I even thought that baking a loaf would make a fun first date. The lucky lady certainly hadn’t anticipated an outstanding demonstration of how to create one of Yorkshire’s least edible doorstops. All things considered, it is fair to say that I was somewhat nervous about how my baking skills would fare at Hobbs House.
Hobbs use traditional methods that hark back to Britain’s baking tradition. Not a Chorelywood process in sight! They allow their bread to prove naturally and stay true to the real bread philosophy. Glancing over their dispatch area at the many thousands of freshly baked goods on offer I found it difficult to imagine how the two came together. Over the coming days I was soon to find out as I struggled to keep up with the fast pace and efficiency of my colleagues for the week.
During my time at the bakery I shaped, mixed, seeded and baked. I assembled everything from a cottage loaf (a traditional English bread consisting of two round loaves – one for the father to take to work and the second for the family to eat during the day) to the famous Hobbs House sourdough created with a yeast starter that’s getting on 60 years old.
Shaping dough for preparation proved a difficult task as the margin for error was so slight. After several hours I knew the shape of my hands intimately. Too much pressure or the wrong motion when rolling a baguette and the hollows of my palms would create more of a dog-bone shaped loaf than a french stick. Even the temperature of my hands was enough to affect the texture of the dough and at one stage I was sent to the freezer to cool down so I wouldn’t spoil the Tiger Bread. Real bread is a real art.
If shaping was the most technical side of the operation, than baking was the most physical. Not only did some of the red-hot loaf tins weigh up to 40kg, but I had also chosen to visit Hobbs during the only heat wave in the UK in recent history. Although the heat was manageable in the morning, it got unbearably hot later in the day. Having spent the whole day inside, my girlfriend wondered why I returned sunburnt. My fair skin had literally baked from the heat of the job.
Baking was certainly the most challenging of my jobs to date and I gained newfound respect for the passion and dedication of the Hobbs House team in creating a product that we often take for granted. So next time you reach for that 89p white loaf, take a minute to consider joining me and many others in the real bread revolution.
Huge thanks to Tom Herbert and the rest of the team at Hobbs House Bakery. If the people of Chipping Sodbury find themselves munching on a misshapen loaf in the coming days, they know who to blame.
Up next – the battle of the ‘Baker Brothers’ begins as I join Henry Herbert at the Hobbs House Butchery.