You’d have never known it was a school term holiday at our latest session (a bonus), given the fact a number of our trainees have school-aged children. We expected just four of our eight trainees to be able to attend because of childminding issues, but seven turned up. It was a wonderful surprise. And we had an extra: the perfectly behaved, lovely eight-year-old daughter of one of our trainees. Such a delight!
After working up a batch of pizza dough and leaving it to prove, we set off for a tour of a proper artisan bakery just five minutes down the road. That bakery was The Old Post Office Bakery, co-owned by Richard Scroggs and John Dungavel. It is a special place which lives and breathes in the heart of its community. Upon entry, customers are treated with the sight of bakers at work, mixing and baking the amazing artisan breads, cakes and patisseries on offer. That is just one of the things which makes the bakery special. They also are a very inclusive lot, welcoming volunteer bakers and providing work experience for a range of young persons in the community, many of whom are either disadvantaged or learning disabled.
After we entered by the back alley, Richard pointed out a word roughly painted in large bold letters on the interior side of their gates: love. He explained that love goes into everything they bake, and it certainly showed when we ventured further. You can bet that went down well with our ladies! One of the first things which caught our trainees’ eyes as they entered the back of the bakery was a tall cooling rack loaded with seeded rye loaves. “Ayan,” who you may have met in a previous post, proudly exclaimed, “We do that!” It instantly set a tone in which everyone could recognise that what they have been learning at Just Bread really is transferrable to a “real world bakery”… i.e. the work place they have been working hard at preparing to to enter. This was a highly significant moment which was reinforced by what was to follow.
Richard lead us through the rabbits’ warren of corridors and rooms in which it is clear every square metre is put to use and explained how the bakery operates round the clock. We moved past steaming, hot ovens; squeezed past large open bags of Shipton Mill Flour lined up and ready to be transformed into delectable baked goods; peeked into their cold storage; saw large tubs of ingredients, sourdough starter, and proving dough; learned about their wonderful, sturdy old mixing machines; and visited the patisserie room located in the basement. You can see Richard here explaining the laminating process for pastries. Our Cameroonian trainee was particularly delighted about the mini tutorial, as she has been keen to learn about the mysteries of croissant making. When the tour ended, Richard treated us to some of the delicious hot cross buns whose recognisable aroma greeted us as we approached the bakery upon our arrival.
Inspired by what they’d seen and experienced, our bakers returned to their cosy baking base at the Myatt’s Field Park depot to have lunch and experiment with a bit of sugar baking before finishing off making their pizzas. Employing scaling up, a bit of mental maths and drawing upon their creativity, they broke into three teams to make three different types of brownies: plain for the Park Cafe, walnut, and crystallised stem ginger. And then they finished up in teams to make their own adaptations of blondies: first plain for the Park Cafe, then traditional American blondies spiced with a hint of cardamom, and lastly an exotic combination of raisins, cardamom and rosewater inspired by an Iranian cookie which a trainee brought in a few weeks ago. Everything turned out delicious, and we all had a laugh when one of the Iranian trainees exclaimed, “This raisin blondie is great! It is where Iranians and Americans can come together!”