Gathered around the big worktable in the e5 Bakehouse railway arch, the new spring cohort of refugee bakers plunged their hands into the dough and began work on their first loaf of the course. Participants began with a leaven, a sourdough starter which we were taught about last week, and slowly began adding the necessary ingredients to the e5 speciality, “Hackney Wild” loaf. It was an exciting moment because for most women present this was their first experience of working with sourdough and the first step on a long journey of bread-making which will be unfolding over the coming months.
The women enrolled on the Just Bread course come from various backgrounds and vocations, yet all were enthusiastic to begin this new venture into learning about bread and all have a lot to learn from this easy, yet precise and precious skill. Bread doesn’t require constant attention yet it definitely demands consistent attention, so each time after kneading the dough we had a moment to either talk in more detail about the chemical processes that were occurring in the dough to learning more about how the bakery is run and organised.
We visited the second arch next to the bakery where the new mill is stored and heard how the bakery is trying to master using their own mill to grind the husks of wheat instead of relying on imported milled wheat from abroad. Our instructor showed the group the differences in consistency, texture and colour between the different milled wheats and how this end result is produced using different settings on the mill.
Given our timetable and the fact that the secret to a good sourdough loaf is to give it plenty of time, we didn’t complete the final stage of turning dough into an edible loaf. So each woman took home a wrapped up parcel of their carefully cultivated sourdough, with clear baking instructions to finish the last step at home and share the results with the group. This way, the participants get to experiment with their own ovens which will of course, yield very different results depending on the type of oven etc.
Next week, the women have been given the wonderful opportunity to have a more varied day and gain insight into a multitude of different skills. There will be a rotating shift of the different areas of the bakery where the participants will learn how the different parts of the business pull together and work separately but cooperatively in the running of the café, kitchen and bakery so the whole enterprise is formed. Alongside our bread-making activities, participants will also be trained on the coffee machine and all the techniques surrounding excellent coffee making skills. Not only will they gain an understanding of coffee making, they will also gain the vital skill of selling and interacting with the public, an experience which will be vital in a vast range of future jobs. Secondly, participants will have the chance to work alongside the pastry chef and see first-hand how they manage to maintain a constant flow of fresh produce from the kitchen to the café shelf. Thirdly, participants will work alongside the chef to produce the daily soup for the customers as well as the special dish of the day.
Next Tuesday we can also look forward to tasting two of our participants home-cooked delicacies which they have agreed to share with the group. Mina will be preparing her favourite Iraqi dish, Dolma, stuffed vines and Malika will be bringing a sweet bread, Tabaa from Algeria for us all to sample and in the future perhaps make with the bakery. Sharing recipes and encouraging other traditions of bread-making from around the world is an important part of the Just Bread program as we seek to create a reciprocal relationship between the professional bakers and the participants who often have a vast range of knowledge baking and preparing food.