Our baking process
At Crumbs Bakery + Cafe we handcraft every loaf using simple, authentic techniques and only high quality natural ingredients. We do take advantage of modern technologies - our large industrial mixer saves a lot of muscle effort and our artisan baker's oven with injected steam is impressive. However, the key to making good bread is not the mixer or the oven. The eventual nature of the crust is largely determined before the loaf is ever baked. The baker's skill is in managing fermentation and the combination of ingredients, temperature and timing is what makes good bread. The destiny of each loaf is in the baker's hands.
All the flour used to make bread, cakes or pastries at Crumbs is sourced from Shipton Mill in Gloucestershire and the Mill Green Mill in Hatfield. Both mills provide us with a excellent, healthy, nutritious product. The flour we use is unbleached. Bleaching is an artificial process that helps the gluten stretch more and is another enemy of goodness. Simply put, flour is the single most important ingredient in our products and we take great care of sourcing high quality flour that keeps its natural qualities and micronutrients.
The majority of our breads are sourdough, which means that we do not use commercial yeast but instead use our homemade starter, which is now 5 years old, and let the nature and time work their wonders.
Developing a starter begins when flour and water are combined and the micro organisms - wild yeasts and bacteria present in flour and in the air - begin to ferment spontaneously. After fermentation begins, the baker "feeds" the starter regularly to "train" it into a lively and predictable natural rising agent.
We feed our starter several hours before we start mixing the dough, then leave it to develop its rising properties. When the starter is ready we mix the dough over 40 minutes, alternating between mixing and resting before adding salt and other natural ingredients such as nuts, seeds or raisins. This technique allows for the gluten to develop and for the bread to achieve its complex flavour and airy crumb.
Once the dough is mixed we leave it to bulk prove for two to three hours depending on the type of bread we make.
The next stage is dividing and hand-shaping the dough into individual loaves, rest them again and put them in banneton baskets.
The shaped dough is then slowly proving and fermenting at a very low temperature, close to freezing, for up to 16 hours. It is this long fermentation process that allows sourdough to develop its complex flavour and perhaps even more importantly modifies gliadin and glutenin, that together form gluten, and other elements in flour to dispose of their harmful qualities.
After the final proof at room temperature each loaf is scored with its own pattern and baked on the stone hearth of the oven.
It takes 30 hours, knowledge, baker's hands and passion to bake each of our sourdough loaves.