Feeling kneady: The rise of artisan baking

When even the man running the country can make time to froth his leaven and get baking, it's becoming clear that Britons' expectations of the once-humble loaf are on the rise

He may have surprised the nation by unmasking himself as a secret baker but it seems that David Cameron is far from alone. Kitchens across the country are being turned into mini bakeries as Britain gets a taste for artisan bread.

Record numbers are, like the food writer Rose Prince, enrolling on baking courses with an eye to starting their own business. Many, including Kate Smith, a social researcher-turned-baker, open their own high street bakeries, often replacing those forced out of business by supermarkets.

Yet the baking revival is no mere micro revolution: big retailers such as Tesco, Lidl and Marks & Spencer are overhauling in-store bakeries to drive sales of speciality loaves. And industrial beasts from Hovis to Warburtons, after years of sliding sales in the wake of the fad for Atkins-style low-carb diets, are giving their bread a makeover.

Chris Brockman, who analyses the sector for the research group Mintel, will tell the British Society of Baking's annual conference this week that four out of 10 consumers would buy more bread if they believed in its health benefits. He tipped "stealth health", which spans gluten-free and high-protein loaves to bread made with grains such as spelt, millet and quinoa, as the next big trend.

"In-store bakeries are getting a lot more sophisticated," he added. Mintel figures show that in-store bakery purchases, which account for 15 per cent of total bread sales, rose by 6.5 per cent in the past 12 months.

Chris Young, who runs the Real Bread Campaign, called the supermarkets' push "flattering but annoying, because it is blurring the lines between loaves that just look rustic" and actual artisan bread, which is handmade. "Plus, they can undercut small bakers," he added.

Government data shows that around 20,000 people are working in the industry but it is unclear how many artisan bakeries have recently opened. Mr Young says the Real Bread Campaign has around 2,000 members. "We've seen dozens of bakeries adding their loaves to our virtual map but that's by no means comprehensive."

Jane Mason, of west London's Virtuous Bread, said interest in her three-day "Bread Angel" courses was "strong and growing". The 150-odd Bread Angels whom she has trained found selling their loaves "the easiest thing they've ever done".

Lucie Steel, 47, from Hermitage, Berkshire, is one such graduate. She progressed from baking in her kitchen to kitting out a shipping container ,where she bakes three days a week as Birch Cottage Bread. Supplying local cafés, a pub and several markets, she also runs her own baking classes. "It's my sole source of income. I make a reasonable amount of money," she added.

In east London, Kate Smith said she hadn't looked back since opening Holtwhites Bakery with her husband two years ago. "It's exhausting but very rewarding. Sales in the shop have trumped any predictions and now we are growing the wholesale side, too." They also started out in their kitchen, producing 200 loaves a week before realising they could make it as professional bakers.

A cookery book by Rose Prince out next month details the growth of The Pocket Bakery, which she set up, again out of her kitchen, three years ago. Initially intended for her children to earn pocket money, it now supplies Fortnum & Mason and has given her 18-year-old son Jack a vocation.

Artisan revival aside, cheap sliced-bread sales still dominate the £3.7bn market. And food writer Signe Johansen warned it would take time for more wholesome tastes to become mainstream. "Until a variety of breads become available – and the bakers who have the skills to bake them, a chronic shortage of which unfortunately exists in the UK – then I'm afraid people will tend to buy whatever's at their supermarket."

You're charging how much? For bread?!

As I write this, my mixer is whirring, two different doughs are rising in tubs and another couple are shaped and proving in their baskets. On the side, about a gallon of leaven is frothing and bubbling away for the next mix.

I'm getting ready for my very first street market: I'll be taking my wares to Deptford market in south-east London and trying to persuade complete strangers to part with their hard-earned cash (£4) in exchange for one of my – if I say so myself – ever-so-delicious sourdough loaves.

I can hear some of the punters' responses already: you're charging how much? For bread?! I'll admit I had a smidgen of sympathy with the PM, when he had to admit he didn't know the price of a loaf; it was akin to asking him the length of a piece of string – are we talking supermarket sliced white here or a hand-crafted Poilâne miche?

Mixing, shaping and baking 50, 60 or 70 loaves is hard physical labour, even with a mixer to take some of the strain. My back is starting to protest at hefting 25kg sacks of flour round the kitchen. So why have I given up salaried employment to do it?

Two reasons, really. Having spent 20-odd years staring at a computer screen and working as part of a team, it's invigorating to do something for myself, by myself. If my loaves don't rise, or I can't sell them, there's no one else I can blame but me.

But more than that, the alchemy of flour, water and salt has an earthy, elemental magic that appeals to the digital refusenik in me. It's just not the sort of thing a computer could do.

Can I make this business work? I'll have a better idea tomorrow. But at the very least it is, forgive the pun, a whole new way to make a crust.

Adam Newey runs the Hill Bakery in south-east London. (And he sold out of bread by lunchtime...)

Suggested Topics
Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
sport Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents The ad shows Prince Charles attired for his coronation in a crown and fur mantle with his mouth covered by a criss-cross of white duct tape
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sport LIVEFollow the latest news and scores from today's Premier League as Liverpool make a blistering start against Norwich
News
People White House officials refuse to make comment on 275,000 signatures that want Justin Bieber's US visa revoked
VIDEO
News
Sir Cliff Richard is to release his hundredth album at age 72
PEOPLESir Cliff Richard has used a candid appearance on an Australian talk show to address long-running speculation about his sexuality

Sport
Mourinho lost his temper as well as the match
sportLiverpool handed title boost as Sunderland smash manager’s 77-game home league run
News
The speeding train nearly hit this US politican during a lecture on rail safety
news As the saying goes, you have to practice what you preach
Sport
Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain (front) drives ahead of Red Bull Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia during the Chinese F1 Grand Prix at the Shanghai International circuit
sport Hamilton captured his third straight Formula One race with ease on Sunday, leading from start to finish to win the Chinese Grand Prix

Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
tv
News
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Voices
Clock off: France has had a 35‑hour working week since 1999
voicesThere's no truth to a law banning work emails after 6pm, but that didn’t stop media hysteria
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Life & Style
Lana Del Rey, Alexa Chung and Cara Delevingne each carry their signature bag
fashionMulberry's decision to go for the super-rich backfired dramatically
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    NGO and Community Development in Cambodia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...

    Sports coaching volunteer jobs

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Kaya Responsible Travel offer a variety of sp...

    Turtle Nesting and Coral Reef Conservation in Borneo

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Volunteer with Kaya in Borneo and work on a p...

    Elephant research project in Namibia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: If you have a passion for elephants and want ...

    Day In a Page

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit