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
News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Travel
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
Sport
footballManchester City 1 Roma 1: Result leaves Premier League champions in danger of not progressing
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
News
i100
Life and Style
Magic roundabouts: the gyratory system that has excited enthusiasts in Swindon
motoringJust who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
booksWell it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Management Accountant

    28,000 to 32,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our client, a hospitality busi...

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive

    £20 - 24k: Guru Careers: A Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive is needed t...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    Day In a Page

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?