Baking in the Time of Coronavirus

Like many other bakers unable to supply restaurants and shops during the pandemic I decided to supply our village only.  Regular customers in the village get a guaranteed loaf. Those who don’t want to commit to a regular delivery can take potluck on a first-come, first-serve basis.  I put a workbench in front of the house with the potluck breads and our villagers come and select what they want, keeping the required 2m (6ft) apart of course.  Here are just some of the breads on offer recently:

New York-Style Jewish Rye Sourdough with Onion

Sourdough: King of Breads

New York-Style Jewish Rye Sourdough with caraway seeds and sea salt crystals


Almost forgot this one, Sourdough with raisins and fennel seeds

Sesame Seed Sourdough

Sourdough: King of Bread

Answers to a Variety of Questions

Over the years I’ve been emailed asking all sorts of questions. I thought I’d provide answers to a few common questions:

  1. Does a wood-fired oven add flavour to the bread? No, a wood-fired oven doesn’t add flavour to your bread. The reason we, who are lucky enough to bake in a wood-fired oven, do so is the quality of the heat. It far surpasses any other way of baking bread. In my case, with my Panyol oven, I heat the oven by building a fire on the baking surface. When I’ve decided the oven is ready to bake I remove the fire, embers and ash and clean the baking surface. For all intent and purposes the oven is simply a large, ceramic container which is at baking temperature. There is no flavour in the heat.  Just the quality of heat.
  2. When retarding breads overnight, do you allow the dough to come to room temperature before baking? No. In theory, I go directly from the fridge to the oven. But, it takes about an hour for me to unload the fridge, take the bannetons out to the oven, clean out the oven and load the breads for baking. Out of curiosity I checked the dough temperature immediately the banneton came out of the fridge, 4.6°C (40°F). An hour later the dough temperature was 7.8°C (46°F). Not a huge difference.
  3. What sort of mixer do I use? My hands. I don’t own a mixer of any sort. Our style of kneading is very gentle. I recently timed my kneading: 5 batches of 2kg each took a total of 4½ minutes. We knead the dough 3 times, separated by a 10 minute rest, so it took me less than 15 minutes over a half hour period to knead 10kg of dough.
  4.  Do you adhere to a desired dough temperature? Definitely yes, and different for each dough.

    Above: Our newest recipe, New York Jewish Rye Sourdough with Caraway Seeds and Sea Salt

Why Winnipeg?

I’m often asked, “why Winnipeg?” The truth is, my initial contact with anyone in Winnipeg was the result of mistaken identity, and when I first arrived in 2016 I knew nothing about the City. Now, three 5-day courses, three visits and 33 nights stay later I can tell you I really enjoy being in Winnipeg. There’s something relaxed & friendly about the City, an extremely mixed cosmopolitan city with a beautiful river, parks & open spaces, a lack of serious congestion, some excellent restaurants, numerous talented independent chefs, an excellent culinary institution, and in summer, lots of cyclists & street life.

Our 3 courses at Kitchen-Sync have produced professional bakers, teachers and private individuals who’ve improved their bread-making skills, as well down right beginners who are now making fantastic bread. Our participants have come from all over Canada, the United States and as far away as Porto Rico.

Our next course at Winnipeg’s Kitchen-Sync is scheduled for 1 – 5 April 2019.

What will I avoid? Winter, it’s brutal.

Below are some photographs from our most recent course

  • King of Bread at Kitchen-Sync

Looking back at Fattoria 2018

During a 5-day course I have very little time to write blogs or take photos. I get into the kitchen every morning by 05:30, 06:00 at the latest. The first two days I’m normally on my own. From then on, someone normally volunteers to join me, to experience refreshing leavens for use that day, and undertake other last minute preparations. Once that’s accomplished the wood-fired ovens need to be fired for the first bake of the day. About 08:00 there’s enough time to visit the local café for cappuccino and/or an espresso and a piece of pastry. More often than not I’m joined by fellow bakers from the course.

Here are a few statistics from our two recent 5-day courses at Fattoria degli Usignoli in Tuscany.

  • Used over 150kg of a variety of flours from Italy, United Kingdom, Canada and United States
  • Had 100% success with each participant creating their own sourdough leaven
  • Used 3 different sourdough leavens
  • Baked in excess 140 loaves including 90 sourdoughs, plus baskets-full of grissini
  • Used 4.5li of extra virgin olive oil and at least 120li of mineral water
  • Everything baked in wood-fired ovens
  • Had participants from 4 Continents
  • Participants took home lots of knowledge, as well as bannetons, scrapers, grignettes, bread knives and embroidered aprons
  • Cooking for ourselves in the School we ate real Tuscan sausages produced by the Village butcher, had the last of the season’s artichokes and asparagus as well as delicious melons from Southern Italy.

Some participants attended to learn how to bake for themselves and friends. Some have business ventures in mind and others are now running bread-making courses of their own.  Two participants already own wood-fired ovens and at least one more is considering the investment.

Unfortunately, choreographing these courses leaves little time to take photographs but below you’ll find a few.

Dates for the 2019 courses are now on the Artisan Bread School website.

  • Part of the first group on the 5-day course.



Artisan Bread School at Fattoria degli Usignoli May 2018

The next 5-day courses at Fattoria degli Usignoli begin in 10 days. The car’s fully loaded & travel arrangements made.

The 4-day journey takes me through the French countryside to collect fantastic bread knives in Thiers, passing the mountain every cyclist knows, Mont Ventoux (yes, I have done the climb by bike). Then through the Mont Blanc tunnel into Italy, down the Aosta Valley to Vercelli where there are two excellent restaurants. The next day I arrive at Fattoria degli Usignoli in the rolling Tuscan hills just South East of Florence. Two and a half days of prep and the first group of participants arrive.

The course begins Monday morning & the very first thing we do is to create our own personal sourdough leavens. Then we start the bread-making, three different loaves each day. More than 35 kitchen-hours later we’re eating our final meal together, sourdough bagel and smoked salmon with Philly cream cheese.

Among the breads we will have made during our 5-days together have been:

  • Hakan’s Sourdough: King of Bread (using 100% hydration leaven)
  • our original Sourdough: King of Bread (using a leaven of 56.3% hydration)
  • Semolina sourdough (100% hydration leaven)
  • Sourdough Bagel (100% hydration leaven)
  • Focaccia
  • Ciabatta
  • Grissini.

All totally hand made and baked in wood-fired ovens.

Our flours come from the United Kingdom &, of course, Italy. The delicious Extra Virgin Olive Oil is from Puglia in Italy. Time is the important ingredient that makes the difference in our breads; a long, slow fermentation resulting in bread that’s good to eat and good for your digestion.

Two days off and we begin the 2nd course. As ever the groups of participants are diverse, this year from Brazil, India, The United Kingdom & The United States of America.