Let's Eat

On becoming a bread-winner

The people bringing you your daily bread are hooked on dough


Who doesn't love bread? One of our most prized staple foods - it even has its own Sabbath blessing.

Some are so passionate about it they have made it their livelihood.

Tami Isaacs Pearce is addicted not just to eating but to baking the fine chewy stuff.

"I love the fact that with flour and water you can actually make something so nourishing and comforting."

The Bushey Heath mother of two learned to bake bread just two years ago.

"I was stressed from planning our daughter's batmitzvah, and I was also working and studying. It was all taking its toll, so I took a year out from my training in child psychotherapy, and took a five- week bread class.

"I put my hands in that dough and that was it. I was completely hooked."

It was not, at first, a reciprocal romance: "I was lousy to start with - producing these terrible rock-like loaves."

Endless experimenting improved her baking skills and, after about six months, she moved from amateur to professional - almost by chance.

"A friend taught me how to make the babka (a yeasted plaited sweet bread) which I slowly adapted. I posted pictures on Facebook and before I knew it I was selling my baking."

She launched Karma Bread in August 2013, selling babkas, sourdough and spelt loaves to friends.

A brief flirtation with Tesco-owned bread chain Euphorium came to nothing: "They wanted the first month's supply on a sale or return basis - but it's a perishable product!"

It did, however, prove to her that her bread was good enough for commercial sale.

After further baking courses - including Jewish baking with Elizabeth Weisberg at Lighthouse Bakery - she began making challah in earnest, now producing 150 weekly. Seventy are sold in Panzers and La Fromagerie and the rest to local friends and family.

Although she has invested in a small bread oven, an industrial sized mixer and additional fridge in which her doughs prove, she admits it is hard work. "I get little sleep on a Thursday night and Friday."

What started as a hobby has become a business, which she is still growing.
"I am now looking for commercial premises from where I can sell and teach," she says.

Nick and Steph Stern have also recently dived into the commercial bread world. They had a less gradual introduction to the world of kosher baking when they took over Borehamwood's Orli Bakery last Rosh Hashanah.

"We were so busy that first Yom Tov, we sold out of challah and didn't have one ourselves to break our fast on," laughs Nick.

Their challah - judged by the expert panel at Gefiltefest to be the best in a competition - sells in huge quantities.

"Each Shabbat we bake and sell 800 to 1,000 challot. We start on Thursday night and sell until 9pm, and on Friday our baker arrives at 4am. By 6.30am there are people queuing at the door."

They sell 2,000 bagels each Sunday, and have added kosher pizzas to their menu as well as delivering kosher meals to local schools and nurseries, and bagel platters to offices.

He may be new to baking, but Stern is no stranger to catering having studied at Westminster College before working for a number of high-end hospitality businesses, including at The Savoy Group, Hyde Park Hotel and Richoux, but left to join Steph in a promotions business.

"I came out of catering to see my children grow up," he explains. With his children now 19, 18 and 14, he has returned to his passion, spending seven days a week at the bakery, while Steph is there five days a week.

"It's hard work, but every day is different," he admits.

Robert Paul gave up a career teaching psychology to secondary school pupils to found artisan bread delivery business, Poppy & Rye last year.

He is not a baker, but is a fan of artisan bread and the traditional methods used to make it.

"The bread is baked by The Bread Factory, which also supplies Gail's Bakery and several top London hotels and restaurants," he explains.

Customers can pick from four different set selection boxes of loaves and pastries. The range includes a signature Poppy & Rye sourdough loaf, which was created just for them.

"That loaf has just won a Great Taste Award," Paul says proudly.

"The idea behind Poppy & Rye is to cut out the distribution centre and deliver a super-fresh loaf, straight from the oven door," says Paul, who compares deliveries to the old-fashioned idea of a milkman.

"We sometimes add a free loaf with a note saying 'Please give this to your neighbours' and people love it."

The warm loaves and pastries currently land on doorsteps in limited North West London post codes between 5.30am and 9am at weekends. Paul hopes to extend the service to more locations with the chance to select any breads from the range.

Apart from the hard work and early starts, the only downside the bakers can see is eating too much of their own product.

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