Celebrating Sussex produced bread

PUBLISHED: 12:45 12 May 2014 | UPDATED: 12:45 12 May 2014

The Lighthouse Bakery, near Robertsbridge

The Lighthouse Bakery, near Robertsbridge


Whether it’s a hunk of crusty sour dough, or a slice of pumpkin-seed encrusted rye, you don’t need to be an expert to enjoy good bread.

The Lighthouse Bakery, near Robertsbridge. Photo by Nadia MacKenzieThe Lighthouse Bakery, near Robertsbridge. Photo by Nadia MacKenzie

Given too the amount of artisan bakers popping up across Sussex, it looks like more and more of us are doing just that - not that the rise in consumption is restricted to the affluent south east. According to the Real Bread Campaign, there are now 600 small independent bakeries across the UK, and that is just counting the ones that they know about.

The Real Bread Campaign is dedicated to the promotion of ‘real’ bread – though what exactly this is isn’t easy to define. Also described as craft or artisan, The Real Bread Campaign believes ‘real’ bread is ‘made without the use of processing aids or artificial additives’, but there are lots of other criteria too, including the amount of salt used, and how the flour has been milled and sourced – the more local, the better. Alastair Gourlay, Director of the Real Patisserie in Brighton, however, stresses the importance of the long fermentation process.

“It’s true that when the right flour is used, the dough is mixed slowly and given a long time to develop, no improvers are required.” says Alastair. “The majority of our breads don’t have anything artificial added, but we do use improvers in a few of our loaves, because otherwise the cost of them would become prohibitively expensive, and there would be environmental factors too given the extra time it would take to make the bread.”

Liz Weisberg, who gave up a career in the arts to set up the Lighthouse Bakery with her partner Rachel Duffield, first in London in 2000 then as the Lighthouse Bakery School near Robertsbridge in 2008, explains further about fermentation. “There are four basic ingredients to bread, which are water, flour, salt and yeast. There’s also a fifth ingredient, which is time. This allows the yeast to ferment and the bread to rise. A long fermentation process is critical to break down the wheat gluten. Without it, not only are the texture and taste of the bread affected, but it’s harder to digest – and some people find it really hard to stomach. Sadly, most breads aren’t allowed to ferment for long enough.”

The Lighthouse Bakery, near Robertsbridge.  Photo by Nadia MacKenzieThe Lighthouse Bakery, near Robertsbridge. Photo by Nadia MacKenzie

Liz is talking about the Chorelywood process, which was developed in the UK to mass-produce bread in 1961, and uses a concoction of chemicals and enzymes as well as high-energy mixers to speed up the fermentation process. It’s utilised in 80 per cent of UK breads, mostly in the sliced, packet variety, though a toned down version of it is also used in supermarket bakery breads and often in ‘non-artisan’ bakeries too. “Real bread takes longer to make, which means it costs a bit more. But the price of supermarket bread isn’t realistic, because it’s marked down as a loss-leader,” says Liz.

Liz puts the rise in interest in real bread down to a general trend over the last 15 years for a healthier diet through the rejection of highly-processed foods and a return to traditional methods of food production. TV shows such as the Great British Bake Off both reflect the bias and also help to fuel it. “Demand is definitely growing,” says Liz, who turns out around 2,000 loaves and rolls a week and distributes them to local businesses such as the Winchelsea Farm Kitchen and The Ship in Rye. To meet orders, she gets up at midnight to make sure the bread is out of the door by 7am. “It was tough at first, but I’m used to it now,” she says.

The Lighthouse Bakery also teaches bread making and offers a range of courses including an introduction to baking, French baking and Jewish baking. “Making bread isn’t difficult,” says Liz. “We’ve been doing it for millennia, but people often feel daunted – particularly by the time factor. The reality is that it takes 10 minutes to make dough, even if you need to be around to do the various other stages – but that’s about managing time. But we don’t make a lot of things any more and bread is a good way to get back to being creative. Kneading dough is also physically rewarding and it’s incredible to see how a few simple ingredients can make something so wonderful. The whole process can be very therapeutic.”

Students include home bakers and chefs, and also those wanting to branch out as micro-bakers. The latest way to make and sell bread, rather than go into business by taking on bakery premises, many micro-bakers operate from home or shared kitchens, selling directly to the community. Sussex has its fair share of these tiny bakeries springing up across the county. Nestling in suburban back streets or tucked away high up in flats, loaves are made to order at an often lower cost than a high street shop. Look out for one in your area and if you can’t find one, you could set up your own, as these good folks have done.

Hangleton Bakery

Alexandra Beaken (33) lives in Hangleton and started selling bread made in her own kitchen to family and friends in June last year. In September she went on a course at Bread Angel in London to learn how to set up a micro-bakery, Hangleton Bakery. “I love making bread and find the whole process really interesting,” she says. “I’ve got a full-time job as an event organiser in London, but I bake on Saturdays with my step-son Harrison (5). I think it’s really important for him to see how food’s made. I’ve got a normal convection oven which can hold around 4 to 6 loaves, and I sell about 6 to 12 loaves a weekend – but I’m in the process of converting my garage into a kitchen where I can bake 40 loaves at a time. My most popular loaves are my rye sourdough, which costs £3.20, and my pain au lait, which costs £2.80. There’s only one shop selling bread in Hangleton and it’s miles away, so I’m going to drum up custom locally, then my plan is to sell into shops and cafes, as well as at farmers’ market. I’m starting slowly, but once things take off, I’ll give up the day job.” Find out more hangletonbakery.co.uk

Lewes Community Kitchen

Lewes Community Kitchen opened on the Phoenix Industrial Estate in Lewes in 2012. Set up by Robin van Creveld, who has been running community-based baking courses since 2001, it provides courses in bread making and is also home to the Lewes Bread Club and Micro Bakery, which are both run by Lee Dodge, who lives in Hove. Lee, 44, took voluntary redundancy from his public sector job last June and, determined to follow a more meaningful career path, trained as an apprentice baker at Tracebridge Sourdough in Somerset. He now works for the Real Patisserie In Brighton, as well as heading up the Bread Club and Micro Bakery in Lewes. “The bread club allows people to come together to share expertise and knowledge about baking. About three of us bake about 30 loaves once a fortnight. We take orders from friends and neighbours in the run up to the bake, with a big loaf on sale for £2.50 and a small one for £1.80, though if we use rye flour or spelt, it’s a little bit more expensive. As a not-for-profit organisation, the profits go back into the Community Kitchen.”


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