The glamorous life of an artisan baker
Anyone who passionately loves baking – magically transforming a bowlful of water, flour and yeast into dark, crusty loaves of heaven – has quietly dreamed about doing it for a living. Imagine turning out fifty or one hundred loaves at a time, each more beautiful and delicious than the last.
So why not ditch the office job and live the glamorous life of an artisan baker?
The first hurdle to overcome is the hours. Richard Bertinet of the Bertinet Kitchen in Bath told us, “Our main shift starts at about the time that everyone else is winding down for the day at about 9pm. We then have several hours of prep work before baking starts after midnight ready for the morning. It is a very physical job and the hours can be pretty anti-social but I have always found it enormously rewarding.”
Rewarding... yet sleep-deprived. Like raising children.
Richard continues, "Perhaps contrary to what people might think, the quiet times in the middle of the night at the bakery are some of my favourite bits of the week. There is little more satisfying than the warmth of the ovens, the smell of the bread coming out and the sound of the crust 'singing'."
But what about the money? Starting jobs in small bakeries are currently advertised at £7.00-£8.50 per hour. The salary for an experienced craft baker is between £20,000-£35,000 a year. That can increase if the bakers run their own (successful) business.
The set-up costs for a new bakery can be high. Chris Young from the Real Bread Campaign told us, "Setting up a Real Bread enterprise can cost anything from tens of pounds to turn a domestic kitchen into a home bakery, to perhaps £100,000 to refurbish and equip a professional bakery with a couple of wood-fired ovens. (Of course, with a few friends you can build your own wood-fired oven.)
Laura Hart of Hart's Bakery
Laura Hart of Hart's Bakery in Bristol started her business by kitchen sharing. "I was really lucky to find a shared premise. I rent a spare kitchen from a restaurant so although we have our own space I didn't have the big cost and commitment of a whole building.
"The most frustrating aspect is the inconsistency of sales - at the beginning of the week we often have a lot of waste and towards the end of the week we sometimes just can't make enough! I guess that comes with making such a short shelf life product.”
And as the business grows, so do the costs. Chris Young says, "Rent on premises, equipment purchase and maintenance, staff wages (including sick pay, maternity leave, etc.) insurance, energy, water, local authority charges and more all quickly take the cost [of a loaf] way above the price of some flour, yeast and salt."
While urban areas can deliver enough customers willing to pay double or treble the price of a factory-produced loaf, for many towns and villages a local bakery is a thing of the past.
But there is another way - the microbakery. “A growing number of small Real Bread enterprises are now operating as Community Supported Bakeries, with some or all of their loaves sold to members of a bread club or co-operative."
Community members essentially ‘subscribe’ to a weekly loaf service, guaranteeing a market for the product. Members of larger CSBs can also get involved in delivery or production of the loaves. It’s as much a social enterprise as a food business.
So does this grass roots movement mean artisan bread is here to stay? Laura Hart thinks so: “I feel very hopeful about the future of artisan bread as people are really starting to move away from highly processed foods. In particular, there is a great interest in sourdoughs and slow fermented breads. We have a long waiting list for our baking workshops which is very encouraging."
Want to have a go yourself? Find a bread-making course, then practice. "Get as much experience as possible - baking is such a life-long learning process and working with other people can really teach you a lot."