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The glamorous life of an artisan baker

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Emily Angle Emily Angle | 10:17 UK time, Thursday, 20 October 2011

 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

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.
 Loaf of bread
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."

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    It s a brave man that allows Paul Rankin on his show but to juxtapose him with the great Keith Floyd, god rest his soul, its very hard not to say anything even with his new found pauper humility. Could you get Bill Hicks on the show?

  • Comment number 2.

    It's great that many folk are discovering real bread again, but the sad truth is that most people are just not willing or able to spend several pounds on one loaf of bread. Consequently, pay and working conditions for an average baker can be pretty poor. My partner had a traditional bakers apprenticeship in the 1980s and when he was looking for a job in a bakery more recently he noted that despite twenty years in the business he was being offered the same pay as when he started out! More well-heeled urban areas can support artisan bakeries, but local producers of good bread often have to diversify in order to survive. I can only agree that the hours are unrelenting- many bakers work six night shifts a week, which gives little room for a normal life. Long-term night working can be pretty hard on your health, not to mention some of the physical effects. My partners working life was eventually disrupted by tendonitis. Even so, he still loves to bake!

  • Comment number 3.

    "So why not ditch the office job and live the glamorous life of an artisan baker?". Around 2 years ago I asked myself this very question and I haven't looked back. I worked as a part time baker in a small deli and managed to find a full time job last year that most bakers would be delighted with. I have half a large kitchen to work in and brand new quality equipment. The only problem I can foresee is that although the pay is great for a 26 year old with 2 years experience, I can't imagine being satisfied with this salary pushing 30. There doesn't seem to be too many opportunities for progression in Glasgow/Edinburgh, most of the artisan bakery jobs I've seen seem concentrated in London or South England. Maybe it's just taking longer for this latest artisan craze to reach the chilly north but having tallied up the cost of a personal venture at around £50,000, I can only hope that it it picks up or I'll have to relocate to where people seem to take more of an interest in artisan foods to keep myself in a job I love.

  • Comment number 4.

    I really like the idea of artisan baking, and i agree that it is a passion, for being an artisan baker is all about being willing to put in the time for the love of the end result. I have a wonderful artisan bakery that I regularly visit, but then again it is only my partner and i at home, so the bread tends to last a few days!
    I have actually started to enjoy the breads with a nice olive oil, and a cheeky cocktail. This might be of interest to anyone that is fancying the same treat! http://acocktailaday.blogspot.com/

  • Comment number 5.

    Even with the current furore about too much salt in bread there is little choice for those who wan to eat bread with less salt than to make their own.

    Home baking allows full control of the ingredients and is a process that takes time - time to be thoughtful and importantly gives great satisfaction

  • Comment number 6.

    @athleticobenedictus - Hang in there. I hope they get the bread-bug up North.

    @bakerswife - A fascinating insight. Diversification - especially into teaching courses - seems to be increasingly common. Certainly it's a facet of both businesses I spoke to for the piece.

    @Telectual - It's true, bread is one of those foodstuffs with surprisingly high amounts of salt - though I'm always a little alarmed by how much salt goes into our own homemade bread. When we forget to add it, the results are astonishingly bad.

 

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