Waste no bread

The Real Bread Campaign sent out a really useful article for Food Waste Action Week with tips on how to make your bread last longer:

  • Don’t slice until cool – Tempting though bread fresh from the oven is, it’s best if left to cool before slicing.
  • Keep wrapped – Once completely cool, put the loaf in a container or bag that will reduce evaporation.
  • Keep cool – The warmer the environment the faster the evaporation, which speeds up staling, but…
  • Don’t refrigerate – Starch retrogradation takes place most quickly at fridge temperature, although deep freezing is fine.

You can also resuscitate a loaf that has gone a bit stale by wetting it slightly and popping it in the oven for 20 minutes. It won’t reverse the process but it will make it more flexible and tasty.

And there’s always toast. We’ve found a week-old sourdough makes for marvellous crunchy toast!

Finally you can of course freeze all our bread. Some people like to slice it first and take what they need from the freezer.

For small bakeries like us there’s the No Loaves Lost initiative to help us reduce the amount we throw away. It boils down to three Rs:

  • Reduce the amount of surplus you generate
  • Reuse any that you do, or redirect it to people
  • Repurpose as animal feed, fertiliser or for energy as a last resort

Over the last couple of years we’ve been trying to ensure we always have bread on the shelves when we’re open, as turning away a customer is a great way to ensure they never return. This has meant we usually have a few loaves and buns left on the shelves, so how do we measure up on food waste?

Firstly, we record our daily leftovers along with our sales and use them to inform the bake quantities. This has gotten much more granular since we switched to the epos till and our spreadsheets are things of wonder.

Secondly, we have regular pickups from the B30 Foodbank and Incredible Surplus who take our leftover bread and distribute it to people who need it. This is usually between 10 and 30 loaves each bake day, depending on the weather.

Sales of sticky buns are totally unpredictable in Stirchley. Sometimes they sell out and sometimes we have a disconcerting amount left, so we often take a bag to our friends along the high street. If you see a plate of cinnamon buns in the Wildcat or Artefact, this is why.

Unsold croissants are left to go stale for a day so they’re perfect for rebaking with fillings, be they savoury on weekdays or sweet on Saturday. Pain-au-chocs are frozen until we have enough to re-bake in a croissant pudding.

Thirdly, there’s the waste we can’t prevent. We have a commercial food-waste bin which takes it to an anaerobic digestion site to generate energy. Alongside this is Pete’s compost bin, for any veg matter and bits of stale bread that didn’t make it to the food bank.

We’re pretty pleased with how this is working on the whole. There’s always room for improvement, but we’re baking more bread and feeding more people while our kerbside pickups are significantly lighter. That’s an all-round win.

More about Food Waste Action Week 2022.

How to build a bakery

Last week we received our crowdfunder copy of Knead to Know More, the microbakery handbook from the Real Bread Campaign. The first edition helped a number of small bakeries find their feet, including Loaf which was about to move from Tom’s kitchen to Stirchley High Street. This new edition has been totally updated with lessons learned.

While it looks like a cookery book, there’s actually very little about breadmaking inside. This is about the business of baking, from funding and equipment, to pricing and selling, to employing and accounting. A lot of this could be covered by a basic small business guide, but the value here is the specific inside knowledge.

Take Loaf, for example. As a bakery we occupy a strange middle-ground. We’re not an automated, mass-production bakery, but we do produce a lot of bread. Our bread, pastries and sweets are made by hand but the equipment we use alongside that, from the mixer to the fridges to the oven, is industrial grade. How did we know what to buy?

Some of our knowledge comes from hiring people who have worked in more traditionally commercial environments, or by going on a class where industrial equipment is used. But a lot of it is research, talking to friends and suppliers. This book reads like a brains-trust of people who’ve been there and are happy for you to learn from their experiences.

Knead to Know More is surprisingly comprehensive, covering everything from the building you bake in to the labelling of your bread. It was great to see a section on health and welfare covering manual handling and flour dust (‘baker’s lung’ is a real problem in our industry), but also sleep and mental health.

There’s also a decent chapter on Community Supported Baking, an alternative to traditional investment loans that anchor your business in the community it serves. This was how Loaf initially funded our move to the high street and it’s good to see the process formalised here.

Ultimately this is a level-headed book about sustainably growing a bakery business from a hobby into something valuable to yourself, your customers and your community.

If you’ve spent your lockdown accidentally creating a bakery business in your kitchen and are pondering the next step, this is a great place to start. Our copy is on the shelves in the cookery school and if you’d like to borrow it for an afternoon before buying your own, let us know.