Alan Doherty Tells Us All About Becoming a Baker and Gives His Secrets to Making a Good Loaf of Bread
This month’s guest contributor is Alan Doherty who, together with his wife Alex, runs the Ullapool bakery and bakery school.
I became a baker because of circumstance rather than wanting to follow a trade. I grew up in Halifax, West Yorkshire, and had a few older friends who worked at different bakeries doing Saturday jobs. So when I left school aged 15 I applied for an apprenticeship in a local bakery. That was the start of baking for me. I had to work my way up from cleaning tins etc but I think it’s that experience that gives you the grounding you need.
The bakery in Ullapool came about by accident, we had sold a previous bakery we owned in Cambridge and were looking to do something different, we were considering hotels or B&Bs to see if that was our next move. We had holidayed in Scotland for the previous 15 years, so knew Scotland reasonably well. Alex was up in Scotland checking out a few hotels when I got word that the bakery in Ullapool was available, so she made a four hour detour to view the bakery taking lots of pictures and trying to relay information. We then made the trip together, viewed the bakery and a house, and travelled back to Cambridge the same day. On the way south we engaged a solicitor, put in an offer on the house and the following day learnt we were successful in our offer. Within four months we were living in Ullapool.
We keep a sourdough starter that was given to us in 1997 that had its origins in Russia in 199; it is what we call a firm starter unlike the liquid starters some people seem to prefer. I find it is easier to manage and it still produces the results we require. It is fed mostly on a daily basis but is quite happy to be refrigerated and fed once a week, again with little detriment to the finished product.
Bread for me is the staple food. I’m not sure I could manage without bread – I’m not talking about processed bread, I mean crafted bread made by local independent bakeries. Don’t be frightened to ask what’s in your loaf – a good baker will be happy to share this information with you. I try to keep things as simple as possible only using ingredients if they are necessary for the loaf I am making, normally you just need flour, water, salt, and a raising agent; either a sourdough starter or commercial yeast. Anything else is optional.
If you cannot find what you are looking for you can always go on a course and learn the finer points of bread making. We run such courses in Ullapool and I am pleased to say we have had a great response from the people who have attended, they send us emails and pictures of the first loaves they produce with their new-found skills.
I find it very rewarding passing on my experience, what I’ve learned over the years, and then to see just what can be produced. I also tell those on our course that there are rules in making bread but then again every rule can be broken in some way or another. It’s really about method, whether it is using cold water for a dough, boiling water to scald the flour or something in between. Bread can be made with all these methods and that is what I find fascinating. I have now been baking for 45 years and I still find it fascinating.
Here’s a simple bread to try:
- 500g flour
- 390g water, make sure it’s Cold
- 10g sea Salt
- 5g yeast
- Preheat the oven to 240ºC.
- Mix all ingredients together for ten minutes, until dough feels elastic.
- Immediately put into fridge in a covered container, leave 24 to 48 hours.
- Take it out of the fridge and let it come back to room temperature 3-4 hours.
- This is quite a soft dough, so gently tip out onto a floured surface shape and then place on a tray sprinkled with course rice flour.
- Sprinkle more rice flour on top and slash the dough.
- Immediately place in previously heated oven.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes.
- Make sure that the loaf has lots of colour (brown not black), as that will also give you that extra flavour.
Alternative bread recipes on Saucy Dressings, are: