It starts innocently enough, a Dan Lepard Guardian newspaper supplement, a childhood memory of Polish rye bread, one disgusting chilled sandwich too many at a motorway service station, a visit from a beloved Aunt who has always baked her own bread, a day baking with Simon Michaels, another day with Dan Lepard and before I knew it – I was one of them – a full-blown obsessive breadbaker.
What do you really need to make bread with? At its most basic, you need time, patience, the willingness to learn, to make mistakes, to think about them, to try again and beyond that – flour, water, salt, something to raise the bread with and somewhere to cook it.
But….I read. I read a lot. It’s my preferred way of interacting with the knowledge base of our culture. And the more I read the more I wanted to make other breads: French baguettes, breads with sourdoughs, breads made with alternative sourdoughs, German ryes, American bagels, Irish soda breads, Pasteis de Natas, and inevitably Panettone.
One of the frustrations of the internet age is that we have a window on the ‘stuff’ that other people have access to in their own countries; a glimpse at how the export/import market works. The most hilarious example of this being a little piece of kit known strangely as a ‘Danish dough whisk’ which is made in Eastern Europe, but could only be bought in the States (which I ended up doing) or as a very overpriced object in a shop selling American stuff in Bath, England – I could see French lames for sale in Australia and at one point considered buying them there, as Rick at Mairs Bakehouse had done. Something wrong there, no?
I wanted German breadforms; I ended up sending cash in an envelope to Herbert Birnbaum who make the best ones, only they don’t take credit cards or Paypal. This is Europe, we’re supposed to be able to trade easily with our neighbours here in England, but because we are not in the Eurozone it all gets so complicated. Is it any wonder that Amazon does so very well?
A year ago I found someone selling breadforms on Ebay. I bought some and as there was an ongoing postal strike we had a friendly exchange of emails. Something in the way the seller wrote made me think I had come across him somewhere and I was right; he posted on Dan Lepard’s forum.
Ah, I thought, I wonder if he would be interested in finding the things I wanted, the things that people ask for all the time on baking forums, so I gave him a list of things that I desired but couldn’t get here.
Bakery Bits has tracked down everything I suggested, and more; from French lames to Panibois, to the Superpeel (designed and manufactured by Gary, without which many a pizza would have fallen on the floor) there’s Backferment and diastatic malt to experiment with too. I have no idea how well my suggestions sell, I hope I didn’t suggest too many duds though.
Last Christmas saw an extreme scenario. Lynne and I decided to make panettone, she in Switzerland, me here. We really wanted panettone cases, I know you can make them in coffee cans (American style) and other substitutes, but we wanted them and we wanted the Fiori di Sicilia. A kind soul from Dan’s forum bought panettone cases in America and posted them to me. Lynne ordered Fiori from King Arthur, had it delivered to someone in the States who then sent it over to her office and then finally it came here. What a hoo-ha for something that is made in Italy, another European country.
I mentioned this to Bakery Bits. Long conversations ensued about what was so great about homemade panettone and how was it different from stollen and so on. Then I mentioned Fiori di Sicilia and how you couldn’t get it here for love nor money….
I thought BB wasn’t going to buy my arguments, but this morning in the post I got a collection of beautifully labelled bottles with all the Italian baking essences I could wish for and one I hadn’t even heard of before.
It looks as if it was a group effort getting these little bottles of joy onto the market; Annalisa Barbieri of the Guardian helped with the Italians and Dan Lepard has endorsed the quality of the essences. Bakery Bits has rebottled and labelled and done all the hard work and so, with my hand on my heart, with no vested interest at all, apart from wanting things too much, so I can bake away here at home – I would just like to say many thanks to Patrick for the conversations over the last year and for all the hard work you put into getting these products into the retail market. I wish you the best of luck and hope your business grows well. You’ve made one home baker very happy in the pursuit of her passion.
To share the happiness and if you’ve had the patience to read this far down the post, I am offering one bottle of Bakery Bits ‘Fiori di Sicilia’ as a give@away if you leave a comment describing your most obscure object of culinary desire by 22nd October.
Dec 2010 Edit: I’ve added a new post since this was written giving links to some excellent Panettone recipes and discussions.