Return of the Maslin (it never went away)

A few years ago we stopped calling our brown sourdough “Maslin” and started calling it “Wholemeal Sourdough”. We did this because people kept asking us what a “Maslin” was, because we want our bread to be accessible and not alienating, and because it was the most wholemeal of our sourdoughs, so what’s the harm?

Well, it’s not 100% wholemeal. It’s a blend of wholemeal, white and rye flour, and that’s not something we should sell as a wholemeal loaf.

Recently there’s been a bit of a push from the Real Bread Campaign around the mislabelling of bread and there’s a section in The Bread and Flour Regulations (1998) stating that the word “wholemeal” should not be used unless all flour ingredients are wholemeal. And since we’re long-standing members of the Real Bread Campaign, it would be a bit weird not to go along with this.

But what is a Maslin? The word itself has a similar origin to “miscellany” and broadly means a mixture composed of different materials. So a Maslin Loaf is a loaf made of a variety of grains – in our case wholemeal, white and rye. It’s a mix, a blend, a maslin, and it’s been a Loaf staple since we opened in 2012. Even though it’s not always been called that.

(The question is now begged, will we do a 100% wholemeal loaf? Watch this space…)

An affordable loaf for Stirchley

It will come as no surprise that we’re having to increase the price of our bread from this week. While most of the cost of a loaf of bread is our labour, other costs have increased significantly recently to the point where we need to pass some of them on.

Here are our new prices.

White Sourdough – Large£3.50£3.75
White Sourdough – Small£2.20£2.50
Wholemeal Sourdough£3.50£4.00
Spelt Sourdough£3.50£4.00
Sourdough Tin£3.50£3.75
Sourdough Special£2.50£3.00
Rye – Large£3.50£3.75
Rye – Small£2.20£2.50
Rye Specialno change£3.00
White Tin£2.20£2.50
Multigrain Tin – Large£2.20£2.50
Multigrain Tin – Small£1.10£1.20
Stirchley Loaf – Largeno change£2.00
Stirchley Loaf – Smallno change£1.00
Honey Oat£2.00£2.50
Sourdough Focaccia£2.00£2.50
Baguetteno change£2.00
Sourdough Baguette£2.00£2.50
Fruit Loafno change£3.50
Bloomerno change£2.20
Ciabattano change£2.00

Naturally we thought a lot about what to increase and by how much. What follows is a glimpse into that process.

One of the key issues in the world of Real Bread is how to keep it affordable. We believe that good bread is worth paying a fair price for and that factory bread is only cheap because the true costs are hidden. But it is also vitally important that real bread is within reach of as many people as possible.

Last month Molly and Rach went to London for the Real Bread For All conference, looking at how small, local bakeries like Loaf can make Real Bread affordable and accessible for people on lower incomes. On the other hand bakeries have be economically sustainable and ensure that neither people or their products are undervalued.

There were no easy answers but they came back buzzing with ideas, one of which we’re planning to roll out over the next few months. And it was a good reminder that we’re already doing something to keep bread affordable…

Our Stirchley Loaf is an unassuming loaf of bread but it’s very important to us. It’s a simple, yeasted loaf made with a blend of white, wholemeal and rye flour with grated potato added for softness. Because there’s no tin involved we can mix, shape and bake it with the minimum of work and keep the cost down as much as possible. It’s not a lesser bread, but it is much more accessible.

We made the decision a while back that we will always charge £1 for a small and £2 for a large Stirchley, and that the ingredients will not change in quantity or quality. No shrinkflation here. As costs increase the Stirchley will be subsidised to keep it at this price as long as possible.

Meanwhile the majority of our other breads are going up. Some price variations are based on ingredients and there are a couple of overdue corrections, but it’s fairly equitable across the board. This mostly reflects our electricity bill which is more than doubling this year, and given that’s what powers the oven there’s not much we can do about it! (Other than continue to fight for systemic global socioeconomic change, of course.)

Thank you for continuing to buy our bread and keep us trading. As our prices are forced to increase we will continue to work to make Real Bread as affordable and accessible as we can, with your support.

Waste no bread

Sliced spelt loaf

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.