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St John Bread and Wine


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It finally opened. Last Friday, at 8.00am, suddenly and quietly. So, having taken the weekend off, here are a few thoughts, explaining a little about the bakery that sits alongside a bar and simple-food kitchen. As I’m just the start-up guy, the journeyman baker, and certainly not a spokesman for the company, these thoughts are simply personal observations and history about a rather special group of activities enclosed within the space. As my involvement will end shortly (within the next few weeks) and I start the next project, I thought as Andy suggested I participate more, that I would let you in on the personal thoughts behind my work there.

The history and preparation...

Initially, when St. John in Smithfield opened almost 10 years ago, I set up the bakery. Following my departure, the bread at St. John was maintained and nurtured for 8 years by Manuel Monade, who together with Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver, planned to open a bakery somewhere around Brick Lane. The three had worked quietly trying to secure a site, and finally last year, signed to the property in Commercial Street, E1. Then Manuel suddenly departed, and that left a big space in the project. Fergus and Margot (his wife) had suggested I became involved, and I put forward ideas for head bakers.

Eventually, we felt that the best solution was to employ from within the company, and St. John’s pastry chef Justin Gellatly was offered the position of head baker at the new bakery. This made sense because my thought had been to combine the bakery and pastry sections into one cohesive unit, and though the bakery methods I would install would be fundamentally different to those used at old St. John (changing from quick no-time doughs, to slowly mixed fermented artisan baking), essentially they would be easy to teach if the interest and willingness was there. And Justin has made the effort to embrace these values.

I set rules for myself to guide to work. Firstly, I would write the dough methods and alter them to work with the chosen flour. This decision was, in part, an attempt to correct my own approach to baking, which had become increasing driven by dissatisfaction with the ingredients, an approach I could not justify. Surely the grain grown locally (in East Anglia and Kent) was capable of baking good bread? For hundreds of years it did, why not now? So initially I looked to 2 small mills, where the slow milling methods might also add flavour, texture and colour to the loaf – Redbournbury watermill in St. Albans (01582 792 874), and Maud Foster windmill in Lincolnshire (01205 352188). These flours were used initially in the tests for St. John B&W (baked suing the ovens at Locanda Locatelli). However, after a recommendation from Troels Bendex at Breads Ecetera (07811 189 545), and Paul Merry, I finally settled with Cann Mills (a watermill in Shaftsbury, Dorset -01747 852 475; Paul runs his bakery courses there).

Secondly, the bread would be baked in the late afternoon, for purchase and delivery early evening (5pm) - when friends want to buy bread, and making it an more attractive proposition for potential employees (the people who ‘love working nights and sleeping during the day’ are perhaps not the people you want to employ). In many countries, bakeries within a town will bake at different times, and be closed on different days, to avoid chasing the same buck. It also means that, as a customer, you watch the bread being baked.

All of the breads use a sour ferment, and we have three (a white, a mixed grain – white, rye and wholemeal, and a rye/cider). The ferments are kept at a cool temperature (15C) in the cellars, and are refreshed with equal quantities of flour and liquid (water usually). There are four breads, all organic, that I have worked with the bakery on, the ordinary White (Cann stoneground white flour, sour ferment, water, salt and commercial yeast – 0.7%), the ordinary Brown (Cann stoneground white flour, wholewheat flour, sour ferment, water, salt and commercial yeast – 0.7%), the rye (Cann stoneground white flour, rye flour, rye grains, sour ferment, water, salt and commercial yeast – 0.7%), and the Leaven (Cann stoneground white flour, wholewheat flour, sour ferment, water, and salt). All are openly textured, with a thick crisp crust. The bakery equipment was sourced by Les Nightingale (01733 324 363), and chosen and designed by myself. The bakery team, as of today, is Justin Gellatly (Head Baker), A-Cau Duong (the baker who maintained the old SJ bakery with Manuel and after until this opened), Warren Blakeman, Chris Niewiarowski, and Suzanne Banks.

And the rest? Run by GM Lou Barclay, with head chef Carl Goward and bar manager Jo Norman, its almost an English diner, or a Parisian cafe. Quite dour and northern European, the dining room serves (at any one time) a few simple dishes, though these groupings change throughout the day. Ginger cake, and egg and bacon bits in the morning, seed cake and madeira at 11's, two or three simple braises (tripe, duck legs and carrots, say) cooked in the bakery oven, bread, salty butter, prune tarts and thick cream, washed down with good French (only) wine. Late afternoon will see the arrival of little madelines, eccles cakes and shortbread, And the evening rolls on with more dishes to settle the stomach. St. John Bread and Wine, 94 - 96 Commercial Street, E1 6LZ, telephone 020 7247 8724, fax 020 7247 8924, http://www.stjohnrestaurant.co.uk

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Dan, very interesting stuff indeed, thank you for taking me up on my suggestion of posting more.

I was particularly interested in your comments regarding dissastisfaction with ingredients. Is London poorly off in relation to elsewhere in the world when it comes to sourcing adequate supplies of quality flours, grains and yeasts, or is it a wider problem?

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Can I ask why you add commercial yeast in addition to the sour ferment? I thought the two were antagonistic.

In the case of 3 breads (the white, rye, and brown), I described them as commercially yeasted breads.

That is, although the amount of commercial yeast added is very small (5g per kilo of flour), that yeast is still the dominant leavening in the dough and cuts the dough time down to 5 hours (as opposed to 10 hours on the leaven bread, made without commercial yeast - still a relatively short time, but the bakery is very warm and there is a slight reluctance by the bakers to extend the times with lower tempartures, as they are all new to baking at a respectable rather than breakneck speed). At this level, the souring acts as a lactic 'improver', increasing shelf life, aiding the development of an inregular crumb stucture (an affectation, I know), and gives the loaf a more complex flavour.

If your question is also about using both commercial yeast and sour ferment (created by leaving a flour and water mixture, made slightly lactic with the addition of a little sour milk) to naturally ferment) in the same bakery, then I would assume that it would be difficult to keep the sour completely pure from any commercial yeast, given that it is handled and used in production in the same work area. I have never added it to a sour to start the fermentation - a pointless task that only fools the baker.

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I was particularly interested in your comments regarding dissastisfaction with ingredients. Is London poorly off in relation to elsewhere in the world when it comes to sourcing adequate supplies of quality flours, grains and yeasts, or is it a wider problem?

Hello Andy,

I must quickly appologise as I fear I've given the wrong impression about my own dissatisfaction with ingredients.

I was hurtling through life, very excited about the breads and methods I would encounter around the world, and imagined that the bakers I met with were doing the same - that is, searching for 'the best'.

They weren't, and I was so wrong and misguided. What they were doing, in creating excellence within the bounds of their traditions, was taking local ingredients, learning to understand the characteristics of local flours through generations of practice (and 'acceptance', another word that is at the top of my baking glossary), and creating the best bread they could. The weaknesses are the strengths, the faults are the admired qualities in the loaf.

You know, there are excellent ingredients everywhere if we choose open our mind to them. Certainly in London there is no shortage of wonderful flours, grains and yeasts from around the world.

But what about local, the small mill that struggles to sell the unfashionable English grain. By getting over my silly 'dissatisfaction', growing up and learning to discover what qualities the local grain could give to a loaf, and by beginning to learn to respect what we have, I believe I have grown 10 fold as a baker and a person.

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Many thanks. The question was about their relative roles in the dough.

I thought that irregular crumb structure (which I greatly admire) was due to careful handling of a fairly wet dough, particularly at the shaping stage, rather than a lactic dough.

Also you don't mention retarding the dough. Is there any reason why you prefer not to?

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I thought that irregular crumb structure (which I greatly admire) was due to careful handling of a fairly wet dough, particularly at the shaping stage, rather than a lactic dough.

Also you don't mention retarding the dough. Is there any reason why you prefer not to?

Ok,

Yes, they are antagonistic, though apparent simplicity of fermentation is hiding a complex series of responses. Commercial yeast, multiplying at a faster rate, will dominate.

Irregular crumb stucture is primarily achieved by the manipulation the dough during the bulk (initial) fermentation. If instead of being knocked back, or punched down, the dough is tipped out on to a board, and stretched and folded once or twice, this will elongate many of the the small pockets of carbon dioxide as they are produced. Thus, repeated over several hours, little hole = thin elogated hole = big hole. Different types of yeasts will produce gas at different rates, i.e. bigger/small size holes. Stretch these, and the effect is magnified. Wetter doughs do open up more when this method is applied, but I'm finding I'm moving back towards a drier dough (68%), rather than those very wet (70%) ones I once loved.

As the refrigeration unit on the retarder is also taking the weekend off, I felt it best not to comment on a practice that isn't currently being used. But soon, by Wednseday hopefully, the fermentation will be kept at around 18C. Though, it's funny, I do stumble on to many small bakeries in Europe that produce excellent naturally fermented breads at bakery temperature (varying from 18C - 28C). The exceptions to the rule, I suppose,

regards

Dan Lepard

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seed cake and madeira at 11's,

I once wrote To Jane McQuitty after she'd once again followed in the wine critics tradition of describing a Madeira as "ideal with cake for elevenses" to ask her whether there was actually a world she knew about where people ate cake and drank Madeira at eleven o'clock in the morning and where was it?

It is obviously to be found here. I shall visit at the first morning opportunity.

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Last night we had a wonderful light repast at St John Bread and Wine. We filled our table with brawn and picallili, [a slice of all things pork, including the sow's ear, not too much jelly, sharp and crispy picallili], langoustines with mayonnaise, hunks of smoked mackerel with a horseradish cream and a wonderful bowl of fresh, uncooked vegetables with their own dish of thick vinaigrette. Slices of bread and olives finished it off. All of it was light, incredibly tasty and a refreshing delight for an area overwraught with pink curries.

We shared two desserts, lemon posset with shortbread and a ginger pudding with butterscotch sauce, together with a bottle of Sauternes.

The room was light and bright in that St John way, and was full of people, including the restaurant's neighbour Tracy Emin.

Today, we popped in to buy a loaf which had just been turned out of the oven. A light sour dough with a majestic crust, for just 2.40. We had been guessing they would have asked for 4 and were delighted not to be ripped off. I glanced up at the chalkboard menu and saw some of the dishes from last night but some had been replaced by a mutton dish and the lobster we saw people tucking into looked ... well, pink and lobstery and lovely. Again, it was busy.

As a local, I can only say this is the best thing since sliced bread.

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Irregular crumb stucture is primarily achieved by the manipulation the dough during the bulk (initial) fermentation. If instead of being knocked back, or punched down, the dough is tipped out on to a board, and stretched and folded once or twice, this will elongate many of the the small pockets of carbon dioxide as they are produced. Thus, repeated over several hours, little hole = thin elogated hole = big hole. Different types of yeasts will produce gas at different rates, i.e. bigger/small size holes. Stretch these, and the effect is magnified. Wetter doughs do open up more when this method is applied, but I'm finding I'm moving back towards a drier dough (68%), rather than those very wet (70%) ones I once loved.

Dan, a very interesting read. Thank you.

May I ask why you tip the dough out before folding it? I was taught to do it in the container in which it is fermenting. Interested in if there's a difference, as I'm just learning. Thanks again!

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May I ask why you tip the dough out before folding it?  I was taught to do it in the container in which it is fermenting.  Interested in if there's a difference, as I'm just learning.

Hello Elyse,

Firstly, I tend to leave the dough, during it's first fermentation, on a board or a tray. This is because a mass of dough will heat up in the centre (much like the core of a compost heap), and when you are working with large pieces of dough this potential variation in temperature between the core and the outer edge can be a problem. Before I continue here, I must add that I have never found this a problem at home, working with 1 or 2 kg of dough.

By tipping the dough on to a flat surface, and giving it a turn on the bench, this not only stretches the carbon dioxide bubbles that form, but also ensures that the any warmer or cooler sections of dough are moved, helping the dough temperature stay even. This action also cools the dough a little, which can be a help in a overly warm bakery, and when using soft flours.

and Flossie, I'm very pleased you did !

regards

Dan

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Dan, many thanks for sharing so much information. It is a pleasure to read your posts.

Could you tell us a bit about the oven at St John Bread and Wine? Electric? Gas-fired? I am assuming that it is not wood-fired. What oven characteristics did you look for in planning the new venture?

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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As a local, I can only say this is the best thing since sliced bread.

Agreed.

Now been twice - an enjoyable visit on each occasion. Popped in on spec last Saturday for lunch. We were both impressed by the room, big, square and white. The staff are very agreeable and friendly (are they seconded from St. John St.?). I had a bowl of langoustine with superior mayo and Anny had foie gras on toast (I think liver & pate du) with a prune and onion marmalade - both very good. Eccles (sp) cake and a generous wedge of Lancashire, from Neil's Yard, was shared. I haven't realised what I've been missing - the cake is fabulous.

Last night we took a friend for dinner. The ladies contented themselves to a bowl of olives to start and I had bloater on toast. This is served as a pate - again good.

For main we shared a pot-roasted guinea fowl, and a plate of raw vegetables. I like the fact that the bird is placed on the table whole and you just dive in. The bird was good but I think the veg was enjoyed more - a novelty perhaps?

So, very informal, good food and a joy to have as a neighbourhood local.

Sorry Dan, forgot to add that the bread is brilliant, it's offered in abundance as you order. May have to give up my weekly Poilaine habit.

Gavin

Edited by Gavin Baxter (log)
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a lot of you here are probably aware of what for me has been a delightful discovery this lunch-time. only a couple hundred yards or so away from my office a sister st. john's - with bakery - has just opened..."two weeks on friday" as the lovely waitress informed me. with main courses at 6 pounds a pop - she fills a nice gap in the spitalfields-commercial street-bricklane gastronomic lunch market - one to which i am roped into by corporate governance.

i shall report on the findings here, tomorrow, as i uneartherd the discovery on my return to the office...in the meantime i wanted to share my child-like candy-store feeling - which at its core is firmly founded in culinary pleasures, a taste for fresh bread (to be taken home from work), and the magical - yet completely out of our control - world of office location and its impact on work appreciation.

-che

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at the risk of displaying my under-informed self even more...dan, do you speacilize in setting up bakeries? someone commented about a book you wrote?

apologize if this is more inquisitive than this forum allows.

-che

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Just in case Dan is not around to answer this soon, his book is called Baking With Passion and he consults for a number of restaurants in the capital and I believe around the world. Along with the two St John establishments, his most recent gig was at Locanda Locatelli and he set up the Baker and Spice cafe/bakery in Walton Street. Hopefully Dan hinself will fill in some more detail and let us know what his future plans are now that his work is done at St John Bread and Wine.

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Could you tell us a bit about the oven at St John Bread and Wine? Electric? Gas-fired? I am assuming that it is not wood-fired. What oven characteristics did you look for in planning the new venture?

Hello Jonathan,

The oven in the bakery is a rather simple (but beautifully formed) electric deck oven from a company called Eurofours. The choice of a French oven over an English was due to last minute confusion over the deck (baking chamber) size, and Eurofours had the largest oven that would fit in the small space we had provisioned (that may not make sense, but the story is rather long and complicated and involves different 'standard' tray sizes, and the eventual interoperability, boring but rather important as it restricted the size of other equipment).

Electricity and Gas - as I set up bakeries for baking newbies, it is important that the sytems put in place are relatively simple, and electricity offers that ease (switch it on, switch it off). I advise others on how to create the bakery that they , rather than I, want. And I would (for my own bakery one day soon) like to try to have a wood fired oven, ideally built by my friend Paul Merry, and much like the late Poilane's smart setup downstairs in Elizabeth Street, London. But my employer-customers are fearful of the wood fire - the financial cost of providing suitable extraction in a London building, or concern that maintaining a fire would pose a responsibility that the staff wouldn't care for. Just different intentions, I guess.

Andy, I must correct you. The wonderful Baker & Spice was formed before I became an employee, and grew because of the talent and enthusiasm of a caring bunch of ex-chefs, oddballs and passionate nutters. I did my bit, and have been overly credited. But I was very lucky to be there at the time. The full cast list is on the last page of Baking with Passion. But since then, I'll take due credit....

So CheGuevara, the above might describe me best. I get offered the chance, by chefs and bakers in the UK, to help them create good bread. I'm a surrogate bakerman ("now give the bakery up, Mr. Lepard"). I do go back to visit, but mindful that now it is someone elses baby. During a portrait for a magazine last week, the photographer said, "That's good for you, getting to walk away a month after the opening."

Umm, that depends on what work means to you, I suppose,

regards

Dan

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the taste of rhubarb and butter continues to hover in my mouth like a summer fly, persistent in it presence. i just returned from lunch at st. john's and im finding it hard to deliver the experience.

without a doubt the best lunch in the neighborhood - and in my case, one of the best lunches i've had in london.

we had a terrine of pork, pigeon and parsley - all tied in together with a perfectly balanced - juggling between viscosity and flavor - gelatine; a dorstone goat cheese, was perfectly creamy, very mild flavor; a harbourne blue, to which part of my mind is numb as it continously registers the pleasure derived from it, which could be close in lineage to a gorgonzola dolce, magnificent. if you must ask, all this with two glasses of crisp red, yes crisp, served well below room temperature.

in honour of dan - the bread was excellent - as was the butter. excellent butter.

we finished with an opaquely translucent rhubarb jelly, served with single cream, like my mom used to serve jelly at home, and two warm butter cookies, gently sprinkled with crystal-white sugar. but back to the jelly, forget the damn cream, farm sourced or not, the jelly was like a tiny explosion of acidity, with a sweet aftertaste of berry. the texture, immaculate, firm yet it separated at the merest touch, in a slow calculated manner. if that doesn't tell you it's homemade....

all this - there were two of us - for 35 pounds. remove the wine, that still leaves a hefty bottle of still, and we would have lunched for 20 pounds - albeit cheese, bread and a terrine - have you heard of pret? it's an absolute pleasure to eat simple, good, home-made food - so good was my experience that in all this excitement i forgot to mention the pickles served with the terrine.

here's a little something i emailed a friend in response to his inquiry - how was lunch (included the english translation for obvious resons)

------------------------------------------------------------------

Leche separada, en bocaditos de tostada harina

Pepinos fugaces y dulces como el placer

Un tinto impecable, manteca sin sal

Fuimos transportados en jalea de ruibarbo

------------------------------------------------------------------

Clotted milk, in small bites of toasted flour

Fleeting pickles, sweet like pleasure

An impeccable red, salt less butter

We were transported in a rhubarb jelly

------------------------------------------------------------------

-che

Edited by CheGuevara (log)
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  • 4 weeks later...

A trip to my barbers by Spitalfield Market ended with an impulse decision to have lunch at St John Bread and Wine which has just opened on 94-96 Commercial St. directly opposite Spitalfield Market.

The room is dressed in typical St John white with the menu on a large blackboard specifying 11am or 12pm

At 11am you could have such treats as Seed Cake with a glass of Madeira or a little chocolate bun

At 12pm there is a more extensive menu with dishes ranging from £3 to £12.50

I chose ox heart and horseradish to get the full St John experience. Fair dos to St John's, they did exactly what they said on the tin....A plate of grilled ox heart strips was presented with a small pile of horseradish cream on the side. I ordered a glass of the house red - vin de pays d'oc I think - smooth, drinkable.

I have had my doubts about the whole concept of St Johns being a lover of more fancy food, but this was delicious once I had got the balance of ox heart to horseradish right and smooshed some of the horseradish into the ox heart juice then mopped it up with the bread. Did I mention the bread - it was superb, tangy,nutty,free!

I got the bill and an eccles cake to takeaway, total cost £12.20 inclusive of service for an excellent and simple lunch. I will go back next time and spend longer and maybe mix and match some courses.

Gav

"A man tired of London..should move to Essex!"

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  • 2 weeks later...

Excellent supper in the company of my estimable brother, Robin and the rapidly diminishing Jay Rayner last night

After a couple of bottles of Lindauer reserve at our place we then cabbed to St J's Br&W ( Jay has a corn on his tootsies don't you know?) where we found the place packed to the gunwhales with a queue out the door

We went straight to our pre booked table and looked at the board where all the dishes for the day are written

At first we were a bit dubious as there were lots of lines chalked through things on the menu and there seemed to be a paucity of slabs of flesh ( no veal chop or pork chop to be seen ) Still we decided upon three starters and three mains and asked them to serve them family style

The starters were really very good indeed. Foie with prunes on toasted sourdough was a great combination and the stewed prunes gave a great counterpoint to the richeness of the plentiful foie and the crunch of the bread.

Soft roes on toast had been sauteed in butter and were superb with a real bite to them.

Potted duck and pork ( with some little kidneys in ) was slightly underseasoned for my liking but remedied by a huge pile of cornichons served with it

For main courses we ordered

Thin Flank - pink strips of flank steak served cold with a delicious horseradish sauce. Great flavour and perfectly cooked

Rabbit stew ( the weakest dish for me ) OK, but lacking a depth of flavour

Chitterlings - Grilled and charred fabulous

We also ordered three puddings

Strawberry pavlova - very creamy but lacking a crunch to the topping

Gooseberry fool with ginger biscuits

Chocolate ice cream. This was seriously good stuff packed with choccy bits and made on site

To drink we had two bottles of Pic St Loup, a glass of sauternes and some eau de vies.

Bill came to a pretty reasonable £60 per pop

I think the cooking here is better than that at the main St J's. Service was good and, if it was close to my work, I could see myself coming in here every lunch time.

8/10

S

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I nipped in for a drink and a tour around the bakery when it first opened and I really liked the look of the place and the sound of the menu. I had the chance to sample some of the breads which I thought were lovely. I understand that press reviews have been mixed.

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Bill came to a pretty reasonable £60 per pop

...but only because this was the Majumdar boys, who insisted as SImon, points out, on two bottles of the pic st loup, plus a glass each of the sauterne, and a glass each of the eau de vie. Plus there was another main course he didn't mention of pigeon with cress and pickled walnut salad (the chitterlings were a starter) and the oilves. In other words we ate for four and drank four five.

I think you could get out of here for a full meal on £35 a head. SImon and Robin wouldn't dream of doing such a thing, of course, because that is not the majumdar way but I just thought you all ought to know.

Jay

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