Proper, slow-fermented sourdough from Bread Ahead
“It started with the Cathedral loaf, which we created in celebration of our relationship with Southwark Cathedral,” say Matt Jones, founder and head baker at Bread Ahead, whose Borough Market bakery looks out upon the famous church. “That was a monster loaf, about 7kg, and was really designed to be used for celebrations and large gatherings. About three years ago, we developed a smaller loaf and named it in honour of the cathedral’s Harvard Chapel, which is where the sourdough starter we use for all our baking was mixed and blessed back on the 17th August 2013.”
At 2kg, the Chapel is still a large loaf, but it is much more domestic in scale than its vast progenitor. In appearance, it is like a large bloomer loaf, but with an unusually dark crust, which Matt believes gives a lovely texture and flavour to the bread. The dough contains some rye and wholemeal flour but is made predominantly from white flour, produced from British-grown wheat. “The rye and wholemeal add some extra layers of flavour and acidity to the white flour, which is a lovely flour in its own right,” explains Matt.
The loaf is designed to be a good all-round daily bread, great for sandwiches, soups, dipping and mopping up. But while it may be very quick and easy to eat, making it is a 24-hour process. First the dough is mixed, using the bakery’s sourdough starter. This dough will be folded over itself three times during a six-hour period. It is then shaped, before going into the fridge for 16 hours overnight to ferment and rise. “It is the time we give to the dough to slowly rise that gives the bread its depth of flavour,” says Matt. “The longer the fermentation, the deeper the flavour. The folding enhances the structure of the bread by strengthening the proteins.”
The Chapel has, says Matt, been growing in popularity. “There were some customers who got it straight away, and others came to it after a while,” the baker reveals. “In some ways it is quite a challenging bread to put before the public. It has quite a hard crust, which those who prefer softer breads might find a bit difficult at first. But the real affineurs of the bread world have always appreciated what a really good crust brings to the loaf, and that is definitely beginning to spread further afield.”
Matt has been championing slow-fermented breads baked with a good dark crust since long before it was fashionable to do so, and his work has been highly influential in driving the current renaissance in sourdough baking. “The idea was to keep it small, maybe two or three bakers at most, but people kept coming back and we kept selling out, and we had to keep growing to keep up!” he says with a smile. “It is very hard work, but it’s also wonderful to see that there’s a desire for real, well-baked bread out there.”