When Steve Ackland retired from the police service in the Autumn of 2010 he little realised he would soon develop a fascination with baking bread. Ever since he's been feeding us a relentless stream of enticing pictures on our Facebook page.
“I was always an enthusiastic cook” says Steve who before joining the Police was a Navigating Officer in the Merchant Navy and experienced different cuisines from around the world. “Baking, however, was a mystery to me and something I was determined to master. I had dabbled with bread making machines in the past but was never happy with the outcome.”
To begin with the results were not promising – failure after failure almost leading to him giving up – but suddenly things began to turn out better. “Reading the River Cottage Series book on Bread was the turning point” Steve recalls. “There was a nice balance between the science of bread making and some easy to understand recipes”.
Before long he was making all the bread for his family and widening his repertoire. One day a neighbour called just as he was taking some bread out of the oven and asked if she could buy a loaf from him. Since then the word has spread and he now regularly supplies bread to family, neighbours and other acquaintances. “I don’t really make a profit” says Steve, “but making for other people ensures that I get to try my hand at a greater range of products. If I was only producing bread for my family then I would be limited to just a few loaves each week but now I produce 20-25 across a range of recipes. I have started to turn people away now though – It’s supposed to be a hobby after all!”
Once his production levels rose, Steve decided to source all his flour from Shipton Mill. “I find it much easier than buying from supermarkets” Steve says. “The range and quality of the flour is fantastic and the delivery service second to none.” The change was not without its problems though, Steve recalls. “My first few loaves with my newly delivered Shipton Mill flour were abject failures! I just couldn’t work out what had gone wrong!”
“Silly as it sounds I was lying awake in the middle of the night worrying about it, something I hadn’t done since I gave up the stresses of work”, Steve Laughs. “I had previously been using Waitrose Very Strong Canadian Flour for all of my bread making and when I placed my first order with Shipton Mill I chose a number of different flours ‘for a change’. I started to wonder if it was this that had caused the problem so the next morning I went out and bought several bags of my ‘old’ flour. I mixed it 50:50 with the ‘new’ flour from Shipton Mill and “Success!” everything was back to normal!”
Steve then spent a good deal of time researching the information on the Internet about the relative strengths and properties of the different types of flour available. “I couldn’t believe I had been so naive”, Steve admits. “I had only bought the Waitrose Canadian because ‘Very Strong Bread Flour’ sounded ‘better’ than plain old ‘Strong Bread Flour’ and obviously I had inadvertently got used to the feel and the requirements of working with that type of flour.”
“ I then ordered a large sack of Canadian Flour from Shipton Mill and ever since have added a percentage to all my dough mixes, especially those with a long overnight fermentation.”
“I am trying to wean myself off the Canadian Flour though, and am gradually using less of it as I grow in confidence with dealing with the unique qualities of the other types of flour available.”
Bread making is certainly an addiction, Steve admits. “I am just in the middle of constructing a wood-fired oven in my garden and can’t wait to try the taste of bread from that. I’m looking forward to mastering a new technique!”
I tend to base most of my favourite recipes on a kg of flour (following the River Cottage style) and then make either 2 Large or 3 Medium loaves from each batch. I also really favour the technique of setting an unsalted batter the night before comprising half the flour, all the liquid and the yeast. I really find it gets everything going and allows the flavours to develop.
During warm weather I tend to use water straight from the cold tap and stand the batter in my cool garage. In the winter I take the worst of the chill off the tap-water and stand the batter in an unheated room. Of course these breads can be made all at once if you have no time for the batter technique, simply combine all the ingredients and go for it!
I bake my bread in a 4 Oven AGA so apologies in relation to the temperatures I have shown below. They are a bit of guess work by me as, with the AGA, I don’t really bother with temperature – just vary oven positions depending on how coloured the loaf seems to be getting!