Stellenbosch. – I set the alarm to 3.30 am, rolled out of bed and straight into a steaming hot shower in the hope of taking the edge off the cold night air, before bundling myself into the layers of clothing and driving myself to Oude Bank Bakkerij, where I had a 4.15 am sharp appointment with head baker Brett Nortier.
I was joining him, apron in place, to learn how to make bread.
By the time I arrived the small team was in, the dough was being mixed and the temperature in the faithful oven Black Betty, was perfected. The light in the kitchen had a yellow hue and the atmosphere was quiet yet industrial, meditative even as we took turns kneading the mix. Consistencies were measured and under guidance the dough eventually formed into baguettes, oval and round loaves to order and for meals in the cafe.
It felt so good to have my hands emerged in the flour, adding water and yeast, rolling it out until it matched Brett’s requirements. Making bread is an art form, a dedication and passion to giving life. I was making my first loaf, folding and nurturing the dough, taking lessons in the philosophy of this special place. It was therapeutic and grounding.
The smell of freshly baked bread is one of the best, and as the dough turned brown it hung heavily on the air. We packed our ready loaves onto the trays and by then it was about 7am and the shop was opening to early patrons wanting their morning coffee – and breakfast. I sat with Brett and his team for a quiet moment, enjoying a cappuccino, tasting the bread he’d guided me to baking and celebrating the beauty of our labour. I’d get up early for this on any given day, as they do, driven by their passion to return quality bread to every table.
I grinned for hours, feeling as though somebody had sprinkled magic dust on my world. Reminded that in the most simple acts, can come the greatest reward.
Here’s the recipe from Brett, if you’d like to try it at home – Organic Witwool pot brood.
Poolish – 250g Bread flour, 250g Water, 1g Yeast
Mix and leave to ferment for 6 hours plus.
Final dough – 250g Witwool flour, 230g Water, 9g Salt, 5g Yeast
Dissolve the poolish with the water then slowly start mixing the flour in, work gently with the dough. Once all the flour and salt has been incorporated then cover the mixture and leave for 30 mins. After 30 mins you can fold the dough. Repeat this process for 3 folds.
On the 3rd fold lightly dust a clean cloth with flour and place it in a bowl, put the dough in this lightly floured container and let it prove to 1.5 times the original size.
Pre heat your pot in the oven @ 260 degrees, carefully add the dough and put the tight fitting lid on. Gently put the pot back in the oven and bake. After 20 mins reduce the heat to 230 degrees and take off the lid.
If you find yourself in Stellenbosch, this is the place for a coffee, breakfast and appreciation of the craft of bread making.
Schoon means beautiful in Dutch, which is a fitting description for what they do at Schoon De Compagne, how they work, where they are and their opinion of the people they serve. A collaboration of artisans who contributes to the community in the true sense of the word, not merely as a label, they make a difference with the skills they have acquired over time through study and practice and by using only the finest and purest ingredients, with integrity and uncompromising determination.
When it come to baking bread at De Oude Bank Bakkerij, they naturally ferment the doughs for full flavour of the specific grain and for easy digestion. Baking as authentically as they do, they are forced by the nature of the product to be very much aware. Aware of the circumstances of the day; temperature, humidity, the ferocity of the wood fired oven, eagerness of the wild yeast organisms, qualities of the milled grain. The wood oven, Black Betty, has proved herself to be sufficiently built and serves them well, taking in 40-60 well hydrated pieces of hand shaped dough and giving back dark, crusty, delicious loaves of bread.
With Brett and the bread that I baked.
For more ideas of what to do in Stellenbosch, see my post:
Stellenbosch. A Must Do List For The City of Oaks.
For more information have a look at the Stellenbosch Wine Routes and Stellenbosch 360 websites, also follow them on Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube and look out for the #VisitStellenbosch hashtag. Thank you for the opportunity.