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Baker Dan Lepard shares his memories about The Handmade Loaf and other projects.


Perhaps the most influential baker in the UK is Dan Lepard. His gentle, informative style gives even the most nervous of bakers confidence. While most people know Dan from almost a decade of writing a weekly column for The Guardian, he can also be credited with leading the way in home bakers baking artisan bread. You can pinpoint the resurgence in hand made bread to the moment that Dan’s book The Handmade Loaf was published ten years ago. I know his book changed the way I baked bread and indeed it is what inspired BakeryBits.

I caught up with Dan and asked him how The Handmade Loaf came about.

“I wanted to write a book about the sourdough baking I saw in Northern Europe, and as a way of recording some of the ideas I’d had, baking alongside the people I met on my travels.

For the ten years leading up to that, I’d been a working sourdough baker, so the book was also a product of that time in my life and work, combined with stories about and pictures of the people I’d met, and the recipes and techniques I’d arrived at by working with and talking to them. For example, there’s a recipe I wrote for a flatbread made with dill seeds and lard, where the inspiration was a traditional bread made for me by a young central Asian couple I met in Russia… and so the book has a photo of them holding their bread, and then later on, you come to the recipe that I wrote after meeting them.

I found that people from Moscow to Paris opened their homes and bakeries to me, let me bake with them in their ovens, and then I photographed what I’d baked. So the photos with white backgrounds were all taken in different countries, of breads baked in my hosts’ ovens, from recipes written while I was with them. In 2003, the internet and Google weren’t very developed, so I’d often have to travel to, say, the Ukraine and find bakers along the way as I travelled. I had a bag with me that contained a small pot of sourdough starter, my film camera and lots of film (this all happened before digital photography and Photoshop were commonplace), a small flash light and a rolled up piece of white paper to photograph the breads on. The book is very much a travel journal on baking; and the journey both clarified and transformed the way I baked.”

You’ve left the Guardian, tell me about your writing today?

“After eight years at The Guardian I thought, perhaps it’s time for a change (8 is an auspicious number in Chinese culture, so that spurred me on). I now write a column every month in The Age (in Melbourne) and The Sydney Morning Herald. I still write for food magazines around the world, and have a couple new books commissioned by my publisher 4th Estate that are taking up the rest of my time.”

What are you plans for the future?

“To continue baking and writing about baking. Years ago my first chef-mentor Alastair Little said to me ‘I think baking is your place on the shelf of life’ and yes, it’s the thing I feel very happy doing. I write more about cooking in general, more that I did before, so that helps to keep my mind surprised and amused.”

Is there any area of bread making that you are excited about?

“You know, I keep going back to the beginning, to try to simply understand better the processes involved, and that excites me. Almost like a musician revisiting very simple folk songs, trying to understand them better while staying true to their origin. Baking is my music.”

We are lucky enough to have permission to share Dan’s Mill Loaf recipe.

Get the kit and we will give you the white and rye flour along with a scraper, free!

Dan will be teaching bread making classes in London throughout this year – information about the location and forthcoming dates can be found on his website

Popular Ingredients:

Fiori di Sicilia Essential Oil

Pearl or Nibbed Sugar

Fiori di Sicilia is a highly fragrant citrus extract used to flavour almond fillings, marzipan and other sweet foods.

Pearl or nibbed sugar, excellent for topping buns, cakes and biscuits.

 

 

 

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