There are few things we couldn’t live without. And, increasingly, fewer people. So when something good comes to the city, run with passion by decent people, it kind of makes us feel like, yeah, Liverpool is all the better for it.
So it’s great that the city’s taken Baltic Bakehouse, and its owners Sam and Grace, to its heart. Because they represent the city we love: good folk, just getting on with it, doing one thing well, and giving us all our daily bread.
As the council fucks our markets, and food service catering and cynical startups place quick profits over nutritious value, its increasingly important that we make the effort to support places like this. We’d be a hell of a lot poorer without them.
Sourdough is science in action. Water plus flour making life. Microscopic yeast cells bubbling their gassy farts through to the surface, like the sulphuric ponds of Yellowstone park. A warm, primordial soup.
Take this acrid-smelling gunge, divide, feed with fresh flour and water – and something magical happens. You’ve created the stuff of life itself: real bread.
Add a pinch of salt, and you’ve got intelligent life. The best loaf in the city. From the most unlikely of processes our daily bread is born. Or at least, it used to be, until someone invented sliced bread, and it all went wrong (don’t get us started on the Chorleywood process, please).
Sounds deliciously simple. And it sort of is – it’s just microflora doing its thing – but it’s time consuming. Well, let’s face it, do you have time to feed a hungry Tupperware of flour every time it burps at you? Us neither. We barely remember to water our potted Jasmine.
Thankfully, Sam and Grace Henley do. Bread evangelists, they’re the brother and sister team behind the Baltic Bakehouse. Squeezed between door warehouses and transmission repairers, the bakery is the best reason to keep walking past the city’s 11 Tescos for your daily loaf. We caught up with Sam after his day’s work is done (that’s about the time you’re just starting yours), and the Bakery’s bread and cakes have been shipped off to some of the city’s best restaurants and cafes (don’t worry, there are plenty left for us to buy in the shop). As I arrive, Sam and Grace are munching their way through a selection of variously smoked and unsmoked bacon rashers in their ongoing quest to create the city’s best bacon butty. Well, getting up at 4:30’s gotta have some perks…
Why bread? where did it all start for you?
It all started when we were kids, we’d get fresh bread from Chalkins, a great traditional baker on Church road (off Penny Lane). Huge crusty loaves of white bread, massive Chelsea buns and great bagels, it was a fantastic traditional bakery and we loved it. Unfortunately, Chalkins closed about ten years ago and it was the last traditional bakery in Liverpool, our only option was to reach for an old copy of Mrs Beaton, from our mum’s book shelf, and try baking our own. It all stemmed from there.
So you’re completely self taught?
More or less. Everything we know is from books or the internet. Bread is a strange thing, you start by trying a simple white loaf with an old bag of flour and next thing you know it’s two in the morning and you’re arguing about sourdough on an internet bread forum. The more you learn, the more you want the know, its a fascinating and complex subject.
I’m always learning, constantly looking for tips on twitter or baking websites and always eyeing up a new bread book. Everyday is a school day, we’ve not done it before and there’s always something new to get to grips with, the joys of scrubbing old dough from an industrial mixer are unparalleled.
Is Liverpool a real food desert?
No not at all. We have plenty of really good places to eat, however some of the restaurants that garner a lot of attention aren’t the restaurants that deserve it. Are we worse than other cities? I don’t think so, perhaps we suffer from from constant comparison with Manchester, but I’m not sure that it’s fair, many of our restaurants can hold there own against anything any other city has to offer.
What’s your experience of bread in the city?
Not brilliant, and that’s why we started Baltic Bakehouse. With the end of the traditional bakeries, the gap was more or less completely filled with supermarket bread and plant bakeries, most of which is appalling quality bread. There are a couple of other producers in the city, but we have something different and better to offer: top quality bread that you can’t get anywhere else in Liverpool.
..So, why is a good loaf so important?
Bread is a fundamental of British food. Most of us eat some every day. The stuff we get from the supermarket has so many additives the chemicals it’s a wonder that it can be considered food at all. We offer really great bread, we’re not saying you should be eating toasted Walnut sourdough, a simple loaf of white, consisting of only flour, water, salt and yeast is a great and reasonably priced loaf. It’s real bread, with no chemicals, you can actually know what you’re eating.
Talk to us about the mechanics behind a good loaf…
Good flour, gentle mixing and slow rising are the fundamentals. So much bread is over-mixed and quickly risen, it results in very light flavourless pap. Surdough is the opposite of this, full of flavour and great texture. Some sourdough can be very sour and heavy German style can turn into an exercise in worthiness, and actually isn’t always great to eat. We offer something thats far more approachable, our Baltic Wild, a white sourdough, is soft yet has a complex flavour. But it’s not too sour.
But isn’t it all a bit faddy? And, er, unhealthy?
Faddy? Not really, sourdough has been around for thousands of years. Yes, it’s undergoing a big a Renaissance, and rightly so. People are fed up of eating flavourless rubbish, we’re looking for great bread and inspired by childhood memories and trips overseas to places were great bread is still alive and kicking. I don’t think it’s a fad, it’s about people looking for simple good food.
Unhealthy? No, what a load of nonsense, anyone who says good bread is bad for you (coeliacs excepted) is talking rubbish.
Exciting things are happening in the Baltic Triangle, with new and creative projects popping up all the time. We’re open on Sundays now, and have a cafe opening in Childwall soon (more on this later) and we’re staging some more evening events in the coming months. But, really, all we want to do is bake and sell great bread (and sandwiches!)
46 Bridgewater Street