Ever since its very earliest conceptual stages, we decided that The Foodie Bugle would ask different artisanal bakers to tell us all about “a day in the life” of their shop, as seen from the eyes of the people who work there, behind the scenes. Jo Fairley and her husband Craig Sams own the award winning Judges Bakery in Hastings, and when we asked Jo to launch the very first of this series of articles she was extremely enthusiastic and proud of how her hard working team create the most delicious breads, cakes and pastries. So here is a very long, exhausting and fascinating day in the life of their very special business, from the middle of the night right through to clocking off time.
Jo Fairley’s artisanal bakery story
Have things changed at Judges Bakery since bakers first started baking loaves here in 1826? Well, yes and no. In the meantime, the bread world had a revolution: enzymes and fast-acting yeasts and improvers became the norm, the Chorleywood process was introduced (imagine loaves on speed, and you’re roughly there).
So, what we’ve done at Judges – which we believe is the oldest bakery in Britain still to be baking on the same premises – is return to the traditional way of bread-making, which allows the doughs to rise s-l-o-w-l-y. This does three things: our loaves keep longer than supermarket versions (if you can stop yourself eating them, of course), they taste better (so our customers tell us), and they’re more digestible. (We know this because we’ve had so many thank-yous from bread-lovers who’d given up, because modern, industrialised bread upsets their digestion. The reason? When you make bread in an hour – as so many bakeries do – the gluten proteins don’t have time to break down, and that’s what triggers tummy troubles.)
When an early-riser walks into the shop at 8.15 a.m., though, and smells the fresh-baked smell of real bread (real, not pumped into the air synthetically!), they may not realise what’s gone into getting that bread onto the shelf. It’s almost a round-the-clock job, keeping a bakery running (and bakers have to love what they do, to endure the anti-social hours) – so let us take you backstage at Judges, for a slice of the baking action.
1 a.m. The first baker arrives, and starts on the seeded loaves. The croissants (made the previous day) are taken out of cold storage, to rise.
2 a.m. The sourdoughs from the previous day – which were shaped and left to rise in individual ‘baskets’ – are baked. The bakers – a couple of them, by now – start on the rolls and the wholemeal loaves.
3 a.m. All the rolls are chopped and moulded by hand, while another member of the team prepares rye doughs. (Rye is our ‘quickest’ dough.)
4 a.m. Tomorrow’s sourdough mixes is started – almost 24 hours before they are to be baked. We use only organic flour from Shipton Mill (mostly) and Dove’s Farm. Once mixed, this goes in a cooler, so that it rises slowly – and all those magical natural enzymes get to work (helping the bread to rise naturally), before it’s needed next day. Morning goods are started: Eccles cakes, apple turnovers, etc.
5 a.m. The sandwich loaves go in the oven, wholemeal first, then white and granary. Croissants are baked – our favourite smell! – and puff pastry for the Cornish pasties and tomorrow’s croissants is made, too.
6 a.m. While the white loaves are baking, time to mix up the fresh lemon curd for the Belgian buns – probably the only organic Belgians in the country! The spelt loaves are baked now, too.
7 a.m. Now it’s really hotting up (in every way): a hive of industry. Sausage rolls and pasties are baked; morning goods (doughnuts, Belgians, pains aux raisins etc.) finished in the shop. The kitchen staff have arrived, now, too – because Judges does a roaring lunch trade, and we need to start prepping our signature Scotch eggs now. The soup’s on the stove, the sandwich fillings are prepared – and in the bakery, they’re rolling out and shaping tomorrow’s pastries. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, Dave – our farmer’s marketeer – arrives at the back door to load the van for our stalls at Rye or Hastings farmer’s market, and other deliveries head off to Rye, Tenterden, Winchelsea – and soon, to the new Judges store in Robertsbridge.
8 a.m. Puff pastry is hard work! It has to be rolled and folded every 30 minutes, and repeated five times. In the kitchen, the mixes for the egg and tuna sandwiches are mixed.
8.15 a.m. The doors of the shop open and a steady stream of people – from little old ladies to fishermen via graphic designers who’ve moved to the seaside because they can ‘e-commute’ – start to come. Judges isn’t just a bakery, but also a one-stop shop selling fresh local organic produce and meat, cheese, wine, groceries and even wine, so all day long there are shelves to be stacked and customers to be served – and, when there’s time, chatted to.
9 a.m. – 3 p.m. By breakfast-time, the daytime baking staff – our patissiers – have arrived, and get to work on whatever’s needed: gluten-free Buckwheat & Raisin cookies, chocolate brownies, pink meringue pigs, birthday cakes (to order) or maybe mixing up Judges muesli. There’s plenty of music while the team works (and lots of laughter, too). Lottie, who’s Head of Production, also works on new recipes – our latest wholewheat Chocolate Chip cookie recipe, or maybe something new in the sandwich/soup line. (Though everyone’s free to come up with ideas.) All recipes, of course, then have to be submitted to the Soil Association for approval, with every ingredient (and its source) painstakingly listed, so there’s lots of paperwork upstairs for every new product.
11 a.m. Once the puff pastry’s ‘rested’ and rolled, it’s time to make pasties and sausage rolls for tomorrow, which will be kept chilled till they’re baked off.
1 a.m. – 2 p.m. Our lunchtime rush – all shop hands on deck, to deal with this. Meanwhile, ‘backstage’, the most wonderful smell of cakes wafts from the bakery.
2 p.m. The meringues go into the oven – last of all, as they need a very low oven for a long time. (The bakers take them out when they come in at 1 a.m.) In the kitchen, boiled eggs are wrapped in organic sausage meat, and chilled till tomorrow.
3 p.m. Some of tomorrow’s doughs are taken out of the cooler to prove: the sourdough baguettes, country and wholemeal sourdoughs. There’s a world of difference with bread made this way.
4 p.m. The afternoon ‘sugar rush’, as we call it! And still they’re turning out cakes and pastries, in the bakery: bread pudding, jam tarts – whatever’s flying off the shop shelves.
5.30 p.m. The shop closes its doors (6.30 on Friday/Saturday, and later in summer). Tired but happy staff put the shop ‘to bed’, before the cleaner comes in to blitz the bakery, kitchen and store.
We love our jobs, we love our customers – and we love what we produce, here in Hastings. It’s incredibly hard work – but the joy of producing high-quality food with the best (organic) ingredients, and offering a real, viable alternative to supermarket shopping, is why we do it. And if everyone’s permanently ever-so- slightly sleep-deprived? That’s baking..!
Details for Judges Bakery:
51 High Street
East Sussez TN34 3EN
Telephone: 01424 722588