Introducing the Modern Baker
A New Day is Dawning for Modern Bakers
Did you know that the ‘obesity epidemic’ cost public health bodies £9 billion in the UK alone in 2014? Nor did I, until I had the lucky chance of visiting Modern Baker’s HQ this month.
After my visit to the Modern Baker HQ this February, diet and health has become something of concern for me. Normally, hearing an announcement on the Radio about obesity being the second most likely cause for cancer after smoking would have gone over my head. But attending Modern Baker's HQ in Oxford has made me take notice the severity of these societal issues more so than before. These issues have been playing on the minds of Modern Bakers Melissa Sharp, Leo Campbell and Lindsay Stark for numerous years now, and motivated them to create Modern Baker, a bakery that’s embarked on a quest to “democratise Healthy Baking, for the common good”.
“In January 2010, aged 36, I found a lump in my right breast… My lump turned out to be home to an aggressive, triple-negative, grade 3 cancer”
These are the opening sentences to Melissa Sharp’s story in Modern Baker: A New Way To Bake. Upon hearing Melissa bravely speak these words to the crowd of press sat in this brightly lit, open and beautiful kitchen facility, I was surprised, and immersed. She built Modern Baker from a need for change, and is now trying to change the way we all eat in order to combat a societal tendency: cutting corners with our diet.
Melissa fought cancer by completely revolutionising her dietary intake. She supplemented her chemo and radiotherapy with organic green juices, and she cut out dairy and began to eat only grain-fed meats in order to help her body cope with the massive dose of toxins it was about to be hit with.
Melissa began extensive research into how she could eat and bake healthier, and maintain great taste while doing so. Melissa and her partner Leo then teamed up with Nottingham School of Artisan Food trained baker, Lindsay Stark, to launch a healthy baking business in Oxford. Thus, Modern Baker was born. In 2014, Modern Baker Café opened its doors to an appreciative Oxford community, and as of 2017 are selling their branded products of organic sourdough breads, sourdough cakes and sourdough biscuits in London’s Selfridges and are in conversation with other leading British retailers like Whole Foods.
Modern Baker is as hard-core with their healthy baking as anyone in the UK. They ferment their sourdough breads for around 48 hours, and do not add any commercial yeast. Their breads are made only with organic, pre-industrial, stoneground grains of wheat and rye. Any treat with refined ingredients is strictly forbidden: their cakes and biscuits are made solely from unrefined, natural sugars such as raw honey and dates. Modern Baker believe passionately that bread, cakes and biscuits can be healthy, but still taste amazing (which they do, I can assure you!).
Why does a healthy gut matter?
Around 80 per cent of our immune system consists of our gut microbes; therefore to be healthy and able to fight off diseases, our gut flora needs to be in tiptop shape.
Modern Baker wanted to make sure that their products not only promote healthy eating, but that their products result in a healthier gut system. In order to supplement their motives with factual results, they teamed up with Newcastle University’s Cell and Molecular Biosciences department, and now use a Model Gut System in order to test their foods and ingredients. The Model Gut System is a lab version of the human digestive system, and tests the nutritional value of food on gut health. You can count on all of their products to give positively amazing results on your insides.
Why should you listen?
I know how difficult it is to juggle a healthy diet, career and a social life. Sometimes, your diet feels like the last thing on your mind, and your work takes over. But the benefits of healthy eating are important for our minds as well as our bodies.
Instead of letting those pesky takeaway orders gobble up your spare cash, why don’t you take some Modern Baker initiative? Take some time out of your busy schedule to be kind to yourself, your bank balance and your gut by baking yourself a nutritious loaf fresh from the pages of Modern Baker: A New Way To Bake. Not only will it last longer than your standard Hovis loaf, but it will make your tummy smile, too.
The question on all of your lips: is this way of baking more costly?
In one answer: no! The basic sourdough bread recipes found in
Modern Baker: A New Way To Bake cost less to produce in ingredients than a cheap loaf in a supermarket, and they will last twice as long as sourdough is a natural preservative. They also contain a long list of health benefits, and they taste so much better. Is this book the best thing since sliced bread?
However, it is worth mentioning that with the sweet treats, natural sugars do tend to cost more than standard refined sugars. But as Melissa so concisely puts it – “what price do you put on health?”
'Modern Baker: A New Way To Bake' by Melissa Sharp with Lindsay Stark is out now (Ebury Press, RRP £26) and Modern Baker’s range of healthy baked goods are available in Selfridges (London, Birmingham, Manchester Trafford and Manchester Exchange), Planet Organic and their Oxford based cafe-bakery at 214 Banbury Road, OX2 7BY.
Just to give you a taste, Healthy Chelsea & Wise have included one savoury and one sweet treat recipe from Modern Baker: A New Way To Bake for you to try yourselves at home before purchasing the book in full.
Savoury Pesto and Walnut Sourdough Buns
Equipment 26 x 20cm brownie tray
- 75g of strong white flour
- 75g of water, at hand warm temp (32-37°C)
- active wheat starter (see page 41)
- Add the flour and water to the whole quantity of the starter and leave loosely covered overnight at room temperature.
- 150g recipe starter made on Day 1
- 320g of water, at hand warm temp (32-37°C)
- 500g sprouted wholemeal flour
- 6g salt
- 25g olive oil
For the filling
- 5 tbsp pesto (see page 60)
- 100g walnuts
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, for glazing the top
- In a large bowl combine the recipe starter with the water and mix gently.
- In another bowl, combine the flour and salt.
- Add the flour mix to the first bowl and combine well with your hands until it comes together in a dough. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel or shower cap and leave to rest.
- After 5-10 minutes, give the dough a fold in the bowl. Use slightly wet hands to prevent the dough sticking to them. Pull a section of the dough out to the side and fold it into the middle of the ball. Repeat this going around the ball of dough until you get back to the beginning (four or five folds). Use the scraper to turn the dough upside down, cover the bowl and leave for another 5-10 minutes. Repeat this another two times.
Fold once again, this time adding the olive oil, folding well and making sure the oil is fully combined with the dough. If you add the oil before this point, it can stop the gluten developing.
After the final fold, cover the bowl again and leave it to rest for 1 hour at room temperature.
- After an hour give the dough another fold and leave it for another hour, this time in the fridge.
- Line a brownie tray with baking parchment.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll it to about 32 x 24cm. Spread the pesto over the top of the dough leaving a 2cm gap at the bottom. Spread the walnuts over the top of the pesto.
- Roll up the dough towards you. As you roll, push the dough back then pull it forward to get the roll as tight as possible. You will end up with a long log.
- Brush the top of the log with the olive oil. This will make the buns easier to divide when they are baked.
- Cut the log into eight equal pieces, each about 4cm wide. Place the buns swirl side up in the brownie tray and press down well on each one.
- Follow the rest of the Sourdough cinnamon and pecan buns recipe (see page 102) from Step 11 to the end, brushing with a thin layer of olive oil when they come out of the oven.
Chocolate Chip Sourdough Cookies
Makes 8 biscuits
Equipment baking tray
- 30g coconut sugar
- 30g spelt flour
- 30g milk
- active sweet starter (see page 184)
Add the sugar, flour and milk to the whole quantity of active sweet starter and leave loosely covered overnight at room temperature.
- 30g recipe starter made on Day 1
- 50g coconut oil, melted and cooled
- 75g coconut sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 65g ground almonds
- 50g spelt flour
- 50g coconut sugar – sweetened chocolate, or your favourite healthy chocolate, chopped into chunks
- ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/Gas mark 6 and line a baking tray with baking parchment.
- In a large bowl mix the recipe starter with the coconut oil, coconut sugar and vanilla extract.
- In another bowl combine the ground almonds, flour, chocolate chips and bicarbonate of soda.
- Add the flour mix to the starter mix and stir well. The mixture should have the consistency of a loose dough.
- Place eight tablespoon-sized balls of the dough onto the baking sheet. Leave plenty of room between them as they will spread during baking.
- Bake for 12-15 minutes. The biscuits should be crisp around the edges but still soft in the middle. Allow to cool on the baking tray then store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.