The Education of a Prospective Master – Part 3 of an occasional series

 Upper Warden
The Upper Warden folding a chocolate croissant
“What time do you want me there, Christopher?” I asked the Third Warden, Christopher Freeman, referring to his generous agreement that I could come to Dunns Bakery in Crouch End to see how a craft baker carries out his craft. “Oh, about 4.30 am” he replied. “Ah” I said, gasping slightly. And so the alarm went at 3 am in South West London to enable me to get to N8 by the appointed time on the 24th May.
Of course, bakers have to have their products prepared and ready for their shops in time for opening time. I knew that. But it is a shock to the system, if like me, you are unused to a routine that starts at anything from 3 am onwards. The working hours of a judge are somewhat different!

The work was already in full swing when I got there. Once kitted out I was made more than welcome by Christopher and the four bakers with whom I spent the next six hours in the bakery: Paul, a former money man turned baker, Gabriel and Santa, both originally from Italy and Keller, the head baker, originally from Brazil but now a proud naturalised Englishman. The image (right) shows The Third Warden, Christopher Freeman in conversation with Keller. They had a great many orders to fulfil before the shop opened.

They were making anything from rolls, to bloomers to croissants to sourdough breads, moving seamlessly and without fuss from one type of dough to another. These days many of the processes are carried out by machines but there is still a great deal that has to be done by hand. Quite rightly, without ceremony I was put to work helping them. I was, naturally, the apprentice or “Baker’s Boy” as my wife insists on calling me now. Kneading and shaping that looked so easy when the experts did it turned out to be a rather challenging exercise for me. I saw that Keller and the others can tell simply by looking when something is ready to come out of the prover or oven. That is something that only experience and devotion to the craft can provide.
As to pulling and folding dough to make croissants, Paul helped me to try to make several chocolate croissants before I said that I was holding him up. He carried on pulling, rolling, stretching and folding more than a few into the well-known shape in a fraction of the time that I had clumsily used to try to mould one. Watching Gabriel folding shapes at breath-taking speed was also a marvel. I was better at glazing, putting breads into baskets, topping breads with poppy seeds or sesame seeds and other menial jobs!
The shift ended with preparation for the next day and cleaning up. I watched with amazement as Santa prepared and flattened a large slab of dough and added a large lump of butter in preparation for making croissants.
The revelation to me was the relentless nature of the work and the fact that they are on their feet the whole time. But all of those I met, and especially those with whom I “worked”, are experts who are devoted to their jobs and their lifestyles and who find what they do fulfilling. After all they are skilled craftsmen and constructors, even if the general public deconstruct what they fashion by eating it.
By the time that 10.30 am came round I was ready to lie down! But it had been a fascinating morning which gave me a real insight into how a craft bakery works.
Stephen Kramer
Upper Warden

The four bakers with whom The Upper Warden worked are from left to right: Gabriel, Keller, Paul, Santa

Editors note: I wonder what customers of Dunn's Bakery would think if they knew that their chocolate croissant had been made by an Old Bailey Judge?