Tuesday, 10 January 2012

The Fabulous Baker Brothers

The Fabulous Baker Brothers

The Fabulous Baker Brothers, Tom and Henry Herbert, are in high demand after their TV debut on Channel 4 last week.  Trending on twitter, and with articles popping up all over the web, everyone wants to know the secrets of the Fabulous Baker Brothers’ family, hidden at Hobbs House, Chipping Sodbury for the last five generations. 

And last night I managed to catch up with Tom Herbert, the baker, - in between his meetings in London and feeding his four hungry children at home.

The Fabulous Baker Brother Cookbook is due out this month and, in celebration, Tom is taking the kids to visit Headline publishing house, where all the magic happened. 

 “We’re even more excited about the book than the TV programme. Making the  show was fun - a lot was crammed in to a 30-minute slot. The book is much more our own. It’s essentially a baking book with the history of Hobbs House, my best baking recipes over the last ten years, and Henry’s eight years of cooking and butchery.”

Did the brothers argue about what to put in the book? “Surprisingly not! Everything happened so quickly, with the show being filmed at the same time. We actually worked well together.  I think it would have been more difficult to work with someone else.”

Tom’s baking career began at The Vegetarian Cookery School in Bath, where he went on to teach bread-making. “I always wanted to convey what I was taught to others, show how it could be done in the home.” After many years working in the family business in Chipping Sodbury, Tom branched out with his bakery/bistro/cafĂ© by the stream in Nailsworth, to help spread the message and teach people about bread.

“I wanted everything to centre round the dough table, with the kitchen and shop on either side. There are baking classes every few months when the whole place springs into life.”

What does he think about the mass-produced loaf and the rise in people avoiding bread altogether, claiming it makes them bloated?
“It’s no surprise that commercially produced bread can cause irritation. Cheap bread holds water, doesn’t cut well and shatters when it’s toasted. Bread has been devalued by this mechanical process. But avoiding a food type completely just makes no sense. Everyone should slow down, take their time and make their own. Freshly made bread tastes better, naturally keeps for longer and is easier to digest.”

And the Real Bread Campaign? Had he heard about that? “Yes I have! In fact I’m an ambassador for it.”
I told him that my father, Michael Bateman, started the original Sunday Times Real Bread Campaign in the 80s. And it turns out that Tom’s father, Trevor Herbert, baked the loaves that are pictured on the cover of the book!

At Hobbs House, what’s the most popular loaf? “The same as it’s always been - The Sherston Overnight loaf, a white bread with a crust that makes the best toast in the world. It’s been made the same since the 1920s, when yeast was so expensive, my great grandfather used half the amount  and left the dough to rise overnight. There’s a story about him sleeping on the dough bin and how it would wake him up when it was ready. They say that’s why there are so many of us!”

With time running out, there was one important question on my mind: What options are there for a vegetarian at The Fabulous Baker Brothers Bistro?
“All the breads are vegetarian, there are vegetarian sandwich options and always a vegetarian soup.” - prepared by Tom’s wife Anna (food editor, chef and blogger at She Shops Local).

But there’s no mention of vegetarian dishes on the Bistro’s main menu. A little embarrassed, Tom explains, “The Bistro is small with a simple menu of 3-4 starters and mains. So far we haven’t had a high demand for vegetarian options. In fact when there were vegetarian options on the menu they ended up going to waste.”
He quickly adds, “We’ll happily accommodate any vegetarian so please let us know when you book the table. We have a fantastic chef who will happily rustle up a veggie option. As the Bistro grows, so will the menu.”

I think, perhaps, I’ll go visit with the Vegetarian soon.

In the meantime, second installment on TV tomorrow night – can’t wait. Even more excited about having the book of their recipes in my kitchen!

And here are some Fabulous Baker Brother bread-making tips:

Knead the dough for 5 extra minutes. Bread needs energy to develop the gluten. The better it rises, the better the loaf – with no cracks and crumble.

Use a shower cap or similar to cover the dough tightly while it’s rising.

Keep the oven really hot to make an excellent loaf.  It varies with the loaf you are making but as a general rule, heat the oven to 240 degrees.

Add a cup of cold water to the hot oven as soon as the loaf goes in, creating steam like a sauna to get the crust really crunchy.

Use a baking stone to create better crust, lift and jump. It just makes it 5% better but you can really tell the difference.

Above all, use really good flour.

At this, Tom’s 5-year old daughter Josephine shouts out her favourite line from the TV show: “The better the flour, the better the loaf!”

The Fabulous Baker Brothers Cookbook: in trade on 19th January 2012, £20

The Fabulous Baker Brothers TV Programme:, airs Wednesday 8.30pm, Channel 4

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