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Today is a perfect day to display your baking skills with all your favourite bread recipes! 

We are celebrating Homemade Bread Day. This day is dedicated to encouraging the art of making homemade bread that is more nutritious and healthier!

In South Africa, bread is part of many families’ culture, if you don’t eat bread, you know someone who does. Our history with bread as human-beings dates back to historical-religious events, for example, bread in Christianity symbolises the body of Jesus – it is the supreme gift from God to Humankind.

In ancient Egypt, successful bread making was considered an important life skill. Paintings in the pyramids show that the dead were buried with loaves of bread to provide sustenance in the afterlife. In the Jewish faith, bread serves as a symbol of the way God feeds our souls. They eat challah, a special bread made of dough braided into loaves and served on the Sabbath (Shabbos) and at many holiday meals.  

In recognition of this day, we spoke to Oregano bakery owner Lauren Van Tonder who started the bakery with her mother. She spoke to us about the economics and challenges of baking bread, and whether the industry is welcoming to women. We also had a chat with Walter Moshape, Chair leader of incubation at Bakery & Food Technology Incubator, an organisation that nurtures talent, and recognises hard work and passion for baking.

Here’s what Lauren Van Tonder shared with us…

Q. When did you start your business and what inspired it?

We started the bakery 8 years ago; our family had been in catering for almost 20 years and after I qualified as a chef, I wanted to open a place where I could bake and where we could continue the catering. I have always loved baking – I have a ‘soft spot ‘for bread as they’re the most basic and the most complicated and rewarding to bake.

Q. What challenges did you meet in the early stages of your business and how did you deal with them?

This is not an easy industry, especially when everyone and their aunty can bake for your event. It takes time to build a customer base, your product has to be consistently good otherwise your customers won’t come back. We’ve built a loyal customer base with loads of hard work and attention to detail. We remember people’s names and preferences and that sets us apart from larger companies.

Q. Speak to us about the representation of women in the industry. Are there more

women taking up space, and is the bakery industry welcoming?

The industry is getting better, you get taken a bit more seriously as a business owner and chef. I think we still have it tough as we’re constantly trying to prove ourselves. Artisan bread is still a very small industry and I only really know a handful of people doing it, very few of those are women. 

Women aren’t hired as bread makers as it’s very labour intensive. You have to have thick skin and a great sense of humour to thrive in it.

Q. Take us through a step-by-step process in bread making and why each step is

important.

I’ll take you through my sourdough process: 

The sourdough culture in my fridge is happy, healthy, and fed (this is ongoing, my culture is 3 years old and gets looked after every day). 

I make a starter dough with whole-wheat flour and some of the culture. That rests and ferments overnight. 

Whole wheat provides loads of nutrition for the culture to kick start.

I then autolyse my flour. 

It’s when you add water to the flour and let it totally soak in before you add culture and salt. This is important as you don’t overwork the dough. 

Then the premade culture goes in with the salt. The dough goes through bulk fermentation and is turned once. This is all done by hand as I don’t like to overwork my bread. 

Bread is weighed and shaped, then put into their little basket beds into the fridge overnight. This allows them to rise and ferment slowly.

Early the next morning I preheat my oven and bake each sourdough. This very long fermentation process breaks down the sugars and gluten in the wheat which essentially makes it gluten-free and sugar-free bread. 

This long process gives the bread an intense, almost umami, flavour. It’s also really good

for your digestive health.

Q. Besides going through the process of making bread, what else goes into the business of producing bread in your business?

You have to really market your bread well; artisan bread is fairly new so knowing your processes, your suppliers, and a little bit of the science behind it is important. The more you can educate your customers about it, the more it will sell. I follow so many bread makers on social media, especially bakers who go through the more technical aspects of bread. I enjoy it and I like to keep myself in the loop of bread trends and techniques.

Q. How do you ensure the quality of the bread your product stands out?

We use the best flour. Using stoneground, unbleached flour is vital to making good bread. You simply cannot make sourdough with bad flour as it relies on the natural yeast still in the wheat to start the fermentation process.

Q. What are your methods of making a profit out of the business of breadmaking?

We try to keep our losses at a minimum, if we have bread leftover at the end of the day it’s usually given to someone. This gesture is great marketing as people will get to try our product. Those people will almost always come back for a loaf. As far as production goes, you have to plan your week well, know what days you will sell more and prepare for those accordingly. We use our bread in store for our sandwich menu, which we have found to be great marketing as people will take home the bread they’ve just eaten. Bread making is very profitable as the ingredients are not costly, but wastage will always harm those profits. 

Q. What are your fondest memories of the business so far? 

A customer of ours, who has become a friend, has just released his cookbook

and he brought the first copy for us to look at a few weeks ago. We had no idea, but he mentioned us in the foreword. It was incredibly special and so unexpected. We get so wrapped up in what we do, so when someone points out that we mean a great deal to them- just from chatting and bringing them quality products, it hits home.

Q. What are your future plans for the business?

The fact that we survived during the COVID 19 lockdowns amazes me. At the moment our only plans are to stay open and continue doing our best work every day. We would like to expand eventually but, in these times, everything is on tenterhooks.

Walter Moshape spoke to us from an organisational perspective about some challenges that women face in the industry and the representation of black women.

Q. Is the Bakery industry welcoming to women? Speak to us about the representation of women in the industry, and whether there is an adequate representation of black women.

Yes, most of our incubated clients are women (80%) and individual clients (walk-ins) majority are women. Some of them have already graduated from the programme and are doing well with their businesses.

Q. What are some of the challenges that women face in the bakery industry?

Most of the bakeries are home-based and as such the opportunities are limited for them to supply big retail shops with their products due to non-compliance (such as certificate of Acceptability-health certificate) to get contracts or to put their product on the shelves. Lack of production facility and funding for expansion.

Q. What are the support structures available for women in need of assistance? Be it industry advice and knowledge, or financial assistance. 

The South African Bakers Association assists with the following: 

Having an in-house food testing laboratory, the clients (women) get their products being tested for shelf life. They are also assisted with compliance issues (such as COA-Health certificate, SARS, UIF, CIPC). Skills transfer (Food Technology), product development and improvement of production processes. In-house info sessions and virtual which are industry related in partnership with the stakeholders.

Q. What are the biggest success stories of the bakery industry?

Most of the women (clients) join the baking industry without basic knowledge of baking but with passion. We train them from basic bread and rolls baking, confectionery, and sugar art. Some of these clients are now conducting their baking classes with the knowledge or skills they acquired from BICSA. 

We hope to hear more success stories of women bakers who defeated the hurdles that the industry imposes. What bread flavour are you baking today? Share your recipes in the comment section!