CRUSH CHATS TO Babette Van Der Walt
We catch up with baker & owner at Babette's Bread
How did you get into the world of bread making?
I was studying law at Wits University – I completed my LLB – and throughout my studies I would bake. At that stage, it was the sweet things – cakes, cupcakes and biscuits. It was my step dad who gave me the idea to try out bread making; he encouraged me to try something that would be nourishing and healthy rather than full of sugar. I had been a little daunted by the thought of bread making, so I took this as a challenge!
This first loaf of bread I ever made was a whole-meal country loaf, and from mixing the simple ingredients, letting the dough rise and baking the bread, I fell in love with the process. I became a bit obsessed from then on! I would bake so much bread that my family soon stopped buying bread, and friends started placing orders.
When did you know bread making could become your career path?
It was a tough decision in the beginning, because although I knew my heart was in bread making, I had just spent a long time studying my LLB and was torn as to what career I should follow. I had orders coming in for my bread, so I thought I could turn it into a business. I spoke to a judge at the High Court, and her advice was that if my heart wasn’t in law, then I should rather follow my passion, which I knew was bread.
You have been mentored by a French bread maker in Vermont… can you tell me more about that?
I read about French artisan baker, Gerard Rubaud, online and heard that he takes on apprentices. He doesn’t have an email address, so I wrote him a letter and posted it to Vermont. With the letter, I included photographs of the different types of bread that I had created. Gerard usually only takes on apprentices who have been to culinary school or are working as chefs, but I received a phone call a few months later from Gerard, and he said that if I had created all the bread in the photos, then I could come and do an apprenticeship with him.
It was such an incredible phone call to receive! Soon after that I did my apprenticeship with him in his bakery in Vermont. I worked in the kitchen with him almost every day for three months and he taught me classic, authentic artisan bread making. With him, I learnt how to create the perfect French sourdough.
What types of breads do you create at Babette’s Bread?
I create four types of baguettes, the bâtard (a short, fat baguette), a boule (round loaf) and Parisian daily bread. The traditional French sourdough bread or pain au levain is made from 100% pure levain (French sourdough) and contains white, whole meal and rye flour. The levain and mix of flours give this bread a wholesome, nutty and slightly tangy flavour.
What do you find most exciting about making bread?
What’s very exciting about bread, is that even though you are using similar ingredients, every baker will produce different bread – it will be a different product because how you make it, and the way that you make it, will influence the flavour and the texture, which I think is very special.
In our fast-paced lives, what I also find exciting about bread making is that it is all about slowing down. You need to have a lot of patience; it is all about slowing down, being attentive, and knowing when your dough is too warm or too cold. You need to keep the dough happy. I use the ancient technique of slow fermentation, and it is the long fermentation process that awakens the flavours. You cannot find these flavours in bread that is produced quickly.
What ingredients do you use when making your bread, and how long is the process?
I use only the finest, locally sourced, all-natural ingredients that I can find.
I use Eureka Mills stone ground flour which is unbleached and GMO free, water, sea salt and yeast. There isn’t any sugar, oil or eggs in my bread. I love that you can take the most simple of ingredients and create something wholesome and delicious.
With regards to how long it takes to make each loaf of bread, it differs for each of the styles of bread. The sourdough for example, takes about 20 to 22 hours from when I first mix the dough to when it is ready… I need to mix the dough properly, let it rest, feed it constantly and let it rise. From there, it will be baked in the oven for about 30 to 40 minutes.
You are moving your bakery to the Maboneng Precinct very soon. How are you feeling about the move?
I have currently been working from my parents’ home in Parktown, and I can’t thank them enough for their love and support – without them I wouldn’t have been able to grow my business in the way that I have. They have helped me make my next step in the growth of my business, and Maboneng, for me, is the exciting, important next step!
I need a bigger bakery, and I have found the perfect premises in Maboneng. It is such a vibrant, inspiring place, and I already have a contract to supply my bread to the new grocer that is opening up there. My dream is for my bakery to become a café where guests can enjoy a fantastic sandwich and great coffee at a good price. Watch this space.
What are your top tips for aspiring bread makers?
Keep your ingredients simple; you don’t need a lot of ingredients to make really great bread. Start with just a few styles of bread. First, and always, remember that dough likes a warm environment, but not too hot. Give time to your bread – by dedicating time and your full attention to your bread, you will produce something wonderful.
You can order Babette’s bread online or visit her at Babette’s Bread in Maboneng. Sign up to Babette’s weekly newsletters where you can place your order and collect your bread on a weekly basis.
Visit babettesbread.co.za for more information.