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Daily Bread

 

With new master baker Lance Gardner calling the shots, ever loaf is a labour of love.

“You can come in at 4.30pm and there’ll be baguettes fresh from the oven!”

Never mind working against the clock. Master baker Lance Gardner’s day is dictated by the chime of a bell, which he has to ring every half an hour or so to let the world know that another tray of freshly baked goodies has left the oven. You might think this ringing would begin to grate, but Gardner relishes his role overseeing the new from scratch bakery within Harrods’ Roastery & Bake Hall. Fresh bread, cakes and pastries have always been made in-house, but production was hidden underground. Now visitors can see and smell the bread being made, with ciabatta, focaccia and sourdough stacked to the Art-Deco ceilings. And the counters are also filled with sweet treats, such as kouign-amann (a sugary Breton cake) and featherlight croissants made with French Montaigu butter. The bell, which is rung when a fresh batch comes out of the oven, is central to the operation, ensuring a constant buzz. Keeping on top of things requires military-style organisation. “It’s make or break in terms of scheduling, planning and maintaining quality,” says Gardner. “It’s definitely a challenge, but we looked at our processes and worked tirelessly to hone them, so the bakers can focus on quality. We want people coming in every day, the way you buy bread in France. You can come in at 4.30pm and there’ll be baguettes fresh from the oven.” Originally from Blackpool, where he trained as a chef, Gardner is softly spoken, but he has plenty to say about baking. His passion for it was ignited when working at The Bath Priory’s Michelin-starred restaurant. “The smell of the bread as it came out of the oven before service got me hooked,” he says. From there, Gardner got a job with French baker Richard Bertinet, working his way up from junior baker to shift supervisor, before joining the artisan Hart’s Bakery in Bristol, where he perfected his sourdough skills and dealt with the public more directly. “There’s nothing like a customer’s face when they pick up a loaf fresh out of the oven,” he says. Sourdough is just one of the 15 types of bread Gardner spent months perfecting for The Bakery, and all are available to buy fresh daily. Instead of commercial yeast, he uses his own starter, which gives the bread its characteristic flavour. “I want The Bakery to still be using it when I retire,” he says. “It’s earthy, creamy and sour, and the start of a two-day process. It would be easier to use yeast, but the flavour and texture isn’t the same. Working with this kind of dough is like trying to keep eggs on a table – I have to stay on top of everything. Is the room warm enough? How warm is the water? It all has an impact.” The extra care and attention translates into loaves with a sour tang, an open texture and a crust as dark as aged wood. As they emerge piping hot from the oven, all that’s left for Gardner to do is ring that bell again.

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