Ris­ing and shin­ing

Emma Hughes vis­its Or­ford’s Pump Street Bak­ery, the fam­ily business mak­ing some of the best choco­late in the world

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

IT sounds like a plot that Joanne Har­ris, au­thor of Choco­lat, might have cooked up. A fa­ther-and-daugh­ter team opens a lit­tle pink bak­ery in one of Eng­land’s most beau­ti­ful coastal towns, sell­ing the best bread this side of the Chan­nel. Af­ter a cou­ple of years, they de­cide to have a go at mak­ing their own choco­late. Not just any old choco­late, mind, but the finest you can buy—in this coun­try and, quite pos­si­bly, the world.

Fic­tion? For Chris and Jo Bren­nan, the founders of Pump Street Bak­ery, ev­ery word is true. From their Grade Ii-listed base in Or­ford, Suf­folk, the pair has built an un­likely em­pire, based on two very sim­ple things: bread made the old-fash­ioned way and bean-to-bar choco­late.

‘I don’t know of any other bak­eries that make their own choco­late from scratch,’ ad­mits Miss Bren­nan. ‘In France, it’s quite com­mon for bak­eries that sell pâtis­serie to also sell truf­fles, but they tend to use choco­late they buy in. To start with, I was a bit wor­ried that peo­ple would think we were strange, do­ing both, but I knew that, once they’d tasted the choco­late, it would speak for it­self.’

Al­most a decade ago, Mr Bren­nan set him­self the chal­lenge of bak­ing bread that was as good as the stuff he’d had on the Con­ti­nent but us­ing lo­cal flours. ‘He bought a semipro­fes­sional mixer and an oven you could fit eight loaves in,’ re­mem­bers Miss Bren­nan. ‘His of­fice turned into a bak­ery.’ Soon, he de­cided to start sell­ing the loaves in the town’s mar­ket at the week­ends, with the pro­ceeds go­ing to the lo­cal school. To his sur­prise, there were huge queues for his stall and he would sell out within an hour.

‘That’s when I started get­ting re­ally ex­cited about what he was do­ing,’ ad­mits Miss Bren­nan, ‘al­though, of course, I’d al­ways been in­ter­ested as an eater.’ She left her job in Lon­don and moved back to Suf­folk to help her fa­ther hunt for the per­fect premises.

They didn’t have to look for long. In the cen­tre of Or­ford, on Pump Street, they found a 15th-cen­tury tim­bered build­ing, painted the colour of pink bal­let slip­pers. ‘It was light and airy, but also steeped in his­tory. We were re­ally drawn to that mix of old and new, be­cause we work to very tra­di­tional recipes, but we don’t just stick to them for the sake of it.’

The Pump Street Bak­ery opened its doors in late 2010, the shelves stacked with slowfer­mented sour­dough baguettes, ap­ple turn-overs and brioche buns. The crois­sants were all made by hand, there was a Roald Dahl-esque dough­nut ma­chine splat­ter­ing away in the back and the breads were named af­ter nearby vil­lages. A re­stored Citroën H-van called Cé­dric chugged around Suf­folk loaded with Pump Street’s wares, stop­ping off at mar­kets.

They could have com­fort­ably pot­tered along like that for many years, but the Bren­nans had got wind of a small group of in­de­pen­dent choco­late pro­duc­ers in the USA, who had taken con­trol of the whole process by sourc­ing and grind­ing their own beans. ‘I re­alised there were peo­ple who were ex­pend­ing the same energy on mak­ing choco­late that we were on mak­ing bread,’ re­calls Miss Bren­nan. Back then, al­most none of the choco­late pro­duced in Eng­land was be­ing made from beans, from scratch.

As it turned out, choco­late-mak­ing and bak­ing had a lot in com­mon. Both, if done prop­erly, let a sin­gle in­gre­di­ent (ca­cao or wheat) shine; both in­volve win­now­ing and fer­men­ta­tion. ‘Most peo­ple know that, in sour­dough, nat­u­ral yeast and bac­te­ria work to­gether to make the bread rise and give it that won­der­ful, slightly tangy flavour,’ notes Miss Bren­nan. ‘When you’re mak­ing choco­late, the co­coa beans are also fer­mented —they come out of the pod cov­ered in a kind of fruity pulp that needs to be bro­ken down. If it’s done cor­rectly, it changes some of the chem­i­cal com­pounds and locks in the flavour. It’s ab­so­lutely fas­ci­nat­ing.’

Af­ter team­ing up with small grow­ers in the Caribbean (Mr Bren­nan was born in Ja­maica), Cen­tral Amer­ica and Mada­gas­car, the Bren­nans started work on a range of sin­gle­o­ri­gin bars, from a mel­low 58% milk one made with Mada­gas­can beans to an earthy 100% one, as dark as pol­ished ebony, that had its be­gin­nings on Ecuador’s Ha­cienda Li­mon plan­ta­tion. There are also bars gen­er­ously flecked with the bak­ery’s own sour­dough, rye and Ec­cles-cake crumbs.

The Bren­nans soon found them­selves be­ing stocked by the likes of Lib­erty and Fort­num & Ma­son, as well as gar­landed by the In­ter­na­tional Choco­late Awards, the Academy of Choco­late and the Great Taste Awards. The ic­ing on the (choco­late) cake was be­ing voted Best Food Pro­ducer in the 2012 BBC Food & Farm­ing Awards.

The Bren­nans and their 20-strong team are cur­rently de­vel­op­ing a ‘li­brary’ of choco­late bars for real en­thu­si­asts. ‘It’ll come with notes and a tast­ing wheel—a bit like wine,’ Miss Bren­nan re­veals. Al­though she takes the whole business very se­ri­ously, she’s no pu­ri­tan. ‘We’re go­ing to be mak­ing choco­late San­tas this Christ­mas,’ she grins.

Pump Street Bak­ery (01394 459829; www. pump­street­bak­ery.com)

‘I don’t know of any other bak­eries that make their own choco­late from scratch’

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