Kitchen fail­ure: sil­ver lin­ing

Roy Levy of Gail’s Ar­ti­san Bak­ery ex­plains how a bak­ing dis­as­ter led to the cre­ation of a new recipe

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - BY ANTHEA GER­RIE

THIS TIME last year Roy Levy was weep­ing over the loaf he had just care­fully lifted from his new oven. It was a lumpen mass: “I had been bak­ing for 20 years, but this was noth­ing like the beau­ti­ful sour­dough I was used to mak­ing,” he laments. “It was al­most as if I had never learned to make bread.”

A sur­pris­ing ad­mis­sion given that Levy is an ex­pe­ri­enced pro­fes­sional baker and the star chef of Gail’s Bak­ery. He was one of many leg­endary bak­ers im­ported from Is­rael by Gail Me­jia, who first set out on her mis­sion to give the cap­i­tal great bread 20 years ago.

Levy has been at the helm of Gail’s for seven years, and seen Me­jia her­self move on. Yet in spite of his culi­nary tri­umphs — cakes, buns, desserts, bread-based savoury dishes and ev­ery kind of loaf — com­mit­ting his se­crets to a new cook­book de­feated the Lon­don chain’s head baker at the out­set. “Most of the recipes started out as dis­as­ters be­cause they had never been de­signed to repli­cate in a do­mes­tic kitchen,” he ex­plains. “I saw im­me­di­ately that I needed to bake them in a home oven, so I went out and bought the cheap­est one I could get.”

Levy, who started bak­ing in his na­tive Is­rael at the age of 19, also got the kind of bak­ing sheets, spat­u­las and scales most of us use at home and started to think like a do­mes­tic baker in­stead of a pro­fes­sional. “I re-tested ev­ery recipe, and it took me a long time to get them right.”

How­ever, mis­takes did not go to waste in the test kitchen, as even at the pro­fes­sional level, Gail’s has had mis­takes which turned out to be happy ac­ci­dents. Like the savoury bis­cotti in the new cook­book, which started out life as hoped-for loaf-sized gi­ant scones.

“What we ac­tu­ally got was just hor­ren­dous,” Levy re­mem­bers, and con­fesses to re­turn­ing home dis­cour­aged by an un­ex­pected pro­fes­sional fail­ure. But the next morn­ing as­sis­tant baker Gerry Moss took another look, cut the flat­tened, aban­doned loaf into thin slices and toasted them. “Sud­denly we found our­selves with some­thing in­cred­i­bly de­li­cious,” says Levy, “and the oven re­ally con­cen­trated all the dif­fer­ent flavours”.

While overnight rest­ing is not in­di­cated in the new, im­proved recipe, read­ers will find ex­hor­ta­tions for much slower bak­ing than they are used to. “I couldn’t un­der­stand the no­tion of leav­ing bread in a warm place to raise when I came to Bri­tain,” says Levy, who be­lieves you should take two days over your bread and let it rise at a snail’s pace in the fridge.

In case you doubt the wis­dom of this, Levy points out: “It wasn’t un­til I came to this coun­try that I dis­cov­ered toast. Bread is so good in Is­rael that every­one just eats it fresh.”

Whether he can get us to adopt slow bak­ing — or any bak­ing at all, given that Brits are now sur­rounded by ar­ti­san bak­eries — Levy would like us to think a lit­tle bit out­side the box to avoid mis­takes, and be creative about those we can’t.

“The trick is to get to know your oven — they dif­fer, and an oven ther­mome­ter will give you a truer tem­per­a­ture than the oven dial,” he says. “And you should al­ways check your cake be­fore tak­ing it out of the oven — if it’s not fully baked, you can put it back in. And while a cake which has burnt all the way through has no fu­ture, you can cut off a burnt top and sides.”

As for mea­sur­ing in­gre­di­ents, that’s not nearly as im­por­tant as an in­stinc­tive feel, he adds.

“Es­pe­cially with bread, it’s about un­der­stand­ing what the dough needs. Af­ter all, sour­dough was baked for hun­dreds of years be­fore scales and mod­ern bak­ing equip­ment were in­vented. Bak­ing bread is part of hu­man na­ture, and peo­ple think it’s more com­pli­cated than it is. It’s about wait­ing for things to hap­pen rather than what you do to the dough; we need to cul­ti­vate the art of let­ting go.”

Even if he lets go of his daily bread, Levy is on a per­ma­nent quest for the new. He trav­els the world in the hope of mak­ing new dis­cov­er­ies, and is cur­rently en­am­oured with South Korea.

“Bread is not part of the daily diet there, but young pro­fes­sion­als who left the coun­try and dis­cov­ered it abroad re­turned from the US and Europe with their recipes. Vis­it­ing these bak­ers was so in­spir­ing, un­like France, where there are no sur­prises. Theyjust­keepon­do­ing ev­ery­thing the same.” Gail’s Ar­ti­san Bak­ery Cook­book is pub­lished by Ebury, £20

Gail’s Bak­ery’s trade­mark cake dis­play

Roy Levy had to adapt recipes for the do­mes­tic

kitchen

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