Local Artisan Bread & Patisserie

Summer 2014

Do you know the top 3 Foodie trends headed this way from North America?

Do you know the top 3 Foodie trends headed this way from North America?

We’re BACK following our 2 week summer ’14 shutdown, oh lovely Friends of Rex!   We were in the Vancouver area of Canada & have spotted lots of bakery-relevant trends, opportunities…. And ironies to think about.  Here’s 3 we expect to hit Little Chalfont…

1. Gluten-free

“Free from” claims are being made EVERYWHERE alongside Organic, Natural, Wholefoods as if gluten is something Nasty to now avoid.

gluten free, free from, wheat free

In fact only a tiny proportion of the population actually has a gluten allergy, whilst most of us are just reacting to poorly fermented fast-bread & bakes.  We ALWAYS recommend Rex Sourdough first for those concerned with Health, because it has been developed care-fully & slow-ly by hand to ensure a full 3-day fermentation of the live culture before it hits your tummy.  Read here how Rex Sourdough WITH gluten in its organic flours is a naturally low GI, health bread…

Given the “free from” trend, we expect our wheat-free alternatives like Hazelnut Chocolate Brownies, Granola Bars, Light Rye and Spelt Loaves to become increasingly fashionable…  especially the sourdough loaves!

wheat free. rye, light rye, rye with caraway, rye boule

 

 

 

 

 

2. Timbits & sweet treats

Oh the irony.  At the same time as we see Gluten-free as a health claim, on every single Canadian intersection you will see a Tim Hortons, a DQ (Dairy Queen) and an A&W (root beer & burgers).  Tim Hortons specialises in doughnuts & hot drinks, and has just been acquired by Burger King.  Its Timbits are considered an essential feature of any big-Canada road trip, they are the balls from the centre of ring doughnuts & come in many different flavours.  Watch out, arteries!

Timbits, Tim Hortons, doughnuts, doughnut balls, doughnut centres, doughnut centers

We visited loads of bakeries… which weren’t!  Even when Bakery was in their shop name, they in fact sold coffee & sweet pastries and NO bread?!  As an artisan bakehouse we like to think they are missing a trick.  However, we were interested that some were chocolatier specialists (we liked their mini brownie bites), others displayed mainly viennoiserie especially chocolate croissants, and many specialised in large sweet gateaux for sale in slices or as whole cakes.   Canadians seem to like to get their sweet hits from their bakeries and the choice is inspiring!    Expect more new indulgent products in Rex very soon…

 

 

 

3. Coffee & tea

The breadth of coffee choice goes from Starbucks on every block, to that undrinkable black stew found all day in a heated coffee pot in diners… and in-between these extremes, this Coast is of course where real coffee cafe culture with latte art originally developed.  There are many, many places to buy coffee literally everywhere; and everybody seems to be carrying a take-out cup at all times.  Little Chalfont has a long way to go because Vancouver coffee consumption levels are double ours – even though it was honestly quite hard to find extremely tasty coffee like our delicious Monmouth!

Tea is hot, hot, hot in North America!  World teas are so much more popular & fast growing in Canada than here – perhaps because theirs is a relatively young culture melted together from so many immigrant settlers in the last century or so, each with their own strong tea traditions.   This is a part of the world that likes to experiment with food cuisine, and world teas & new innovations are on poster ads everywhere.

For example, we came across London Fog – a combination of Earl Grey, frothy milk and vanilla syrup (ok, that risks being a bit yuk & chemical).  This tea latte was apparently invented in Vancouver and has been in Starbucks since 2004.  At Rex, as well as our Monmouth coffee & excellent hot chocolate, we do sell a wide range of world teas.

Rex tea pot

All these trends could make us thirsty – so we are planning to start a hot drinks loyalty card scheme soon.  We do hope our world teas  will be chosen by friends of Rex as part of that!

Thanks for coming back to us after the shut-down, and see you soon xx

3 Trials & tribulations of being a start-up

3 Trials & tribulations of being a start-up

 

As well as hearing of our summer business success, we bet you’re also interested in the business pitfalls we’re suffering – you’re only human!  So here’s 3 recent ones for you:

1) Staff

As blog readers will know, we sadly lost Neil our night baker recently, and unfortunately we are still on the search for his replacement.  If you are a baker reading this, please check out our ad here! It’s also been all change for our baristas. Some changes were planned & temporary but others were out of the blue, underhand & frankly left us in the lurch big time.  bell-air couriers patisserie fridgeWhilst we’re in a great place with all the lovely new staff through the summer & beyond, there wasn’t a way to keep the shop going in our absence this August unfortunately.

2. original Patisserie fridge value lost

Some friends may recall that when we were trying hard to finish the shop refit as fast as possible, we ran into some difficulties with a courier company who claimed their van was in a crash & that our new patisserie fridge was a write-off.   That featured in another less than cheery blog!
There is no such thing as a quick win in these matters – after months of dodging various slippery courier red herrings such as promises of insurance company resolution, we resorted to starting County Court Judgement debt recovery process.  This includes formally instructing these cowboys that they have a further 28 days to refund you (otherwise the courts may decide you didn’t try hard enough to deal with it upfront).   Guess what? The day after “Bell-Air Couriers” would have received our pre-court notice, they filed for bankruptcy.  Sigh.  We’re probably in a long queue to nowhere amongst many others to sort that one…

3. Am I fake or not?

We have only been offered a handful of £50 notes in Rex since we opened.  Unfortunately this note came into our shop recently, when the shop staff were bullied into accepting it in payment.  It even scans fine with the ultraviolet 50 coming up – but really is an enhanced colour photocopy when you look very closely.

The good news is that we have plenty of CCTV footage and a good description of the offender.  And there were some lovely supportive comments on Facebook

The bad news is

  • we have criminals visiting Little Chalfont!!
  • we won’t be accepting ANY £50 notes from now on.  The same will go for other unfamiliar notes such as Scottish £20 notes.  Sorry, but this is the new policy even if we know you really well – hope you can understand.
  • The police couldn’t give a flying fig – they don’t even record this as a crime because it isn’t part of a major haul.
  • the Bank of England wash their hands, there is no replacement or compensation scheme even for a small trader.
  • It takes a lot of baguette sales to make up a £50 profit loss sadly…. 🙁

Hey ho, you live & learn and we won’t be doing THAT again

So we want to thank you for your continued support, it’s very important and keeps us optimistic and smiling in these mixed early days!

Have a great summer & don’t forget to stock up before we shut up shop…

sandwich tin, long loaf, white

 

How to drink well – both Hot & Cold

How to drink well – both Hot & Cold

Thank you to the many of you who have responded to the obituary I wrote concerning Neil  Angear. We  miss him a great deal but of course it is his family who our thoughts are with and we hope to meet them this week at his funeral.

For the past couple of weeks, I have slipped into his role, up at 12.30am to work the night shift and I can confirm he worked very hard indeed.  8 hours of non-stop work with sourdoughs to bake first, made the previous day, then moving through the 10 doughs made with a pre-ferment from mixing, fermentation in bulk, dividing & shaping , to then scoring the dough, getting it into the oven which can be tricky on a long wooden peel, steaming the dough just the right amount to get a good burst where you’ve cut the dough, baking at the right temperature & getting the steam out at the right time so you the customer also have a nice crust and colour….

Even then it’s not finished as we make the sourdoughs for baking the next day, make the soakers we add to tomorrow’s dough & mix a big pot of pre-ferment ( we call a sponge) which goes in small bits into all of tomorrow’s doughs. It’s tricky even on a week day when we bake less.

Anyway, we have to move on reluctantly, but that doesn’t mean we forget or do not appreciate the part Neil played.

So what else can we share with you this week about developments at Rex Bakery?

How to drink well – both Hot & Cold

What could Rex Bakery possibly have to say about drinks?!  Well, as you would expect we have sourced some of the best produce we think you can find in Southern England for you, our dear Friends of Rex.

Many of you may be familiar with our Monmouth Coffee, but more about that later.  It’s ice-cold drinks we need in the summer:

We have a whole host of Belvoir lightly sparkling Presse drinks, local Lemonade from Penn based We Made Lemonade and now NEW our real fruit smoothies made with frozen fresh fruit , bio-yoghurt & apple juice.

Strawberry banana smoothieWe have gone for 4 flavours which are all delicious:

Strawberry & Banana
Mango, Pineapple & Peach
Pineapple Banana & Strawberry
Mango & Raspberry

Importantly,  the yoghurt & fruit are blended in front of you from frozen, so you know you are not buying a bucket of ice with artificial “flavoured” syrups here.  Just a cool delicious, flavoursome & fruit-packed healthy drink.  100g of fruit in each drink so that must be at least 1 ½ to 2 of your 5 a day!

And oh goodness! The feedback from early triallists has been AMAZING!

 

Our coffee –

Monmouth artisan Coffee from Monmouth Street , Covent Garden paired  with a  local farmers Guernsey milk.

We have selected Monmouth coffee, widely acclaimed as the best artisan coffee in London and from probably the oldest London artisan coffee house.  Why?

There’s thought to be 3 critical aspects to an amazing cup of artisan coffee:

  1. Great beans roasted to unleash their potential

Monmouth specialises in the highest quality beans directly & personally sourced from single farms, estates & cooperatives around the coffee-growing world.  Monmouth sets itself daunting standards for quality & trading that just sit so well with Rex. Every week they provide us with their Espresso Blend which is their standard and we are very happy it’s ours too.

  1. Freshly roasted, ground & made

Rex coffee cup1st we grind the beans freshly when you order your drink, then within  a few seconds we are percolating the coffee so that it doesn’t burn dry waiting for the hot water to be forced through.  We look to achieve a vortex when heating the milk, so it stretches the proteins , sweetens the milk & gives a creamier mouth-feel plus a sensible amount of foam to sit on top. Watch how here

Guernsey cow milk is  richer than other British Cows milk because they produce less of it. It is no fattier – just richer. Plus our farmer, D J Lacey doesn’t homogenise the milk, which means sometimes the cream rise to the top a bit like we used 20 years ago – that’s a good thing! Our milk is totally  delicious, making us one of the very few coffee houses that care as much as about the milk as the coffee.  Makes sense surely….

  1.  Barista who cares

Not everyone working in Rex Bakery is even allowed to make coffee!  Some of our staff were brought in as experts, some others have extra-training by Monmouth, some are learning under close-supervision.  What all do have in common is that they are aiming for coffee-gold & do really care about you.  We know you can stop many places for your coffee, so we want you to feel good enough about Rex to make the trip specially to us.  You choose – excellent coffee to go or take your time enjoying it – we do love to chat with you about the breads & samples, all that is Rex and most importantly YOU.

Teas of the world

Our Rex favourite is Twinings Assam but we offer many more including English Breakfast, mint, chai….  Best of all we serve our drink-in cup tea-leaves in a beautiful self-sealing teabag!

tea, teabag

So – drinks really do matter in Rex Bakery.  Whether you’re thirsty or hungry – we welcome you to come & try our best artisan range 🙂

See you soon!

Life & death – RIP Neil Angear, Night baker at Rex

Life & death – RIP Neil Angear, Night baker at Rex

This week’s blog is not about baking, new products  or the trials and tribulations of setting up Rex Bakery Ltd.

Neil AngearInstead this blog will address the subject of life & death.  We are shocked and saddened to have just lost a key employee and friend, Neil Angear, who passed away suddenly over the weekend.  I want to share the little of his life that I experienced and what I learned of the man, over the five months I knew Neil .

When we met in February, he had been 3 years out of work, a casualty of the economic downturn. A man approaching 50, dispensed with because he was a bit too resistant to change, too expensive & too old for the modern highly mechanised fast bakery world.

I knew I had found a diamond after just a couple of hours with him.  He travelled from Oxhey that night , the other side of Watford, to come bake in my garage at 1am one cold February night.  As he was an epileptic  he had to travel by public transport & came 2 hours early and sat in the Sugar Loaves Pub, drinking water,  until they kicked him out, just so he wouldn’t be late.  He sat on my doorstep for an hour in the cold, not wanting to wake me up.

I knew straight away I had met somebody who could help me build Rex Bakery.  Clearly a selfless and considerate man, but Neil also had the experience, know-how & drive to be a key part of my team.

You have to love being a baker.

Just consider the nocturnal existence – going to bed at 5pm to start work at 1am. It affects everything around you. Your family & friends never see you & when they do on a Saturday, you are largely trying to recover from the exertions and lack of sleep from the week before.  You need total commitment – it’s much easier not to do it

It is also a very physical job,  lifting 25kg sacks endlessly, cutting & manipulating doughs of significant weight, shuttling all the bread doughs in and out of ovens by hand on a wooden board and of course the tremendous heat, four very large ovens at 250c, some 50cm from you for most of the time you are working.

Neil in Rex BakeryIt is very hard existence and something most of us who have had a professional working life have never experienced. Real graft, making things, trying to get them better every day, trying to adjust for the ever changing vagaries of how a dough is reacting to that particular day’s environment. Trying to get the finish right, to get all the breads through the ovens at the right moment, so nothing is over or under proved.

It is demanding ,very hard work back there in the bakery.  It is a true skill, a labour of love, one that is largely undervalued in our modern world and Neil embraced that life.

I think baking  had made things difficult in his past, being a contributing factor in the end of his marriage, as had his passion for Chelsea FC.

Until he lost his job, Neil had long been a season ticket holder, a regular supporter both home and away, in Britain and Europe.  He felt a deep affinity with Chelsea FC and the band of brothers he followed with Stamford Bridge . He was a true supporter, not an armchair fan like me.  Just last week, he caught me a little by surprise with his genuine rage over the latest Luis Suarez biting incident, and I realised it really boiled down to the last attack by Suarez on a Chelsea player, a season or so ago. He really felt that Chelsea were his family.

I know also that Neil loved his real family deeply as well, who were all from North London and he kept in weekly contact with them all.  Our sincere sympathies are with them at this very sad time.

For Caroline & me, Neil was the backbone of our new business and we relied on him greatly.  He was fun to work with & gently ribbed me & our team, which made the bakery a happy place to work.

I will miss him a great deal and I cannot believe this has happened. We were celebrating his 50th birthday only a few weeks ago so how can this be?

Neil, you are sorely missed, rest in peace.