“We’re lucky enough to have freshly baked croissants and other buttery delights in the bakery every morning. And there’s nothing better than a newly fried doughnut.” We talk baking with early riser and co-founder of BreadAhead Bakery, Justin Gellatly…
Is there a more alluring smell than that of freshly baked bread first thing in the morning? Early riser Justin Gellatly – baker and co-founder of BreadAhead bakery – still hasn’t tired of it, after years of early morning starts. Renowned for his doughnuts by those in the know, he shares his early morning start with the Early Hour and explains why there’s nothing more satisfying than baking your own bread.
What’s your average working day like?
I normally do a 4am to 2pm shift and my morning always begins with a cup of tea. After that there is no average. Every day is different. The morning shifts are spent checking all our orders – we look after nearly 100 wholesale customers now, so we double check to make sure the quality is up to standard, we pipe doughnuts, and bake cheese and olive sticks for our stall at Borough Market, and look after the ordering for the next day. Then we start mixing pre-ferments and feeding sourdough starters all while watching the sun rise.
Is it always toast for breakfast?
Toast does feature a lot! But it’s not the only thing. We’re lucky enough to have freshly baked croissants and other butter delights in the bakery every morning. And there’s nothing better than a newly fried doughnut.
Do you ever tire of getting up so early for work?
We run four shifts at BreadAhead: 11am to 7pm, 1pm to 9pm, 9pm to 5 am, and the early morning shift that I do. The night shifts are the hardest because you’re sleeping in the day and living by night. When we were the only bakers in the bakery we had to do it, but now we’ve grown and have around 20 full-time bakers, I can work the early mornings instead. So I don’t ever complain because I know how hard the night shift is. I get to see dawn and there’s so much of the day left once I’m done.
The best thing is that I get to work with my wife
How long have you been a baker for and what do you love about it?
I’ve not actually been a baker for that long to be honest. I was a chef working at St John restaurant for Fergus Henderson and sort of fell into baking. They had an in-house bakery and I loved it. When Matt [Jones, co-founder of BreadAhead] got the space in Borough Market I knew it would be good. To be part of the famous market was amazing and together with Matt and Louise [Justin’s wife] our baking power is pretty impressive.
So I’ve only been baking full-time for about seven years, but even when I was a chef I always loved the baking side. I love the mixing, shaping and the baking, all the development that goes into the bread, and coming up with new and exciting flavours for my doughnuts. But the best thing is that I get to work with my wife.
Why do you think more people are having a go at making bread? What’s the appeal?
Well, how about the Great British Bake Off? But it’s not just that, people are starting to want to know what goes into their food in general. They understand that if they bake their own bread they can control what goes in it – flour, water, yeast and salt, and not ten other preserving ingredients. Mainly, when you make your own bread it’s bloody good fun and you end up with something delicious.
What’s your favourite bake?
I never tire of making my doughnuts, and I love making our 100 per cent rye sourdough – the smell of those loaves when they’re baking is intoxicating.
What’s the key to being a good baker?
All you need is your hands, somewhere to bake, and a good recipe. That’s it really. A little patience and some passion helps. And, if you fancy it, a couple of BreadAhead breadmaking classes under your belt will stand you in good stead too.