Local Food Hero: Cookham Bakehouse

A hero, in every sense of the word for me, Karen Brymer of Cookham Bakehouse deserves the spotlight this month at Feeding Time Blog. With the Real Bread Campaign kicking off #SourdoughSeptember – now is the perfect time to highlight the quiet revolution Karen has begun for the bread-loving folk of Maidenhead, Cookham and the Royal Borough. Karen has lived right here in the village for 11 years and with a couple of kids at home, she needed to find a more suitable, less London-based career and came up with the idea of making bread. It all started a few years ago with a Nigel Slater recipe, Karen recalls, “I felt such an amazing sense of achievement at the end result – which was pretty terrible – there were pools of unincorporated flour – but I still loved it.” From there, Karen enrolled in an E5 Bakehouse course, and went on to develop the Cookham Bakehouse and her first loaf, the Cookham Wild, a white loaf made with only three ingredients.

Using only water, sea salt and organic untreated white flour from Shipton Mill, Karen doesn’t use any preservatives, improvers or additives which is surprising to hear, because the loaf is so moist and holds up for days, unlike other natural loaves that dry out quickly. Karen doesn’t even add yeast, she explains that “the natural yeasts present in the organic flour work provide a natural leaven, which makes the bread rise.”

Time is most significant ingredient in sourdough it seems. “It takes at least a day to make sourdough” says Karen. First the sourdough “starter” or “mother” needs to be refreshed using flour and water, and after 5/6 hours is added to more flour and water (and later salt) and is mixed through. The dough ferments for 2 hours, and, to in place of the kneading of a non-sourdough loaf, the dough is then stretched and folded. After 2 hours, the dough is divided, weighed, shaped and rested in cane bannetons overnight for a long, slow prove.

Since investing in a specialty oven, Karen is now able to make up to 27 loaves at a time and has since started selling her bread to friends and family through a select group of outlets. The white loaf is available at The Old Butcher’s Wine Cellar on Cookham High St each Friday and the white loaf and spiced buns are available to buy at Stubbings Nursery and Cafe each Tuesday and Friday. And while Karen doesn’t have a website yet, she does have a Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/cookhambakehouse/

Local food artisans like Karen are a gift to any community, and I’m so proud to say that this incredible bread is being made in my own neighbourhood. Bread of this quality and made with such care is very difficult to come by outside of London, and it’s so very easy to support a local artisanal bakery like Cookham Bakehouse – all you have to do is buy the bread.

Now get out there and buy some!