E5 Bakehouse is located in Hackney, East London, under railway arches near the London Fields station. As it was raining when we got there, I didn’t stop to take an outside picture but if you are curious, there are a few on the bakery’s website or you can google “E5 Bakehouse images.” Alternatively you can look up my 2015 post.
Inside, bakers were busy dividing and shaping; customers were ordering coffee or soup while others were examining the offerings closely, pondering which bread to get. Conversation was brisk at the communal table and we were beginning to think we would never find a spot when a couple with a toddler stood up to leave and graciously motioned for us to take their seats.
We had time for a quick bite (a deeply satisfying soup and toastie -grilled sandwich- combo) before we were joined by E5’s head baker Eyal Schwartz with whom my friend Emmanuel Hadjiandreou had most kindly arranged a meeting (thank you, Em!.) I guess I should say “former head baker” as the first thing Eyal told us was that he had just stepped down as head baker to devote more time to the upcoming E5’s bread book for home bakers. His role would be to deliver the contents (what he called “the info part”). The actual writing would be done by food writer Jojo Tulloh who has already written a small pamphlet on the history of the Hackney Wild, E5’s signature loaf.
As it happened, I had bought Jojo’s pamphlet while we were waiting for our meal.
“Hold your loaf of Hackney Wild to your ear and listen. Can you hear the birdsong in the hedgerow, the hum of insect life; can you feel the microbial complexity of the soil on a farm in which biodiversity flourishes? Can you smell the wildflowers? Of course not, but it’s worth imagining because it reveals a truth: this is bread that supports the economic viability of organic farmers, the farmers who are preserving and encouraging complex ecosystems for future generations.”
Seriously, if the writing doesn’t make you want to rush either to your bakery to buy a local loaf or to your farmer to purchase grain (or freshly milled flour) and make your own bread, what will?
Eyal – who has a Masters in neuroscience- may be less inclined than Jojo to wax lyrical (which probably makes them the dream team to work on the book) but the message is the same: E5’s mission is to make bread that is both good for its customers and good for our planet. Always a firm believer in using flours milled from organic grains sustainably grown, founder and owner Ben Mackinnon’s approach is three-pronged: choosing heritage grains, supporting local farmers and using the right mill.
E5 has bought land outside of London where it is experimenting growing different varieties. Heritage wheat has an amazing root system (whereas modern wheat is dependent on nitrates to feed it). It is also much taller. Weeds have a hard time growing around it, which eliminates the need for fungicides. One of the varieties currently being used at the bakery is originally from Denmark. It goes into the wholemeal flour E5 mills onsite.
The mill, an Astrié style, is made by Samuel Poilâne. It comes from Brittany. It is engineered in such a way that the bran comes out in large particles (much bigger than with the Austrian mill E5 used before) making a really nice high-extraction stone-ground white flour.
For the wholemeal loaf, the bakers ferment the bran in a leaven that’s just bran (no flour) and incorporate it into the dough at the mixing stage. Bran ferments very quickly (2 hours.) For the white sourdough, some bran is used in the pre-ferment. The rest goes to horse feed.
At the time of our visit, back in May, the diameter of the millstone was 50 cm and the mill milled 10 kg of flour per hour. Starting in June, E5 would be getting a new mill with a 100-cm millstone that should mill 30 kg an hour depending on type of grain, moisture, etc. The grain that is bought directly from the farmer usually has the right moisture content (about 14%), so that there is no need to temper.
Milling is done at night. Once set up the mill can fill 7 bags at a time.
The silo contains 4 tons of grain. It is loaded manually once a month with one variety of wheat. An automated system loads the grains from the silo to the mill.
The flour is used when it is half-a-day or a day old. Which is ideal for the bakers’ purposes because it is always really fresh. There are many different milling options according to the needs.
All E5 breads are made with UK grown stone-ground flour with a low protein content. When Ben Mackinnon started the bakery, he used organic flour, tap water and organic sea salt. But the flour wasn’t all from UK grains or stone-ground and there was no control of freshness. He tried to narrow the offerings but some millers couldn’t meet his requests. At best the bakery could only get one delivery a week, which wasn’t enough.
Today E5 has an amazing connection with farmers. Every week it mills one ton of wheat grain. It also gets one ton of heritage wheat already milled from Gilchesters Organics and a few hundred kilos of stoneground organic spelt and rye from Cann Mills.
When Eyal joined the team six and a half years ago, E5 operated with a staff of 3. All they were making was bread. Then they started making sandwiches and soups. Then someone gave them a coffee machine, so they started making coffee. Then they realized they needed dedicated workers for everything.
Today E5 has a staff of 50 people total counting 8 bakers, 5 chefs, 4 pastry chefs, baristas, delivery riders etc. It is open seven days a week. The bakers’ shift starts at 3 AM.
E5 moved into the middle arch six years ago. Once it started doing pastry it took the arch next to it. Now it occupies three arches. E5 sell its bread wholesale as well, mostly to restaurants and cafés, also to some stores. All deliveries are done by bike.
We were going to be on the go the whole day so I couldn’t get bread and bring it home. Next time I visit, I would love to get a Hackney Wild and maybe a wholemeal loaf, slice them open, grab a chunk, take a bite, close my eyes, and let myself be transported to the British countryside. I am a firm believer in eating landscapes. None tastes exactly the same. My tastebuds still remember vividly the flavor of Dame Farine‘s einkorn from Provence or that of Dave Miller‘s 100% sonora wheat from the California hills or the mesquite Sandeep Dyawali had me taste in Austin, Texas.
And there is a deep satisfaction in eating bread made with tomorrow in mind, in knowing that by this small act, we help make sure that our kids and grandkids will inherit one day not only our memories but also the actual taste of our fields and grains.