Meeting Jack of Bara Menyn

On Wednesday, I went for a delicious breakfast at an independent artisan bakery and cafe in Cardigan called ‘Bara Menyn’. I was lucky enough to meet the baker behind the bread, Jack, to take some pictures and ask some questions about the business and bread, that he has so successfully made from scratch.

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How long have you been baking bread for? In total it’s been about three years now.

What made you decide to start your own business? Well, at the place I was at before which was Lampeter Organics, I was getting up at two in the morning, and driving from Llandysul to Lampeter in the dead of the night, and yeah, that wasn’t much fun at all, and so I thought why not start my own business? Make it work for me with times that suit me.

Baking hours are meant to be notoriously difficult, so what time do you have to get up now? Well, I’ve been getting up at around six or seven lately, because it’s sourdough here, and so the bread I’m about to put in the oven, was made and shaped yesterday and left to rise overnight at a low temperature in this fridge here. That means that you don’t have to get up at two or three to mix the dough super early in the morning so that it has enough time to ferment and rise. If you do it slowly over night, you get a bit of a lie in and you get better bread as well, because the flavour has more time to develop.

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What’s the easiest loaf to make if you have hardly any ingredients or time? … Soda bread, that’s basically like a sort-of cake-y kind of bread. But that’s kind-of the opposite of my philosophy in terms of bread making, because all the bread here takes a total of 48 hours to make. It’s all leavened or risen in a natural sour dough starter. So basically, if you mix flour and water together, just pure flour and water, the wild yeast spores that are already on the flour, and the lactic acid bacteria, start to ferment. You then refresh that and feed it. It then takes 24 hours to ferment. You then add that into the mixer with the flour, salt and water and you’ve got your dough. It then takes another 24 hours to ferment again.

So it takes A LOT of time then? Yeah, but you get a lie in. We just do sourdough here, so there’s no instant yeast, no yeast you’d buy from the shop or anywhere. It’s all homemade.

You make it from scratch? It’s basically how bread was made traditionally for thousands of years; with fermented flour and water. It’s like the oldest style of bread making really.

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Do you have any bread baking tips for beginners? …A lot of people make their dough far too dry, if your dough is sticking to your hands or your work surface then that’s a good sign. It should be really wet and then you get, what’s called, a good crumb, good big air holes and good gluten formation. Some people don’t use enough water and that’s the first, most important thing. A lot of people don’t want their kitchens to get messy, but you’ve got to get over that if you want to make good bread.

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Would you say you were a traditional or an experimental baker? That’s an interesting question, because I think it depends on what you mean by both of those terms. Traditional, in a sort of, big sense of the word, would refer to how bread has been made for millennia, which is sourdough, so in that sense I’m traditional. But when you say traditional these days, a lot of people would think of your little high-street bakeries, who actually use a lot of preservatives and flour treatment agents. I’m not traditional in the sense of the traditional high-street baker, and they would probably perceive me as experimental, whereas in my book I’m more traditional than them in a different sense of the term.

If you could have only one piece of baking equipment, (besides the oven), what would it be? Oh that’s a really good question, I like that… it would have to be the mixer, because I can do 20 kilos of dough at a time in here, which would just take hours by hand.

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If you could only eat one topping on your toast for the rest of your life what would it be? Well, I’ve got a business called Bara Menyn so…. So you would choose butter? It’s going to have to be butter isn’t it! A good bit of bread and butter is hard to beat.

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Bara Menyn is found in one of the oldest Custom Houses in Cardigan, in South West Wales.

Not only is the building beautiful, but the food and atmosphere are too. The lively background music, good bread, attentive styling and super-friendly staff all make for a wonderful breakfast, lunch, or quick coffee, location.

‘Bara Menyn’ translates from Welsh to ‘Bread and Butter’.