Naturally slow process
Some people may think it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know how to bake, but Christien may politely disagree. Although he and Robin grew up working in the bakery, Christien spent five years studying electrical/mechanical engineering. “Robin is the baker, and I’m the fixer,” he said. “We have a great relationship, and it’s about having two owners of the business on the shop floor every day at every site. That’s where we came from. That’s our skill.”
Village Bakery’s specialty involves purchasing equipment, then modifying it to adapt to the product — rather than the other way around. As a result, much of the production technology responsible for creating a high volume of craft-style baked goods is unique to the bakery.
“When you look at a big plant bakery in the UK, from start to finish, it’s normally a high-speed Chorleywood process where nobody touches the product until it gets to the packaging room,” he observed. “We like capacity, but we do it in a way where it’s not a detriment to the product. The product is king. If we can automate something, we’ll do it, especially if it makes the product better. If it damages the quality of the product or forces us to change the recipe, we won’t use that equipment.”
Village Bakery collaborates with regional businesses to source its ingredients locally. The buttermilk comes from Caernarfon, the beef and lamb from Conwy and the milk from Coedpoeth — all within 100 miles of its bakeries.
However, Village Bakery’s natural “slow dough” process provides a point of differentiation for premium products in the market. The three bakeries simply mix flour, water and yeast into various sponges that ferment naturally up to 16 hours.
“We have different types of starter doughs, sourdoughs and cultures that add sweetness or savory flavor. You can do anything with a sourdough now. It really is amazing,” he said. “The good thing about slow dough is that you get your natural mold inhibitors, and you get so much flavor from it. That’s something my father introduced 40 years ago. For a lot of people, the slow dough trend is new, but to us, it is what we do.”
Relying on the slow dough process provides a point of differentiation. Take its foray into the highly competitive crumpet market where it transformed the ordinary into the extraordinary. “We maintained our quality, concentrated on taste and indulgent flavors, and when we looked at run-of-the-mill products, we improved them just to jazz them up,” Christien said. “We’ve taken the basic crumpet, which is a commodity in the UK, and we’ve transformed it by adding taste and technology — meaning we now have the tastiest crumpet on the market in the UK.”
The process is also the key to making its signature Welsh cakes. “It’s a great blend of ‘slow mix’ and a great blend of spices and good fruits with plenty of butter that all combines together in a hot-plate bake,” he noted. “They taste just-baked. Not dry.”