Baking in prison

For years, Virtuous Bread and the Bread Angels have been working with prisoners at The Clink restaurant in Highdown prison.  It is some of the most fun work that we do:  always a challenge, always having to roll with whatever the schedule is that day and how it changes during the day, always putting dough on tables and under ovens to keep it out of the way of the frenzies of the workings of the restaurant kitchen.  It’s pretty fun.

We have baked amazing things, working through the Italian Baker (in sourdough), baking sourdough hot cross buns at Easter and sourdough Stollen at Christmas and many things in between.  Both Highdown and Brixton are category B closed prisons so yeast is forbidden and everything must be baked with sourdough.

Recently, The Clink opened restaurants in Cardiff and in Styal.  Both are “day release” prisons and so the rules and regs of the restaurant kitchens are a little different.  For us, the main difference is that we can use yeast which makes things a little easier and more flexible.  If the dough is not prepared the night before, it’s no big deal!  If the sourdough starter has mysteriously vanished out of the fridge between lessons, it’s not a disaster.

In September, Jane Mason went to the Clink in Cardiff for a day long bread session.  When asked what they wanted to learn, the head chef said ciabatta, focaccia and brioche.  Not a big ask in a day’s work except that the staff were exhausted!  All the pumping iron in the world does not prepare you for kneading three lots of dough, one of them being brioche.  That is 40 minutes of hard kneading and they were flattened!  I confess I had to laugh (at them, in a nice way).  Big strong lads, nearly defeated by dough.  Their exhaustion did not diminish their enthusiasm, nor the wonderfulness of the end product (and it was wonderful as was the no knead pizza we sneaked in for lunch).  So, Cardiff adds hand made bread to their award winning menu and that feels great.

In July, Iain Every went to Styal for the day and they liked him so much they invited him back and I can see why, the bread they made looks amazing!  The Clink in Styal is in a beautiful Victorian building that used to be a children’s home and church complex.

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