Eye Bake

The Latest from the Bakehouse at Ujima in Kenya 

E5’s Head Baker Luke Duffy Visits the Ujima Bakehouse 

On 5th January 2017 Luke Duffy wrote: 21:00 – 26th September 2016 – I land after a long, two part flight, very thankful to be met by my host and Ujima bakehouse general manger, Dave Fung. Dave is a Reading boy, ex-chef and former Soil Association employee. I used to work as a chef, studied in Reading and care deeply about managing our planets resources. That, coupled with a mutual penchant for late night acoustic singalongs, meant it was easy for us to work together. I first met Dave when he visited e5 to learn more about the world of sourdough bread. He has been out here for 7 months now, managing the day to day running of Ujima Bakehouse, as well as the cafe in town (where we sell the bread). On the long, bumpy drive from Nairobi Airport to Nakuru we discuss Kenya, from the social, to the political. Kenya currently doesn’t have much of a bread culture. Sadly, the main offering is very fluffy, very white and full of improvers and preservatives. The main crop here is not wheat either, it’s maize. Kenyans eat a lot of maize, sometimes barbecued on the roadside, but mostly as a stiff porridge named, ‘Ugali’. This, along with a variety of different beans, dark greens and a smattering of meat helps to form a fairly balanced diet, albeit a little plain. There are some beautiful fruits however, namely bananas, avocados, mangoes and pineapples. Dave explains that the farming is as simple as the finished dishes. One type of onion, one type of tomato, one type of maize. Most likely selected for high yield and disease resistance, over any flavour preference. Luckily for Ujima, there is a man growing and stone grinding wheat and rye grains. Of German origin, he moved to the area over 20 years ago to establish his farming project, which also grows buckwheat.  He also has a similar, Tyoll, style mill as back at e5.  The opportunity never arose to go out and visit him, but Ben did manage it, when he was out here a little over a year ago. The bakehouse  has received wholegrain wheat and rye flour in the past, yet recipes and breads made with this flour had yet to be established. The white flour which is used by Ujima is roller milled and comes from a large industrial 
plant that supplies much of the local area. I note the faster staling quality of this flour, as well its ability to draw moisture from my mouth in the eating. Is this an inherent quality of the grain, or is this flour more than just sifted before arriving? My first look at the bakehouse - seven miles (the literal meaning of Maili Saba) out of town, lies the camp, with an adjoining bakery. It is here that Justan and Alfonse (trained by Ben, initially) bake three times a week. The little bakehouse with a big view, as it looks out over the Menengai crater. This volcano was formed over 200,000 years ago and is lit up at night by geothermal rigs. It is the largest natural crater in Africa. Baking can be a cathartic enough practice as it is, but with this view, it was set to be positively blissful. We spent the first couple of days working on recipes for wholewheat, seeded rye and ciabattas. Initial results were good, but when working with new flour, in a new environment, one must adapt quickly. We upped the hydration of the two major sellers, a plain sourdough and a seeded version of the same dough. Justan and Alfonse soon took to shaping with water instead of flour, a major benefit when working with wetter doughs. We baked through the night and the guys got a brief moment of rest, before packing the loaves for orders and working the crowds at a local motoring event. That’s hardcore! I only do one to two early bakes a week, so my hat goes off to Justan and Alfonse for their dedication. The final two days were spent perfecting recipes for ciabatta, baguettes (and pizza dough) and the sourdough banana cake. The team were engaged and I felt more settled in as their mentor. Earlier that day, Dave (a keen forager) picked a local variety of lemon thyme, as well as some basil from the fields close to the bakehouse. These got incorporated into our herby tomato sauce, to top our semi-sourdough pizzas. As the sun set on our final night, we huddled round our small work bench to enjoy the fruits of our labour.