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Focaccia from the ashes: The Earth's Crust Bakery

Focaccia from the ashes: The Earth's Crust Bakery

by Great British Chefs 23 March 2017

A finalist in the BBC’s 2017 Food and Farming Awards, this unassuming Scottish bakery is putting some very special bread on the table for local residents. Gillian Khosla tells us more.

When Pavlina and Tom van Rooyen's bakery in the garden of their house in a small village in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland burned down in 2015, it seemed they would need to rethink their business plans.

Already well established, The Earth's Crust Bakery supplied local retailers and professional caterers. Varieties of breads and pastries were quickly sold at farmers’ markets, and several local café owners owed their own skills and repertoire to training courses held there.

Tom's extensive travels and experience in catering for a wide variety of dietary requirements at a local events centre had focused his interest on experimenting with a variety of flours and slower baking methods. Realising that others would be interested in producing their own bread, he also hosted workshops for aspiring home bakers, and stimulated the production of sourdough starters throughout the region.

Pavlina's background in marketing and her interest in social media had led her to apply for a degree in Business Studies, which she is shortly due to complete, and that discipline helped her to stand back and look strategically at making the disaster of the fire into an opportunity.

Bread
The real bread available at The Earth's Crust is what the bakery is famous for, but the team also produce pastries and desserts
Earth's Crust
Tom and Pavlina van Rooyen opened a new bakery in 2015 after the one in their backyard burned down

All the usual hurdles of trying to finance a new business had to be crossed, but their enthusiastic band of customers and the support of the local community encouraged them onwards. All the baking equipment had also been lost in the fire, so a compelling pitch was put together on a crowdfunding platform. The target was exceeded in super quick time and also provided the bakers with a full order book on opening.

On a side street of the local market town, Castle Douglas, in a casual and comfortable environment, Tom and his growing band of bakers and servers set about experimenting with new confections to tempt their loyal and hungry customers. Much time was spent in finding the butter which contained the perfect amount of fat to make the croissants; coconut macaroons appeared one day, after a previous bake used huge numbers of egg yolks but not the whites, which couldn’t be wasted. The first focaccia was topped with thinly sliced potato and turmeric, and many other seasonal toppings followed.

Every visit reveals a new recipe, while the stalwarts – the sourdoughs, spelts, five seeds and baguettes – continue to please. And anyone looking for a freshly made snack or lunch always finds a dish to satisfy, whether a slice of quiche or a pasty filled with sweet potato, coconut and chilli. Local cheeses from Loch Arthur and local ham from Grierson butchers fill the rolls, while many happy dinner guests will owe the enjoyment of their dessert to the specialist skills and The Earth’s Crust ovens.

The Earth's Crust Bakery celebrated its first birthday in the new premises on 18 March, and Tom and Pavlina received the best present possible: the announcement by Sheila Dillon that they are one of three finalists (from a pool of over 400 entries) in the Best Food Producer category of the BBC Food and Farming Awards 2017. With so many locals waxing lyrical about the quality of what they produce, it was only a matter of time until this small artisan bakery began to receive national attention.

Photography by Kim Ayres.

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