As I approach the recently opened Bread Station, tucked in the shadow of a railway arch next to London Fields in Hackney, I clock all the hallmarks of a traditional bakery. Rows of fresh loaves, flour-dusted staff plying their dough, and that go-weak-at-the-knees waft of freshly baked bread.
But something crucial is missing from this bakery—the very stuff that turns those baguettes and rolls into perfectly risen domes. Yeast.
That's right, all the bread here has been made without the help of the microscopic fungus, usually added to bread mixture during proving, to release the carbon dioxide that helps dough rise. Michelin-starred Danish chef-turned-baker Christoffer Hruskova, however, wanted to do things differently.
"I thought there weren't enough places around that did amazing bread," he tells me. "We're doing things differently to everyone else out there."
And what could be more different than doing away with a vital baking ingredient? Paul Hollywood would lose his nut.
Biting into one of Hruskova's yeast-free baguettes, I'm expecting a flat flavour. But the dough is pillowy and has a pleasing, slightly sour taste to it. This is good bread. Who needs yeast?
"It's going back to basics with flour, water, and salt. We don't add any yeast whatsoever," Hruskova stresses. "We're very strict about this."
Although The Bread Station's pastries and cakes do use yeast (their cinnamon bun game is on point), all of the bread is fungus-free.
I'm keen to know Hruskova's secret to making the bread rise.
"We start with a biga, which is a rye and water pre-fermentation that we have going in a tank with arms and a propeller to keep it stirring," says Hruskova. "It's a bit like a sourdough starter, but we refresh it all the time so you don't keep it and take a bit at a time like with sourdough."
He explains that at every stage of the bread-making process, this concoction is added to the mix to encourage a rise.
"We mill our own organic flours which we source from co-operatives in Northumberland and Wiltshire (which also gives a lot of life to the bread) and an organic Italian flour that's milled in Italy to build up strength in the gluten," he explains. "There's natural yeast in the flour which helps the bread along."
Kneading the dough is another convention of breadmaking that Hruskova does away with. Because if you're going to break one rule, you may as well break a couple more.
"We don't knead our bread much, so after the mixture has proved for four hours at 35 degrees Celsius, we just fold it and put it in bread baskets, where it sits covered at room temperature." he says. "We also differ from other bakeries by taking the cover off when it then goes in the fridge. We want a slight crust on it because the dough is 50 percent water. That way, when it bakes, it'll hold its shape."
You go, Hruskova. Smash all them rules.
It may sound like a simple, albeit unconventional, baking process but it's one that took a while to perfect.
"The difficult part is to get the biga right," says Hruskova. "For months, we struggled to get it right but then when it kicked in, it was amazing and it's consistent. Saying that, today when I came in, the dough was awful. That was more that the baker though, it's not so much about the recipe."
Someone's going to be in the dog house (or should that be station?)
Attempting to veer the conversation away from this morning's bad batch, I find out that Hruskova's decision to bake without yeast isn't just about being a baking rule-breaker.
"I wanted to set up Bread Station for a long, long time—even before my restaurant [the now closed North Road Restaurant in Clerkenwell]. I worked with a Danish baker called Per Brun, who's a trailblazer in bread in Denmark," he explains. "He brought sourdough to Denmark and had a set of bakeries called Emmerys, for which I helped with the restaurant side of things. He's allergic to yeast so developed this recipe to make bread without it. He sold Emmerys and set up Bread Station in Denmark. I persuaded him to let me bring it here."
But yeast-free bread is by no means Danish. In fact, what Brun and Hruskova made was far from the norm.
"Unfortunately, a lot of bakers in Denmark have become all about powders and additives that make the product last longer," says Hruskova. "They use margarine instead of butter. It's a bit sad."
Ironically, Hruskova tells me that forgoing both yeast and additives actually makes his bread last longer.
"Yeast cuts down the life of the bread," he explains. "The more stuff you put in the bread, the less it lasts and becomes more dry, quicker. I say to people that it lasts four or five days, no problem."
I'm holding my carb-loaded hands up. I didn't have the chance to test whether Bread Station's baked goods lasted that long.
Alongside the sourdough and Danish pastries, Hruskova is also making loaves—but with a London stamp. On my visit, I find a "London Fields seeded loaf" with cracked rye and pumpkin seeds and a signature "Hackney Wholegrain," both perfectly risen with a soft airy bite.
"I still find it amazing that you can get the dough to prove and become bread without yeast," says Hruskova.
You're not the only one.