Darlington Baker on Winning Britain’s Best Loaf and His Bread-Making Journey in the North East
Dan owns Bakerman in Clarks Yard, Darlington and was Head Baker at Clevaux Bakery. He also won Best Overall Loaf at Britain’s Best Loaf Competition. We find out more...
He started volunteering at Clevaux Bakery where he eventually became head baker.
When the pandemic hit, the bakery was forced to close, and I became redundant, but it actually lead me to open The Bakerman.’
Dan opened the not-for-profit bakery, Bakerman, 18 months ago in Clarks Yard, in the heart of Darlington, with two key charitable objectives in mind.
‘Primarily we promote organic food and we are champions of The Real Bread Campaign.’ This means Dan and his team create bread without chemical rising agents or additives, and instead make genuine sourdough bread.
‘Our second charitable objective is to offer work-based experiences to disadvantaged young adults with learning and behavioural difficulties,’ he says.
Part of the help Dan received to open The Bakerman was through Crowd Funding donations. ‘It’s brilliant running a business in Darlington, especially our business – the pandemic was bad for some, but for us, opening during that time was probably quite good as we built up a loyal following,’ he says.
This following has skyrocketed since the Bakerman won Best Overall Loaf at Britain’s Best Loaf Competition.
‘I’ve actually entered the competition before and I won the sourdough category in 2017, and I entered again 18 months ago but the event was cancelled, so I actually forgot I had rolled over my entries until I got a reminder three weeks before the event took place this year,’ Dan says.
'It’s brilliant running a business in Darlington, especially our business – the pandemic was bad for some, but for us, opening during that time was probably quite good as we built up a loyal following'
Dan entered three loaves into this year’s competition, and won the Innovation category with his turmeric, red onion and Nigella seed sourdough, as well as Sourdough With Other Ingredients and Best Overall with his parmesan and black pepper sourdough loaf.
‘In no way at all did I expect to win – to be honest it’s just nice to spend the day with other bakers because we’re all often stuck in our bakeries in the middle of the night,’ he laughs.
Dan explains that when he entered the competition he had only been running The Bakerman for a month or two, and therefore hadn’t developed the repertoire of loaves he has today.
‘The parmesan and black pepper loaf which won is a loaf I have been making for the last six-to-eight years, just constantly tweaking it and making it better.’
Since his big win, Dan and his team have been overwhelmed with the responses to their bread. ‘It’s been crazy, we sold every crumb by 11am last Saturday and it’s almost terrifying because there are only so many loaves you can make in a day – it’s the right kind of problem to have though.’
Dan’s tip for success is to always be practicing and developing your bread. ‘No bread is ever a perfect or finished article – you can always make it better and that’s what we strive to achieve and do at The Bakerman. Every loaf we make is a constant trial and error.’
Gone are the days of making a traditional plain white bread loaf, as Dan experiments with flavours such as cheddar and Marmite, miso and sesame and smoked cheese and oregano.
All the ingredients used to make Dan’s award-winning bread are organic and locally-sourced where possible. For now, Dan is concentrating on expanding the bakery as it has already outgrown its premises.
‘We need a bigger bakery space because we only have a tiny little oven which can be quite limiting,’ he says. Part of his plans for the future include fundraising to be able to buy a bigger space, which will also allow Dan and his team to give back even further to the community.
What’s the first bread you ever tried to make?
Brioche burger buns.
What is your current favourite flavour?
The parmesan and black pepper without a doubt because I love to work with all things sourdough and I think that’s how bread should be made, and it’s a really nice dough to work with.
Where is your favourite place to eat locally?
I don’t get a lot of time to go out to eat but there is a brilliant pizzeria in Darlington called Stable Hearth who make fantastic Neapolitan pizza so if I don’t have time to make my own, I’m there.