It’s been 9 months since they launched their Sour Dough Bread Microbakery in their home in Linden Johannesurg. And much like carrying an actual baby (which they’ve also done together, a few times) it’s been a journey of hard work, excitement and also uncertainty. Except this time we both have to do the heavy lifting. The first trimester was particularly tough on Matt… The days before Mr Fontana, our resident mixer. The days when poor Matt had to hand mix all those loaves. And the second trimester a challenge for Caro – previously just in the deliveries and comms side, when Matt’s actual job as a colourist for digital media picked up again, he had to impart the knowledge and trust to Caro and hope that she would do what is impossible for her – follow instructions! They’re doing ok and the bakery in the heart of Linden is growing week by week. they’ve done over 4200 loaves in the wood fired oven in the last nine months. And they hope to do so many more.
I spoke to them….
What attracted you to bread baking in the first place?
MATT – wanting to have access to better bread. After tasting sourdough for the first time at the original Vovotelo in 44 Stanley, I was hooked. And realised the only way to get it regularly was to bake it myself.
CARO – For me, it was all about what makes Matt happy. If sourdough is it, then I’m in. When Matt first started baking for us back in 2017 I realised I didn’t want to eat any other bread either.
MATT – I learned to bake from a website called theperfectloaf.com I then bought the Tartine book by Chad Robertson, which is the foundation for the most common sourdough recipe.
CARO – I learnt/am learning from Matt and am currently going through the literature he bought in his early days
Maurizio Leo of theperfectloaf.com
Who do you regard as your baking mentor?
MATT – Maurizio Leo from The Perfect Loaf (.com)
CARO – Matt Tapson
What is it about baking, and bread in particular, that really resonates with you?
MATT – Baking bread is easy to get good at but incredibly difficult to master. The process of baking bread is also tactile, introspective and quiet, disconnected from technology. Knowing that the bread we bake is nutritious, healthy and good for you also resonates with me.
CARO – What I have learnt about baking bread is very similar to my gardening hobby in that results are slow and things take time and there’s a certain joy in waiting for that – an element of delightful surprise. Sourdough, if you’ve learnt to do it right, is way more certain than gardening though!
Why do you think that sourdough has had such a resurgence in the past few years?
MATT – As we have become overwhelmed by the fast pace of life, it feels like many things are produced without care or attention. Good bread cannot be made that way. I think the love and attention a good baker pours into his or her loaves comes through to whoever’s eating them and so good bread is unforgettable. Once you’ve had good bread it’s not easy to eat fast bread anymore and I think that’s one of the main reasons people appreciate sourdough to the extent that they do.
CARO – I’m sure that social media and virality have a part to play. I think that the realness, the slowness, the goodness and the simplicity of sourdough was the start, but possibly social media has had a huge influence in making that art/practice spread and become accessible. Globally, having all gone through lockdown and being confined to our homes has given many people more time than they would otherwise have had, and I’m sure this was a pivotal influence in the last year especially. (remembering how many people were calling us for some starter culture in the 4 days that we had to prepare for the hard lockdown)
How did it feel when you realised you didn’t need to knead bread for a long time in order to produce a good loaf?
MATT – It still sometimes surprises me to think that you can bake two great loaves of bread at home with probably less than twenty minutes of actual work. At first I think it felt a bit weird to not have to knead, but I’ve realised that one of the keys to good bread is gentleness, so it feels good to handle the dough that way.
CARO – Having never needed to knead (because I was not a baker before this) it’s all I know.
Do you enjoy teaching people to bake?
MATT – Yes
CARO – I don’t know -have not taught anyone yet.
What are some of the most surprising things you have learnt from teaching people how to bake bread?
MATT – How naturally people take to the process of baking. Everyone seems to love baking bread. Whether they keep it up or not is up to them, but so far everyone loves doing it.
What are some of the most common mistakes that people make when they are starting to make bread for the first time?
MATT – becoming demoralised at how tricky it is to handle dough the first time you do it, is a mistake because it doesn’t take long to get the hang of it.
CARO – reflecting on my own learning experience, I did pay enough attention to the various temperature measurements – always checking water, always checking dough, always checking ambient now.
Which do you feel are the easiest loaves to make and which are the hardest?
MATT – The easiest is the straightforward traditional sourdough loaf consisting mostly of white bread flour and I find traditional Russian Ryes to be pretty challenging.
CARO – Traditional so far for me is pretty easy (although I have not graduated to the final stages yet) and the ever popular sourdough banana bread is so hard to get right.
Do you think there will be a new trend in terms of bread? Do you think we are over sourdough now or are there new things we can do with it?
MATT – It seems like people are always figuring out new ways to break through established boundaries, I can’t wait to see where the world’s innovative bakers take bread to next.
CARO – I would hate to think we’re over sourdough! That would be sad. But I do think that trends are inevitable. Possibly the inclusion of strange infusions and additions to the dough.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started?
MATT – Not much, because I think the process of learning how to make better bread has been a big part of the joy of this journey.
CARO – I kind of wish I knew that it would take over my life, I would have gotten my affairs in better order.
What do you like to eat most?
MATT – Simple pleasures are my favourite. Bread and butter are probably top of the list.
CARO – Grapes that have been turned into wine or marinated artichokes.
What’s your least Favourite Food?
MATT – Offal
CARO – There’s not much that I won’t eat. It’s probably some version of chewy meat though.
Do you have a childhood, Mom or Gran food memory?
MATT – My gran was a fantastic baker and made loads of different types of tarts and biscuits that were all delicious. The most memorable being her rhubarb tart.
Caro – My mom and grans were all brilliant in the kitchen but my dad and paternal grandfather are/were too. Growing up in a Lebanese and Afrikaans household meant that my life was wholly and completely shaped by food. The joys, the guilt, the handmade – from carefully crafted dolmades to flash boiled vetkoek. Nobody in my family is underweight, not a single one without a very lively appetite! We are a family completely connected (come war or peace) over a dinner table. But perhaps my fondest memory is that moment after a Sunday lunch when my grandfather was about to scoop out, carefully and with a warmed up dishing spoon, the Tin Roof Ice Cream.
What is your morning routine?
MATT – 5am wake up, mop oven, coffee while waiting for oven to cool and then the baking starts and kids start to wake up.
CARO – Early wake up, make levain, drink water, make coffee, oats for kids, lunchboxes, kids to school, yoga, get loaves ready for delivery.
What is your Desert-Island Disc?
MATT – Paul Simon – Graceland
CARO – Joni Mitchell – Miles of Aisles
Your craziest Wine or Food or Equipment Purchase?
MATT – The dough mixer is kind of unconventional
CARO – I bought a Himalayan salt block for cooking steak (we probably eat steak once a year)
Your key Wardrobe Item?
MATT – Sheepskin slippers
CARO – Jeans
A talent you would like to have.
MATT – Play piano
CARO – To tell great jokes
MATT – Currently reading: The Age of Madness Trilogo by Joe Abercrombie
CARO – Currently reading: Thinking, fast and slow by Daniel Khaneman
Routine after baking?
MATT – Wine or whisky, supper, maybe TV. Make starter for tomorrow. Bed 9.30pm
CARO – Cleaning up, cooking for the family, kids to bed. Check orders to tell Matt how much starter to make for tomorrow’s levain. Bed 9.30pm
I’m currently working on….
MATT – not panicking.
CARO – Growing Linden Loaves. An autumn range of bottled plants.
My favourite weekend getaway is….
MATT – My workshop
CARO – Club duvet without kids
MATT – McDonald’s Junior Chicken and Junior cheese burger at the same time. Drive through.
CARO – Cleaning cupboards for relaxation
One day, I will….
MATT Live within walking distance of the beach.
CARO Learn to outsource some aspects of my life.
Matt & Caro Tapson
082 817 4450