Friends of Refuge: Pollen Bakery
Recently, we took Head Chef of The Refuge, Tom Ince, down to see our friends at Pollen Bakery. Pollen are the lovely people who make the sourdough you find on our menu, and so we headed off to their Ancoats site for a 6am start (they’d already been baking since 3am, so we were a bit tardy by their standards!). You can also check out our video featuring Tom at Pollen on Instagram.
Pollen Bakery was founded by Hannah Calvert and Chris Kelly, and was born from a love of great food, fermentation and flavour. Hannah and Chris started baking sourdough in their home kitchen in 2011, and it turned into an obsession. They travelled in search of great quality bread from France to California and noticed there it was regularly available wherever they went. So, they got to work on creating a bread that Manchester had yet to see…
The original Pollen bakery opened in 2016 in a railway arch underneath Piccadilly train station, and soon queues began forming round the block as demand grew for sourdough loaves and delicious pastries. By 2018, Pollen Bakery had outgrown the archway and moved to a bigger location at Cotton Field Wharf in Ancoats. Their second location in Kampus opened in 2022, and after drastically running out of space at their Ancoats bakery for the bread and pastry team, the new location now houses their pastry team in a dedicated pastry kitchen behind a glass gallery (so you can see all the action taking place throughout the day).
Baker, Zach Klein, was on hand to show Tom around the bakery and explain the sourdough-making process. “I’m originally from Alaska and have been baking for 10 years”, Zach told us. “In January 2022, my girlfriend had a semester aboard in Ireland, so I thought I’d try and move a bit nearer to her. I already followed Pollen’s Head Baker, Ryan, on Instagram so I reach out for a stage (that’s basically an internship in the food world) and they sponsored my visa to come over to the UK. That stage turned into something permanent, and I’ve really loved being here. The dream is to own my own place someday.”
Pollen only use three ingredients in the base of their doughs: flour, water and salt – great bread doesn’t need anything else! They adapt a long and slow fermentation process and the breads take a total of 28 hours to produce, which allows the grain to unlock all its nutrients, develop great flavour, and makes the bread more digestible. They also champion a darker crust, which is simply the natural sugars in the grain caramelising on the hot surface of the loaf.
We asked Zach to tell us more about how Pollen makes their sourdough. “So, I like to speak of sourdough as more of a process than a flavour. A lot of people have this predisposed idea of a tart, sour, almost vinegar-esque flavour, which is widespread thanks to mass production of commercial ‘sourdough’ breads. The flavour of these breads are often obtained by additives such as actual vinegar, yoghurt, or other fermented products, and its means they use commercial yeast and other leavening chemicals to raise the bread.”
“Our bread is leavened through natural fermentation, which relies on wild, naturally occurring yeast. We have a sourdough starter, or levain (French for “leaven”) that we ‘feed’ (adding flour and water at certain ratios) based on how much bread we’re mixing the next day. This ferments overnight, and in the morning, we do the same process again to create the levain that will raise the actual dough. It gets added to the mixer with flour and water that has already been combined after it has fermented for a few hours and typically doubled in volume. This combination gets mixed until we feel the development of the gluten structure in the dough is strong enough to hold the gases created during fermentation and hold its shape after we manipulate the dough into the form we’re looking for. Then, salt is added to the dough, which both helps the final result taste good. It also tightens the structure of the dough, making it easier to handle and manipulate.”
“After the dough is extracted from the mixer, it’s placed in tubs where it ferments for a few more hours. We use a method called the float test, where we take a piece of dough and attempt to float it in water. As the yeasts in a dough work, tiny bubbles of carbon dioxide are produced. This CO₂, trapped within the glutenous web formed by flour and liquid, makes the dough rise. It lightens its consistency in the process – enough to make it quite buoyant. We then cut the dough into weights, predetermined by what shape/form it is meant to be after baking. After a short rest—to let the dough relax or slacken a bit—we shape them and place them in to proofing baskets. This dough then gets proved overnight in a cold room or refrigerator, up to 16 hours before it’s baked.”
“The next morning, we bake the loaves around 270° C for 25 to 30 minutes. We’re looking for a well-caramelised crust; golden brown and crisp. The loaf should have a hollow sound to it when tapped on the underside, as well as a lightness from the water evaporation that occurs during baking. Although we mostly look for the visual cues!”
Thanks to all that care, attention and artistry, you can see why Tom loves their sourdough so much. If you fancy checking out Pollen for yourself, head over to their Instagram to find out more.