It all started in a dining room in Crouch End.
During the first confinement, Sophia Sutton-Jones made a loaf of spelled bread for a neighbor who had some health problems.
He was impressed, so asked her to do it for him regularly.
Other neighbors also asked, in an increasingly busy WhatsApp group as Lockdown Sourdough Madness took hold.
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âIn a few weeks, I was baking 90 breads a day and baking only twice a week,â explains Sophia. âI had to take care of an eight month old baby and my mini bakery.
Her spare bedroom became a flour room, the dining room was the bakery, and the kitchen was full of dough bins.
With demand increasing, so they moved to a small industrial unit in Finsbury Park where they cooked, and Sophia’s partner Jesse Sutton-Jones delivered everything by bike.
However, after an accident in which the ovens were left on with the fermentation baskets inside, the black smoke billowing from them made them realize they must be in a real bakery, with people.
So Sourdough Sophia, a nice little pink-fronted bakery on Middle Lane, was opened.
After a very successful Kickstarter campaign, they officially opened on Christmas Eve last year and now sell up to 300 breads and 400 pastries a day.
The sign on the door says, âLeaven is for life (not just for locking!)â – and it appears to be true.
Initially, they were open Wednesday through Saturday; they added Tuesday in August and Sunday in November.
Even after the lockdown, it seems our sourdough mania isn’t going anywhere.
But where the Levain Sophia really shines, in my opinion, is the pastries.
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The displays are stunning and behind the cases are platters of almond croissants ready to expand, the sweet dough and almond flakes oozing out over golden layers of crispy dough.
I lived in Paris, and I mention to him that it is really the last place where I had such a good pastry.
She’s a bit shy to brag, but says, âI’ve actually heard a lot of French people say ‘This is the only croissant I can have outside of Paris that’s good’.
I feel justified – but not as vindicated as Sophia who lists all the ways they broke the rules laid down by the gods of French pastry.
For starters, no one on the team has gone through the years of training the pastry chefs have undergone – all are self-taught in less than six months.
âWe went through a good six months of pain, contacting everyone possible for tips and advice,â says Sophia.
“I have a lot of baker friends all over the world who have helped me pretty much every day.”
She would just send in pictures of their efforts and ask about anything that looked wrong – the look, the flavor; âWe’ve gone into every detail – from the heat of the butter, to the consistency of the dough, to the time it takes to rise.
“These are fine-tuning details that take people years to perfect – we did it in six months.”
As if that wouldn’t bother French pastry chefs enough, they don’t use French flour either, only British flour; they don’t use French butter, only British farmed butter from a small company; they use a different layering technique and they use brown sugar instead of white.
âFrench pastry chefs would probably ask ‘What’s wrong with you?’ “She said,” but it all just adds up to a nice flavor. “
Another thing their pastries have over those I remember (very fondly!) From Paris is that they aren’t afraid to experiment.
During their weekly brainstorming sessions, they came up with crazy creations such as Danish Onion Soup, Baklava Croissant, and Leicester Marmite and Red Cruffin.
âI let everyone walk around and try different ideas,â says Sophia, although of course many just don’t work, like a creamy raspberry cruffin that will never see the light of day.
Even now, she has her eye on a panettone batter that the team is trying out and are hoping to put on sale soon – it’s three days of work with lots of complex, co-dependent steps.
One of the team members is much older than the others, and it turns out that the handsome man in his sixties is the father of Sophia, who visits him from his home near Frankfurt in Germany.
A baker by training who began his three-year apprenticeship at the age of 14, he never realized his dream of having his own bakery.
Now every time he visits all he wants to do is work with his daughter in the kitchen.
Sophia grew up in Germany and started cooking with her father when she was four – and today he just taught her how to make sourdough stollen.
For a while she dabbled in marketing, postponing her dream of owning a bakery in part because it’s so risky for anyone who wants to make a decent living.
âThen we had a child and we pushed it away even more – and then when the virus hit, we thought, ‘Do we have something to lose now? “”
She used her savings to buy equipment, and now almost a year later her dream has come true and has stood in line on the street.
And look, I’m trying to be professional, but what am I gonna do not buy a loaf of bread and three pastries, including the bestseller (a cruffin with passion fruit curd on the inside and raspberry sugar on the outside)?
It would be madness.
I go out into Crouch End leaving the bakers to their folding, their rolling, their large vats of soft and sparkling dough.
Yes, I think I can delay my next trip to Paris a bit.
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