Food Stories with Phil Clayton: ‘I Didn’t Want to be Suppling Soft Baps, I Wanted to Make Good Bread’

Walking into Haxby Bakehouse to see Phil Clayton making his bakery boys coffee and giving them a breakfast break during a busy morning shift shows the love and care that Phil puts into both his bakery and the team behind it. With a focus on slow baking and using only natural ingredients, the award winning Haxby Bakehouse bakes a wide range of delicious morning goods, breads, and sourdoughs that are supplied to numerous food establishments in and around Yorkshire, including the Michelin starred Black Swan at Oldstead.

Using traditional methods of slow baking and fermentation, Phil tells us how every loaf of bread takes at least twenty-four hours to make and bake including their famous sourdough which takes three days. The bread is firstly proved overnight in the proving baskets in the fridge, and then baked the next morning to deliver the freshest and tastiest quality of bake.

How would you describe yourself in three words?

‘A Hardworking Baker’.

Did you have any previous careers before starting up Haxby Bakehouse?

Yes, I was the manager of Virgin Megastores in both York and Middlesbrough!

That’s a bit different to what you do now! What led you into baking? 

I just liked food and baking. The last store I worked in was Middlesbrough, and I couldn’t find good bread anywhere so I started to bake more and more. The guy that used to own this place in Haxby was retiring, so I took the opportunity to take on the bakery.

How long have you been doing this now? 

Ten years. Part of the reason that I wanted to become a baker was that in addition to there being so few places that you could buy good bread, there was really nowhere to buy sourdough at all, probably within a 100-mile radius of York. I’m constantly learning, experimenting, and talking to other bakers via social media. Most bakers don’t mind giving away ideas as everyone’s methods and schedules are so different, people are really quite honest and generous with information.

When you first started out, where did you learn to bake? 

Well there wasn’t really any courses that existed 10 years ago. I did a three-day course with Andrew Whitley who had an organic bakery in the lake district and that was really it. It was wood fired ovens and hand-mixing so very different to what we do here. Then I worked with the old owner for a week too. He used to add all the chemicals and flour improvers to his bread. Instead of doing slow breads like us, he was doing fast baking with no fermentation and so the opposite of how we do things. I had to then sort-of step by step change everything to how I wanted to do it, but learning at the same time.

And you were saying earlier that you use all natural and fresh ingredients? 

Yes. We use no flour improvers or preservatives, everything we use is organic but not certified organic, and locally sourced. The butter we use is from Acorn Dairy, the miller is based about 20 miles down the road and the flour grain is only grown is about 5 miles away!

When did you open the deli side of the business?

That was 10 years ago too, we wanted to lose the health foods side of things that was a bit niche and as the supermarkets began to stock these products, we created a deli counter selling Yorkshire meats and cheeses.

Is it a family run business?

Yes, I’m in the back, Tina is in the shop and the kids help at the markets.

Would you like your children to go into the business?

In all honesty, I don’t mind. I think there is always a career if they want it, it’s there. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s there.

What motivates you to do what you do? 

For most bakers like myself and these guys, it becomes such a passion and it’s the same if you are a chef; you can become quite obsessed with what you do. For me the bakery is more of a life. Life revolves around the bakery. Every time you pick a loaf up, you are judging it. We are constantly experimenting with new things and tweaking stuff that needs tweaking. We want stuff to be consistently good, and our customers know that the quality is there. It becomes a passion.

How big is the team now? 

We have four in the back, two in the front and a few part-time shop staff and delivery drivers. It is a small but close-knit team, and our delivery drivers are guys who come in from the village. They were retired and wanted to earn a bit of extra money, so they deliver for us which is really nice.

Can you remember your first order? 

When I took over the bakery the original owner was doing a little bit of wholesale, but I stopped it all. I didn’t want to be supplying soft baps. I wanted to make good bread. The first proper good customer was Castle Howard and their farm shop. They were really helpful and helped us with publicity and we still supply them today.

A more technical question now! What do you feed your sourdough starter?

We’ve got two, we’ve got a wheat and a rye starter. We feed them every day, we don’t give them fruit or anything like that. If you’ve got good flour and you mix that with water, it will start to ferment. It’s the wild yeast that is alive which is actually on the flour itself, when you feed with water, the yeast will start to eat the sugar in the flour. Once you’ve got that culture and colony of wild yeast, all you have to do is look after it.

Where would you say is your favourite restaurant/Café in York? 

Partisan on Micklegate I love. Obviously, it has got to be somewhere that uses our bread! I love the whole style of what they are doing, and their food is so interesting. I would also say The Black Swan at Oldstead, is an obvious choice although I haven’t eaten there. I get on well with the gardener, and we supply the bread for the restaurant. When I deliver the bread, I like to have a weekly chat with the gardener who grows the veg for The Black Swan and Roots in York. He gives me tips for my allotment, so in return I take him a loaf of bread each week!

Where do you see yourself this time next year?

Baking, haha. I think we need more room, but I like being hands-on and baking rather than organising the bakery.

Phil Clayton, 29/11/18.

York Talks would like to thank Phil for sharing his Food Story, and the team at Haxby Bakehouse for showing us around the Bakery. We wish Haxby Bakehouse the best of luck with their continuing success! 

If you would like to find out more about Phil and Haxby Bakehouse, tweet him 

@haxbybaker or visit their website http://haxbybakehouse.co.uk

This material is not to be copied, cited or distributed without the permission of York Talks.