Food & Wine

It’s all in the dough

It’s all in the dough

Young up and coming artisan bakers, Sonel Venter and David Hobbs, have taken a step back in time and are baking bread like our ancient forefathers would have –natural, simple and healthy.

“We respect the ingredients we work with and use it in its purest form, and we don’t rush it. Our ingredients are only sourced from mills that keep it natural and free of additives and chemicals,” says the young couple whose bread and pastries have become sought after by foodies and prestigious restaurants in Hartbeespoort and surrounding areas. And once you taste their Italian ciabattas, French baguettes, chocolate brioches, sour dough bread and Sonel’s divine pastries, you will realise why.
Working out of the tiny kitchen of their business – called Tostata – in Hartbeespoort, Sonel and David believe the secret to great bread is ingredients as close to nature as possible and time…
“Everything is done at exactly the right time. Don’t rush it, let it be,” says Sonel whose flair for pastries has naturally shaped her career.

“It is all flour, water and salt, but how you use it, shape it and time it, determines the end product,” says David.
The couple both trained as chefs and met at an artisan bakery in Knysna where they both worked. “The hot kitchen was not for either of us. We didn’t really learn much about baking or pastries in culinary school, it was only after my internship that I discovered bread. I worked at the popular Il de Pain artisan bakery in Knysna and it was here that I learnt my trade and discovered my passion.”
After finishing her studies, Sonel landed her first job as a pastry chef at the Cube Tasting Kitchen in Johannesburg. She then did ‘n stint in America in the hot kitchen of the Ritz Carlton Hotel before returning to South Africa to also work at Il de Paine.
Having both discovered their passion for baking, the couple decided to go it on their own last year. They moved to Hartbeespoort where Sonel’s parents live and started baking. “And it is going well, so much better than we expected. We have been blessed and my parents’ backup is amazing,” says Sonel.

And it doesn’t really matter how it looks, everything is different and in imperfection is perfection. It comes down to the taste

They started selling bread at markets and festivals and soon they had a loyal following and restaurants took notice. At the moment they are supplying to three restaurants and sell from two markets weekly.
“I love the baking side but the rest, like marketing, bookkeeping and sometimes dishwashing, get a bit much,” says David, wrinkling his nose. “I want to just bake. I love taking flour, water and salt and making something out of nothing. In fact, I would like to make all the ingredients we use. I want to make everything you taste. I don’t just want to drink a bottle of wine, I want to make the bottle of wine. I have played around with cheese, but currently we do not have enough time to really indulge in anything else.”
For markets they have to start baking at midnight. “It is hard work, but we love what we do, and one has to be on your toes all the time. As seasons and the environment change, so do the ingredients. This means we have to concentrate to get it right every time,” said Sonel. “And it doesn’t really matter how it looks, everything is different and in imperfection is perfection. It comes down to taste,” David chips in.

Although they are both trained chefs and very particular bakers, they love it when other people cook or bake for them. “We are not too critical,” Sonel laughs. David shakes his head. “On the contrary, I respect other bakers’ products, I respect anyone who creates something out of nothing. And let’s face it, it is extremely difficult to mess up when you use good ingredients.”
The couple is step by step working on their dream to open a small bakery in the near future. “With good coffee of course. But we are not rushing. One step at a time.”
Like their delicious bread… good things come to those who wait.

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