Staff of life at the shuk

The bread at Russell’s Bakery is made fresh by hand every day, with natural ingredients and no preservatives.

bakers at shuk 311 (photo credit: Lavi Hoffman)
bakers at shuk 311
(photo credit: Lavi Hoffman)
Russell’s Bakery
Hadekel 2
Mahaneh Yehuda market
Tel: (02) 624-9175
‘Can bread make you fat?” Master baker Russell Sacks fields the question as he kneads a half-kilo lump of dough in each hand, forming two loaves of bread. “The answer is no – as long as the slice is not covered with a layer of butter or fat or other unhealthy stuff,” he says. “Bread is a complete food in itself, perfectly balanced and digestible. It releases its energy content throughout the day,” he declares.
“My bread is freshly baked by hand every day, with natural ingredients and no preservatives, and we only bake amounts that we can sell the same day,” explains Sacks, who came on aliya from South Africa as a teenager in 1983. After a stint in the IDF as an officer in the Golani Brigade, he worked as a photographer and as head of security for the South African Jewish community. But he was always drawn to bread and baking, so he decided to study the art of making bread. After receiving his diploma in baking in Israel, he honed his craft by working in bakeries in Israel, South Africa, Sweden, France and the UK.
His dream was to open a bakery in Jerusalem. Entranced by the Mahaneh Yehuda market, Sacks found a dilapidated warehouse for rent at Hadekel 2. Renovators gutted the modest 60-square-meter shell, and Sacks built a gleaming new bakery on the premises, adding a gallery for storage. He is assisted by baker Nissan Carning, a haredi immigrant from Sweden.
“We are passionate about bread. We are constantly looking for the best ingredients and the best production techniques,” stresses Sacks, who uses the traditional French artisan processes, which grant his breads – baked with whole wheat and rye flours – their distinctive look and taste.
Bread is made of four ingredients: water, flour, salt, and a rising agent, usually yeast. “The simplicity is a huge challenge,” says Sacks, adding that the art of making fine bread is in the way you combine the basic ingredients and in the additions – such as fruit and nuts – that enhance the flavor.
The mixing process is closely monitored to ensure that the dough absorbs the right amount of water. Weighing and shaping are done by hand. During baking, the loaves are watched closely to ensure ideal color and crust.
Russell’s bakery offers a specialty range of breads. The best-selling items are a rye/wheat combination with raisins and walnuts; whole wheat loaf with walnuts; regular seeded loaf; country loaf with whole wheat and brown flour; traditional dark bread with rye and wheat; health bread with whole wheat, sesame, flax and sunflower seeds rolled in oats. Russell’s also has a range of baguettes, ciabatta bread, rolls and mini-loaves and is developing a pastry range. On Fridays they offer egg-free white/brown challa.
Most bread manufacturers prefer fast, bulk methods developed in the1960s that use chemicals and large machines to accelerate thebread-making process but have reduced nutritional value. At Russell’sBakery, however, they use a long fermentation process, during which thenatural doughs are left to develop for up to 24 hours. This yields apremium product with improved flavor and texture because the enzymesreact over time, which makes it easier to digest. The extendedfermentation process means that the bread stays fresh longer. As a ruleof thumb, the length of time taken to produce a loaf with no artificialadditives dictates its shelf life. Thus the longer process allows forlonger shelf life at home. For breads free of artificial preservatives,the larger the loaf, the longer it will keep.
Russell’s Bakery uses the traditional, natural method of leavening, orsourdough, for fermentation of the dough. This gives the bread aslightly sour taste, fruity aroma and a rustic look. Natural leaveningis by no means an easy method and is synonymous with high quality. Itproduces a thick crust, which many prefer.
Despite being open only since December 2009, Sacks has already built upa core of loyal customers, who learned of the bakery by word of mouth.His bread can be found at the popular coffee shops Mizrahi and Emile;at Bashar's gourmet cheese emporium in the heart of the shuk; and atthe Mahneyuda restaurant around the corner from the bakery.