Sacha Harrison meets Shaun Wilson, Head Miller at our wonderfully unlikely urban windmill. And bags a recipe for hyper-local home baking.
Despite the gluten free trend, Brixton’s bakeries are thriving. F. Mondays café on Brixton Hill bustles with folks ordering millionaire’s shortbread. Down on Landor Road, the Post Office Bakery has queues for its freshly baked loaves. Walk into these bready Meccas and you’ll find Brixton Windmill flour, with a carbon footprint of practically zilch, made just off Brixton Hill. No it’s not derelict, and yes windmills were originally used to make flour.
Brixton Windmill has been going for over 200 years. Built in 1816, it was a working mill for nearly 50 years before it fell into disrepair. Thanks to a determined squad of volunteers, Friends of Windmill Gardens, this treasured historic landmark has been saved and renovated. Shaun Wilson, the man behind the mill, doesn’t like titles, “I’m the lead miller who leads the lead millers who lead the millers who mill.” Shaun currently has around 25 active passionate millers who make flour every fortnight.
From the outside, the process looks simple: load the local organically sourced grain, flush through and test the flour with your fingers (rule of thumb). Once you are happy with the result, it takes half an hour until you can start bagging up, enough time for a cuppa and a doughnut. But when asked how many steps they need to take to complete the entire process, he answers: “Ahhhh I think there’s about 100 maybe, there’s a lot of health and safety stuff”.
At the beginning, Shaun and his team didn’t think they could actually produce flour, but after a ton of advice and restoration, the mill was fully functioning, except for the sails – there’s not enough wind. “We’re very lucky because we’re getting very good organic grain (from Harpenden) and we’ve got a very good set of stones” Shaun says.
Despite the slightly daunting steps and ladders up the windmill’s four floors, the city skyline view from the top is absolutely worth the climb. Go for a tour and you can see its century-old facades, original metal work and see the milling in action. And if you want to get hands on as a local miller, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit on an open day for homemade rhubarb cake and freshly baked scones. Or pop into the Beer and Bread Festival on the first May bank holiday. You can buy your Brixton Windmill Flour from source on open days or from a variety of spots including Brixton Cornercopia, Brixton Pound Cafe, Brixton Wholefoods, Dugard & Daughters, F Mondays and The Old Post Office Bakery. We say…. get baking!
DIY KITCHEN: Brixton Windmill Cob
This recipe comes from one of Brixton Windmill’s volunteer millers, Angela Rouse.
7g (1.5 tsp) yeast
7g (1 tsp) salt
320g (1pint) warm water
500g wholemeal flour
Dissolve the yeast in the water, then stir in the salt and immediately add this to your flour, either in a large bowl or on a clean kitchen counter.
Work ingredients into a ball, then place it in the bowl and cover.
Leave to rest for 10 minutes to make kneading easier.
Knead for 10 minutes: the stickiness should give way to become smooth.
Shape into a ball and pop it back into your bowl and cover again.
Leave to rise until it has doubled in size. This takes about an hour.
Sprinkle a handful of flour onto a baking tray or oil it lightly.
Knock the air out of your dough by kneading it again briefly and shape it into a round ‘cob’, with any seams on the bottom.
Place it onto the baking tray and cover again.
Leave to rise a second time until double in size, again about an hour. It has risen enough when it springs back quickly when gently poked with a finger.
Heat oven to 230°C (210°C fan, 450°F, gas mark 8).
Carefully slash a cross to signify the windmill sails onto the top using a very sharp knife and quick movements (optional).
Bake for 50 minutes, turning the oven down after 10 minutes to 210°C (190°C fan, 400°F, gas mark 6). Cool before slicing.
Windmill Gardens, Blenheim Gardens, SW2 5EU | brixtonwindmill.org