As a graduate of London’s world famous Central St Martin’s, Jessica Doyle always had her sights on a creative career.
But it took a placement with the Biennial in Liverpool to broker an unlikely introduction to what’s become her passion: bread.
At 22 and armed with her degree in performance design, the owner of The Wild Loaf bakery came home to take up an internship with the contemporary art festival.
“They commissioned artists to work in Anfield, where I’m from, and they set up in a bakery I used to shop in when I was younger, that needed a new lease of life,” says Jessica. “In uni I only cooked really basic things but I did one class of baking and just loved it. It was a real connection I had, especially with bread, it was just something that I instantly loved.
“I knew I wanted to be creative – I’d been DJing as well while I decided what I wanted to do – and I thought this could be the thing. When I made that first loaf it felt really therapeutic and rewarding and I thought of all the opportunities that could come from just making bread.
“I went home and carried on baking, so they gave me a go at being a baker and then eventually I became head baker at Homebaked Anfield.”
It was while she was working at the community bakery, opposite Liverpool’s Anfield ground, that Jessica first discovered the bread which has become the basis of her own business.
“I did a course at the community college, the head baker there introduced me to sourdough and I thought it was amazing,” she recalls. “So many things made it stand out to me so I taught myself online how to make it, and because Homebaked Anfield had been on The One Show this place in Somerset offered me a class.
“Making sourdough is a really old-fashioned process which really appeals to me. I felt like it was actually similar to what I’d done at uni because there was a process, it was about nurturing something and allowing it to grow. I think that was what I found so fascinating about it.”
With Homebaked Anfield focusing more on traditional white bread and its much-loved range of pies, Jessica decided the time was right to go it alone and take on a new challenge.
She started out doing wholesale on her own, supplying city centre restaurants including The Pen Factory and 60 Hope Street. “And from there it was just like a domino effect,” says the 29-year-old.
At the end of 2015, she – and a commercial oven bought on eBay – moved in to Cains Brewery where she spent just over a year building up a business clientele.
“I was pretty much on my own in there then, now it’s gone crazy,” she says.
Ambitions to grow The Wild Loaf and share it with walk-in customers as well as restaurants saw Jessica open a bakery and shop on Hardman Street in January last year.
Now, alongside sourdough loaves and sandwiches, her team of bakers create what are arguably the finest fresh-baked doughnuts in the city.
“The only day we don’t bake is Sunday. Each sourdough loaf takes just under 24 hours to make, so we make on Monday and then bake Tuesday to Saturday.
“The sourdough taste comes from the fermenting process, it’s just time, there are no additives. The longer it proves, the more the yeast ferments,” explains Jessica. “We do ours for about 21 hours and the dough actually isn’t that sour because we found people preferred it smoother. It does become a bit too acidic if you leave it too long.”
Once people have tried The Wild Loaf’s bread, they never go back.
“It’s hard to imagine supermarket bread and our bread are even the same thing, I feel like they should be called something different,” she laughs.
As for the booming independent food scene in Liverpool, Jessica says she’s seen a growing appreciation of the artisan process.
“People seem to want to know where their food is coming from and the story behind it, and they like to ask the maker,” she says. “It’s really sparked their interest and it’s exciting to be able to do that rather than just to go the supermarket and pick it off a shelf.”