Sweet on Sourdough

January 29th, 2024

Behind Babylonstoren #1: Nezel “Peachy” Jacobs

“When bread rises in the oven and turns golden brown, and when you slice through it and see the air bubbles – that’s what I love most about being a baker,” says Nezel “Peachy” Jacobs, Babylonstoren’s Bakery manager since 2018. 

Peachy started at Babylonstoren in 2016, preparing platters for the Tasting Room, before her skill as a baker prompted a shift to the farm’s Bakery in 2017. “Those were early days. The Bakery was still located in the Farm Shop, and we baked about six sourdough loaves a day. That was it. No pastry, just bread,” she recalls. It’s a far cry from the industrial bakery she now runs, situated in the heart of the farm’s production area. “When we started with croissants, we used to bake 20 at a time in a gas oven,” she smiles, shaking her head in disbelief at the immense growth of the past few years. “And today we bake 700–800 croissants of various kinds daily in peak season.”  

Peachy manages a team of 14 bakers that supply the Greenhouse and Babel Restaurant, the Farm Shop, Hotel and the thriving online shop with a variety of bread and pastry.  

“My five bestsellers are ciabatta, rosemary and sea salt fougasse, chocolate croissants, mini quiches and apple waste sourdough,” she says. Apple waste sourdough is a new addition to the range, made with fresh apple pulp from the farm’s Juicery. Experimentation and recipe development are exciting parts of the job, but ultimately her heart belongs to sourdough – pure and simple. “You don’t add yeast, it’s all natural and so healthy, I absolutely love it,” says Peachy.  

Bakers are, by default, either early birds or night owls. Babylonstoren’s Bakery is manned by two teams who alternate between day and night shifts, running from 3am to 12 noon, or 8pm to 5am. “I work night shifts quite frequently, especially when the Bakery is extremely busy or when a baker is off sick. I love baking at night because it’s so quiet and peaceful, with no interruptions,” she says.  

Behind this dedicated baker, who also happens to be a mother of three, stands an equally dedicated parent and culinary professional. Peachy’s husband, Shelvin, joined the Babylonstoren Butchery in 2021, where he produces outstanding charcuterie. Their children, Lee-May (22), Paige (10) and Aiden (7) have the best pizza nights with mom’s homemade pizza dough and dad’s delicious chorizo. Given Peachy’s irregular hours, Shelvin keeps the household on track. “My husband does everything. He cooks, does the laundry, dishes – whatever it takes.” Weekends are reserved for family time.  

In addition to baking, Peachy (or a member of her team) presents a bakery class to hotel guests at 11am daily, where they are taught to shape and score sourdough. The baked loaves are delivered to guests’ rooms in the afternoon. Twice a year, during the quieter winter months, the Bakery hosts a workshop that is open to day visitors.  

Before leaving for the day, Peachy checks in on her beloved sourdough in the cool room. Babylonstoren’s sourdough starter was born ten years ago using rye flour and water. Moeder (Mother), as she is lovingly referred to by the bakers, is spread over three 20 litre containers, and roughly 20 litres of starter are used per day. “You always need a backup,” is how Peachy explains Moeder’s living arrangements. The cool room is filled with trays lined with sourdough loaves in baskets, tucked in like newborns, resting for the big bake at the crack of dawn.  “Aren’t they beautiful,” she says, patting a well-rounded, floury bottom.  

Nezel got the nickname “Peachy” years ago when her homegrown peaches featured in a dessert at a restaurant where she worked. At Babylonstoren she is known to all as Peachy, a name synonymous with beautiful artisanal bread and perfectly flaky pastries.  

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