Thursday, August 15, 2013

The death of bread. Long live Real Bread!

I'm becoming a bread snob.

Over the years in the UK, I've seen a deterioration in the quality of bread. It started with the increasing popularity of sliced white mush and even when it became sliced wholemeal, the texture hardly changed. Local bakers started to reduce the variety of breads they produced and seemed to want to mimic what could be bought in a supermarket. This has eventually killed off the real local bakers in the area where I live. So-called 'artisan' breads of different shapes and colours are available to add some variety in supermarkets, including breads flavoured with olives or cheese but even they hardly seem to vary in texture.

I spend a lot of time in a small town in the south west of Germany and within a radius of about 75 metres there are at least four bakers. A lot of people will tell you that the range of bread in Germany is phenomenal and to a certain extent this is true. Walk into any of these bakers and you will be greeted by an astounding display of breads made with different flours, some darker, some lighter, some round, some square, but they are not all that they appear to be.

Until a few years ago, the baker next door to where I am right now used to make all his own bread. He used to produce the best Brezel (not to be confused with pretzel) in town; slim and crispy in the right way in the right place, plump and salty where it mattered. Above all they were freshly baked in the early hours of every morning. You could go there at seven in the morning and buy Brezels, piled in wicker baskets, still fragrant and warm from the oven. The bread was good too. But now we can't buy good hand-made Brezels and bread with a decent texture and flavour here anymore.

hand-made Brezel
A hand-made Brezel (with butter). Note the thinness of the crossover strands as they touch the outer circle. Machine-made ones are much more even and thicker.
In recent years the bread started to change. We noticed deliveries of bread mixes, like those you can buy to make different breads for your breadmaker, rather than deliveries of flour. The bread still looked the same but the texture and flavour changed. It's the same at all the other bakers. Either the bread is delivered from a central factory baker or part-bakes are delivered which are then finished off on the premises.

I recently found a web site about the Real Bread Campaign which will help you find sources of real bread where you live in the UK. In my area there are none. I would have to travel a good 12 miles to buy decent bread. I've decided to make my own instead.

Many years ago I always baked my own bread. Even with a dough hook on my Kenwood mixer, it was laborious and time-consuming. I didn't always get the results I hoped for. However, earlier this year I rediscovered the magic of bread making. I found a way of making bread that requires no kneading and because it's left to rise for a long period of time (15-20 hours), requires little yeast and develops a wonderful flavour. The method is described with videos and recipes on the Breadtopia site  Alternatively, when I'm in more of a hurry, I've found Dan Lepard's method very simple and successful, but it produces a loaf with a very different texture and flavour to the no-knead. This video makes a good starting point for understanding Dan's method. Ignore the fact that he talks about sourdough bread at the beginning. The recipe does not produce a sourdough.
Home-made bread
My home-baked bread


  1. I really think that bread you buy now is not properly made anymore. The supermarket stuff is proved too quickly and the yeasts don't ferment properly. It's sad that small bakers are now doing this too.

    I have IBS and went on a gluten free diet for three months last year. Without bread, I was much better but when it was reintroduced I got the same problems back. So I began to make my own and am so much better if I mainly stick to home made bread. Having had this experience, I think that some digestive problems are possibly caused by modern bread methods with inadequate time for the yeast to work properly.
    I also heard on a Radio 4 programme that some parents of autistic and aspergers children believe that if their kids eat fermented food, such as traditionally produced bread, their behaviour and general conditions improve.

  2. That's really interesting! I was very dubious when I tried the no-knead method because it used so little yeast (a quarter of a teaspoon!). I didn't think it would work, but it does and the bread it produces is very tasty. I use a mix of white, wholemeal and rye flour. I've yet to try spelt and I really want to get into baking sourdough too!


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