Flour Power: Jessica Stone discovers a new breed of artisan bakers and lists a dozen of the country’s best
Has there ever been a more dubious phrase than “the best thing since sliced bread?” The only things we’ve seen since the factory birth of the ubiquitous supermarket sponge is an increase in digestive complaints and a decrease in that all-important thing called taste.
So what happened to our cherished staple? In a word: Chorleywood. In the early 1960s, baking researchers in the town of Chorleywood, Hertfordshire, perfected today’s industrial bread-making model. They used hydrogenated fat, high-speed mixing and malt improvers to produce loaves in under an hour, start to finish. Gone was the crucial fermentation, the long and slow risings, the proofing, the breakdown of gluten. What does remain is a whole lot of air, hence the fluffy nothingness of the mass-produced loaf.
“Thirty years later we have things like wheat allergies – even though before the 1960s, people had been happily eating bread since before Christ,” says Craig Sams, Soil Association Chair and owner of Judges Bakery in Hastings. Add to that a host of modern digestive ailments like coeliac disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gluten intolerance and candida.
Contrast this with the genuine method of three fermentations over at least an 18-hour period. The baker makes the dough, then settles it in for a long nap before he goes home. During this time, the enzyme process breaks down the gluten in the wheat into shorter lengths. When the baker returns, he weighs off individual pieces, knocking the air out. Then he lets the dough rise again (proofing) before shaping it into loaves (which gets out even more air) and allows it to rise a third time.
Thankfully, just as demand for more bread initially led to the industrialisation of it, increased public awareness about the health risks of processed food and the call for better bread has resulted in a flourishing of artisan bakers.
“Our older customers come in for the breads they remember from their childhood,” says Rachel Duffield, who makes bread the old-fashioned way at the Lighthouse Bakery in South London. “From the milling stage, you’re not using industrial rollers; you’re keeping essential oils and nutrients in. Retaining the natural minerals and proteins. By using long fermentation, you can build on that with not just nutrition but flavour, too.”
Yes, it costs more, but bakers like Duffield and Sams are committed to making good bread a daily habit rather than an unaffordable luxury. Cheap food is cheap for a reason, and the nation is asking what this simplest and humblest of all foods is doing to them and their children.
Bread isn’t just something to slap around fillings, but a filling, nutritional food all on its own. Breadmaking is also a fulfilling lifestyle. Duffield gets calls every week from career changers looking for an alternative to the rat race. With long hours and low profits, it’s not an easy choice, but the personal rewards are infinite. Just go into your local bakery and see what it’s like to buy a loaf from the hands that kneaded it.
And what about the anti-carb crusade? Wheat is fat-free and sugar-free. Bread doesn’t make you fat; excessive consumption and refined foods make you fat. You can compress a slice of mass-produced bread into the size of a grape, and you’ll feel just as hungry after you eat it. Or you can enjoy a hunk of the real thing, all chewy and dense.
Of course, supermarkets are never ones to fall behind, and a number of specialty breads have sprung up in their aisles. “Bread is the new chocolate,” says Sams who, having also founded Green & Black’s, certainly has good taste.
MEET YOUR BAKER
30 Bondgate, Otley, West Yorkshire
(01943 467 516)
2004 winner of the BBC Radio 4 Food & Farming Awards, Sally Hinchcliffe and Stephen Taylor’s tiny bakery turns out Kossen (half-rye, half wholemeal sourdough), potato pumpkin-seed and sage, honey-sweetened muesli and Jewish rye with caraway seeds.
Outlets and farmers markets around Cambridge
(01223 241 207; www.cobsbakery.com)
Alan and Sarah Ackroyd’s labour of love includes the Nut Pot baked in a ceramic plant pot and made from a blend of white and wholemeal wheat flours from the Marriage’s Mill in Chelmsford.
Wellington Avenue, Montpellier, Bristol
(0117 924 7713; www.herbertsbakery.co.uk)
The Herbert family has been making bread for over three generations. There’s the sun-dried tomato bread, a Tuscan loaf with green olives (and a black-olive one, too) plus their best-selling overnight dough bread, named after its old-fashioned fermentation.
51 High Street, Old Town, Hastings
(01424 722 588; www.judgesbakery.com) Organic whole wheat sourdough, pain de Campagne and rye breads including the highly-popular raisin loaf from the Soil Association Chair himself and partner Jo Fairley.
Available in farmers markets in the East Midlands and natural food stores throughout the UK, or order from the website
(01664 560 572; www.soyfoods.co.uk )
Paul Philip Jones makes substantial sourdoughs as well as yeast-free, gluten free and wheat-free varieties from flour ground at the Whissendine Windmill.
THE VILLAGE BAKERY
Melmerby, Penrith, Cumbria
(01768 881 811; www.village-bakery.com)
Founded by former BBC Russian correspondent Andrew Whitley, this organic bakery is notable for its Russian-inspired rye Rossisky that’s showing up in supermarkets everywhere.
Stockists throughout London
(020 7274 6100; www.breadsetcetera.com)
“Dough boys” Troels Bendix and Kurt Anderson make rustic-looking loaves, including a Danish Original that’s dark, dense and at 100% rye, is also wheat free.
64 Northcote Road, London, SW11
(020 7228 4537; www.lighthousebakery.co.uk) Traditional stoneground wholemeal, Traditional farmhouse, English sourdough, plus 25-30 other varieties from flour sourced from Shipton and Cann mills by Rachel Duffield and Elizabeth Weisberg.
LE PAIN QUOTIDIEN
72-75 Marylebone High Street, London, W7
(020 7486 6154; www.painquotidien.com) Wheat, spelt and rye sourdoughs from certified organic flour to eat in with preserves or to take away. Branches also in Kensington and South Bank.
NEAL’S YARD BAKERY
Stockists in London and Twickenham, also at Richmond farmers market. Delivery on orders over £10.
(020 8744 1992; www.nealsyardbakery.co.uk)
Organic varieties including the popular three-seed loaf from this long-standing British baker.
OLD POST OFFICE BAKERY
76 Landor Road, Clapham North, London, SW9
(020 7326 4408; www.oldpostofficebakery.co.uk)
Malt house and sunflower breads that can also be ordered through Able & Cole or Farmaround.
& CLARKE’S BREAD
122 and 124 Kensington Church Street, London, W8
(020 7221 7196; www.sallyclarke.com)
Rosemary, Raisin & Sea Salt is a popular favourite at this bakery with adjacent restaurant.