Posts Tagged ‘traditional british bread’

I don’t see myself as much of a gourmand. I have simple tastes, and easily settle into habits. However, I do enjoy good bread. Unfortunately, I currently reside in a country whereby Chorleywood Process Bread (CPB) accounts for 80% of the bread [1] which is – in my opinion – the antithesis of flavour and texture. In my humble opinion, it is a pity that the majority of the UK population are quite happy to eat “plastic” bread, only good for smothering in sandwich fillings or toasting. It doesn’t even stay fresh for long once it reaches the shops. It only seems fresh as it stays artificially soft – thanks to undeclared processing aids and high speed mixing – hence the widespread usage of mould inhibitors (e.g. proprionates). Still, the stuff goes mouldy rather quickly. No wonder we throw away 32% of the stuff [2].

Meanwhile across the Channel, even basic white bread is good enough to be eaten au naturel; many people routinely nibble at their baguette (de tradition française) on the way home from the bakery. I am sure it is not only because they might be hungry for their breakfast/dinner. When was the last time you saw someone tear open their plastic bag of CPB on the way back from the supermarket to enjoy the taste? I’m not even a fan of baguette – in fact I think it is potentially quite boring, relative to other types of bread widely available throughout France and the rest of continental Europe.

CPB also lacks texture relative to proper bread. Azelia of Azelia’s Kitchen has a web page illustrating the difference in texture between CPB and proper bread, which I recommend. I can verify her findings – I usually avoid CPB as much as possible, but having been forced to buy some when I ran out of homemade bread on holiday, I found that poking a slice of fresh homemade bread results in spring-back, while poking a “store-fresh” slice of CBP with approximately the same force results in a mushed dent in your bread. I don’t like squashed bread so I’ll have the fresh bread please, over CPB.

I am not saying that continental-style bread is superior to British bread. I just think it’s sad that many people in the UK don’t seem to care enough about the taste and texture of their bread. I imagine that prior to rationing and the invention of CPB, British bakers probably had bread to be proud of, too. Whatever happened to coburgs, cob loaves, bloomers, barm cakes, stottie cakes, manchets and Kentish Huffkins, to name but a few? I made a small cottage loaf for fun the other day – a loaf shape as pictured in the evocative painting below titled “Baking Bread” by Helen Allingham (19th century).

My small cottage loaf, 21st century

Unfortunately, I could find little definitive information on the history of this intriguing loaf. Was it made in that shape to resemble a round cottage, or to save oven floor space? Perhaps the extra 1/3 on top was in response to heavy penalties (first set in law in 1298) for selling short-weight bread? [3] Should it be eaten by separating the 2 sections, or by slicing through the entire thing? I wish I had definitive answers. In contrast, you can tell that the French take their bread seriously – they even have a law specifying what can and cannot be put into bread, for it to be called “pain de tradition française”, “pain traditionnel français” or “pain traditionnel de France” (or any other combination of these terms)[4].

CPB is also potentially harder to digest than proper bread. On one of the NHS Live Well webpages on digestive health (last reviewed 24/05/2013), Dr Isabel Skypala (specialist allergy dietitian at the Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust) was quoted as saying: “Bakeries in supermarkets use the Chorleywood bread-making process, which cuts out the second rising to speed up the baking. People seem to have more problems digesting supermarket breads, so I’d always recommend avoiding store-bought loaves.”[5]

Given the general lack of availability of proper bread, it is ever so easy and quick to make your own. Very little effort is involved in producing bread – most of the time elapsed involves the dough fermenting, proofing or baking (i.e. sitting around without any effort on your part). I quite often spot bread machines for sale at car boot sales – I obtained mine very cheaply that way. Even if you don’t have a bread machine, kneading only takes about 10 minutes and can be great (even cathartic?) fun, as you feel the dough turn into a lovely smooth mass. Kneading times can be cut down by autolyse – this is letting the flour and water sit around for about 20 minutes after having combined them briefly. Speaking of which, according to Dan Lepard you can even bake a good loaf of bread without any kneading [6]!

I hope that more people will take up bread making as a hobby. It is cheap, easy and ever so rewarding; a delicious loaf can be made with just bog-standard flour, water, salt and yeast (not forgetting an oven, but most people tend to have one). Plus, it means you will be able to eat bread the way it was meant to be.

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-13670278
[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17353707
[4] http://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexte.do?cidTexte=JORFTEXT000000727617
[5] http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/digestive-health/Pages/cutting-out-bread.aspx
[6] http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2007/nov/24/foodanddrink.recipes


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