This article is adapted from Slow Dough by Chris Young.
In the words of my father in law and dad, respectively: slow down and get real.
Industrial bakeries have a tendency to throw all sorts of artificial additives into their doughs, some in an attempt to reduce that very important natural ingredient: time.
Even some domestic baking recipe writers and teachers seem to be in a race to the finish line, instructing their readers to use fast action yeast, added sugar and warm proving, declaring with glee how little time the loaf will take.
They suggest that dough must be kept somewhere warm to rise, or that yeast left anywhere cooler than their fevered brows will DIE! What they overlook is the fact that fresh yeast is generally stored in the fridge (at a far-from-balmy 1–3°C) and that a standard piece of professional bakery kit is a retarder, which is basically a big dough fridge.
Another trick up the speed freak’s sleeve is the addition of sugar, be that refined or in another form, such as honey or agave syrup. This puts yeast cells on a ‘high’, and into a CO2-producing overdrive. There is, however, more than enough energy contained in the flour, which the yeast is eminently capable of obtaining for itself. In fact, beyond a certain level of added sugar, the yeast struggles to cope.
So, what’s wrong with speeding things up? Why would you want to delay the opportunity to tear into a freshly baked loaf, slather it with butter and tuck in?
Thankfully, more and more people seem to be heeding Real Bread bakers’ reminder that long and slow tends to be far more satisfying than a quick finish. A long-proved dough has more time to develop flavour, tends to produce a less crumbly loaf and, in the case of genuine sourdough, might be easier to digest.
For many people, what allowing their dough time to ‘do what a dough’s gotta do’ is simply a matter of good taste. Yes, you can bang out a loaf using warm water and a sachet of instant yeast in an hour or so, but you might be short changing yourself. Real Bread is a natural product and, just as with a whole range of food and drink, from ripening fruit to maturing beef, whisky, wine or cheese, time is essential in getting the very best product.
During this time, all sorts of biochemical alchemy goes on that, ultimately, will result in a texture, depth and complexity of flavour and aroma that can’t be rushed or synthesised, whatever the pedlars of ‘bread flavour’ (I kid you not) to big industry or ‘artisan sourdough’ packet mixes to unsuspecting home bakers might say. You might also find that a long fermented loaf is less crumbly and stales more slowly.
Time is on your side
Happily, this extra time need not eat into your time: it can in fact buy you time while the dough gets on with it. Perhaps counter-intuitively, using a recipe with less yeast and letting dough rise slowly somewhere cooler, in some cases all day or even overnight, allows you to go off and do something else.
You may think that great flavour and a relaxed baking schedule are reason enough to slow things down, but when it comes to sourdough, there might be more benefits…
Chris Young is Campaign Co-ordinator for The Real Bread Campaign, a charity project with a mission to promote additive-free bread. In addition to compiling this book, Chris edits the quarterly magazine True Loaf, and wrote Knead to Know, the campaign’s first book. His work has appeared in publications including Spear’s Magazine, The Real Food Cookbook and the London ethical food magazine, The Jellied Eel, which he also edits.
Slow Dough: Real Bread
£20.00, available from Nourish Books