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stilton stout and walnut main

This article is adapted from Slow Dough by Chris Young.

Until relatively recently, the future of bread in Britain looked bleak. Following World War II, the number of independent high street bakeries headed into what seemed a permanent decline, with a handful of industrial giants and multiple retailers rising to dominance and helping to speed their demise.

A particularly dark day for Real Bread historians came in July 1961, when the British Baking Industries Research Association unleashed what later became known as The Chorleywood ‘Bread’ Process (CBP), which takes a shortcut through dough’s natural fermentation and ‘ripening’ time, slashing it from hours or even days to tens of minutes.

Convinced by expensive marketing campaigns to believe that one brand of CBP loaf was in any meaningful way different from another, we began to look to our supermarkets for sandwich loaves, using the same squeeze test we might use for toilet rolls. And the manufacturers and retailers conspired in a race to the bottom, so driven by low prices that by the end of the 1990s, you could buy a sliced CBP loaf for about 7p. Nope, that’s not a typo: in 1999 at least one supermarket dropped the price of its ‘value’ range own-brand loaves far below even the cost of production, to just seven pence.

From Roman and medieval statutes; through nineteenth century wholemeal advocates including Sylvester Graham and Thomas Allinson; national newspaper campaigns in the early twentieth; and the Campaign for Real Bread that ran in Britain as the 1970s turned into the 1980s; the fight for better bread is perhaps as old as bread itself.

In 2008, the food and farming charity Sustain joined forces with baker Andrew Whitley to discuss setting up a new organisation to fight for better bread. Quickly, this attracted the interest of hundreds of people, and after a series of open meetings, the Real Bread Campaign was launched on 26 November of that year. Since then it has thousands of supporters in more than twenty countries. Behind a rallying cry of ‘not all loaves are created equal!’ together we’ve been finding and sharing ways to make bread better for us, better for our communities and better for the planet.

The Real Bread Campaign doesn’t wish to deny any industrial baker their job, but believes that a small, independent Real Bread bakery is of greater benefit to both its bakers and to its local community. These benefits might include:

  • Skilled, meaningful jobs for local people producing food for their neighbours.
  • More jobs-per-loaf than an industrial loaf factory.
  • Opportunities for social interaction between employees and customers.
  • Support for the local high street and economy: money spent with a local business is more likely to be re-invested locally.
  • Potential to support local producers, growers or other smaller or more ethical suppliers, by providing an outlet for their goods.
  • The chance to shop on foot, by bike or public transport, rather than having to drive to an out-of-town megamarket.

While the wrapped, sliced industrial loaf still accounts for the largest percentage of the ‘bread’ market in Britain, it is in decline. In May 2016, Kantar Worldpanel reported that industrial loaf sales had fallen by more than £130 million in just 12 months, while IRI found that supermarkets had sold 50 million loaves.

While nobody seems to count the sales of small, independent bakeries (or even how many there are), in August this year, British Baker magazine reported that sales by one of the larger independents had risen by 41.5%, who had taken on more than 360 staff to meet the demand for their Real Bread.

As for the Campaign, it now has paying supporters in more than 20 countries, around 680 bakeries have added Real Bread to its map, and has more than 25,600 followers on Twitter. Its work has helped more than 10,000 children at over 150 schools learn to bake; encourage and champion the creation of more Real Bread businesses and secured the ASA’s rulings against misleading advertising by supermarket chains.

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-300x386

Chris Young
Slow Dough: Real Bread
£20.00, available from Nourish Books

 

 

 

goats cheese and honey maslin main(1)

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-300x386

Chris Young
Slow Dough: Real Bread
£20.00, available from Nourish Books