Someone once said to me “your bread is good but, you know, bread is bread.” Well I beg to differ!
Most of the bread sold in the U.K. is made with the Chorleywood bread process: a method developed in 1961 where improvers, fats, enzymes and emulsifiers are added to the dough and high-speed mixers are used to maximise production. Unfortunately, the result is a commercial product seriously lacking in flavour and texture. In 2018 there is every reason to eat Real Bread and not factory produced bread.
Real bread is made with the simplest of ingredients: flour, water and salt (yeast is optional and is really a helping hand to reduce proving time.)
You may have heard of sourdough bread being made from a ‘starter’. This is simply a mixture of flour and water that has been allowed to ferment over days and that has been ‘fed’ with more flour and water every few days to refresh it. Some people like to make much of the provenance of their starter (one baker even laid claim to their starter going back to Roman times) but there really is no mystery around it – anyone can make a good starter in their own home.
The type of flour does depend on the type of bread you are making. You would only use French flours, for French products like baguettes for example. A strong white organic flour is a good all rounder, so if you are making bread at home for the first time, start with that.
You can add any other interesting fruit or vegetables to your bread, so don’t be afraid to experiment. Or try our wide variety of breads.
The next thing you need is hands. If you use a mixer with a dough hook, it’s still real bread. The skill and artisan technique needed for real bread making is in the hand shaping.
Time and patience are your best friends in bread making. Real bread cannot be rushed. It needs a very long time to ferment and prove. Sourdoughs do not use yeast and therefore have no rising agents to help them along. Time is needed for the natural fermenting process to do its job. This is typically a 2 day process (which is why we have to take orders at least 2 days ahead of making your individual bread.)
Next is the real skill that no factory can really replicate: the hand shaping of the loaf. This is so much fun. It’s like the potter at her wheel and takes lots of practise to master.
To put the finishing touches on your masterpiece, immediately before it goes into the oven, you use a blade/knife/scissors, to cut into the shaped loaf. The cut makes it look good and also when the bread wants to burst out during baking, it will burst where you have told it to go and not in a random way.
Finally, to get the sort of crust that sings (not a tune you will know, but actual singing), when you get it out of the oven and crust the cracks with you cut into it, you will need steam. This is hard to achieve in a home oven, but try a tray of hot water, with ice cubes, in the bottom of your oven. You can bake bread in tins, of course, but if you can stretch to it, dutch oven works really well. At Bakery108 we are lucky to have a bread oven with steam chambers that is perfect for producing lovely crunchy crusts.
So now you have hot, crusty, beautiful looking bread with an amazing aroma. You have filled all your senses, except the most important one. Taste! The proof of the real bread is in the eating (see what I did there?) and it is tempting to eat your bread straight out of the oven. You do need a little more patience to let the bread cool as cutting hot bread makes it fall apart and all your hardwork falls at the final hurdle. Homemade real bread (made by you or Bakery108), thickly cut with a little butter…oh my…! Excuse me, I am suddenly very hungry!