The Real Bread Campaign has designated this Real Bread Maker Week. I have taken an interest in this campaign since its outset, having at the time been chairing something similar on behalf of bakers and millers within Slow Food. It is interesting to see the erosion of the slight differences between the two campaigns’ definitions as to what makes bread “Real”, but then this should really be no surprise as many of the same bakers and millers were involved with both initiatives.
To mark Real Bread Maker Week the Campaign has issued the following list of questions that all bakers, both professional and amateur, should be asking themselves in the quest to make better bread. It highlights some of the hidden dangers that home bakers may not be aware of, such as the additives that are allowed to lurk, unnamed, in the flour or dried yeast that you buy. On the presumption that if you bake bread at home you really don’t want to be replicating the mass produced loaves you could buy, I reproduce this list below. Some of the issues have already been covered in our Food Culture section, but do post any baking questions they throw up and I will do my best to answer them.
I had hoped to run a course, using my outdoor wood-fired oven during this week, but the weather is making this impractical. Later this summer, when the sun (hopefully) shines, I will try again, so please let me know if you would like to be contacted with more details.
Is there any need to use fast-acting / instant yeast?
Dried active yeast (usually sold in cylindrical tins) is much cheaper than sachets, widely available, just as convenient – even in bread machines if added with the water, will keep in the fridge for months, and, unlike most brands of the instant stuff, contains no artificial additives. Or you could get your mitts on the fresh stuff.
Do I really need to add sugar?
Flour contains more than enough food to keep yeast thriving. So unless you’re making a sweet bread try leaving out the empty calories of sugar, honey, syrup or whatnot.
Do I really need to add oil or fat?
Delicious, moist Real Bread is not reliant on either, so unless you’re making an enriched bread (such as a buttery milk loaf, or focaccia drizzled with olive oil) then these are just more unnecessary empty calories.
Could a no-knead recipe be what I need?
Homebakers: If you feel kneading is too much work, takes too much of your time or that you’re just not up to it, then try a no-knead Real Bread recipe. These effortless doughs are given more water and more time (theirs, not yours) allowing you to just mix, leave and bake. Professionals: not exactly no-knead, but you might like to experiment with an autolyse method…
Could I use less salt?
Homebakers: when baking Real Bread try using not much more than a teaspoon (6g) per 500g of flour. Professionals: the Food Standards Agency’s target is 1% or less by loaf weight.
If I’m using any artificial additives, do I know exactly why?
Homebakers: before throwing a pinch of ascorbic acid (or flour with it added already) into dough, please ask yourself why and find out how it works. You can only make great loaves of what we call Real Bread without it. Professionals: if using artificial additives they are making you miss an opportunity to offer your customers what the Campaign calls Real Bread. Might ditching them open the doors to you increasing your skills as a baker even further?
Could I slow things down?
Homebakers: the more time dough has to ‘ripen’ the more flavour it develops, but extra dough time is not your time, freeing you to go off and do something else. Rather than rushing dough by putting it somewhere warm to rise, using large amounts of yeast or adding sugar, make it fit in with your schedule by slowing things down instead. Using a recipe with less yeast and letting dough rise somewhere cooler can allow you to leave it unattended for hours – or even overnight in a fridge. Professionals: try retarding your dough. Some bakeries find overnight proving even helps them change shift patterns to more sociable hours…
Could I use locally-milled stoneground flour?
Stoneground flour (wholemeal or sieved to make it lighter) not only tastes great but also contains more of wheat’s natural goodness. And if you’re lucky enough to have a locally-owned mill nearby, you’ll be helping the local economy, too. Even better if it’s locally-grown grain milled by an eco-friendly wind or water mill!
Is sourdough the way forward?
As well as boosting flavour, the ‘friendly bacteria’ (sorry for using such a yuck marketing phrase) in genuine sourdough have a natural preservative effect – without unnecessary additives or extra salt. There is also a growing number of very interesting scientific studies reporting all sorts of health benefits of sourdough bread making – though the Campaign would like to see much, much more being invested into research.You can find more information on these thoughts and more, as well as recipes, courses, events, competitions, discounts and other offers, places to buy Real Bread, and links to a whole world of bready matters at realbreadcampaign.org