After the response to our ‘Slow Bread For Busy Lives’ workshops at the annual Community Volunteers’ Conference at Ryton last week, I thought I’d post something here about bread making. It’s not strictly food growing, unless you count the massive numbers of tiny yeast cells that you have to carefully cultivate to get a good loaf! Good bread though, is something that is easy to make, once you understand the basics, and like growing fruit and veg. the end results are far better and cheaper than anything you can buy in the shops. All it takes is a little know how and some practice.
I have made all my family’s bread for the past 15 years after a long period of frustration at finding that the shop bought offerings quickly turned blue (due to very high levels of sugar), tasted like dust, and turned to play dough on my tongue. I also heard an edition of Radio 4’s Food Programme in which bread guru Andrew Whitley described how bread manufacturers (I can’t call them bakers) often use pig enzymes in their bread but don’t have to include this in their ingredients list as it is considered a part of the process and not an ingredient!
If you want to find out more about this side of the bread industry and to understand more about the science of bread making, have a look at Andrew Whitley’s book ‘Bread Matters’ (ISBN: 9780007298495) and his website.
People often don’t make bread as they think it takes a lot of time. It does, but often not enough! Most recipes include enough yeast to have you waiting around for an hour for your dough to rise,which is not a lot of time in which to do anything else. In fact, if you significantly reduce the amount of yeast, you can leave dough to prove for hours before needing to shape it and bake it. I manage to fit my bread making around a full time job, two children and a husband who often works away by:
- Making the dough up in the evening, proving it overnight and making up the loaves in the morning once the family uproar has died down.
- Alternatively, making the dough up first thing in the morning while they all hunt for their schoolbags/shoes/complain that they have to make their own breakfasts, leave it to prove all day and make the loaves up in the evening once they are fed and dispatched to homework/Minecraft.
- Making enough dough for 6 loaves at once and filling my oven to capacity. It doesn’t take any longer to make 6 loaves than 1 and bread freezes brilliantly, as long as you wrap it well to keep the moisture in. That way I only have to bake once a week.
As well as being easier to manage if you can leave your dough to get on by itself for a few hours, slow bread tastes much better as the starch in the flour has been broken down into sugars and other compounds by the yeasts, which also alter the structure of the gluten. Both make the bread more digestible. There is increasing evidence to suggest that the explosion of gluten intollerance/allergy may be due to the speed with which bread is produced (4 hours from flour to wrapped loaf) and the massive amounts of yeast needed to achieve this. Industrial bread is more a set yeasty foam than bread!
I produced a handout for the workshop with some basic information and recipes for the everyday loaves my family eat and how to make your own sourdough bread with a culture unique to your own kitchen. Have a go, eat the disappointments and have another go until one day you’ll find your family complaining if they have to eat bought bread.