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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Living Bread

You may know that we started making our own bread last year when we were on the local diet, as none of our suppliers knew where the flour was grown, that they used in their bread making. So we had little choice. But we just threw some flour, yeast and water into a bowl. slopped it a bout and baked it after rising. It was very delicious but it was on the dense and cakey side and it went hard quite quickly.

The other day though, I bought an amazing book (after spending about an hour browsing in Kew bookshop and knocking books over) called Bread Matters by Andrew Whitley (who runs Village Bakery, so admittedly he has a bias but also he knows a hell of a lot about bread), which explains both how most processed or shop bread is made (even the really sexy nice stuff is all made by the same 'Chorleywood bread process') and how yeast and lactic acid bacteria work on wholewheat to extract nutrients and flavour and reduce the presence of common allergens.

The book also shows how to make your own bread and it even has a recipe where you can fit it into a busy day. Of course breadmaking machines are the easiest way of all but we literally have no room left in the kitchen or anywhere else in the flat - so its handmade for me, and anyway thats the best way to learn about real bread. Maybe when I grow up I will have a flat big enough for a breadmaking machine, and enough money to buy one.

OK so I want to show you how I did it and also highlight the key points about real bread.

Key Points and Cool Facts about Real Bread

  • Normal white flour is refined so that all the nutrients in the outer parts of the grain are milled away. This leaves nothing much but starch and gluten. This is true even for more nutritious and wholemeal flours, because they add the nutrients back individually after refining, which means not all of it can ever go back in. The only way to get a true wholegrain flour is to buy STONEGROUND. A traditional stone mill cannot refine the flour the way the industrial process does so they cant remove all the nutrition.
  • Yeast and bacteria work on the wheat grain in the flour so as to do all sorts of amazing things to it. Mainly they make it so it lasts a long time and is very nutritious. Industrial bread process uses added enzymes to do some of these things, and the enxymes do not have to be declared on the packaging even though some are from pigs pancreas and others can trigger allergic reactions. They also add 23 times as much yeast as in traditional baking, to make the bread rise quicker, and exclude the bacteria from the process.
  • Kneading makes the gluten come out and change structure. This is what gives the elasticity that means you get air bubbles in the bread. We didn't knead our bread when we made it before, so it came out "cakey" and crumbly - the air just went through the flour and didn't form bubbles. The thing about kneading is to 'get as much energy into the bread as possible, as quickly as possible'
  • Wheat is not easily digestible, yeast and bacteria act to make it more digestible. In a sense, they partially digest it so humans can make more of it. Making bread is a living process and rather like the fact that milk is a living food so shouldnt be pasteurised, because that kills it dead, the industrial process also kills off the bread so its no longer a living process but a high speed imitation of the real thing.
  • Industrial process bread consumes more energy than traditional breadmaking. This is probably because it replaces the work of the yeast and bacteria, which need time to do their thing, with a speeded up energy-intensive process.
  • Bread goes hard when its older, not because it is dry, but because the starch in it crystallises. Warming the starch makes them de-crystallise, so wamring stale bread softens it up again.
  • Living bread lasts a long time and evolves into different things as it ages. At first its warm and soft and fresh. Then it goes more chewy, then stale, but you can still warm it up and eat it or dip into soups. Eventually it is good for bread pudding or croutons, and finally you can use it for breadbrumbs in stuffing or something like that. Industrial bread cannot evolve like this because it is not real bread, so the enzymes keep it soft for ages and ages and then it just goes mouldy because it hasn't any bacteria and acid to protect it when the enzymes finally give up the ghost.

Basic bread making process

1. Make dough
2. Knead dough
3. Leave to rise
4. Shape your loaves
5. Leave to prove
6. Bake
7. Eat

Now with pictures:

1. Mix your yeast into some water, leave it for a few minutes to let it come to life - it will froth a bit.

2. Mix the living yeast-water into your flour and salt. The measurements are meant to be quite precise in the Bread matters recipe, and you can weigh your water rather than measuring it, which makes it easier and more accurate. You put your bowl on the scales and add ingredients by weight bit by bit.

3. Slub about with your hands to make dough. Get messy so a spoon doesn't have to.

4. Knead it - this an important bit and its also quite hard work. The only bit that is really difficult. You will notice the silky elasticity developing towards the end of a gruelling ten-fifteen minutes of mankering the dough. Kneading is not necessarily about leaning on it with your knuckles by the way. You just play with it, pull it apart, stretch it out, slap it down, generally abuse the dough. Stressed? Angry? Put it in the dough!

5. Leave to rise. You can put the loaf into a plastic bag and blow it full of air so it doesnt touch the plastic when it rises, seal with elastic band and leave for a while. It doesnt have to be warm, on fact you can rise or prove a loaf in the fridge overnight. This is good if you want to finish the job in the morning eg fitting around 9-5 work schedules. If it rises too fast its not always a good thing so best not on top of a radiator. I put mine in the plastic greenhouse in the garden.

6. When its risen you will see how lovely it looks, Clever yeast!

7. Butter a tin

8. Cut up your dough if you want two smaller loaves

You can also keep a bit of dough aside in the fridge to add to the next loaf, it adds a lot of flavour and yeast.

9. This is fun. You roll out a sausage of dough,

knuckle it down

till its flat

fold it in thirds

knuckle again

and thats shaping a loaf. The crease goes on the bottom. You can roll it in seeds if you like,

then pop it in the tin and leave to prove

then bake in a very hot oven.

When its ready it looks amazing - this was my first ever proper loaf and it tasted just like the best shop bread. Actually I was disappointed as I thought it would be mysteriously BETTER than shop bread.

Anyway I used my loaf - had a lovely lunch of red cabbage and scrambled egg with it.


  1. Hello, Spidey, how was your trip? Have just read this lovely tirade about bread!! Reminds me of why I ought to bake more often. Most shop bread is such sh*te. At QIC we baked six loaves every other day - there was a wierd clique who insisted it was inedible and bought paffy sliced-sponge stuff from the milkman, but most of us simply wallowed in the real thing.

  2. Interesting post, I love making bread and have been thinking of buying that book too. Your bread looks great!

  3. hey..thanx soo much for this lovely n useful post..:)