Though British bread is often thought of as the sliced white loaf, the affection for artisan bread is returning. Well over 50 years ago, the sliced white loaf hit the shelves in Britain and an ensuing resulting love affair continues. Though this affair has not waned, the British bread-eating public is once again demanding the once favourite artisan bread. Not only that, but breadmaking at home is also on the rise.
Why is the Love for Real British Bread Back?
The British sliced white loaf first appeared in June 1961 and changed the approach to bread as it had been. The technique behind this “new” bread is the Chorleywood Bread Process which produced a uniform, cheap, 40% softer and doubled the shelf life loaf thanks to the scientists at the Chorleywood Bakery Research Association labs. Today 80% of British bread is still made by this process.
Sadly, this method for making bread had a devastating effect on small bakeries as the Brits had fallen head-over-heels with the convenience of the sliced white resulting in thousands of bakeries going bust.
But look out. A backlash to the emulsifiers, enzymes and other chemicals is giving rise once more to the artisan baker. As is bread making in general probably for the sheer delight of eating a warm, freshly baked loaf slathered with salty butter or a drizzle of good olive oil; I know that is why I do.
Bread making for me is an addictive process with one day a simple wholemeal loaf, another salt-crusted, pillow-soft Focaccias or Ciabatta, multi-grains and I have an obsessive interest in spelt, chestnut and other unusual flours.
My contentment comes from the hands-on, primaeval process of stirring, mixing and kneading but when pushed for time, a stand mixer and dough hook can be a life-saver, but the Breadmaker and its resulting, square loaf has never cut it for me).
For all the current obsession with bread making abandoning the Mighty White Sliced loaf is unlikely. After all, it was the uniformity of the slices which also led to the invention of the prepacked sandwich. And, bacon butties with a dollop of HP only work on white sliced.
Hints and Tips if You Decide to Give Bread Making a Go
- Use flours labelled as “Strong” – these contain a lot more gluten. Gluten is a protein that makes the dough elastic and regular plain flours do not contain enough.
- Allow plenty of time for the rising (proving) of the dough. Choose a coolish, draught-free place and do not try to force the rise with heat. The longer and slower the better for the resulting crumb of the bread. Overnight in the fridge works very well.
- Fresh yeast gives an excellent flavour to bread but is harder to find than packaged yeast. As it freezes well, so buy large quantities when you can.
- If you need to substitute dried yeast for fresh, then use half the amount.
- For a good crust place a roasting tray with a good handful of ice cubes in the bottom of the oven. Do this five minutes before baking the bread, and you will create a lovely steamy atmosphere.
- A highly recommended book on bread making comes from my friend Simon Thomas, one of the best bakers I know.