For those who may not know, Elizabeth Winkler, Editor of Living Earth magazine has a blog entitled Real Food Lover. (See blogroll)
She is hosting a competition about (not unsurprisingly) real food. As I understand the rules of engagement, she wants us budding competitors to blog about a comparison between “The Real Thing” and a commercially produced “Poor Relation” She cites a few examples – Chicken Kiev and bread are two candidates for scrutiny.
As bread is such a core food for everyone on the planet, I have decided to write about it here.
I am an enthusiastic bread maker. I have a bread machine, which does make light of all the tedious kneading.
I am , however, probably one of those rare mortals who never actually cooks with a bread maker. I use it as a mixer and to prove, I get the dough out when prompted, shape it into a loaf, leave it to rise for about half an hour and then bake it. As an Aga fan, there is nothing that really comes close to bread baked this way.
So why bake bread in France? It seems that there is a bakery on every street corner – for the moment.
La boulangerie is not only a place to buy bread and pastries, but any baker in France will sell you fresh yeast and flour to bake at home. He will make your wedding cake as well – We are truly spoiled.
It is however, a changing trend, as small communities with ageing populations are slowly losing the convenience of local bakers. Many of them are “of a certain age” and sadly cannot find anyone to take over their role when they retire. We are shortly to lose ours as is our neighbouring village two miles away.
This leads us into the quandary of driving about six miles just buy a fresh loaf of bread – Not too encouraging on the carbon footprint front. Here in the heart of the French countryside, we are being forced to consider other options. None seem to be very enticing.
Some people are using convenience bread products, and part baked loaves.
However it is the the ubiquitous sliced loaf that is enjoying an increasingly high profile on the supermarket shelves.
It is doubtless that the disappearance of the local bakeries, coupled with the ever increasing pressures of time on family life (even here in rural France) that force people into these sub standard options.
However, there is a glimmer of hope on the baking horizon. The French are leaping into bread production at home. There are literally mountains of bread machines for sale in every supermarket – with a price to suit every pocket.
Bread flour of excellent quality is available as well, and there is always organic flour for sale, even in the smaller places.
In addition to all this good news, France is blessed with about 2500 independent flour mills, compared to about 25 in the UK*(1) – They are everywhere, and sell an impressive range of flours. I buy mine from the nearby Moulin de Sarre, where the organic side of the business is still done with a mill wheel and water supply that dates back to the 1200’s. It is not expensive, and you can buy as little as a kilo. The taste of the bread is unsurpassed, and for my part, I don’t know how it could get any better than this.
I am sympathetic to time constraints. However, whilst convenience products have come into our lives as there was clearly a demand, we are not obliged to keep on using them like automatons. It seems that the French, want an assurance of continued high quality bread on their tables.
My sister has three hungry boys (and husband) to feed, and has two bread makers on the go daily to keep everyone fed. She dryly commented that a loaf doesn’t last for one meal so she has upped production.
To state my case for real bread, I have scrutinised the additives on the products in the picture above, and compared them with the four basic ingredients that were kneaded (sorry – I just couldn’t resist) to make my loaf of bread: Flour, water, salt and yeast.
I discovered four extra ingredients in the part baked rolls, and four in the bread mix (despite its enticing packaging).The clear winner by far was the white sliced loaf. There were no less than SEVEN extra ingredients in the loaf.
My lack of scientific knowledge prevents me from understanding fully the actual reasons that these extras are in the loaf – I can only assume that it is to extend the life of the loaf.
I seriously question whether bread’s nutritional value or taste can be enhanced by simply making it last longer.
If we are all honest with ourselves, we know that these products have an inferior taste, and yet we continue to use them.
Enough said. I have decided to quote the standard proportions for a plain white loaf, and to provide a photo for reinforcement of my thoughts here.
I have used French flour , T65 Grade.It is not white. It is described as “farine bise” which is slightly brown-pink, with an excellent flavour
Here is a recipe for a simple loaf – this can be made with British white bread flour with the same result.
I have based it on a bread machine recipe by Annette Yates.
Every Day (White) LOAF.* (2)
500G BREAD FLOUR
350 ML WATER
1.25 TSP SALT
1TSP DRIED YEAST, FOR BREAD MAKERS. – I USE DOVES FARM
1. Place all ingredients into the bread maker in the order suggested by the manufacturer.
2.Set on to Dough setting – sometimes this is called Pizza setting
3. When the alarm sounds to indicate the dough is ready, get it out on to a floured board.
4. Shape into a loaf and place into an oiled loaf tin.
5. Cover and leave in a warm place for about 30 minutes.
6. Place in a pre heated oven on 220 degrees C FOR 15 minutes.
7. After 15 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 200 degrees c.and cook for a further 25 minutes until the loaf sounds hollow when knocked on the bottom. -It is a good idea to get the loaf out of its tin 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time and turn it upside down to brown the bottom crust.
8. Take out and stand on a wire cake rack to cool down.
9. To store the loaf, wrap in a clean tea cloth.
10. Better still, serve with lashings of salted butter (mine has salt crystals embedded in it) with blackcurrant conserve (home made of course)
1. Baker and Spice:Baking With Passion – Dan Lepard and Richard Whittington
2. Fresh Bread in the Morning – Annette Yates.