Sliced, torn, toasted or just with butter, you can’t beat the satisfying feeling of tucking into a good piece of bread. Sadly, we Brits seem to have lost our connection with ‘real’ bread and, since the early 1960s with the introduction of the Chorleywood Bread Process, we have become accustomed to the highly processed, speedily manufactured and stomach-bloating imposter of the modern loaf.
My early childhood memories are of Mum baking bread at home: flour, fresh yeast and water being mixed by hand in the large brown pottery bowl, dough proving in the airing cupboard and the wonderful smell of bread coming out of the gas oven in the cold kitchen. It is then to the ‘white sliced’ of Sunday tea time and school packed lunches, all light and fluffy with a gentle soft crust (which would give you ‘hairs on your chest’ if you were a boy or ‘make your hair curl’ if you were a girl) but stuck to the roof of your mouth in a ball if you didn’t swallow it quick enough. And then the sheer delight of going on holiday to ‘the Continent’ and taking in Heaven on Earth in the form of the French Stick – all razor sharp crustiness on the outside and cloud-like ‘mie’ on the inside.
Back in 2009, with an interest in organic produce and having secured an allotment to grow our own fruit and vegetables, we felt that it was time to try baking our own bread at home . I bought ‘Bread Matters’ by Andrew Whitely and began to explore the world of bread making. I loved the feel of the dough in my hands, the sight of the living yeast making the dough rise and the nervous expectancy around the oven door. It felt exciting that so much could go wrong but the end results were enough to keep me baking and trying new things.
I was treated to a Baking Course, organised by Simon at Wild Yeast Bakery, in the spring of 2011. I spent a day learning about bread and making sourdough loaves, rye bread, hot cross buns and focaccia. I left with two large baskets (like going home after ‘Home Economics’ at school) filled with tasty bread products and armed with new techniques, skills and a packet of sourdough starter. Handling the wet dough of the focaccia as if it were alive was an amazing experience; coaxing the dough out of the bowl without losing valuable air and poking fingers into its softness, only then to be sloshed over with extra virgin olive oil. Kneading the dough of the pain de campagne, stretching the skin of its exterior and plopping it into a woodpulp banneton to prove before releasing it onto the baking tray and quickly slashing the top to reveal the quiveringly sensitive dough before being blasted with heat and steam in the baker’s oven was never to be forgotten. And then the feeling of satisfaction, lifting the hot loaf from the oven to the cooling rack with the thought of, “I made that!”
A year later, we were lucky enough to go to the home of the modern sourdough loaf; San Francisco. So many sourdough starters are deemed to have begun life in this glorious city and its sourdough cultures are said to give a particularly good taste to bread. We’ll bring you tales of our travels in this delightfully gastronomic city in a future post….
Back home that summer, we moved house to a place with an ineffective oven which put paid to my home baking for a while but having a baker’s just minutes away helped satisfy our desire for fresh bread; discovering that Reeve the Baker was not your usual High Street fare was a joyful moment! Reeve is a family bakery established in 1952 and based in Salisbury, which produces a selection of breads using sourdough starters and slow fermentation processes without the addition of “magic powders, mould inhibitors or flavour enhancers”. Our Saturday mornings are often spent weaving through the shoppers and tourists to claim a Sourdough loaf from the team at the Winchester shop.
And then there is Hoxton Bakehouse, comparatively fresh on the scene and bringing a new wave of baking to the people of Hampshire. Florence and Darren are regular traders at the Hampshire Farmers’ Market and often have a queue from early morning. They have developed quite a following, including local chefs and television personalities and regularly sell out before stall closes at 2pm. Many a time have we gone down to the stall in search of one of their delicious cinnamon buns, only to find out that our Twitter friends have got there first and cleaned them out! We’re rather taken with their honest approach to bread making and genuinely look forward to Market Day when we can try a different loaf or pastry from them.
With our love for bread reignited, we’re excited about making our own once again and we will be experimenting with our own sourdough cultures as we get back into baking. Follow us on twitter and subscribe to our blog for more updates on our progress. In the meantime, let us know about your love for bread by leaving a comment below!