I’m struck by the fact that domestic air fresheners try to create the aromas of pine glades, citrus, exotic flowers or mountain freshness. The warm, addictive, yeasty smell of freshly baked bread would surely be much more attractive. But perhaps it wouldn’t be commercial in the long term, as about 80% of bread sold in this country is not proper bread but chemically enhanced pap. If people didn’t recognise the smell of real bread, the aerosol would be a flop. On the other hand, if they did recognise it, perhaps they might start looking for the real thing, which would be unfortunate for the big bakers and their Chorleywood Bread Process. But I digress (and fantasise).
There are two problems with making bread. The first is the length of time taken. After mixing and kneeding, time is required for proving – for the yeast to raise and expand the dough. Then the mix is kneeded again (knocked back), put aside to rise again, and then baked. It is this lengthy fermentation which gives the bread its’ flavour. This time commitment helps explains why there are fewer and fewer real bakeries – proper bread needs the baker to be there overnight, and virtually no one wants to do those hours.
The second problem is the quality of the flour. Good bread needs flour with good gluten – the protein which holds the bread up. British flour was not up to the mark, hence the historic reliance on expensive, strong flour from Canada with its long, hot summers and no rainfall. The Chorleywood Bread Process answered both these problems in one go, by sorting out the feeble flour/ low gluten question. A weak, wet dough is beaten up at high speed to incorporate lots of air, with chemical improvers added to help hold the structure up. Huge amounts of yeast are used to get a lot of gas, so that the mix rises very quickly (and just once), and is then put to bake before it can collapse. This is what is meant by the expression “no time dough”. In a Gerald Ratner moment of shocking honesty, an executive from one of the national bread brands once described the Chorleywood Bread Process as “a chemical exercise in getting water to stand up”. It is reckoned by some that the lack of fermentation makes this bread harder to digest.
There are still real bakers around, and as National Bread Week is approaching (April 16th – 22nd) this seems a good time to name names, and encourage everyone to try properly made bread. I hope the label “artisan bread” doesn’t sound too poncey and metropolitan. Perhaps something on the lines of “traditional craft baking” is a better term. But hang the label – the bread can speak for itself.
There are still 5 craft bakeries in Cambridge, not all following the same techniques and by no means producing identical breads. Alan Ackroyd of Cambridge Organic Bakery uses the old-fashioned “sponge and dough” method, whereby up to 50% of the dough is mixed up in the morning and then set to prove for 12 – 14 hours before the baker returns at night to mix in the rest and then set the shaped loaves to prove just once more. See the web site (www.cobsbakery.com ) for a full list of his breads, plus the local outlets and farmers markets where they are available.
Chris Murray’s Dovecote Bakery is not certified organic but he uses organic wheat, rye and spelt by preference. Chris makes all his breads using sourdough cultures with natural yeasts, which can handle flours with lower gluten levels than bakers’ yeast would be able to cope with. His breads get 2 long proving sessions. In some bakeries’ hands sourdoughs can be heavy, tough and sour; but not so with Dovecote Bakery. His main breads are the Midsummer loaf (wheat and rye), a seeded sourdough (Punters’ loaf) a wholemeal sourdough, a light rye and a French-style wheat pain de compagne. Much of his bread goes to restaurants and pubs, but is also available from Shelford Deli, Burwash Larder and the Derby St Stores in Newnham.
The three other Cambridge bakers have shops you can visit. John Palmer at the Newnham Bakery in Derby St uses strong flour and bakers’ yeast, and sets his dough to prove 2 or even 3 times – according to size. He produces white, brown, granary, rye mix and multi-seeded loaves. Kevin Bull bakes at Maskells on Akeman St (just off Histon Rd, and with parking outside). His excellent white bread (we eat this every day) is made with strong flour and bakers yeast, and proved twice before baking. It is also available at Arjuna, in Mill Rd, and Walkers in Thornton Way, Girton.
There is also a bakery in Balzano’s Continental Stores in Cherry Hinton Rd. Rocco Balzano is a great believer in the adage that the more you work the bread dough, the better the flavour. So the doughs are set to prove 3 times, having been knocked down twice. He and his baker, Carmine Maio, produce traditional white bread (in about 10 different shapes) granary, wholemeal, foccacia and ciabatta. These breads are also available from Gog Magogs Farm Shop by Wandlebury, Norfolk St Deli and Limoncello in Mill Rd.