Learning more about bread

Whilst I am working I sometimes like to listen to podcasts.  There is a wealth of information out there that you can just absorb as you go about your daily business. If you want to learn more about bread – whether that’s making it, the history of it or how grain gets from the farmer into your loaf, there is plenty to listen to out there.

Here are just some of the podcasts that I have enjoyed listening to and learned from. If you know of any more please add a comment below. As I come across new ones I will list them here.

Heritage Radio have recorded a comprehensive series of podcasts with the authors of Modernist Bread. The first episode, and all the subsequent ones, can be found at http://heritageradionetwork.org/podcast/pre-ferment/. It’s full of interesting information about bread making and the use of grains.

If you are interested in hearing about life from the baker’s perspective the Rise Up podcast from Mark Dyck in Canada is an interesting listen.

Stella Culinary have some really interesting podcasts and videos about bread making available at https://stellaculinary.com/cooking-videos/stella-bread

Eat This Podcast has done a series of podcasts around the subject of wheat and bread that are interesting to listen to. You can find the first one at https://www.eatthispodcast.com/our-daily-bread-00/

Ludlow Food Festival Sept 7th, 8th & 9th

If you are wondering what you should do this weekend then I definitely recommend you consider getting to Ludlow for its food festival.  I went along to give a Talk and Tasting last year, and it had been a few years since I last went along and I was amazed at how much there was to see and do.  This year there is a full programme of chefs and food writers on the Wot’s Cooking Stage and the Graeme Kidd Stage. There is the Fire Kitchen Stage, the Talks and Tastings, the Aardark Festival Bookshop talks, coffee masterclasses, Slow Food Taste Workshops, chocolate tastings and so much more.

If you would like to see me, and please, do come along and say hello, I will be in the Bake In Time tent in the Outer Bailey. I will be doing my thing on the Friday (12.30-1.30pm and 3.15-4.00pm), Saturday (12.30-1.30 and 3.15-4.00) and Sunday (12.30-1.30).  I am in a tent with Howard Middleton, Sandy Docherty and  Val Stones, all from the Great British Bake Off, and then me.  I will be trying to fill Rob Swift’s boots for the  three lunch time sessions (get yourselves to his bread stall, Bread2Bake, to stock up), so do come along and give me a wave.


Why make your own bread?

The answer to the question ‘Why make your own bread when you can buy it at every supermarket for about 70p a loaf?’ could be answered in many ways.

I could go on about how therapeutic bread making is. It is no coincidence that many organisations helping people that are facing social exclusion or struggling with mental health issues or are  being rehabilitated during or after their prison sentence are using bread making as part (or indeed the very crux) of their strategy. You can read more about this at The Real Bread Campaign. I find the process of bread making very relaxing. It’s not only the physical kneading (which I rarely do as I prefer to stretch and fold my dough in the bowl), but it’s also the fact that it is goal based. You have to keep going back to it, checking it, folding it, shaping it, baking it and then waiting patiently for it to cool. Whatever else might be happening in your day, your bread is there, needing attention, drawing you back to it and requiring your focus, even if for just a few minutes at a time.

I could mention how satisfying it is to feed your family with bread that you have made. I love putting a good loaf on the table and watching people tuck in.  I cannot tell you how satisfying it is to have my children (now in their teen and pre-teen years) eat my bread. For many years they have resented the home made bread and wished that I would buy them a sliced white loaf. Now, finally, they will eat and enjoy my bread, even my sourdough (as long as I tell them that it is white bread), they look at me suspiciously knowing that I am stretching the truth (it’s normally sourdough made with mostly white flour but with wholemeal added in for good measure) but they do, mostly, eat it.

But what I really want to mention is that homemade bread is made up of the ingredients that you choose to use. It has three (sourdough bread) or four (yeasted bread) basic ingredients – flour, water, salt and yeast. Then you can choose to add olive oil, butter, eggs, milk, sugar, dried fruit, olives, walnuts, tomatoes, onions, etc, etc.  You can choose the flour.  You can choose flour from your local mill, or a mill that stone grinds it flour, or flour made from a heritage wheat, or organic flour, or wholemeal flour, or seeded flour, or granary flour. You can choose which yeast to use, fresh (100% chemical free), active dried (with emulsifier) or easy bake/instant (with emulsifier and ascorbic acid).

If you do buy a loaf then buy it from a bakery that cares. Ask your baker how long the bread is fermented for? Whether they use pre-ferments? Whether they use natural sourdough starters, fresh yeast or easy bake?  If they can answer your questions, and you like the answers, then buy your bread from there. If they can’t give you an answer then they have probably bought the bread from one of the big factories frozen and ready to bake by them.

If you buy from a supermarket have a look at the label. If it is baked in-store then it might only have the essential allergens noted, as that all labelling law requires. If that’s the case then take a look at their online store. That  can give you a lot more information, depending on the supermarket.  I did that this morning. I looked at one of the UK’s biggest supermarkets’ online grocery store and found their unsliced Crusty White Farmhouse Bread, which they describe as ‘scored and with a light flour dusting for a rustic finish’. This is the bread that you buy from the Bakery shelf and it is baked in-house in their larger stores (that might mean from scratch baking or baked from frozen, depending on the supermarket and the size of the store). Here is the list of ingredients for that particular loaf:

Wheat flour, Water, Yeast, Processing Aid – (Calcium Sulphate, Rapeseed Oil, Water, Soya Oil, Calcium Silicate, Enzymes, Thermally Oxidised Soya Bean Oil interacted with Mono- and Di- glycerides of Fatty Acids, Silicon Dioxide) Salt, Rapeseed Oil, Spirit Vinegar, Emulsifiers (Mono- and Di-Glycerides of Fatty Acids, Mono- and Di-Acetyl Tartaric Acid Esters of Mono and Di-Glycerides of Fatty Acids), Sugar, Wheat Gluten, Soya Flour, Flavouring, Palm Oil, Flour Treatment Agent (Ascorbic Acid).  

I am not a food scientist (or any kind of scientist) so I don’t understand what most of these more scientific sounding ingredients are, which is rather my point*. If I can eat bread that doesn’t contain unnamed enzymes and Mono- and Di- Acetyl Tartaric Acid Esters of Mono-and Di-Glycerides of Fatty Acids, then I think I will continue to make and eat that bread rather than subject my stomach to this cocktail of scientifically produced food.  *(I have googled some of these ingredients and the details of what I found are at the bottom of this post if you are interested to find out more).

The bread available from the large industrial bakeries is made with efficiency and economics in mind rather than any health or, indeed, taste benefits. It’s made with speed. This means that you don’t benefit from the long fermentation that homemade bread or bread from a good bakery can offer. Proper fermentation increases the digestibility of bread.  Industrially and speedily made bread is harder to digest. They have to add all of these processing aids, enzymes, chemicals and extra gluten to get that soft, well risen loaf because they don’t have the time for that to happen naturally with a good, long fermentation.  Manufactured bread has very little to do with proper bread making and a lot to do with producing a cheap food stuff that has little nutritional value and is difficult to digest. There is an interesting short podcast about industrial bread and the history of the Chorleywood Bread Process on the Eat This Podcast site.

If you really don’t want to make your own bread, or think you don’t have the time, then there is some good bread available out there at local bakeries or that can be purchased online from some of the bigger artisan bakeries and if you do buy supermarket bread then make sure you do some research first. Have a look at their online store and check the list of ingredients.  There are a few offerings out there that don’t have added enzymes, emulsifiers and chemicals.  Whilst I was checking the ingredients of that first loaf described above I checked the other loaves available at the same supermarket and you can buy an Ancient Grain Bloomer that has only natural ingredients listed. It’s more than twice the price of the first loaf, but you get what you pay for.  Beware of their sourdough though, a sourdough loaf should be long fermented and contain only flour, water and salt. Theirs contains Ascorbic Acid and a Non-Declarable Processing Aid (Enzymes). Although some credit must go to them for declaring the non-declarable processing aid, as many others don’t. In fact, in comparison with other supermarkets this one is much more open with their labelling than some of the others. Other online grocery stores do not declare the full list of their ingredients of their freshly baked range, listing only the allergens.

If you choose to buy bread rather than make it at home, then please buy wisely. Do your research, ask what is in it and how it was made. Your stomach will thank you for it.  But my advice is get your hands stuck in and make your own, your stomach and your general well being will thank you for it.

* I googled some of the ingredients and if I am honest it gave me a headache trying to understand what some of these are and how they are produced, but from my very limited layman’s interpretation I have set out what some of them are:

Mono and di-gycerides of fatty acids, also known as E471 are extracted from mostly vegetable oil but sometimes from animal fats hence The Vegan Society warns that vegan and vegetarian consumers should be careful when this is listed in the ingredients. It may also be made from pork fat, so is a consideration for those who for religious or cultural reasons do not eat pork. The oil or fat (normally hydrogenated soybean oil) is heated with glycerol and the mono and di-glycerides are synthesised.  Their purpose in the loaf is to act as an emulsifier and anti-staling. Their addition improves loaf volume and texture. (In a home-made loaf both volume and texture can be obtained with proper gluten development and fermentation and staling is delayed with proper fermentation).

Calcium Sulphate is mined from limestones and added as an anti-caking agent (reducing lumps in the dough when liquid is added), dough strengthener and stablizer.  (Good mixing will get rid of any lumps and proper gluten development and fermentation will strengthen the dough in a home made loaf.)

Calcium Silicate is produced from lime, hydrochloric acid and sodium silicate and is used as an anti-caking agent.

Ascorbic Acid is vitamin C by another name. It improves the loaf volume and texture and reduces the rising time of the loaf.  The vitamin C will not have any nutritional value as it is too small an amount to make a difference to your daily requirement; it is in a less complex form than that found naturally in foods and is mostly baked out.  Ascorbic acid is an ingredient in easy bake/ instant yeast so if you are using this yeast you will also be adding this into your homemade loaf.  If you want to ferment your loaves for a longer time then having ascorbic acid in the mix can cause the loaves to over ferment and the gluten to become too weak. To avoid this use dried active yeast (follow the instructions to hydrate in water before use) or preferably, fresh yeast.

You can find out more about additives in industrially produced bread at The Real Bread Campaign.

Flour absorbency

One of the things I bang on about during my bread classes is how different flour can be. Even using the same brand of flour can be different from bag to bag. It will depend on so many factors: where the grain was grown – country and even county can make a difference; the soil health and type; weather conditions the grain was grown in; whether it’s spring or winter wheat; the variety of grain; how long it has been since harvest; how long since the flour was milled; how it was milled – roller and stone grinding produce very different flour texture and flour composition; whether the grain was tempered before milling; the moisture content of the grain at the time of milling; the protein content of the grain; the gliadin/glutenin ratio of the grain etc.

See what I mean? There are a lot of variables even if you are considering what may seem at first the same type of flour, i.e strong white.  All of these factors will make a difference to how the dough absorbs water. Then if you bring in the difference between using white flour, wholemeal flour, adding in rye, einkorn, spelt, emmer, kamut the absorbency of the flour changes again.

This morning I have been preparing starters ready for my sourdough class on Saturday. I have used my wholemeal starter as a basis for making a white, rye and spelt to show how it is possible to have flexibility with your starters without maintaining four different starters all the time.  I take my wholemeal starter and refresh it about four times in the next two days. By then, it has changed its appearance, its aroma and its flora. When I mixed them up this morning I used 20g of my wholemeal starter, 50g of flour and 50g of water.  Here is how they all look:

Using wholemeal spelt (20g of fairly stiff wholemeal starter, 50g wholemeal spelt, 50g water)

Making a white starter using 20g fairly stiff wholemeal starter, 50g white flour (roller milled, organic), 50g water

Making a rye starter using 20g fairly stiff wholemeal starter, 50g wholemeal rye (aka dark rye), 50g water

I hope this illustrates that these different flours have very different absorbency rates.  The rye will take a lot more water than the white and the spelt. Whilst the spelt needs a little more water to get to the same consistency as the white.

When you are making bread use your senses – touch, sight and smell, to adapt your recipe. Don’t follow a bread recipe word for word. If it asks for 325g of water, add 300g and then splash more in as you mix. Use your sense to tell you when your dough has had enough water. Let your dough sit for at least ten minutes and then see if it needs a bit more water. If you think it does, wet your hands and use the remaining water on your hands to mix the dough a bit more. Keep doing this until the dough feels right.  Bread making is all about your senses and getting used to how the dough feels in your hands and adapting to each batch of flour and each loaf by learning from experience.

What to do with leftover bread…

One of the things that we have plenty of in this household is bread.  If I don’t have a course then I am either making bread for us to eat or I am experimenting with new techniques and new flavours. We often have three (or more) crusts of various loaves sitting on the bread board.  Our chickens are good at eating the leftovers but sometimes even they go on strike. To be honest, I prefer it if we eat the leftovers rather than give them to the chickens. So, this is what I do with them.

Rip it into chunks and add it to the next loaf.  This way of recycling the bread makes your next loaf taste even more delicious.  I place the chunks of bread in the bowl that I am going to make the loaf in and add the water that I am going to use for the loaf and let it soak for about twenty minutes. Then make the loaf as normal, you may need a little extra water to make your dough softly sticky, as it should be.

Bread sauce. Next to bread, this may be my favourite thing to eat. Having said that I don’t tend to eat it that often, usually at Christmas and then maybe a couple of times of year. However, each time I eat it I wonder why I don’t make it at least every week, if not every day. My recipe is here.

Panzanella salad. Rip your leftover loaf into chunks, slice a few really tasty tomatoes (this really should be  made with the best tomatoes you can find and only when in season, if homegrown, then even better) into chunks and mix them with the bread, mush them together to release the juices of the tomatoes into the bread. Add salt, pepper, thinly sliced red onion, some fresh herbs ( basil, oregano, marjoram, thyme, parsley, whatever you have to hand and like the taste of), a good slug of olive oil and really anything else that you want to add.

Bread pudding. This is stodgy, fruity and delicious. My recipe is here.

Savoury bread pudding aka Mozzarella and tomato strata. I tried this after reading about it on Nancy’s website and was converted. It is a wonderful way to use up stale bread.

Bread and butter pudding is always a favourite after Sunday dinner. There is something very comforting about the contrast between the oozy custardy bread underneath the crusty (almost burnt) sugary topping. My recipe is here.

In winter Aromatic Shropshire Pudding takes some beating. Unless you make Queen of Puddings

One that I have always wanted to try but somehow never managed to get round to it is Brown Bread Ice Cream. I must get round to righting that wrong.

If all else fails, let the loaf dry out and then pulse in a food processor or cut up finely with a knife to make breadcrumbs. Place in a food bag and pop in the freezer for the next time a recipe calls for breadcrumbs.

Whatever you decide to use your ends of loaf for, please don’t put them in the bin. If you have any other recipes that makes good use of leftover bread let me know.

The Veg Patch Loaf Project Instalment 7

Well, the wheat ears are ripening. We have had the driest summer since the 1960’s (or so they tell us on the telly) and the parched grass is certainly evidence of that. We watered the wheat sparingly at the beginning of its growth and it hasn’t had a water for a few weeks now. We have been lucky to have had a few rainstorms during a few nights in the last couple of weeks which has just about kept the garden ticking over.

Wheat ears ripening

I am wondering if we will ever get to harvest the wheat though. This dry weather has meant there is very little food for the deer that roam locally and the other night they found our borlotti beans and stripped them off to as far as they could reach.  As soon as I discovered this I reinstated the collie disruption mechanism , now renamed the deer disruption mechanism. I seriously doubt that it will really stop a hungry, marauding deer, but it makes me feel a little more reassured that I might yet harvest enough for a loaf. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Wheat in garden

The wheat on 24th July 2018

Veg Patch Loaf Instalment 6 – The ears are filling!

I went to a fantastic event yesterday at a farm local to here. The National Organic Combinable Crops Conference (NOCC) is in its 11th year and I jumped at the chance to spend the day learning more about organic wheat growing and getting an insight into the farmer’s perspective.  The event was hosted by Mark Lea at his family farm, Green Acres, about ten minutes drive from here at Kemberton. They run a diverse farm; arable, beef, sheep (a new venture this year) and taking in green waste from the local council to use as manure.  Mark runs trials for The Organic Research Centre and it was fascinating to walk his fields to look at intercropping and the range of heritage and modern wheats he is trialling.  These crops aren’t just for research though but are a commercial crop in their own right.  The conference was really interesting. I had no idea that planting crops together, (intercropping), is not more likely to create competition between plants but instead the collaboration between these plants actually helps each plant grow stronger and improve yield. Basically, growing crops together helps them to share nutrients.  We looked at soil  (in a large hole) to learn how to read it for health. The most exciting thing for me, (apart from the delicious pastries and lunch from The Small Food Bakery)  was being able to taste all of the different grains that Mark had grown on the farm last year baked in a biscuit by Kimberley Bell of said bakery.  Having so many grains to compare at one time reveals how very different each variety of grain can be. It helped back up what I always say to students, feel how this bag of flour works, adapt as you need to.

I came home and looked at my little patch of wheat with new eyes.  Here is how my patch looks today:

April Bearded Wheat 4th July 2018

The wheat and poppies 4th July 2018

I am not sure that allowing the poppies to grow rather than pulling them up really counts as intercropping, but it sounds like an excellent excuse.

April Bearded Wheat Ears

All seems well with my wheat so far, but the continued lack of rain is starting to tell in the garden. We really could do with some rain soon. The situation for some of the farmers at the conference is beginning to get critical for crop success this year.  I am beginning to think that grain and flour is going to be more expensive from this year’s harvest.

So far I am really pleased with how the wheat is growing.  I now need to research what to look out for in this next phase and plan for how I am going to harvest my lovely little patch of wheat. If I am lucky enough to get to that point, that is. I shouldn’t count my chickens before they hatch, or my wheat ears before they ripen. Watch this space.

Veg Patch Loaf Instalment 5 – the first ear!

Well, exciting news. Richard was checking over the tomatoes this morning and spotted the first ear to emerge. If you look very closely you might spot that the one next to it is about to do the same (this will only work if you squint at it a lot as it is mostly covered by a leaf).

The first ear emerges.

The first ear of wheat emerges, 22 June 2018

Veg Patch Loaf Project Instalment 4

It’s been 8 weeks today since I planted my April Bearded wheat seeds in a 3mx2m plot next to VPK HQ. This is what the plot looks like today:

April bearded wheat, 8 weeks

There has been a lot of growth in four weeks. The last four weeks has also brought torrential rain storms and long dry patches.  There has been some lodging of the crop (when it falls over) as a result of the heavy rain, but it has recovered surprisingly well.

Lodged wheat

Patch of lodged wheat

There are no signs of wheat heads emerging yet but I hope in the next week or so they will emerge so that they have time to ripen over the summer. This morning’s forecast on the telly was for warm weather for the next few weeks so fingers crossed this helps.  We are watering the wheat when it needs it but being careful not to overwater. I have, of course, not kept on top of the weeds and there is a lot of chickweed growing through the wheat and I can’t bear to pull up a self-seeded poppy so they are growing in amongst the patch too.

There is a little bit of yellowing on some of the leaves. I am not sure whether this is due to a lack of nitrogen or because I didn’t plant the seeds deep enough in the first place. I am hoping it is nothing more sinister than that. If anyone has any suggestions as to what this yellowing might be due to I would be very grateful.

wheat yellowing leaves

Some yellowing of the leaves

All in all, so far so good. There hasn’t been any major disasters yet. The dog is staying away; the rain hasn’t caused too much lasting damage.  We have a long way to go to get a crop yet so please keep your fingers and your toes crossed for me.

I’ll let you know when the wheat heads emerge. I am looking forward to seeing their hairy frothiness, (at least that is what I am expecting from a wheat called April Bearded).

Veg Patch Loaf Project Instalment 3

So it’s Day 27 of the wheat project. It is shooting up and is tillering. I wondered if it would tiller as a spring wheat and it seems it will. Tillering is when more than one shoot comes from the base of the plant (I have googled it!) and is all to do with the plant having sufficient space and light to produce more shoots.  If it is grown in a tight space and is shaded by other plants it will put its efforts into growing up rather than out.  I am giving it a light water each day as it has been a while since it rained here in Shropshire.  But really nothing more than that.  I let the chickens out today whilst I cleaned them out and they were showing far too much interest in it for my liking. They were put away again as soon as cleaning had finished.

Day 27 April Bearded Wheat

Instalment one and two give background to the project. I hope to make a loaf from the garden in the autumn. Fingers and toes are firmly crossed. Any advice from wheat experts gratefully received.