The Foodish Boy Searches for 'Real Bread'
Today on The Daily Meal
Week three of my food odyssey and I couldn’t possibly start my journey around the world without spending some time getting to know one of Britain’s oldest and most historically significant foodstuffs of all time: bread. Simple, cheap and adaptable, bread is the "staff of life" and I’m sure to ingest it in its many doughy guises on my travels this year.
Despite thousands of years of baking history, bread production in the U.K. changed forever in 1961. Following years of rationing, a group of scientists set about experimenting with production methods to allow bakers to use low protein British wheat, which meant they no longer had to rely on foreign exports. What resulted was the infamous Chorleywood Bread Process — a production method which added hard fats, chemicals, and extra yeast. The dough was then mixed at high speeds so that the dough needed little to no time to proof. The result was softer, cheaper bread with almost double the shelf life. It is no coincidence that we in the U.K. produce 80 percent of today’s bread using the Chorleywood Bread Process.
Although conceived of with the best intentions, the production method led to a number of complications affecting both the quality and nutrition of our daily bread. Taking these factors into account, it is unsurprising that since the invention of the Chorleywood method the U.K.’s bread consumption per person has fallen by half.
Mindful of the above, I wanted to learn how to make real bread with real bakers that support local communities. Thankfully I stumbled across Tom Herbert, a fifth-generation baker at the Cotswold bakery Hobbs House and one half of TV's Fabulous Baker Brothers. After a few emails back and forth, Herbert agreed to let me spend some time with him and his team of talented bakers in the ancient market town of Chipping Sodbury. "Welcome to the home of real bread. We’re going to make a baker out of you!"
Straight in at the deep end, I had the task of shaping dough in preparation for baking. This proved a really tough job as the margins for error were so small. It's OK having a misshapen loaf at home, but here there are strict guidelines to meet and consistency is key. Thankfully I had one of the company's best bakers to hand to offer advice and guidance (and admittedly reshape some of my shoddy looking loaves.) She must have shaped five loaves in the time it took me to do one!
Up next was the rather terrifying task of baking the bread. Only I could end up next to a wall of piping-hot ovens the week the U.K. has a heat wave. Although the heat was manageable in the morning, it got unbearably hot later in the day. Having spent the day inside, my girlfriend wondered why I was sunburnt. With my fair skin I literally baked from the heat of the job. Sitting down rosy cheeked, I could tell I had a long, hard, hot week ahead of me. Real bread requires real effort. But as soon as I tucked into my humble supper of bread and butter I knew it would be worth it.
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