S-l-o-w-l-y, there are changes afoot in the baking world. And when I say s-l-o-w, that’s exactly what I mean. Ever since the Chorleywood process (or ’no time dough method’) was developed in 1961, bread-baking has been revolutionised, dramatically speeding up a process which had existed for millennia. Suddenly, a raft of new ingredients began to be added to a product that used to be created almost alchemically, using simple flour, yeast, salt and water: ingredients such as E481 (sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate), E472e (mono- and diacetyl tartaric acid esters of mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids), E920 (l-cysteine), E282 (calcium propionate), E220 (potassium sorbate), E300 (ascorbic acid), E260 (acetic acid) soya flour, vegetable fat and dextrose, enzymes and I could go on. However, as bakers well know, many of those hidden processing ingredients do not have to be declared on the label.
But now, there’s a move to slow it all down again and to return to transparency, as well as simplicity through a Real Bread Campaign, under the umbrella of the environmental group Sustain. (For a while, it looked like there were to be two similar campaigns running simultaneously, with the UK arm of Slow Food launching a crust-thrust of their own but the two have now joined forces, with Slow Food giving Real Bread its not inconsiderable support.) The campaign is now celebrating having secured funding from the Big Lottery Fund’s Local Food Scheme.
As well as pointing bread-lovers in the direction of traditionally-created loaves, there’s even ’direct action’ suggested by the campaign: activists can download ’warning’ stickers from the internet to peel off and apply to loaves in supermarkets/convenience stores, declaring: ’This ’bread’ may be made using the following: L-cysteine, fungal amylase, hemicellulase, phos-pholipase, peptidase, xylanase, protease and a whole cocktail of other hidden enzymes’, and inviting ’unsuspecting’ bread-lovers to join up. It’s impossible to know exactly how many stickers have been downloaded, but the simple truth is that the Real Bread campaign taps into a growing desire for food to be local (ideally, ’gold-standard’ real bread will be made with 20% local flour) and without unnecessary additives.
At my own business, Judges Bakery (in Hastings), we use ’overnight’ doughs anywhere from 18-24 hours, allowing loaves to rise almost at their leisure with flour, water, salt, and that’s just about it. (And in the case of the sourdoughs, without any yeasts other than the natural variety picked up from the very air itself). Our bread attracts customers from far and wide which is a slight ’food miles’ niggle for us, but we can just about live with it.
It’s almost certainly completely impractical for the entire industry to return to pre-Chorleywood days. But many customers hanker after bread ’like it used to be’ with the enhanced flavour, texture and keeping power that only time, rather than additives, can deliver. Judging from the Real Bread Campaign’s success, a growing number of bread-heads are waking up to the differences between ’real’ bread and the factory type. And, if you ask me, about time too