Picture a black backdrop and a lushly spotlighted loaf. Fleetwood Mac plays softly in the background, while a sexy voice says: “This is not just a French stick. This is a hand-crafted baguette made using the best French flour, stone baked to crusty, golden perfection by artisan bakers.”

Marks & Spencer is yet to feature bread in its television advertising campaign, but if it did it would probably sound something like this.

Beneath the marketing hype, ads such as these demonstrate a tangible shift in shoppers’ perceptions, which is something that bakers and ingredients suppliers are responding to with gusto.

Graham Dunton, chef patissier at Unifine Food & Bake Ingredients, says that more and more UK bakers are seeing the value in a traditional bread offering, using simple, well-sourced and trustworthy ingredients. “There is a huge move in America and Australia towards artisanal-type breads – natural fermentation and breads that don’t look perfect, with character, that are interesting to eat,” he says.

This was the message given at the Flour and Ingredients in Action event, organised by Unifine and miller FWP Matthews. Also at the event was French miller Moul-bie, a division of Grands Moulins de Paris, which is supplied in the UK by FWP Matthews. Craft bakers from across the country were invited to witness Moul-bie’s bakery technician Claude Jacopin give a master class in hand moulding at Unifine’s new base in Milton Keynes.

Plats, boules, pain d’Aix (a double mounded bread), baguettes, batards (a large rustic loaf) and tricorn-shaped breads were dashed off with a few dextrous flicks of the wrist and a hint of Gallic nonchalance. Mr Jacopin’s skill comes after seven years on the road as a travelling baker in France, but his message was simple: a few basic techniques, once mastered, can produce delicious, wonderful-looking loaves to inspire shoppers to pay more for their breads.

Open texture

The doughs were made with a high water content and mixed slowly before hand moulding. Moul-bie’s flours, such as Campaillette Grand Siecle, were used to create authentic breads with an open texture and a thick, chewy, rustic looking crust – a common sight in France’s plentiful boulangeries.

But whereas there are around 35,000 French craft bakeries, the UK has seen numbers dwindle to a tenth of that figure. Flour mills are also more prevalent across the Channel. Of course, a helping hand from the government in the shape of minimum pricing has helped keep baking traditions alive, but even French bakers have had to dig their heels in against the onslaught of the supermarkets.

“Bakers in France are protected a bit more and the minimum price of a baguette in France is governed,” says Graham Emberson, general sales manager for Moul-bie (UK). “They are under huge pressure as supermarkets are becoming bigger, but they are still holding the line. In France the big move is towards ‘baguette de tradition’, using water, flour, yeast and salt and nothing else. It’s carrying a premium – the average baguette in France is about 32 cents but the baguette de tradition is about 59-65 cents.”

Moul-bie is keen to promote the artisanal method to the UK’s bakers and this year recruited Mr Jacopin and the highly skilled French baker Gregory Moutry, as bakery sales manager, to bolster its British operation. This technical expertise is available to assist craft bakers in their bakeries who want to tap into the artisanal resurgence.

“We have English-speaking French technicians who are highly skilled and will come into the bakery and work alongside bakers,” says Mr Emberson. Clean label, traceable ingredients – the company’s stock trade – are proving a pull for bakers, he adds. “We only mill French grain and in most cases it’s our grain. We have full traceability.”

Turbo separation

Grands Moulins de Paris uses a turbo separation method of milling. For instance, a traditional T55 baguette flour at 10.5% protein has undergone centrifugal force to separate the molecules. This splits the flour into three levels of particle size carrying different protein levels: 7% protein (with larger molecules carrying more of the starch), which is suitable for wafer biscuits; a 10.5% protein flour; and a particle with a protein level up to 19%. The latter is then put back into a mother flour to create specific functional flours, such as puff pastry flour.

“We can take a very poor quality wheat and create a puff pastry flour that will not shrink by subjecting it to turbo separation, with no chemicals added. We don’t use anything artificial at all – we use the wheat for its special characteristic, we then mill it – that’s it. We have clean label flours,” says Mr Emberson.

This nothing-added ethic is seeing a surge in demand across the bakery market, as we report from Unifine’s Ingredients in Action day

next week.