I’ve been making my own bread for a while. We started off with a bread-maker. This is mentioned in our book as a good way of using up some of our excess self generated electricity. However, I’ve always wanted to make bread in the oven and also more slowly. Then the bread-maker stopped working. It started by burning the bread on one side (which apparently after a lot of internet searching means the thermostat is broken). Then only cold air blew out of it. I had a few goes at oven baked bread and then went to a cafe which bakes their own where I found this book lying around. I felt I needed some theory input so I asked for this book for Christmas.
The author set up a bakery in the 1970’s dissatisfied with industrialised bread making. This is where it starts to get interesting, not to say controversial. Andrew Whitely is very critical of Britain’s industrialised bread-making culture. Most bread in the UK is made by the ChorleyWood process (I don’t know about the US and Canada). Even bread made on supermarket sites (although to me tasting better) is either made by that process or even using dough brought in using ChorleyWood. The problems with the process is Whitely believes are multiple, firstly its too fast, second there are too many additives and thirdly apart from concerns over GM it relies on a very narrow range of wheat varieties. The speed of the process is he believes responsible the increase in allergies such as Coeliac disease a partially inherited auto-immune disorder. This is caused by gliadin a family of proteins in wheat and other grasses which along with another family of proteins (glutenins) give bread its structure (via a combination of the two called gluten). These latter facts seem non-controversial as a brief internet search will confirm. What seems more controversial, although it makes biological sense, is the assertion that the speed of the process does not allow the bacteria naturally present in the wheat to break down the gliadin. Of course the bread industry denies this. Whitley’s list of food additives is also enlightening. For example a number of enzymes are added to most bread -most of fungal origin.
There is something very spiritual about making bread. The links between our faith and bread go all the way back to Genesis. In some bible versions God’s curse on Adam is translated as bread (Gen 3v19). When God appears to Abraham in Genesis 18v5 they make some bread for him. Then there is the manna that God provided in the wilderness. In the New Testament Jesus frequently used bread as a spiritual metaphor (Mark 8v14-15, Jn6v35) and in his miracles (Matthew 14v17-19). The ultimate spiritual use of bread was in the last supper which we celebrate as communion (Matthew 26v26).
“Take eat, this is my body“.
Why are there these links? Possibly because it should be a slow process, like many elements of our Christian life. It takes time to make bread and the slower the rise as it turns out the better. Also its the most basic of foods
“Give us today our daily bread”
which in other places in the bible people are worried about doing without (1 Sam 2v36, Mark 8v16). Whenever global wheat prices rise people in many countries riot. There is no doubt about it, growing sufficient wheat for us all to eat at affordable prices is going to be a challenge. Also the industrialised nature of bread-making in my country is not sustainable in a peak oil world. Whitley gives a great quote in the book from Michael Pollen
“Put another way, when we eat from the industrial-food system, we are eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases”
If you were buying the book for recipes you would be disappointed since the actual process is so simple. Yeast, water, salt and bread flour is all that is required and the variation comes from using different flour types. But if you are looking for a book about why bread should be made in a simple slow way plus some recipes and advice then this is the book for you. Give it a go.
This was a Christmas present from my mum.