Travel at a Natural Pace; Enjoy the Journey

Traditional Artisan Bread, Collioure, France

In the 1960s and 70s Elizabeth David was very critical of the bread available in Britain. Since then we have moved on from the ubiquitous sliced white loaf. It and its “wholemeal” variant are still available and Elizabeth’s David’s criticisms of it still stand. The question is what would Elizabeth David make of the apparently wide range of bread available today?

Home Made Loaf, Simply Better

French Artisan Bread FF28043 Elizabeth David’s assertion was that a properly made home baked loaf, however basic, will be better than supermarket or other mass produced bread. We made a very basic white loaf and without a doubt it tasted far better than even expensive speciality breads from a supermarket. In fact I now realise that all “fresh baked” supermarket bread tastes much the same unless it is flavoured with herbs or other ingredients. Also the texture of such bread lacks any character; you can actually slice home-made bread much thinner without it falling apart. As a result it makes great toast as well. It may be widely available but “factory” bread tastes of very little, certainly not of real bread.

In France every village of any size has a local baker most of whom make bread the traditional way. As a result their bread has flavour and texture so often absent from British bread. With the rise of craft food producers there has been a growing interest in quality food across the world. But in Britain it is still difficult to find locally made artisanal bread. I live in an affluent suburb of a major city where I struggle to find bread from craft bakers. Even the local bakery chains, well regarded by many people, are only marginally better than supermarkets.

Health food stores and delicatessens are not a reliable source of good quality bread. Many, not all, are baking off pre-prepared raw or part-baked loaves and selling them at a premium. As Elizabeth David found 40 years ago they often offer a heavy, expensive and, frankly, pretty unpleasant loaf.

So what is one to do? Well, making bread at home is a possibility as it is not as difficult or time-consuming as often though. Even a simple loaf, quickly made at home will be better than almost anything that can be bought easily. Our next test is to try Elizabeth David’s slow-proving techniques of bread making using craft produced wholemeal flour brought from Tuxford Windmill. She suggests the slower the proving of the dough the better tasting, and, longer lasting, the final loaf. We will see.

If we can borrow one or find somewhere we can use a bread-making machine we will try making some bread using good ingredients. My concern is that machines may effectively use the factory way of making bread with a fast or limited proving of the dough rather than traditional multiple proving cycles. My hypothesis, which I want to test, is that the price of convenience will be a taste and texture somewhere between the simple homemade loaf and supermarket speciality bread.

Campaign for Real Bread

Bread is still hugely important part of our diet and I have long used the quality of its bread as an initial measure of a restaurant. Few really good restaurants serve poor bread. One of the great joys in life is sitting down for a meal in an seemingly ordinary bistro and being served great bread at the start. The anticipation rises for the meal to come and it is rare one has a poor meal in such establishments. Proprietors and chefs who take their bread seriously usually apply the same attention to all the other details needed to prepare great food.

We as consumers and diners can take a lead from those people and treat bread seriously. We should demand better bread; it really is too important a part of our diet to put up with the stuff we are still buying. Find a craft baker or make your own but above all refuse to buy poor bread especially in the form of an expensive “speciality” loaf.

The answer to the opening question is that Elizabeth David would continue to be dismayed at the current state of bread making in Britain. Bread has not improved markedly since Elizabeth David was voicing her criticisms forty years ago; the wrapper may have changed and there is superficially more variety but British bread has not really got any better.

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