Meet the Modern Baker. Real bread from real people

by Nick Harman - Monday February 26, 2018 2:02 pm

It’s Real Bread Week, so put down that ready-sliced loaf, bin those badly made buns and think about buying better. And why not try making your own? We go to meet a very Modern Baker.

When you think about it, sliced bread is pretty awful stuff. Yes, it makes a great bacon sandwich, in fact it’s indispensable for that job, but otherwise it really should be off all our menus.

Just look at a packet and see what goes into it. Factory-baked loaves are likely to have ingredients such as sugar, oil, vinegar, preservatives and flour treatment agents. They’re made with refined grains instead of whole grains, which means that the germ and the bran have been taken away, and while this makes the flour last longer, it takes away a lot of nutrients.

Refined also means no fibre and fibre is thought to lower the risk of diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, obesity and digestive issues. Sliced white factory loaves also affect your glycemic index - the measure of how much a food increases your blood sugar levels after eating. White bread is one of the highest on the glycemic index.

And have you heard of the Chorleywood process? It’s not a sci-fi film, although it might well be. Way back in 1961 the British Baking Industries Research Association in Chorleywood, Hertfordshire came up with a way of making bread that used lower-protein wheat, a whole bunch of additives and high-speed mixing. Today you’ll find over 80 per cent of all UK bread is made this way.

It’s why our sliced white is clammy, squidgy and as unlike real bread as bread can be.

There are plenty of bakers out there who reject this and other processes though. Up in Oxford there’s the Oxford Modern Baker, I went to see their Modern Bakery and to hear their view on bread.

Melissa, one of the partners, discovered alternative, healthy foods after a run in with cancer. She found that drinking aloe vera stopped the mouth ulcers the chemotherapy would otherwise cause and this gave her reason to fully explore what we eat and what it does to us.

Throwing herself into nutrition she ended up creating a cafe bakery and employing a professional baker and Modern Baker was born.

‘The breads we make are long-fermented sourdoughs’, she explains. ‘They have no added yeast, just what occurs naturally in the air around us, and they use organic, preindustrial, stone ground grains of rye, wheat and other grains’.

Creating a sourdough ‘starter’ is as old as civilisation. She shows me how simply mixing flour and water and leaving it to one side will, after a few days of repetition, produce a bubbly mix ‘starter’ that will be all you need to make bread. And if ‘fed’ with flour and water, that starter can in theory last forever becoming more complex and delicious as it goes.

And while modern bread rises in a few hours, Modern Baker Bread takes its time. Flour, water, salt and starter once mixed sit around, literally, for days. ‘The long fermentation breaks down the carbohydrates and gluten in the grains,’ Melissa explains. ‘The end loaf is easier to digest and the nutrients in it are absorbed by the gut more readily. The bacteria created by the fermentation is also very good for the gut keeping the gut flora healthy.’

The bread they make in ther state of the art bakery is now available in places like Selfridges as well as online and, yes, it’s a bit expensive but then there’s a very good reason why sliced white is so cheap. It’s rubbish.

As Melissa says though, make your own. The ingredients cost pennies per loaf, the sourdough starter is of course ‘free’ and the only real bill is the one for your oven. And if you plan ahead you can cram the oven with bread and other baked goods to make the most of the time it’s on.

Modern Baker’s bread-making book, ‘A New Way To Bake’ by Melissa Sharp with Lindsay Stark is out now (Ebury Press, RRP £26) and Modern Baker’s range of healthy baked goods are available in Selfridges (London, Birmingham, Manchester Trafford and Manchester Exchange), Planet Organic and their Oxford based cafe-bakery at 214 Banbury Road, OX2 7BY.

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You don't have to be a baker to join - in fact, the majority of supporters aren't.

Support starts from £22.50 a year. 

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Read more about why and how to join, including the benefits you receive, here.

Looking to bake bread? More books to check out.

There’s no shortage of books about proper bread making, here are some of our favourites.

The Rye Baker - Stanley Ginsberg

This is a seriously heavy book and perhaps not for the beginner. It is however a fascinating read in its own right, an exploration of the bread that stands at the centre of northern and eastern European food culture. 70 classic recipes from the immigrant breads of America to ryes of France, Germany and Russia.

ISBN: 0393245217

Buy now at Amazon

Healthy Baking - Jordan Bourke

The author of Our Korean Kitchen doesn’t just show you how to make sourdough breads easily and well, he also has grain salads, ferments and more. Over 100 recipes.

ISBN: 1409168891

Buy now at Amazon

Slow Dough - Real Bread. Chris Young and the bakers of the Real Bread Campaign

A whole range of secrets to success from the experts on slow rise bread.

Recipes for different starters for all kinds of different breads plus easy to follow instructions on getting the fundamentals right. Not just breads either, but amazing tarts, biscuits, buns and other amazing bakes.

ISBN: 184899737X

Buy now at Amazon

Perfecting Sourdough - Jane Mason

The founder of Virtuous Bread, Jane is a teacher of baking and a catalyst of social change. 

You’ll learn how to makes super sourdoughs, of course, but also all kinds of world breads, muffins, savoury loaves and more. Picture guides make troubleshooting easy and help you solve any initial mistakes and get it right the next time.

ISBN: 1845436504

Buy now at Amazon

Bread Revolution - Duncan Glendinning and Patrick Ryan

These two bakers run the eco-artisan bakery The Thoughtful Bread Company and are young and hip.

More than 65 bread recipes that are millenial- friendly with all the big flavours the modern foodie loves. Cider and apple bread, potato and rosemary loaves, crusty sourdoughs and sweet treats and accompaniments.

ISBN: 174266668X

Buy now at Amazon

No Need To Knead - Suzanne Dunaway

If you don’t like kneading, you’ll love this book. Yes she breaks the long rise rule, promising artisan bread in 90 minutes. There are no preservatives or additives in her recipes though, bread has just flour, salt, water and yeast.

Here’s where you’ll find recipes for focaccia, ciabatta, pizza, flapjacks, blini, cornbread and kolaches. Plus dozens of recipes that use bread, such as salads, and bread pudding.

ISBN: 1908117214

Buy now at Amazon

Modern Baker - A New Way To Bake - Melissa Sharp and Lindsay Stark

The book of the bakery. A fabulous, uplifting read as well as one to make you hungry.

ISBN: 178503555X

Buy now at Amazon

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