My husband and I have made a decision*. We are no longer going to buy Chorleywood bread if we can help it.
Why? And what is Chorleywood bread anyway? Well, that’s a picture of it up there, and apparently, 80% of our bread is made by the Chorleywood method these days. If you go and read this, you’ll probably get the answers to your questions, and if not, you can ask in the comments section. Pay attention to the recipe for Scottish Morning Rolls and in particular to the complete absence of additives and the length of the fermentation process. This is how bread used to be, and still should be, made.
Perhaps I should also add that some people think that the decline of traditional breadmaking plus the upsurge of Chorleywood bread is behind the increase in various health problems including yeast intolerance.
So, to get back to my story, when I needed to pop into our local supermarket today to pick up a few things, I went to the bakery section and started to look for traditionally baked loaves.
I found English bloomers and crusty farmhouse loaves. I found Italian, Polish and German loaves. I found ‘Mediterranean’ breads, sunflower breads, poppy-seeded breads, multi-grain, malted, and granary breads. I found a loaf of French ‘pain de campagne’ which looked and felt marginally better than all the other sponge-like loaves, but it was as light as air and I didn’t think a French countryman would have recognised it.
I picked it up, somewhat disconsolately .. and then I saw a baker lurking behind the shelves so I accosted him.
Me: ‘Excuse me … ?’
Baker: ‘Yes, can I help you?’
Me: ‘Thank you, yes. Do you have any traditionally baked, long fermentation loaves?’
Me: ‘Do you have any traditionally baked bread, with a long fermentation?’
Baker: ‘Fermentation … I don’t recognise that word. What do you mean?’
Me: ‘You know, you have to leave the dough to rise, to let the yeast work?’
‘Baker’: ‘Oh, ah, yes. Mm. No. But we’re going to start doing that next week!’
Me: ‘Oh good. Something to look forward to, then!’
‘Baker’: ‘Yes – it’ll be good. We’re going to let the dough rise for two hours, then .. ‘
Me: ‘Two hours?? Oh, I was thinking longer. I’ve been buying loaves with an eight, or even twelve hour fermentation.’
‘Baker’: ‘Oh yeah, they used to do that, didn’t they? Leave it in a box with straw in it overnight, then knock it back the next morning.’**
Me (deciding I was onto a loser with this one): ‘Um. Yeah. OK, thanks!’
I wish I could have shown him this -
Now, many of you simply may not care about the sea-change in our bread production methods. Indeed, some of you may actively prefer the Chorleywood variety with all of its dubious additives, but really, what have we come to when every single one of the 500 types of bread in a supermarket are made this way and there is simply no alternative?
The saddest thing is that we discovered a little village baker, not too far from our house, located in a little roadside terraced house with a traditional shop front and a rack of wooden shelves for the bread and a display of home-made cakes under the counter. I thought I’d try some of their sourdough bread, but I wish I hadn’t. It was clearly made using the Chorleywood Bread Process. Listen, guys and gals; sourdough bread should not be as light and fluffy as a 70s hairdo. It should be fairly solid and dry! I can only assume that it contained a small amount of sourdough starter, just for the taste, but a traditional sourdough loaf it was not.
Now, I know that in countries where food is more a way of life than a method of getting the necessary fuel into one’s body they are very scornful of English bread compared to their own. What do you think?
Do you like bread that is light, airy, and ultrasoft? Or do you like to get your teeth into a slice of the real deal; bread which is satisfying to eat, if a little more like hard work to chew?
* Yes, normally I would say ‘OH and I’, but I thought this made me sound more like the Queen.
** Probably. Back in the Dark Ages. Perhaps it is still done this way somewhere, but I can’t help thinking he may be just a tad muddled on this one.