Unfortified flour + water + salt. Shaped by hand and fermented over long periods. That’s it. No short cuts. No added sugar too. You can add plenty of other ingredients to improve flavour and texture, but take them away and you would still get a great artisan loaf.
Because modern industrial bread tastes awful. Sliced white loaves are made using the Chorleywood Process. This creates a paste into which air is bubbled and to which yeast is added (but only to make it taste a little more bread-like). There is almost no fermentation, no slow rise to develop flavour, no careful shaping to maximise crust and texture. It takes less than a hour to mix and proof a loaf of supermarket sliced white before baking (sometimes only twenty minutes). In comparison, our San Francisco sourdough takes more than sixty-nine hours spread over four days.
Squeeze the air out of a piece of Chorleywood sliced white and you get a small ball of paste. Artisinal bread has greater character, taste, texture, crust, and colour. Sourdoughs keeps fresh longer and make better toast too.
But is hard to find true artisan-made bread. There are plenty of loaves that masquerade as it. Some delis and supermarkets even sell 'artisinal' bread that is mixed and shaped industrially in France, frozen without baking, then shipped to the UK before being sold to you as a locally-baked artisan loaf. We call them 'bread tanning salons'.
Plenty of small bakeries use additives (and/or the Chorleywood Process) designed to speed their baking and cut their costs, but in doing so they destroy the character and flavour of their bread. Others add exotic ingredients to loaves they make by modern non-artisinal methods but then pass off as artisinal bread.
In reaction to this, and encouraged by the Real Bread Campaign, kitchen door and other micro-bakeries are springing up across the country. They provide an alternative to the chewy cotton-wool masquerading as bread sold in many shops. The Roundhay Bakehouse is proud to be a small part of this wider movement.
Before vat-cultured fresh yeast, before instant dry yeast, bread was made using sourdough starters cultured from beer barm. The first record of sourdough bread is in Egypt more than six thousand years ago.
A sourdough culture contains live yeast and lacto-bacilli (close relatives of those that make yoghurt). This culture is fed flour and water, nothing else. The yeast and lacto-bacilli set to work fermenting the natural sugars and carbohydrates in the flour. For a baker, this is useful because the yeast population increases rapidly, and the lacto-bacilli produce lots of tasty by-products, the most famous of which is the lactic acid that makes a sourdough sour. By careful use of feeds and temperature a sourdough culture can be adjusted and made mild or strong in flavour.
We sell packets of dried sourdough on our farmers market stall. Cultivated from wild Roundhay yeast, it comes complete with instructions. Buy some, have a go, bake your own sourdough bread.
Time is the most important ingredient. Here's the schedule for our four-day San Francisco sourdough:
Day One. The preferment is made. Some sourdough culture is mixed with a portion of the flour and water then left for at least twelve hours. This is the start of a loaf. A sourdough starter.
Day Two-Three: The starter is mixed with the rest of the flour and water plus salt to make the dough. After fermenting for an hour or two, the dough is moved to the refrigerator for at least a day and a half. The cold slows the yeast fermentation but the lactobacilli love the low temperature. They to get to work and intensify the flavour.
Day Four: The dough is shaped into loaves, then chilled in the fridge again as it proves before baking.
Almost all our bread is made with sourdough preferments. That doesn't mean they are all sour in taste like the San Francisco Sourdough. Some loaves are mild in flavour. If that's what you prefer, try the Pompeii Miche, the Light Rye, or the Rye Swirl bread.
The answer is: it depends upon what you mean. Our spelt and ale loaf is made with added....ale. That's what makes it taste great. The Soil Association and Real Bread Campaign approve the addition of ingredients like malt, nuts, dried fruit etc. Kind of obvious really.
What we don't add is anything used as a shortcut by mainstream bakeries or by bread tanning salons. And we never add sugar to a standard loaf. Obviously, doughs for brioche, Chelsea buns etc. have to be sweet, so they contain sugar. What we are saying is that there's no need to add sugar to ordinary bread. Avoid all recipe books that suggest otherwise.
Until you slice it, artisinal bread should be stored in a cotton bag kept in a draughtless place at room temperature. Tote bags are great for this. Once it's cut, place it face down on a wooden breadboard. NEVER store bread in a refrigerator. It absorbs odours and the cold, dry air turns bread stale quickly.
Sourdough loaves take much longer to turn stale than ordinary bread. They also continue to improve in flavour. The larger the loaf, the longer it keeps. Our big miches will keep for a week. Large loaves for three to five days. Rolls for two days on so on.
Make your sourdough loaf last longer. There’s no need to cut thick doorsteps from good sourdough because it holds its shape when you slice it. Sharpen your bread knife and cut the loaf as thin as you can (4mm / one-fifth of an inch is perfect).
Yes, you can freeze our bread for up to three months. Place it in a freezer-proof bag. Remove as much air as possible before you seal it. The larger the piece of bread, the better. If you don't use a bag wrap it well. Two layers of clingfilm are a good idea. It keeps for months.
Baguettes are best eaten on the day they're bought. If that's not possible, here's what you do to restore a crispy crust:
Sourdough is tangy: a natural result of slow fermentation. Along with the distinctive taste of rye it enhances other flavours. Both breads are especially good with smoked or cured seafood, meats, and cheese (especially blue varieties). Use them alongside soups, casseroles and stews. Sourdough and rye breads also make delicious toast. The sharpness of berry jams, marmalades, and conserves complements these breads. Marmite too.
It kind of does what the name implies. You sell the hand-made bread you bake in your own kitchen. Preferably to customers who come to your own kitchen door. When it comes to food, it’s harder to get more local than that.
Sounds simple, eh? The reality is a little more complex. Home ovens are much trickier to bake bread with than their professional counterparts. Not a surprise really, because an oven built for bread baking will, naturally, bake bread very well. Also, the economies of scale you can achieve in even a small dedicated bakery make it much easier to turn a profit. But, if you don’t get too carried away with taking on too many orders, a kitchen door bakery can easily supply artisan bread for a farmers market stall, plus local customers.