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Why bread is making a comeback: the rise of the artisan loaf (and it can even be gluten-free)
January 12, 2015 | By:
With gluten-free flour now as widely available as multigrain and wholemeal, home breadmaking is on the rise. In 2015, it could change your mind about hating carbs. By Elaine Lemm
Breadmaking Wholegrain bread 620 Photo from Corbis

Gluten-free breads and home baking are big trends for 2015. Photo from Corbis

The British sliced white loaf appeared on shelves in June 1961 and totally changed our approach to bread. The Chorleywood Bread Process (as the technique is called) produced a uniform, cheap, 40 per cent softer and double-shelf-life loaf.

Today this process accounts for 80 per cent of British bread. Using the Chorleywood method, British bread quickly became industrialised and was soon the cheapest in the world.

This had a devastating effect on small bakeries, who despised the new-fangled Wonderloaf because it wasn’t ‘real bread.’  Unfortunately, we had already fallen in love with the convenience of the sliced white and thousands of bakeries went out of business. Then we got fat. And we got bloated.

Thankfully, there has now been a backlash against the emulsifiers, enzymes and other chemicals used in modern baking that has resulted in a revival of the artisan baker. And, just like baking, home breadmaking is also on the rise.

But why, when it is now so easy to buy a good loaf of bread, would people go to the trouble of making their own?

Making your own bread

As an avid breadmaker, I can tell you why: simply for the pleasure of it. Little is required save flour, water, leavening, perhaps a few other bits and bobs depending on the recipe, and some time.

A vigorous massaging of the dough relieves pent-up stress and – ditch the air fresheners – as estate agents know, we so love the scent of baking bread that it can help sell a house. Then there is the sheer delight in eating a warm, freshly baked loaf slathered with salty butter or a drizzle of good olive oil. Wonderful.

Be warned, though: breadmaking is an addictive process and, once started, is hard to give up.

One day it means a simple wholemeal loaf, but before you know it, it means salt-crusted, pillow-soft focaccias, multigrains and an obsessive interest in spelt, chestnut and other fancy flours.

These flour variations, however, have also meant that the yoyo dieters and intermittent gluten haters, can now once again enjoy a tasty loaf. With multigrains and gluten-free flour available, healthy home-made bread is on the up.

Are breadmakers any good? 

What of breadmaking and machines you may ask? For me, the contentment of breadmaking comes from the hands-on, primeval process of stirring, mixing and kneading. But when pushed for time, I will use my stand mixer and dough hook.

I was given an automatic breadmaker years ago and, though the resulting square loaf was more than adequate in texture and taste, it just didn’t cut it for me.

(Frankly, I have no idea what became of the machine.) I have friends, however, who swear by them, which is great.

Tips for better baking at home

  • Use flours labelled as ‘strong’, which contain extra gluten, the protein that makes dough elastic. With ordinary plain flours, your bread will not rise well.
  • Allow plenty of time for the rising (proving) of the dough. Choose a coolish, draught-free place and do not try to force the rise with heat.  The longer and slower the rise, the better the resulting crumb of the bread. Overnight in the fridge works very well.
  • Fresh yeast gives a good flavour to bread but is harder to find than packaged yeast. As it freezes well, buy a large quantity when you can find it.
  • If you need to substitute dried yeast for fresh, use half the quantity specified for fresh.
  • For a really good crust, place a roasting tray with a good handful of ice cubes in the bottom of the oven five minutes before baking the bread to create steam.
  • A highly recommended book on breadmaking is 100 Great Breads by Great British Bake Off judge Paul Hollywood.