Is there a food more versatile or comforting than bread? The equally humble and reliable potato would definitely give it a run for its money but bread still comes out top. Now that I come to think of it, I think I eat bread in some form, most days. For a quick weekday breakfast it’ll be toasted with a slather of butter and Kiwi marmite, while in the weekends it’ll be a bit more English with some eggs, beans and bacon.
It often makes an appearance at lunch; right from the early days my mother used to pack me the best rolls or sandwiches that my friends would be envious of, and even now I’m partial to a filled bagel or simple ham and cheese toastie. At dinner time it usually isn’t the star of the show but the trusty sidekick who turns that soup from a snack to a meal, or gives you something to mop up the rest of that sauce. I’m hungry already and I haven’t even got to how it appeals to my sweet tooth… pastries, fruit loaves, bread and butter pudding?!
But bread has been getting some bad publicity in recent years. It used to be all about the dangers of carbs but now it’s the evils of gluten. Unfortunately for many people out there the suffering is very real, but dare I say for some going gluten-free is just another fad diet to try out. If you’re in that camp, that’s fine as long as you know why you’re doing it and don’t spread untruths about my beloved baked baby.
People say true love doesn’t judge but I think we can all agree that not all breads are baked equal. If you are like me, you grew up being told that brown bread was better than white, and crusts are good for you. Later on I discovered those fancy-pants artisan breads do taste far superior than the cheaper, perfectly sliced sandwich loaves and also had an inkling they might even be better for you; my visit to the Bake with Maria Baking Lab confirmed this.
By the end of that wet Thursday evening, I added a few more kernels of knowledge to my belt, so let me share…
You Only Need a Handful of Ingredients to Make Bread
But if you take a a good hard look at what’s on your supermarket shelf you’ll notice they have about twenty ingredients. These bulk baked breads generally have extra, usually unpronounceable, probably unnatural, bits and pieces added to make it feel softer than it is, last longer than it should, or just look the uniform part. So what’s more evil, these added extras or good old gluten?
You Can Make Bread without All that Kneading
Whatever your technique- pulling, stretching, folding, general thrashing around, the kneading process is quite a work out and let’s not lie, sometimes you just can’t be bothered. Well there are some breads that don’t need any of that. In a matter of minutes (mine were a few minutes more as I’m terrible at weighing things out) we put together dough for a batch of rye rolls- everything straight in the bowl, a quick mix then into the fridge overnight for the magic to happen. Things were just as easy the next morning; I scooped them onto a tray and baked for 25 minutes. Then voila, freshly baked bread, all before setting off to work!
But fear not those of you who need to knead, a crowd pleasing baguette still requires a bit of elbow grease. Luckily for us, Maria and Emmanuel had already put in the hard work and we got to do the fun part- a bit of folding, shaping, and slashing before the baking and tasting!
Gluten Tastes Like Pork Scratchings
I can tell you’re skeptical so let me explain- bread making is a bit of a science so it was fitting we conduct a little experiment to look at the levels of gluten in different types of flour. We kneaded doughs of plain white and emmer flours until they came together in a smooth ball then washed them. No, that was not a typo, we smushed and squished the dough in water until all that was left was a little clump of gluten. That was left to rest for a while then popped in the oven; what came out resembled a giant Yorkshire pudding and, I kid you not, tasted like pork scratchings. It is just a protein after all.
There Are More Than Five Types of Flour
Ok maybe you knew this but I’d struggle to name any more after the usual suspects of plain, self-raising, wholemeal, rye and spelt. However someone like Tom Russell from Shipton Mill can no doubt rattle off twenty without hesitation, that’s around how many they produce at the mill. But Tom’s knowledge doesn’t stop there; he told us about types of grains and wheat, milling processes, differences between grains grown in different regions, how flours are labelled in other countries… you get the idea, the man is a flour encyclopaedia.
And finally, did you know you that you can bake with Maria, Emmanuel and the rest of the team too?
These guys really know their stuff but the best part is how passionate they are about the art of baking- it’s actually infectious. Their skills aren’t just limited to bread either so if you’ve already mastered the loaf, maybe try out their cake and pastry classes- I’ve got my eye on the Americana Baking class!
Our evening was everything I’d expect from a cooking class- I learnt something (in this case, lots of things), had a lot of fun doing it, and I’m now inspired to bake more at home!
You can find the Baking Lab on the 2nd Floor 81 Loundoun Road, NW8 0DQ
London, phone: 0207 998 1634, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I got gluten-savvy as a guest of Bake with Maria but as always, all opinions are my own.