Real Bread Matters

Bread Matters01Yes, this is a post about bread and why it matters.

Bread like this Moss Lake Sourdough from Baltic Bakehouse in Liverpool.

Bread like this Moss Lake Sourdough from Baltic Bakehouse in Liverpool. We’ll be hearing more about them later.

But first a bit of background about bread and me. You’d kind of expect that wouldn’t you, being my blog and all?

Come late summertime four years ago I was almost completely knackered. Three years of being Sarah’s principal carer as we both worried ourselves through the landscape of breast cancer, together with continuing to run our business on my own, had nearly wiped me out.

I badly needed a complete break. So with Sarah through the toughest of her treatments I took two months off working. And for the first week I went away.

Deep into Wales, into Powys.

Deep into Wales, into Powys.

I stayed here, at Primrose Farm.

I stayed here, at Primrose Farm.

It's a working organic farm.

It’s a working organic farm.

Intensively cultivating year round vegetables and fruit, for the people of Powys and the restaurants of the Wye Valley.

Intensively cultivating year round vegetables and fruit, for the people of Powys and the restaurants of the Wye Valley.

They do B+B as well and also agreed to do me an evening meal every day. So I had nothing to do except roam the hills and villages, read, reflect and sleep. No responsibilities whatsoever. It was exactly what I needed, a retreat for one.

No one else was there that week. So I had my own kitchen, where the food would just turn up each day.

No one else was there that week. So I had my own kitchen, where the food would just turn up each day.

And my own private yard to sit in and read and write.

And my own private yard to sit in and read and write.

Around me there was a working farm going on and I, gloriously, did no work at all. But I did start to learn how to bake bread.

I’d noticed they had a wood fired oven out in the yard. So one day Tom, who was working at the farm that summer, showed me the basics, and helped me produce something that was at least edible out of their miraculously hot oven.

When the week was over it was too soon. But I treasure its memory.

When the week was over it was too soon. But I treasure its memory.

Later on in that summer’s break I decided to do some more about bread making. It felt elemental. Like a core part of helping Sarah and me to recover from the years of illness and worry would be to bake our own fresh and wholesome bread.

So I went to Scotland, to a place called Bread Matters.

I’m the kind of person who can only learn physical things from a teacher who’s right there by my side. I’d already read most of Andrew Whitley’s book ‘Bread Matters’ but I knew that the only way I was ever going to really learn what he was teaching was to go and work with him in his kitchen.

Learning to bake bread with Andrew Whitley.

Learning to bake bread with Andrew Whitley.

Andrew had been a BBC Foreign Correspondent who’d got interested in bread while reporting from Russia in the 1970s. He’d noticed how much tastier their breads were than the white pap he’d been eating in England for the previous decade. So he came home and formed the Village Bakery in Melmerby and started making what he calls ‘real bread’.

I could write a book on what he means by this, but fortunately I don’t have to as he already has. In short, most British bread is created by an industrial process called the Chorleywood method. A method the bread industry created and adopted in the 1960s which produces white, light and fluffy loaves, with very short rising times and long shelf lives due to the preservatives added along the way. Much of the wheatgerm is removed from the bread in the process, as, in my opinion, is the taste.

Industrial bread making. The Chorleywood method in operation recently and not too far away.

Industrial bread making. The Chorleywood method in operation recently and not too far away.

So ‘real bread’ dispenses with all of this, leaves all the natural ingredients in and allows the dough to ferment in its natural time – sometimes longer than 24 hours. Permitting all kinds of natural and nutritionally beneficial chemical processes to happen and creating loaves with a texture and taste that the bread industry had tried to make us forget about.

Loaves made by me, with sourdough.

Loaves made by me.

On the course at Bread Matters I particularly enjoyed learning about working with sourdough. A way of using a mixture of flour and water that you ferment continuously and use instead of yeast as the raising agent in breads. Again, a slow method of making bread that worked particularly well for Sarah, who for years had been made very uncomfortable by gluten in her diet. I made mostly rye bread, low in gluten anyway. And using sourdough produced loves which we both enjoyed and I enjoyed making.

As you can see.

As you can see.

Still, I never got to be more than a novice bread maker and – poor worker blaming his tools though I may be – the culprit is behind me there in the picture. Our particular domestic oven doesn’t produce the consistent heat levels it says it does. I know this because Andrew had recommended I get an oven thermometer to see when it was ready to put the bread in.

So results were patchy and, frankly, disheartening. And though I’m not saying I’ll never bake again it’s not going to be in that oven.

So have we gone back to eating industrial pap? No we have not. Because now we eat the best breads either of us have ever tasted. Baked locally here in Liverpool, and bought even more locally from just down the road.

Introducing Baltic Bakehouse, Bridgewater Street, Liverpool.

Introducing Baltic Bakehouse, Bridgewater Street, Liverpool.

In the Baltic Triangle, in amongst all the old shipping warehouses.

In the Baltic Triangle, in amongst all the old shipping warehouses.

The Bakery and Café.

The Bakery and Café.

Opened in March 2013 I'd come in and buy bread if I was passing.

Opened in March 2013, I’d come in and buy bread if I was passing.

Perhaps sitting down for a cup of tea and a slice of their egg custard while I was there. It's a gently peaceful place.

Perhaps sitting down for a cup of tea and a slice of their egg custard while I was there. It’s a gently peaceful place.

But the problem was that matter of ‘if I was passing’. Bread is a daily essential and I believe you need to be able to walk to wherever you get it (Much like in medieval times you’d go round to the local Bakehouse, somewhere with a better bread oven that you’ve got).

So though I walked down to the Bakery to take these pictures, it’s about three miles from where we live and therefore not something I would be doing several times a week. (This is also why Homebaked in Anfield, much as I love them and publicise what they do, could only be a regular supplier to us if we lived in Anfield.)

It was therefore a delight this past April when a Baltic Bakehouse opened on Allerton Road near to us. Something I celebrated briefly in ‘Books and Bread‘.

The Allerton Road shop.

The Allerton Road shop.

Ignore those opening times from back then.

This is when they're open now.

This is when they’re open now.

It's not a bakery and not a café, just a shop.

It’s not a bakery and not a café, just a shop.

And this is who will serve you, often as not.

And this is who will serve you, often as not.

Brenda Henley is the mother of the brother and sister team who run Baltic Bakehouse.

“When they were growing up I rarely had time to bake. And anyway we’d get wonderful bread from Chalkin’s on Church Road, just at the top of Penny Lane. And I’d never have guessed it then but all that time Chalkin’s was inspiring them to want to set up their own bakery one day. And after much learning, experimentation, gathering of tools and resources and no help at all from sceptical banks, in March last year they did it. Started Baltic Bakehouse.”

Baltic Wild Sourdough.

Baltic Wild Sourdough.

Moss Lake.

Moss Lake.

All the sourdoughs.

All the sourdoughs.

And yes, they might seem expensive compared to say a Wonderloaf. But now you know about the time and the methods and the ingredients and what’s not added, I hope you can see you’re not comparing like with like.

They do make real traditional yeasted loaves too – not Chorleywood of course.

'Best white' - named in tribute to Chalkin's.

‘Best’ – named in tribute to Chalkin’s.

The rest of the bread range.

The rest of the bread range.

“We don’t bake all of the breads every day, there’s a schedule of what gets baked when on the website.

But one thing we do know is that Mr Fletcher, the last of the bakers at Chalkin’s before it closed down, eats bread from here. He’s retired now, with an allotment. And one of his allotment mates comes in here on his way there and gets his bread from us. So we know Mr Fletcher eats some of our bread even if he’s not aware of it. And we’re very happy about that.”

Chalkin's as was, a wine bar now.

Chalkin’s as was, a wine bar now.

"And there's always a daily bun.'

“And there’s always a daily bun.’

“This too is a piece of continuity with Chalkin’s as we always loved their Chelsea buns.”

The Chelsea Buns.

The Chelsea Buns.

And the rest of the buns.

And the rest of the buns.

And I suspect this all reads like an advert, especially the later part of this post. Be assured it is not. I gladly pay for everything I get from Baltic Bakehouse because I value it so highly. And I’m writing about them (Just like my Homebaked and Granby friends) because I want everyone to be able to celebrate what they do. Baltic Bakehouse, a Liverpool treasure.

So then I walked home with my bread and made my lunch.

Omelette and bread.

Omelette and bread.

See, at least I still cook my own omelettes!

Credits and links:
Primrose Farm, organic farm and retreats
Bread Matters, books and courses
Baltic Bakehouse, Bridgwater Street, Allerton Road, Lark Lane Farmer’s Market and Bakehouse Kitchen at Fly in the Loaf.

Just to repeat, all retreats, books, courses, bread and even Chelsea Buns paid for!

 

14 thoughts on “Real Bread Matters

  1. Cathy Alderson

    Wonderful illustration of how important our daily bread really is.
    I’m part of HomeBaked Anfield and we’ll be at the Four Streets Market in Toxteth on Saturday 6th September, so come on down and get your “fix” a bit closer to home!

    Reply
  2. Helen Devries

    The Chorleywood process seems to me to be a way of incorporating as much water into the mix as possible…horrible stuff.
    I make my own bread…but getting hard flour is a problem….

    Reply
  3. studiotower

    Mitch in Indiana….Over here there’s many regional bakeries that produce, as I’ve just learned, Chorleywood type of loaves. Yes they’re inexpensive compared to real bread. But isn’t that a mis-conception? The stuff is not enjoyable and even after the loaves being able to survive a nuclear attack the bread isn’t worth eating after 2 days. We started baking bread here about 10 years ago and it is indeed much better. We do use a bread machine.

    PS. My wife has Multiple Sclerosis. I’m only mentioning this as I understand the strength it takes to care for your spouse.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Glad to hear you’re making your own Indiana bread Mitch.

      Thanks for noticing a fellow carer and sorry to hear about your wife’s Multiple Sclerosis. A good friend of mine has had it for many years, so I know a little of how it must be for you both.

      Reply
  4. dragonsnapper13

    Ah bread, now that is wonderful. I now have returned to live in Snowdonia and it seems that all our little village bakeries have disappeared, I lived on a small farm in Rhyd Ddu as a child in the 50’s and my grandmother would bake bread every day, we had a huge range with two ovens and loaves would seem to appear as if by magic, they always had a burnt crust and I would have the top with home made butter, or when we bought bread Morris the baker would deliver to the village in his Morris minor van, I moved to Liverpool when I was 11 and there were some great bakeries there too, I lived a stones throw from Penny Lane and my mother bought bread every day, not quite as good as my ‘nain’s’ but good all the same,it is great to see the tradition of proper bread making returning to the Baltic Quarter long may it continue, I will be making sure its on my list to visit next time I’m in town. Great article and now I’m hankering for a thick crust with home made jam.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      I’m guessing your mother will have bought your bread from Chalkin’s then, the inspiration for the Baltic Bakehouse.

      Love the idea of Morris the baker turning up in his Morris van by the way. Good to hear from you.

      Reply
      1. dragonsnapper13

        Thanks Ronnie, Yes my Mum went to Chalkin’s.
        Morrris the baker had a small bakery at Waunfawr, where I now live, it is only in the last 5 years or so that the old place was demolished, he used to have all his loaves on wooden slats in the Morris van and the whole of the back was full of crumbs and had the most wonderful smell.
        I really love the blog, some great memories of my life in Liverpool from the 60’s -80’s keep up the good work, let me know if you are over in north Wales.

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