Saturday, 7 November 2009

Bread Matters: The state of modern bread...

For the past several weeks, I’ve been reading (devouring rather) Bread Matters: The state of modern bread and a definitive guide to baking your own by Andrew Whitley.  This book had been on my reading list for several months so when the publisher contacted me to see if I would like to review it, I was delighted.

I definitely recommend this book to anyone who bakes their own bread, but also to those who don't bake their own bread yet because I believe it will open your eyes to some interesting insights about the bread industry as well as introduce you to some really great bread tips and techniques!

Would you like to win your own copy of Bread Matters?

The publisher provided an extra copy of the book to give to all the wonderful visitors to The Bread Experience blog and web site.  To enter the giveaway, all you need to do is click here and post a comment about why bread matters to you...

The deadline for entering the contest has been extended to Nov. 20th.  Anyone that entered the drawing  by submitting a bread recipe is already in the hat.  Thank you so much for your submission!

Or, you can always get a copy of the book by visiting our Bread Cookbooks store.

Now, on to the review...

The author, Andrew Whitley, is a professional organic baker who has been baking bread in his award-winning bakery in Cumbria, England, since 1976.  He founded Bread Matters, an organization devoted to improving the state of bread, in 2002.  He is also one of the founders of the Real Bread Campaign in Britain. Although this book was written about the state of the bread industry in the UK, it has been updated with references to the U.S and definitely addresses concerns we face here as well.

What initially caught my attention was the background information the author provides on the issues surrounding commercial bread production.  He provides a breakdown of the different enzymes used in breads and what they are used for. I found it very interesting and a bit disturbing that this information is not necessarily disclosed on all labels.  I have a friend who is a vegetarian so information on the types of enzymes that could potentially be in his bread is particularly important to him.  Even though I’m not a vegetarian, some of the information isn’t very appealing to me, either.  I prefer to know what’s in the food I eat.

I’m a big proponent of making my own bread.  In fact, I’m fascinated by the whole process – from the wheat seed planted in the ground to the flour used to make the bread I put on the table. I really like what Mr. Whitley has to say about quality, wholeness, and health. “When we choose a loaf of bread, we are not simply choosing a shape, a flavor, or even the method that was used to make it.  We can also choose how its basic ingredient is grown. We can opt for bread made with organic flour…Or we can choose flour from conventional wheat production…”   I already incorporate organic flours in my breads whenever possible and mill most of my own whole wheat flour, but this book has inspired me to do further research into the quality of flours and grains that I use. 

In addition to the information on flour, wheat production and the bread industry, I really enjoyed reading his comments regarding illogical instructions for bread-baking.  I’ve wondered about a lot of these instructions myself.  I had to chuckle when he talked about “making a well in the flour”.  I never have understood the purpose for that and as it turns out, there isn’t one – well, at least not a modern one.  This myth is probably from a time when bread was made in large quantities.  According to the book, “the bread consumption in a country clergyman’s family in the middle of the nineteenth century was about five pounds of bread per person a week – equivalent to not far short of a small loaf each per day, or more than three times what the average person consumes now.” Wow!  That’s a lot of bread!  A lot of wonderful, delicious bread! 

As you can tell, I enjoyed reading this book.  It has a wealth of information.  Not only does it provide interesting insights on what goes into breads, it also includes some wonderful recipes (more than 50) and great tips for simplifying the bread-making process. There are chapters on Starting from Scratch, Bread--A Meal in Itself, Easy as Pie, and chapters on gluten-free baking and how to use day-old bread.  You can bet that I’ll be baking breads from this book.

In fact, I already tried the Altamura bread.  It's a delicious, Semolina bread that utilizes a sponge of whole wheat, and all-purpose flour. Look for the post on making Altamura bread soon.

We would love to know your thoughts on why bread matters to you. Click here to leave a comment and enter the drawing or just feel free to leave a comment.

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