We make our own bread here. Rob has spent many hours nurturing his sourdough mother, coaxing her gently with songs from ancient kitchens from the days of yore, and she has rewarded him with gorgeous, bouncy bread with huge flavour and a lovely crust, as Mary Berry would say. We also buy in delicious organic breads for sandwiches from Hobbs House bakery as they are more consistent in their shapes and sizes, Mother Dough being a little erratic in her design skills.
Bread is a staple here in the UK, and in most of the world in various forms. It’s a wonderful thing in it’s own right but is also often simply a vehicle for other foods (butter mostly, in my case). From flatbreads to bridge rolls, focaccia or doorstep sourdough, what better than bread for dipping into thick, winter warmer soup just long enough for the butter to begin melting…
Given that it's called the stuff of life it's hard when you discover you can't tolerate it, for whatever reason though mostly it’s due to the gluten it contains. Some people see gluten allergies and intolerance as fad, a lifestyle choice and irritation to businesses like ours. Just to be clear, that is not how we see it.
The argument goes that we have eaten bread for millennia, so why the problems now? I think that is exactly the problem, or at least a big part of it. As a nation we eat too much bread, and the bread we eat is the wrong sort of bread.
Modern bread is made from modern wheat that is grown using pesticides, glysophates (think what Roundup can do to your weeds and think about that inside you), in great quantities, especially just before harvesting to hasten the dying or, as we think of it, the ripening process. The wheat is then made into highly processed flour, cleansed of all it’s nutritional values, only to have them replaced with artificial additives. The pesticides remain throughout and gets eaten with the bread, and in whatever minimal quantities it’s still poison. Bread from 1000 years ago, or even a 100 years ago, bears little relation to the stuff you see on the supermarket shelves now. To avoid these toxins in your bread buy organic, or buy organic flour and make your own (see below for how).
That however doesn’t solve the gluten issue. I don’t have the answer but here in the cafe we do try to serve a good choice of gluten free dishes, but really good gluten free bread is the one thing that continues to elude us. Rice cakes don’t really cut it with soup, or oat cakes, nice as they are.
We will continue to experiment and hopefully come up with a perfect loaf one day soon! If you have a good recipe you think we could try then ping it over please!. A mild intolerance can sometimes cope with eating organic, homemade bread, or a really good sourdough. But other than that avoidance really is the key.
Simple Bread Recipe
(taken from the Folk House Cafe Recipe book)
1 kg strong white or wholemeal flour
2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp dried yeast
about 600ml + hand hot water
2 tblsp olive oil (optional)
Combine all dry ingredients in a big bowl. Mix in water and knead into a rough, wet dough. Add the oil and mix well. Make sure you have added enough water for the dough to be quite sticky.
Flour a clean work surface and tip the dough out. Knead it well for 5-10 minutes, depending how cross you are (it’s good therapy), adding more flour as you go to stop it sticking to the surface and your hands (It will inevitably stick to your hands a bit though, so learn to love it).
When the dough is completely blended and you can handle it in one lump, either transfer it into an oiled and floured bread tin (about 24x12cm), or 2 smaller ones. Push the dough down into the tin/s and dust with flour.
Another option is to make rolls by cutting the dough up (it’s easy to slice through with a sharp knife) into equal size balls, bearing in mind it will double in size after proving and baking. Take each ball and smooth the top over with your thumbs, while tucking the raggedy side bits underneath to create a smooth finish on the top. You can glaze these with an egg wash if you want for a lovely shiny shell, or damp them down and add some seeds of your choice, or just dust with flour as with the loaves, placing on an oiled and floured baking tray.
Leave the dough to prove in a warm place for about half an hour, during which time it will double in size. It needs to be covered by a damp, clean cloth to avoid a hard skin forming on the exposed surface.
Bake in the pre heated oven for about 25-40 minutes, depending which size tin or shape you have chosen. When ready the bread should sound hollow when tapped and be golden brown. Turn out onto a cooling rack and try not to break some off, cover it with butter and scoff it while still so hot it burns your mouth.
Bristol Life magazine did a lovely piece on the opening of the Better Food Company's third shop, in Wapping Wharf. Phil, who owns BFC, is my brother, as is Barny who is the founder of The Square Food Foundation, cookery school and community kitchen, so all three of us are involved in food one way or another in Bristol. The other seven siblings have proper jobs.