I’m excited that real, artisan, hand-crafted, organic bread is now available Fridays at South End Market, just up from the library in Bradford, where Calista is carrying Red Hen Bakery products, but you have to pre-order. Red Hen breads come in paper, not plastic, bags, are crusty on the outside with a wonderful yeasty flavored crumb inside. Different products have different crusts and crumbs, but every one I’ve tasted has been delicious. On bread day, the seeded baguette I get on my way home is half devoured when I arrive.
During my youth in the 1950s and 1960s in Bradford, Mom made traditional white loaf bread often, but Wonder Bread or its equivalent was available in the stores, so it was in the pantry in the bread box, You know, it’s still around, with it homogeneous cake like interior inside a non-existent “crust.” Spread it with peanut butter and marshmellow fluff for the quintessential “Fluffer-nutter,” but pardon me, the bread is insipid.
Industrial America has figured out how to make a bread that had little human interaction with the product once the basic ingredients are mixed together. It produces bread in a few hours from start to finish, whereas flavor and texture can only be developed over time. It is not just in America that bread experienced a significant decline during this time, and many of those signature products of that earlier time persist even today. In Europe, commercial bakeries’ cheap products bankrupted traditional shops, and inferior bread became prevalent for many years, with, of course, some vestiges of the past preserved in certain enclaves.
Fortunately, in the 1980s and ever since, the rise of traditional approaches to baking breads has been revived. The methods of mixing the ingredients, manipulating the dough whether by kneading or turning, fermenting the dough, retarding the dough, shaping the dough, proofing the breads and baking them have been developed to maximize taste, aroma, structure of the crumb, texture and flavor. These methods take time and some labor, but the resulting products are so much more than industrial breads that there is no comparison. They have body, heft and a satisfying goodness that nourishes more than the body alone.
Now big bread companies have figured out how to make an artisan-like product by following similar production techniques and par-baking their breads before freezing them. These breads can now be finished in a hot oven at the store for sale as baked on the premises breads, and some of them aren’t all that bad.
There are many books on breads out there, but I will mention here some of my favorites. The Bread Builders by Dan Wing, from Corinth, and Alan Scott tells not only the science of bread making, but also how to build your own wood fired bread oven. The Taste of Bread by Raymond Calvel is an English translation from the original French and is one of the definitive texts on bread. If you want to learn about real bread, read this book. Yeast, water, flour, salt. Perhaps the American version of Calvel’s classic is Bread by Jeffrey Hamelman of King Arthur in Norwich. Also worth noting are both of Dan Leader’s books, Bread Alone and Local Breads, his latest offering, as well as Joe Oertiz’s The Village Baker, and Maggie Glezer’s Artisan Baking Across America.