Michael Goetze, the German-born baker and founder of the All Natural Bakery in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, is not a fan of British bread.
‘Fluffy, slightly sweet and packed in plastic bags – uugghh!’ he says. ‘It’s like children’s food: no flavour, easy to swallow and easy to chew – you barely need teeth to eat it.’
Moving to England 10 years ago, he missed his native crusty rye loaf so much he started to bake his own. A former horticulturalist, he had no plans to bake for a living until he bought a mobile wood-fired oven and began to serve hot fresh bread at local farmers’ markets. His bread proved so popular he began to supply shops in Cambridge, baking at home with the oven mounted on the trailer in his garden. Now he has his own bakery and employs three bakers, a part-time bookkeeper and two drivers. They make around 1000 loaves a day, supplying 50 wholefood shops in East Anglia and about 50 in London, and all the recipes are Michael’s own.
‘I follow certain basic principles but I do it to the way I like, ignoring the rules about how you should make bread. After all, it might even turn out to be a little bit better than before,’ he says. ‘The key is to be different, to be more adventurous.’
In order to learn various methods, he’s read English, French and German books on the history of breadmaking and has tried out many bread recipes. Wherever possible he uses organic ingredients. Wheat flour is stone-ground at the Letheringsett Watermill, the only working watermill left in Norfolk . ‘It would be cheaper to use normal flour but their flour is just unbeatable, and I like the people who run it,’ Michael says. He also makes bread from spelt, rye and kamut flour, ‘older types of grain that are better for you.’
Bread is made in the traditional way with no artificial emulsifiers, preservatives or enzymes. ‘I don’t use any of these so called bread “improvers”,’ Michael says. ‘We mix the doughs at a low speed and allow them to rise slowly so they can develop maximum flavour. Apart from mixing, it’s all done by hand.’
All his bread is sourdough bread made with his own sourdough ‘starter’ (flour and water fermented in a warm place over a period of seven to 10 days, the sourdough culture that forms contains lactobacillus, acidophilus and a range of wild yeasts). The advantage of sourdough is that the bread is easier to digest. The lactobacillus is important for proper digestion of complex carbohydrates and the slow fermentation allows the grains to be ‘pre-digested’, allowing nutrients to be absorbed and metabolized more easily.
A few varieties contain a slow acting, artisan baker’s yeast but most are yeast free. And because he doesn’t add milk or whey powder, his bread is vegan too. ‘There is something for everyone,’ he says – everything from Suffolk cob (a white, light sourdough) and dark ‘100 per cent rye’ to speciality breads topped with olive oil and rosemary or Godminster cheddar. Making sourdough loaves can take up to 16 hours. Compare this to a standard modern yeasted loaf, made in just three. Michael’s is a breadmaking process that certainly goes against the mainstream grain.
‘What I do is a bit old fashioned and romantic,’ he says. ‘Its long fermentation is a bit backward looking. You could say I make “slow bread”.’ Okay, so an artisan baker may not be in a position to churn out thousands of loaves an hour like a modern industrial plant bakery, but imagine a new wave of small bakeries in villages, towns and cities, providing good, fresh bread on a wide scale...
In an age when our breads are some of the most processed products in the food industry, Michael and others like him are revivers and preservers of tradition, saviours of the modern loaf. His have taste, bite and nutrients that are the result of quality ingredients and a skilled baker. Surely the best thing since unsliced bread?
For more information, see www.allnaturalbakery.co.uk
A good loaf is hard to find. . .
The rise of ‘fast bread’
Making bread used to be an art mastered by the local baker, a skilled and patient process of mixing water, flour, yeast and salt; kneading the dough, letting it rise; shaping it, letting it rise and then baking it. These days, however, only two per cent of the bread sold in the UK is made by small craft bakeries; 81 per cent is made by 11 large plant bakeries and supermarket in-store bakeries make the remaining 17 per cent.
The age-old method of bread-making has largely been abandoned in favour of the industrial, high speed Chorleywood Process. The dough is made in three minutes using intense, high-speed mixing; basic ingredients can be transformed into a sliced loaf in less than three hours. To keep it speedy, as much as three times the amount of yeast you’d find in craft bread is used. Extra ingredients are added: enzymes to help it rise and soften; wheat protein (gluten), emulsifiers and preservatives. There may also be soya to whiten, sugar to sweeten and milk (or whey powder) to soften. The industrial loaf will, by law, be ‘fortified’ with artificial vitamins and minerals to make up for the nutrients that are lost in the modern wheat-growing and milling process.
How bread lost its goodness
Grown in a fertile, well-nourished soil, wholegrain wheat is rich in vitamins and minerals. But from seed to harvest, non-organic wheat crops may be sprayed up to eight times with pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. They’re also sprayed with Chloremquat, a plant growth hormone that strengthens the wheat straws weakened by nitrogen fertilizer. Wheat is treated with a variety of pesticides in the grain store, too. According to research published in 2005 by the UK’s Pesticide Residues Committee (PRC), 53 out of the 72 ‘ordinary’ breads tested were found to be contaminated with residues.
Most commercial flour is roller-milled through steel hammer heads, a process which destroys up to 80 per cent of the nutrients in the grain. The bran and wheat germ are lost, along with many of the vitamins (especially vitamin B), minerals and essential fatty acids. By law, the miller must add back various synthetic vitamins and minerals, some of which may even be harmful. There is evidence, for instance, that excess iron from fortified flour can cause tissue damage.
Stoneground flour (a traditional method in which the grains are rubbed between two stones) or flour milled with slow-speed steel hammer mills retain the minerals, vitamins and essential fats that are lost in other methods of flour production
Where else to buy good bread:
Artisan bread www.artisanbread.ltd.uk
Celtic Bakers www.thecelticbakers.co.uk
The Authentic Bread Company www.authenticbread.co.uk
The Village Bakery www.village-bakery.com
Flour Power City Bakery www.flourpowercity.com
Hobbs House Bakery www.hobbshousebakery.co.uk
This article first appeared in the Ecologist March 2008