This month sees the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Chorleywood baking process. I say celebrations, but you may well feel that commemorating the invention of pre-packaged, long-life, tasteless white sliced bread is not necessarily a reason to start popping champagne corks. Whatever your point of view, back in 1961 a revolution in bread making occurred and Britain led the way in replacing wholesome, nutritious, hand-baked bread with limp white sliced loaves tasting like cotton wool.
The Chorleywood baking process is named after the town in Hertfordshire where scientists at the British Baking Industries Research Association devised a means of turning cheap low-grade flour into mass-produced bread. The means, of course, were a highly mechanized mixing process and a cocktail of additives. Traditionally, a loaf of bread takes up to 20 minutes to knead—the Chorleywood chaps reduced this to 3 by radically speeding up the mixing process. Proper bread, though, needs proper flour and the inferior variety used in sliced white has to be enhanced with salt, sugar, fats, flour improvers, emulsifiers and enzymes.
In India, the Chorleywood process is responsible for the ubiquitous Britannia loaf and a billion bread pakoras. In fact, it accounts for 80% of the bread produced in India and the UK. But if a mouthful of cotton wool “enhanced” with sugar, salt and chemicals isn’t to your taste, and you’re crying out for a pukka loaf, then you’re in tune with a new generation of food revivalists urging a return to real bread making.
As there are few artisan bread makers in India, making it at home is the only option. Turning out a loaf at home couldn’t be easier, especially at this monsoon time of year when kitchens are hot and humid—ideal conditions for encouraging yeast to work. This recipe, as well as being a great way of using the whey left over from paneer making, uses a method introduced to me by British baker extraordinaire, Dan Lepard. Incidentally, if you’re at all interested in starting to bake bread at home, Lepard’s book The Handmade Loaf is the only one you’ll ever need. Follow him on Twitter too for daily dough-y wisdom.
You will need to buy some imported fast-action yeast but it’s well worth the investment. On the upside, there’s no need for expensive “Bread Flour”, the home-grown maida makes a loaf far, far superior to anything you could buy in a packet. Lepard also introduced me to a new way of kneading: Instead of the traditional long knead and long rest, the kneading and resting is broken up into short bursts over a few hours. Having tried both methods, I can confirm that Lepard’s produces a much better loaf. Try it—you’ll never look at Britannia again.
Makes 1 large loaf
125ml cold cream (malai)
11/2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
1 sachet (7g) fast-action yeast
550g plain flour (maida) A few drops of sunflower oil
Heat the whey until hand-hot (not boiling), then pour into a large bowl with the malai. Add the sugar, salt and yeast. Whisk gently to mix, then add the flour. With your hands mix quickly until you have a soft, ragged, slightly sticky mass—no need to knead at this point—then cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, smear a few drops of oil on a clean work surface. Tip the dough out and knead for 10 seconds. Put the dough back in a clean bowl and leave for 10 minutes. You will notice that the dough has already changed structure—the yeast has already started to work on the flour, making it springier and more elastic. Again, knead for 10 seconds and leave for 10 minutes. Give the dough a final knead, it will now be quite soft and pillowy. This time leave the dough, covered, to rise for 1 hour, until it has doubled in size. Lightly oil the inside of a loaf tin. If you don’t have a loaf tin, you could make a free-form loaf on a baking tray.
Tip the bread dough on to the work surface and pat it into a shape that fits in the tin or an oval shape if you’re going free-form. Put the bread into the tin and leave to rise again for about 1 hour. Heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius and bake the loaf for about 45 minutes. If you like a crustier loaf, take the bread out of the tin and bake for a further 5-10 minutes.
Pamela Timms is a Delhi-based journalist and food writer. She blogs at http://eatanddust.wordpress.com
Write to Pamela at firstname.lastname@example.org