Editor's Letter: November 2018
What’s ahead for bread?
The future of bread seems to lie in the past: Consumers and bakers are now asking where their wheat is cultivated, how is it processed, what is added to the dough, and what methods are used to bake it. “Traditional baking” is the future of artisanal breads, and this issue looks at how chefs are following ancient recipes and using old fashioned wood fired ovens to satisfy our appetite for good quality, home made bread.
Four hundred years ago, we would wake up, stoke a fire, and begin to bake bread to start our day. Without insulation or a way to regulate the flames, house fires were frequent and many professional village bakers suffered from smoke inhalation due to constant proximity to their ovens.
Today, we wake up, and buy something in a store. Health concerns for us are high cholesterol, or obesity from too much processed food laden with sugar. For commercial bakers, the electric oven presents no threat with its even, steady temperature and built-in safety measures. Chef Thorsen Pannek wants the next generation of chefs to connect with the ancient ways of making bread. He teaches tomorrow’s chefs using yesterday’s tools: By bringing them to a working nineteenth century kitchen he shows them both the quirks and the benefits of a wood-fired oven.
There’s no comparison between a loaf cooked in an electric stove and bread that has a smoky, woody fragrance still clinging to its crust. Once the students have conquered their fear of playing with fire, they are hooked. From pizza, bagels and flatbreads to rounded loaves of sourdough, each slow-rising, full grain loaf is complemented by the smokey kiss of flames. Aside from chefs like Pannek, you’ll read about Greg Wade, Jeffrey Finklestein, Kevin Mathieson and Jan Campbell-Luxton, chefs who are all passionate about the quality of their bread. None of them are slaves to trends, but they adamant about using clean-label, all natural ingredients. These chefs are simply following recipes that are centuries old, but the current market for easy to read, simple ingredients seems like a current fad.
While the public is concerned about clean label, all-natural ingredients and high fibre products, artisanal baking did that all along. Sourdough is likely the most natural of loaves, with only three ingredients: Water, flour and naturally occurring, airborne yeast. You can’t get a cleaner label than that.
The public is starved for good quality bread. Mathieson and Finklestein are Canadian bakers who saw an opportunity to provide rich, healthy and flavourful bread to an eager public, and profited well from it. Wade learned quickly that providing wide array of bread is a mixed blessing: Though he knows how to make a dazzling variety of all-natural breads, he learned quickly that variety is not the answer. A smaller, more focused inventory was what made Publican Quality Breads’ name.
It’s hard for bakers to try to gauge what clients might want. Do they want to indulge or are they concerned with a more healthful option? Bakers can provide both, but it can take its toll on profits when food and efforts are wasted. The answer may lie in a bread that satisfies both health concerns and the indulgent mouthfeel of a crispy crust and a fluffy interior studded with grains or fruit. Today’s bread lover wants a sumptuous mouth-feel, a decadent treat -- but one that’s ethically sourced, plant based and/or healthy.
We’re finding tomorrow’s trends in ancient diets. Whether it’s healthy, tasty or a rare combination of the two, we’ll gladly break bread with our friends and neighbours.
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