30 Mar 11 The con of supermarket bread and the trend to artisanal
While it’s not going to do much to dent industrial bread production volumes, there’s rising (sorry) global interest in artisanal bread that’s genuinely made from scratch in-store by a resident baker.
There is something reassuring in the thought that while we sleep through the early hours of the day, bread is being made. Cushions of dough slowly rising in their tins, radiating the most heavenly smells as they bake – the charms of this nocturnal craft have always been held very dear.
Well wakey, wakey to the reality. That crusty loaf on sale at opening time in your local supermarket may not have been kneaded, shaped and proved by a real baker, but brought in deep-frozen from a plant hundreds of miles away, defrosted and “baked-off” by staff who only need to know how to throw a switch. As well as this, the vast majority of our loaves are made from imported flour – with grains being bought from locations as diverse as Russia, Canada and France. One thing you can be sure of is that very little of the wheat used in supermarket bread will be British.
Modern baking has all the romance of a North Korean multiple wedding. It seems that the stuff of life itself has entered the crazy world of cryonics. Part-baked dough is suspended at -19C for up to a year before being given a blast in an oven to crisp it up. It puts into question the whole commonly made claim of “freshly baked bread”, yet those seemingly informative labels on the wrapper reveal nothing of this time in the deep freeze. Like a desperate, ageing starlet, supermarket bread lies about its real age.
But not for much longer; European law is to change, and retailers will be soon forced to reveal all foods that have been previously frozen.
Needless to say, the stores are not happy with this and are campaigning hard to keep things as they are. Little wonder. The “thaw and serve” or “bake-off” industry – which encompasses all sorts of bakery goods from baguettes and ciabatta to muffins and doughnuts – allows convenience food to steal the clothes of the artisan and play on shoppers’ senses. We’ve all greedily sniffed the warm, toasty air as we’ve entered the supermarket, which pumps out wafts from the “in-store bakery”, letting us imagine that the breads and rolls are lovingly hand-made on site.
Real bakers regard this trick as an insult to their art. Gill Brooks, chief executive of the National Association of Master Bakers and the wife of a Lancashire baker who leaves home for work each morning at 2am to bake through the night, says supermarkets have misleadingly redefined what “fresh” means. “Under the rules of our organisation, fresh bread is made and baked that day, for consumption that day,” she says. “The NAMB does not recognise supermarket bread as fresh bread,” she adds.
Mrs Brooks believes that supermarkets have taken advantage of the looser labelling laws enjoyed by bakeries, where everything is made on the premises. “In small bakeries, we fight against having to put labelling on bags because all the work is done at the back of the shop. I believe ‘bake-off’ bread should carry a label with a list of ingredients and it should say ‘previously frozen’.”….