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Real Bread for National Bread Week

I wrote a blog post some time ago about how much I love cake. The bad news is, I also love bread. My Sunday morning just isn’t the same without some toasted home-made cinnamon and raisin bread with Président butter and coffee (it’s just once a week, OK?!). My first thought on going on holiday to France is “Where is the nearest boulangerie?”. My love of these devil’s foods means that I aim to moderate their intake whilst consuming the healthiest possible versions – because let’s face it, we all need a bit of foodie pleasure from time to time. So National Bread Week seems as good a time as any to have a think about the type and quantity of bread we eat.

 My dealings with clients who want to eat more healthily have made me realise that I’m not alone. Most of us love bread in one form or another; and many of us eat lots of it, simply because it’s all too easy to pop in some toast for breakfast or grab a sandwich for lunch. But eating too much bread is actually not very good for us at all. For one, wheat is quite hard to digest, so a bready blowout can leave you feeling bloated and tired; but mainly because most mass-produced bread is processed to high heaven, pumped full of additives and, in fact, has very little nutritional value. Even brown breads that give the impression of being healthy can be questionable, sometimes containing as little as 6% wholemeal flour.

 Here are just some of the nasties you might find in commercially-produced bread (according to the Real Bread Campaign): E481 (sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate), E472e (mono- and diacetyl tartaric acid esters of mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids), E920 (l-cysteine), E282 (calcium propionate), E220 (potassium sorbate), E300 (ascorbic acid) and E260 (acetic acid). Quite scary-sounding aren’t they? And those are just the ingredients that are listed. Other processing aids such as phospholipase, fungal alpha amylase, transglutaminase, xylanase, maltogenic amylase, hemicellulase, oxidase, peptidase and protease don’t even have to be declared on the label. I don’t know about you, but I don’t really fancy the idea of chowing down on those.

 Real bread, on the other hand, is a completely different kettle of fish. Prepared with top quality flour and baked without processing aids or artificial additives, bread is very nutritious and contains many essential vitamins and minerals. It’s also a complex carbohydrate, making it a fab source of energy for active people.

Speaking of which, my interest in real bread was further aroused recently when I started using a local hilly road for marathon training purposes. Windmill Rise, which is about a mile from where I live in York, was last year voted as having the Best Roundabout in Britain by the UK Roundabout Appreciation Society (yes, really!). It’s topped (somewhat unsurprisingly) by a windmill that has been painstakingly restored by volunteers, and is now actually working and producing its very own flour using traditional, old-fashioned methods. When its white sails turn against a blue sky it looks amazing and is a great motivator for hill reps!

Holgate Windmill in all its glory!

Grinding the wheat – dusty work!

 On Easter weekend the windmill was open to the public, so I visited, learned a lot about flour and bread production (too much detail to go into here) and returned home with my very own bag of flour, from which I made an actual loaf from scratch (i.e. not using the breadmaker as we usually do).

Following a very simple recipe I got stuck in, made a proper mess and turned out a loaf. Was it worth it? Definitely! I don’t think I’d have the time to do it every day, but would certainly make more of an effort to do this with the breadmaker in future. The loaf wasn’t as big and fluffy as a supermarket specimen, but tasted amazing, and I’m sure it’s great fuel for marathon training. And luckily there are now many independent bakers such as Food For Thought here in York who are making and selling top quality bread made the traditional way.

 If you live in York, do go and have a look at the Holgate Windmill next time it’s open – it’s really impressive, and the people who run it are lovely and really passionate about explaining how everything works. Engineering fans will love it as much as foodies!

 My bready advice to you would be to eat it no more than once a day, make sure it’s good quality and enjoy it – because life’s too short not to! Right, I’m off for some toast…

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