‘All sorrows are less with bread’ – Miguel de Cervantes.
While I’d like to accredit the infamous Spaniard with being as big a fan of baking as I am, he is, of course, referring to the importance of a full stomach to society in general, daily bread being a synonym for food. Going back tens of thousands of years, bread has been a staple of cultures around the world, playing its part in everything from riots and revolution to tea time treats and the humble packed lunch.
But attitudes to bread are changing. No longer in need of the extra calories and carbohydrates as we sit at our desks with a more sedentary lifestyle, society is getting fat and bloated from excessive consumption of the previously popular wheat. Bread baskets are shunned, burgers served in lettuce leaves rather than buns and (often insanely sugary) cereals seem to be overtaking toast as our breakfast meal of choice.
As we try to cut excessive wheat from our diets, the food giants are plugging billions into making sure they keep up. Loaves now come smaller and lighter, enriched with strange ingredients and boasting their health-giving properties in any way possible. I’m not a fan of mass produced bread at the best of times (look at a pre-packaged loaf next time you’re in the supermarket and if – as is likely – it contains more than ten ingredients, you’ll see what I mean), but perhaps the most pernicious of all these marketing tricks is the ‘Crusts Away’ loaf, a crustless (what?!), sorry looking loaf with ‘hidden wholegrain’ for those who couldn’t possibly cope with even the tiniest taste of wholemeal flour.
While I appreciate that bread isn’t for everyone, that there are some very serious gluten allergies out there and that obesity is an issue that isn’t going away, I would argue that these sorts of mass produced loaves are simply feeding the problem rather than helping it to go away. Bread should be enjoyed in moderation, made from fewer than five ingredients (unless you’re adding spices etc) and eaten with respect, not crammed with preservatives and stashed in a sweaty plastic wrapper that will allow it to last for weeks.
Speaking of fooling people with appearances when it comes to bread, the lovely little loaf featured in this post does exactly the opposite of those hidden wholemeal loaves. Made with two thirds white flour to one third rye, the addition of coffee makes the crumb a lovely light brown, giving the appearance of a slightly more wholesome loaf than it actually is. Perhaps not something to boast about but, as I said above, a little bit of anything enjoyed in moderation should be absolutely fine.
Having said that – and yes, I’m aware that this post is full of contradictions – you may find it pretty hard to moderate your consumption of this bread. It’s beautifully soft with a shiny, golden crust, crunchy with poppy seeds and strongly spiced with both black pepper and fennel seeds. Freshly sliced it’s a dream, delicious with smoked salmon and cream cheese or other salty, smoky flavours. Toasted up it’s even more aromatic, wonderful with a smear of homemade hummus or simply spread with salty butter.
I made this loaf to give to my Mum for Mothers Day last weekend. As someone who doesn’t wear perfume or eat chocolate and who prefers the flowers growing in her own garden to anything cut or imported using unnecessary air miles, my Mum is a pretty hard person to find presents for, but I’m hoping this did the trick. As soon as she’d tasted it, she asked me for the recipe (a Dan Lepard creation which you can find on the Guardian website, here – I didn’t change a thing) and that’s the highest form of praise in my book. I hope you enjoy it as much as she did.