Bread and Better

soya improved wholemeal bread

It’s a funny old thing, the super­mar­ket loaf. I don’t just mean the stand­ard longlife bagged ones but all of them. Every loaf that goes into or comes out of a super­mar­ket is a pro­foundly odd thing.

Bagged loaves (we know them well) are just plain dis­gust­ing, but even the ‘artis­anal’ ones fol­low the trend. They’ve always got those odd, slightly leath­ery crusts. Rarely are they crispy or – my favour­ite – crunchy. They never get those cav­ernous air pock­ets that you can hide a spoon­ful of but­ter in at break­fast, in such a way that no one will stare or make con­des­cend­ing comments.

soya improved wholemeal bread

To get to the point, they’re really very bor­ing. With, how­ever, very good reason. They’ve got no funny holes because the doughs are made dry for easy hand­ling, because too much yeast is used for quick prov­ing and because they con­tain magic ‘improvers’.

Bread ‘improvers’ sound so ter­ri­fy­ingly euphemistic that people seem to rather like to run a mile from them. They have a point. In the early days of indus­tri­al­ised bread some­thing called potassium bromate was a com­mon ingredi­ent. This, it turned out, was not only foul-tasting but also a car­ci­no­gen. Today though, it’s banned just about every­where from the EU to China – except the USA, where bakers mer­rily go on using it.

The major improvers over here are ascor­bic acid – vit­amin C to you and me – which makes the glu­ten stronger and there­fore more elastic. This means that the ball of dough will rise faster and fur­ther, with a softer, more uni­form crumb and a thin­ner crust.

The other addit­ive I’m pre­pared to take an interest in is soya flour. A very small quant­ity has a quite pro­found effect on the final bread. It gives a very impress­ive crumb struc­ture, with the most, most uni­form bubbles ima­gin­able. This, again, is prob­ably some­thing to do with its effect on the glu­ten struc­ture of the dough. Bread con­tain­ing soya flour is easier to mix and machine-knead and will rise higher than it would with just wheat flour. Con­sequently, it holds a higher water con­tent so stales at a slightly slower rate and in a more agree­able way – get­ting gradu­ally harder rather than just becom­ing a dry lump.

soya improved wholemeal bread

Its final effect is to lighten the col­our of the loaf. Most roller milled white flour could hardly get any whiter, but if you use a pro­por­tion of whole­meal flour (as I do) the effects in this field pay off. We eat with our eyes, and if a 60% whole­meal loaf can be made the same col­our as a 10% whole­meal one, it will taste like it. It’s a strange old phe­nomenon, but I’m liable to for­get what went into a loaf of bread the day after I make it and more than once have I mis­taken a soya’d whole­meal loaf for a primar­ily white one.

That then, is my mani­festo for intro­du­cing a bit of cheap indus­trial tech into your bread­mak­ing. My main argu­ment is that it makes the pro­cess a whole lot easier and quite a bit faster. I’ve taken to adding about 5% soya flour to any­thing that has flour in it. The effects are astound­ing. You won’t get quite a such a good crust, but that’s price enough to pay for the speed with which a loaf of bread develops.

soya improved wholemeal bread

Whole­meal Bread with Soya Flour

    • 300g (2 1/2 cups) strong white flour
    • 200g (1 1/2 cups) whole­meal bread flour
    • 10g (a gen­er­ous table­spoon) soya flour
    • 375g (1 1/2 cups) warm water
    • 1 tsp salt
    • 1 tsp sugar
    • 1tsp fast-action yeast
    • 2 tbsp veget­able oil
  1. Begin by pour­ing all of the liquid ingredi­ents into a bowl. They should be at blood heat. Add the yeast, sugar and salt, then mix to incorporate.
  2. Meas­ure out the white flour, then add the soya flour to it and mix lightly to dis­trib­ute evenly. Gradu­ally, whilst stir­ring force­fully (you could use a food mixer with a dough hook for this part), add the white flour to the water, mix­ing well between additions.
  3. At this stage, it should be a gloopy bat­ter. Begin adding the whole­meal flour. Con­tinue, a bit at a time. When the dough forms a ball, try to break into the middle with the spoon since the centre tends to remain wet­ter than the out­side. Fin­ish by hand, crush­ing and squeez­ing the dough to incor­por­ate the last of the flour.
  4. Knead until smooth, then place in a large bowl and cover. The soya flour helps to pro­mote fer­ment­a­tion (which is where the smell of fresh bread comes from), so the fla­vour will not suf­fer too much if you leave the dough in a warm place to rise quickly.
  5. When more than doubled in size, turn the dough out onto a floured sur­face. The soya flour will help to give it an even tex­ture, so there’s no need to knock it back. Be gentle with it and try not to break too many of the air bubbles. Flat­ten to the size of a book and roll tightly up along the nar­row edge. Flat­ten again and repeat. Roll the roll in plenty of flour to coat it and to lightly to smooth and lengthen. Place onto a piece of bak­ing parch­ment on a bak­ing sheet.
  6. Leave to rise for half an hour. Use a very sharp or a ser­rated knife to make three shal­low diag­onal slits in the top of the loaf, then put into an oven at its highest tem­per­at­ure. After 10 minutes, turn the tem­per­at­ure down to 210°C (410°F) and cook for 30 minutes longer.
  7. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack. Wait at least 5 hours before eat­ing. The middle of the bread ini­tially gets hot­ter, not colder, when the out­side cools. Hot bread may smell deli­cious, but its not much good for eating.

NB Please don’t murder it with ‘spread­able’ but­ter from a plastic pot. Real but­ter tastes infin­itely bet­ter and can be made spread­able – free of charge – by the simple pro­cess of remov­ing it from the fridge.

soya improved wholemeal bread

One thought on “Bread and Better

Leave a Reply