Tag Archives: Chorleywood Bread Process

Real bread, red bread

Sliced, morning sun

The expression “the best thing since sliced bread” is profoundly ironic. Grain is packed with nutrients, but plastic wrapped sliced “bread” is generally made with flour that’s been ground with hot steel rollers, which damage and degrade the nutrients, and then baked with the Chorleywood Bread Process (CBP), a heinously misguided mechanisation of the bread-making process developed in England in the 1950s.

All that sliced, plastic-wrapped pseudo-bread they sell in supermarkets and cornershops is CBP product. It’s not bread. It’s an insult to bakers, to our baking heritage, to the farmers who husbanded grain over the centuries. It’s an insult to our constitutions.

And yet the CBP “is responsible for over 80% of the bread [sic] produced in the UK and is used in every corner of the world.” (From Campden BRI.)

One of the reasons the CBP was developed and became so dominant was because the British population grew so fast in the industrial revolution we couldn’t grow all our own grain, and became reliant on shipments, especially from parts of the then British empire, notably Canada, as well as the US. Since the late 19th century, British bakers also began to prefer using the harder, higher protein wheats grown in such places. Or perhaps prefer isn’t quite the right work. As clearly it was economics that made British bakers shift from using British wheat to using North American wheat. Discussing the sheep and arable farming on the English South Downs, Fizz Carr says, “As the new rail-roads across America linked the grain belt of the Mid-West with the eastern seaboard ports, grain started to flood into Britain and the price of wheat tumbled. The cost of shipping wheat between New York and Liverpool fell by half between 1830 and 1880, and by half again from 1880 to 1914…” 1

A story, or myth
I’d always been lead to believe that the CBP was developed as two world wars, and a dependence on shipped grain, had seriously compromised British food security. The scientists at the British Baking Industries Research Association at Chorleywood wanted to both mechanise the bread-making process, making it faster (perhaps their greatest folly, see below) and wanted to be able to ease reliance on higher protein foreign wheats. They wanted to make bread again from the soft, lower protein wheats we could grow in Britain.


Or at least, that was the story. It’s one that’s regularly trotted out, such as here, on the site of one of Britain’s biggest organic flour brands. But last weekend I bought a bag of flour from the market stall of Imbhams Farm Granary. It was their latest batch of wheat flour, called Surrey Red Strong Bread Flour. (It’s called red because of pigments in the bran.) It was grown in Surrey, about 50 miles from Lewes, stone-ground to retain the nutrients at a mill a mile from the fields and, notably, very high in protein.

Surrey strong info

The info sheet said 17%, James Halfhide of Imbhams quoted a figure slightly higher, and said it would be even higher if they sifted more of the bran out to make a lighter coloured, less wholegrain flour. For comparison, low protein plain or all-purpose flour might be 10-12%, strong bread flour about 13% plus.

It’s Barlow wheat, a hard spring wheat developed recently2 in North Dakota in the US, but James said it grew very well here, especially in the excellent 2013 season. Which quite shocked me, after years of hearing the story – nay myth – that British wheat means low protein.

Wholesomely wholegrain
Although I like and make all sorts of bread, as the Imbhams farm flour is so wholesomely branny – and wheat bran is a great source of fibre, fatty acids, iron and other minerals and vitamins – I wanted to make a 100% wholegrain bread. I also wanted to reduce the amount of yeast I usually use (10g to 500g of flour, or 2%, to about 6g to 500g of flour, or 1.2%) and do a longer fermentation – that all-important factor of bread production that the CBP neglects. Wheat needs long fermentation to be fully digestible – this whole rushed factor with CBP is the main reason so many people say they have dietary problems with wheat-based products these days.

Bread and butter

Wholegrain red wheat bread
500g Surrey Red strong bread flour or similar strong wholegrain wheat flour
350g tepid water
6g fresh yeast (so use about 3g instant/easyblend, 4g granular/ADY)
10g fine salt

This is all you need to make real bread – these four ingredients. Indeed, arguably, you don’t even need commercial yeast, you could just cultivate your own leaven with flour and water and wild yeasts.

1. Dissolve the yeast in the water.
2. Put the flour and salt in a large bowl.
3. Add the yeasty water.
4. Bring together a dough.
5. Knead briefly then form a ball and leave to rest in the bowl, covered with a shower cap or cloth.
6. After 10 minutes, knead briefly again.
7. Rest, covered for another 10 minutes then knead briefly again.
8. Repeat this once or twice more.
9. Put the ball of dough back in the bowl, cover and leave to prove in a cool place. I gave mine a turn (that is, stretched and folded it) after an hour or so, then put it in the fridge for about 10 hours.
10. Remove from the fridge, form a ball, then rest for another 10 minutes.
11. Form a baton shape and put in a tin.
12. Give it a final prove, until about doubled in size and ready to bake. This is where mine went a big wrong (see below).
13. Bake at 220C for about 15 minutes then turn down to 200C and bake for another 25 minutes.
14. Remove the loaf from the tin. Tap the bottom – you want it to sound hollow. If you get a bit of a dull thud, put it back in the oven for another 10 minutes without the tin.
15. Remove and leave to cool – to allow the interior to finish its baking process – on a wire racking.

So yes, I goofed slightly with the final prove, step 12. I left it a little long in the airing cupboard at about 24C, overproving it so that it deflated when I slashed the top and I didn’t get a nice oven-spring (that is, the final burst of yeast activity and dough growth when you put it in the oven).

Proved. Over proved

Deciding when the dough has proved enough and is ready to bake can be tricky. Many people say the to test is gently prod the dough and see if the indentation remains, but I’m not convinced by this, as it might indicate the dough is over-proved and the gluten structure is collapsing slightly. I think it’s better if your prod marks slow re-inflate. It’s not an exact science though and every dough is different, especially with different flours. There’s a good discussion here.

I might have been disappointed with the over-proving and lack of oven spring, but it’s still good stuff. Hearty and slightly nutty. It went very well with a tasty a soup (gurnard, smoked paprika – yum) I made for dinner last night and with Marmite for breakfast. And, compared to how sick, how utterly sullied, you might feel after eating a CBP product, I felt thoroughly brimming with nutrients after eating this.3



1. ‘Good Food and Drink in Sussex’, Fizz Carr, Snake River Press, 2008. It’s a nifty little book for those of us living in Sussex and interested in its food heritage. I wish she’d quoted her sources though, as I’m intrigued about these figures and this whole transformation of British agriculture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
2. So yes, it’s hardly a heritage variety of Triticum aestivum, bread wheat. But it’s locally grown, locally stoneground.
3. Yes, of course I’m imagining I can feel the nutrients going into my body, but it did just feel good and wholesome. I haven’t eaten CBP products of years, but remember feeling bloated and sluggish and sick and gastrically stuffed up when I did.


Filed under Baking, Breads, Recipes

Real beer, real bread, and how to define “craft” foods

Bottled beer conditioning at Mastri Birrai Umbri

(I know long-form blogging isn’t popular these days, but think of this more as an essay. Hell, it’s no longer than an article in the paper.)

Visiting Mastri Birrai Umbri (MBU) and talking with MBU’s master brewer Michele Sensidoni and science and food communicator Jeremy Cherfas, who did a podcast about the visit here, really got me thinking about the whole question of craft foods. Especially beer and bread, as they’re my obsessions and they’re siblings born together at the start of human civilisation. Specifically, it got me thinking more about how one defines such craft foods. If you’re a baker, brewer or beer enthusiast, this is something you probably think about too.

I’ve visited MBU before, last year, and one thing that struck me then, and on the second visit with Jeremy, was the sense that the brewery was a place of industry and science. Of course it is, in literal terms – with industry meaning diligently creating something, and brewing (like baking) being a process that involves a sophisticated balance of biological processes. But also, it seemed industrial in the more technological sense, of large-scale metal equipment, and a small scale human presence. The fact that MBU is currently Italy’s biggest craft brewery, producing 1 million litres of beer a year, would seem to confirm this. And yet it is still a craft brewery.

Putting it perspective
Of course “Craft brewery” and “microbrewery” are difficult terms. Different countries have various legal or tax-related definitions of them, different organisation or beer writers have varying semantic interpretations of them.

In the broadest sense, though, a craft brewery is small, independent and uses traditional techniques. The Brewers Association in the US indeed includes these parameters in its definition, but then it goes on to define the production limit as “6 million [US] barrels or less” that is around 700 million litres or 7 million hectolitres (hl). Which is a helluva lot bigger than MBU, and doesn’t sound that small. But compared to the mega-brewery conglomerates it is. This 2010 Reuters article says Anheuser-Busch InBev (producer of the US Budweiser, amongst other brands) produced 350 million hl in 2009, and SABMiller (which owns innumerable brands including the nominally Italian Peroni Nastro Azzuro), just less than 250 million hl.

Which does put into perspective.

That perspective goes even more squiffy, however, when you consider that in the UK a craft brewery, or microbrewery, is generally considered to be one producing less than 500,000 litres (5,000 hl).

This definition of sorts came about because of the Progressive Beer Duty, a system introduced in the UK in 2002 to help encourage small, local breweries, with lower taxation based on the scale of the operation. The system originated in Germany and although it has its critics, it has been credited as one of the key factors in the rapid expansion of the small brewery scene in the UK and elsewhere.

Progressive Beer Duty was adopted throughout the EU and was potentially a factor in the expansion of the Italian craft beer scene too. There are currently around 500 craft breweries in Italy. A threshold for their production is 10,000hl per year, though the country has no other, specific legal definition of craft brewery. Indeed, in Jeremy’s interview, Michele discusses how introducing a legal definition in Italy could have a negative impact, as there’s so much variation in the Italian craft brewery scene it could impose restrictions on creativity. (And have no tangible effect on quality.)

Honest beer
For Michele, craft brewing is more about the ingredients and how you use them, about innovation, and about how much you care about the quality of the product. He also believes that although large-scale breweries could produce quality craft beers, instead they compromise. They rush. So whereas a brewery like MBU might condition their brews for months, a large scale industrial brewer might rush the process in 12 days or so. This rush, he said, “is not the best for the beer, but it’s the best for your distribution chain, it’s the best for your sales manager, it’s the best for your volume production.”

Jeremy mooted a potential definition of MBU’s beer as not craft or artisanal or industrial, but “honest” – where there’s total clarity, indeed pride, about the ingredients. But this notion of large scale industrial beer being rushed also immediately made me think of bread. Or more specifically the principle problem with rushed, large-scale industrial wheat-based products. From the spongy, plastic wrapped products made with Chorleywood Bread Process (CBP) that dominate the UK to Italy’s comparable crime against nutrition, tradition, and taste, pancarré.

A few years ago, when I was still living in the UK, I became a supporter of the Real Bread Campaign (RBC). This was founded in 2008 under the aegis of Sustain, “the alliance for better food and farming” and its rise in prominence has paralleled the renaissance in interest in real baking. In some ways, the Real Bread Campaign is a cousin to CAMRA, the UK-Irish Campaign for Real Ale that was founded in 1971 to counter the rising tide of bad industrial beer that was then starting to dominate bars. Likewise, the RBC was started, in part, to counter the white sliced crap and encourage people to demand the real deal.

I’m not a CAMRA member, but I enjoy visiting pubs they’ve endorse and respect their goals, specifically to protect the production of real ale, and educate about it. They have specific definitions of what qualifies as “real ale”, a term they coined. The full definition can be found here, but it starts by saying “Real ale is a beer brewed from traditional ingredients (malted barley, hops water and yeast), matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed, and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide.”

The Real Bread Campaign has not dissimilar definitions. After all, both bread and beer depend on the naturally occurring, unrushed action of living yeast (and bacteria) for fermentation: the process that transforms grains into digestible and delicious products. Of course, the key difference between the siblings is that baking kills the yeast, so the ultimate bread product is not a living thing like real ale, where the process is ongoing (until your stomach kills the yeasts).

The Real Bread Campaign’s definitions are here but the crux is: “Real Bread is that made without the use of processing aids or any other artificial additives.” It continues, “Technically, the only ingredients essential for making bread are flour and water. With these two things you can make flatbreads and sourdoughs. That said, without a little pinch of salt bread can be a tad bland, and you might prefer to let someone else culture the yeast, rather than do it yourself. So, for plain Real Bread that gives us at most: flour, water, yeast, salt. Anything else is, by definition, unnecessary.”

They do say “plain Real Bread” and allow that you can add other ingredients “as long as they are natural” (eg seeds, milk etc). I like this about the Real Bread Campaign, it’s clear and passionate, but not unrealistic. I have the sense that CAMRA, for example, wouldn’t have liked the beer I was drinking last night as it contained spices and jasmine blossom; even though it was top fermented, bottle conditioned and these added ingredients were natural.

Anyway, according to RBC definitions CBP products simply are not bread; they have too many dubious additives, they’re made in too much of a rush.

Keepin’ it real

So for me, rather than talking about real ale, or craft beer, or microbrewery beer, or honest beer, I’d rather just talk about real beer. It’s a term that’s come from these discourses about real ale and real bread. I feel  I can’t use the term “real ale” unless the beer in question stricly conforms to CAMRA’s definition: and that would exclude much of Italy’s wonderful birre artigianale (artisan beer). Indeed, there’s arguably a danger than CAMRA can be overly dogmatic in its perception of tradition, and traditional beer.

Respect for tradition is essential for craft food production, but there’s a danger of being reactionary, which isn’t.

One thing I love about the Italian birre artigianale scene is how dynamic it is, how open to ideas. So much of Italy food culture is mired in tradition, and as such can be hidebound. Just read John Dickie’s great book Delizia and the chapter about what qualifies as pesto, for example. It’s absurd. Likewise, viniculture here is effectively strictly regulated by tradition, with very little room for creativity.

As I said in my previous post, there’s been beer in Italy for millennia, but as it’s never been a dominant drink, it never got so mired in tradition. So now, all these craft breweries are able to take inspiration from all over the world, notably from the dynamic US craft beer scene, but also from Britain, Belgium, and beyond.

Plus, they can also dip into local tradition, to give their products distinctive, like MBU using local legumes in the brew for example. Or they can dip into classical history, for things like the Etrusca experiment co-ordinated between Italy’s great craft breweries Baladin and Birra del Borgo and the US big name craft brewer Dogfish Head, which involved working with a biomolecular archaeologist to create a beer made with ingredients consumed by the Etruscans two and a half millennia-plus ago.

Time – too important to rush
Quality beer is the result of respecting proper fermentation and conditioning times. Likewise, quality bread is the result of respecting proper fermentation times. Proper fermentation means waiting.

The Real Bread Campaign says, “Real Bread is a natural product and just as with fruit or cheese it takes time for it to ripen. Although research so far has been limited, there is growing evidence that leaving dough to rise for longer periods can have a range of benefits to the consumer.” Benefits to the point of being more digestible, or even being able to help reduce disorders such as coeliac. One such piece of evidence comes from scientists in Italy who concluded “a 60-day diet of baked goods made from hydrolyzed wheat flour, manufactured with sourdough lactobacilli and fungal proteases, was not toxic to patients with celiac disease.”

This is the main problem with the Chorleywood Bread Process.* Throughout history, bread has been made by slowly fermenting wheat flour, then the CBP was developed in the 1960s, millennia-old fermentation times were thrown out and since then more and more people have reported digestive problems from eating CBP products.

Fermentation time is just too import to neglect or reject. Time is just too important to rush. Time is the defining ingredient for craft bread or craft beer, or as I’d prefer to call them, real bread and real beer.

A definition of real bread and real beer
So my definition of real beer, or real bread, would be a product that’s made with the proper respect for time. (Indeed, all good produce requires time – hence the Slow Food movement’s name.) Time, quality natural ingredients, a passion for the product.

It doesn’t matter if the brewery or bakery in question is all shiny stainless steel or a more rudimentary shed. What matters are time, quality natural ingredients and passion.

I’d even add that it requires a respect for and knowledge of tradition, but not a dogmatic adherence to it. Like Italy’s craft brewers, free from being mired in tradition. Not all their beers are necessarily great, but I at least admire their willingness to experiment, to enjoy their craft – and to relish taking the time to try make great real beer.

* I know the CBP was developed to enable British bakers to use lower-protein British flours, to reduce UK dependence on imported, higher protein (14-15%) flours, but that’s a whole other argument. Indeed, as far as I can tell, many Italian bakers still make stupendous traditional breads without recourse to Manitoba (ie Canadian strong flour), instead relying on traditional Italian flours with lower protein (11-12%).


Filed under Ale, beer, Breads, Discussion