The biggest thing since sliced bread
June 7, 2011 8:30 AM   Subscribe

60 years ago, the Chorleywood Process was born. The new, fast-baking, lighter loaf conquered the market in Britain and across the world, after the hard wholemeal National Loaf being the only bread available during rationing until it ended in 1953. But despite Chorleywood giving us 'the cheapest bread in the world', thethe old style is making a comeback.

Almost a third of the bread bought in Britain - 680,000 tonnes a year - is thrown away.
posted by mippy (58 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
*being the only bread available during rationing until its end in 1953

Gah, for the 30-second grammar edit window. Please, no prescriptivist pile-on.
posted by mippy at 8:41 AM on June 7, 2011

An excellent comment on the subject from 2009.
posted by timshel at 8:41 AM on June 7, 2011

I'm Canadian and I don't think I've ever had this Chorleywood fashioned bread. Is it significantly different from what we know as WonderBread/sliced bread/white bread? I've read about the difficulties of producing quality hearth bread in England due to the inherent weakness of their flour. What do you do if you want to produce something with more body, in a more french tradition? Is the quality flour all imported?
posted by Evstar at 8:42 AM on June 7, 2011

So...Chorleywood = Wonder/Sunbeam?
posted by Thorzdad at 8:43 AM on June 7, 2011

Conversely, Canadian wheat is said to be the strongest, resulting from our climate. This has its benefits but some bakers consider the high protein content a detractor, producing bread that is sometimes overly chewy and tasting a little bit off.
posted by Evstar at 8:44 AM on June 7, 2011

What my Mum refers to as "Junk Bread": foamy white, the kind you can roll into little ersatz-bread balls in your hand.
posted by subbes at 8:45 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Double post, sorry.

The Chorleywood Process is different from what is used to make Wonder Bread. Flour in the US is too 'strong' for Chorleywood, which was developed to deal with 'weak' British flours.
posted by subbes at 8:52 AM on June 7, 2011

Ugh, is Chorleywood bread really like Wonder bread? Because I don't even consider Wonder bread to be bread.
posted by orange swan at 8:52 AM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

So, has anyone tried that Guardian recipe?
posted by oddman at 8:52 AM on June 7, 2011

Wonder bread isn't bread.

Wonder bread is wrong.
posted by The Whelk at 8:55 AM on June 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

One of the best meditations on the Chorleywood process I've ever read is in English Bread and Yeast Cookery by Elizabeth David. The chapter heading, "What is Choice and Who Makes It?," pretty much tipped me off to what Mrs. David thought of the Chorleywood loaf.

(Thorzdad, as subbes points out, the Chorleywood process is different from the Wonder Bread process, but the resulting loaves are similar.)
posted by bakerina at 8:55 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

"National Loaf" is such a great name. I hope it came only in battleship gray.
posted by DU at 8:57 AM on June 7, 2011 [7 favorites]

I make my own bread sometimes, and the flour I buy is either Sainsbury's Canadian Extra-Strong, or the Allinson's stuff which I believe is British. However, for bread that gets dipped in things it has to be a white sliced. Because I cannot cut bread well enough to get into the toaster.

Supermarkets here sell white sliced, brown sliced, 'farmhouse' (like the former but with flour on top) and the 'fresh' bread which is all the poppy-seed, baguette, tiger bread stuff. There is a difference between economy white and the more premium brands, tastewise, in my mind. (I used to get the economy stuff when I was a student and it was 7p a loaf - it's now 60p. Economy butter has doubled in price too, and value tinned tomatoes, making my old favourite comfort food about 3x the price it was.)

But what freaks me out most in the bread aisle is the stuff that promises to stay fresh for seven days.
posted by mippy at 9:00 AM on June 7, 2011

Ugh...low-protein, which means little nutrition, bread-style...stuff? Why could one...why?
posted by clockzero at 9:07 AM on June 7, 2011

Because I cannot cut bread well enough to get into the toaster.

I've got a very sharp (gently serrated) bread knife, without which it would be impossible to neatly slice homemade bread. I mean, I sometimes still make wildly uneven slices, but they will usually fit into the toaster.

I eat packaged bread maybe two or three times a year: occasionally a chicken salad on wheat toast at the diner, and always when we go camping. The camping ration is a few loaves of the cheapest white bread available, and it's dreadful. Turns to glue in your mouth. Doesn't taste like bread. Flattens to mush when you spread it with peanut butter.

About all it's good for is filling with cheese and toasting over the fire, but you could say the same of many best-selling novels.
posted by uncleozzy at 9:08 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

The 'old style' links are a little misleading; Chorleywood process bread does not need to be white, and bought (rather than home-made) bread does not need to be Chorleywood bread. You can tell that you are eating Chorleywood-processsed bread by the way it sort of collapses in your mouth, a bit like candy floss.

I can and will talk for hours about my attempts to find a decent wholemeal loaf in a supermarket. A few years ago, Sainsbury's used to sell one wholemeal loaf in their instore bakery which had a decent body to it, but the recipe has been changed and now it too does the tragic collapse. The least bad I can find is currently Waitrose Stoneground Sliced, but the hunt continues.
posted by Acheman at 9:08 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

The difference in protein between hard and soft flours is only 10% tops.
More often closer to 5% - 6%

It's not that different from a protein perspective. Still mostly carbs. It's really fiber content that differentiates them
posted by JPD at 9:11 AM on June 7, 2011

The research bakers at Chorleywood discovered that by adding hard fats, extra yeast and a number of chemicals and then mixing at high speed you got a dough that was ready to bake in a fraction of the time it normally took.

It allowed bread to be made easily and economically with low protein British wheat.
This sounds to me a bit like the "batter whipped" process advertised on Sunbeam bread in the U.S.

Wonder Bread, on the other hand, is a pretty standard mass-produced white loaf bread, using hard high-protein flour. Its main selling point when introduced in the 20s, I think, was the size of the loaf, 1.5 pounds, compared to the standard 1 pound size. It wasn't really anything having to do with taste, although at the time it may have contrasted to rye and other darker breads at the same pricepoint.

Later on in the 40s, Wonder Bread started to have stuff added to it, to make it less nutritionally deficient. (I've been told it was originally bonemeal for calcium, but I don't really know.) The enriched / healthful characteristics have been its main selling point the entire time I've been alive. It also seems like they must put a shitload of preservatives in it, because it has an eerily long shelf life, but I'm not sure if that's a recent addition or something they've done since the beginning.

What always strikes me as interesting is how taste in breads change so much between generations. There was a time when white bread was an extremely high-end, luxury product; whole-wheat and especially dark breads were, if not peasant food, definitely perceived as inferior. It was this perception that drove the rise of the mass produced, sliced white breads that everyone now loves to hate; today you can probably buy a week's worth of calories in white-bread form for the price of one traditional hearth-baked rye loaf.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:11 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

This TED Talk seems appropriate.

I really enjoy processed bread (Grandma Sycamore's kicks Wonderbread's ass all over town in this regard) for things like grilled cheese (with processed American cheese, natch) and tuna fish sandwiches, but I also make my own wheat bread from scratch, including grinding my own whole wheat, and that's the only way to eat a fresh sliced garden tomato (toasted with a little mayonnaise, yummmmm). And nothing beats a nice crusty sourdough or a hearty rye from your favorite local bakery.

Different kinds of bread for different use cases. My 2-year old won't touch anything but the soft, processed stuff. That's OK with me. He needs the calories,* and I know that as his taste-buds develop he'll learn to like the heartier stuff.

*No need for a moral panic, here. He also eats peas (usually raw), green beans, black beans, rice, corn, potatoes, unadorned steel-cut oats, bananas, apples, carrots, and hardly any meat (except tuna, see above). A little over-processed bread isn't going to hurt him.
posted by jnrussell at 9:13 AM on June 7, 2011

But what freaks me out most in the bread aisle is the stuff that promises to stay fresh for seven days.

When extended shelf-life is the result of chemical intervention, I agree that can be unsettling. Some breads' shelf-life can be greatly extended by careful and deliberate control of the fermentation. Lower-pH bread will always take more time to stale. Locally, there is a bakery that makes german rye breads of a very high quality using only natural yeast starters. Bread like this is rested for a day before it is packaged and it has a shelf life beyond two weeks.

I'm very glad we can talk about bread here today.
posted by Evstar at 9:17 AM on June 7, 2011 [10 favorites]

This recipe is fantastic, one of the better bread recipes I've made. And it's relatively easy.

It seems to be the kind of technique they're advocating, but uses entirely white flour, so if that bothers you, it may not be the recipe for you. Fantastic bread though, and rather than tying you up in the kitchen, it forces you to schedule the 9-24 hour waits well.

I can not recommend it enough, if nothing else, it's fun to play in the kitchen, and it uses techniques a lot of people might not be familiar with.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:18 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

My gf took a baking class in France and they are very particular about the flour. The French rate it by ash content, "Type 55" being a "standard" flour with 0.55% ash. Apparently flour milled from European grain is "softer" than that made from US grain and that is in turn softer than Canadian wheat flour.

The protein content of flour, the ash percentage and the way it rises are related. "Strong" flour has more protein than "standard" flour. The theory of the baking school is the protein creates stronger structure and leads to a more chewy bread. "Soft" flours (French type 45, for example) are for pastries.

The bread she learned to bake has flour, yeast, salt and water in it. Now that the "French" bread in the local market has carrageenan and some other odd ingredients, we are eating quite a bit more of the bread she bakes.
posted by jet_silver at 9:21 AM on June 7, 2011

The iconic bread of France, the baguette, is a similar post-war industrial monstrosity devoid of flavour or interest. There's been a trend back towards good handmade bread in the past few years, but if you go to a corner boulangerie and order an ordinary baguette, you get crap.
posted by Nelson at 9:22 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

The 'strength' of the flour refers more specifically to the strength of the dough it produces, as I u nderstand it. This has more to do with the 'quality' of the protein, rather than its percentage of the total flour. I've read a lot on this, but I'm still not sure how 'quality' protein is distinguished. If gluten is the mixed result of two proteins, glutenin and gliadin, maybe 'quality' refers to the proper balance of those two elements?
posted by Evstar at 9:24 AM on June 7, 2011

Ash content is sort of a backward way into quality. It's a measure of what's left once you burn all the starch
posted by JPD at 9:27 AM on June 7, 2011

I've been listening to a lot of "Goon Shows" lately (from the 1950s), and they seem to treat the "small brown loaf" as an epitome of Britishness. Can the Brits here give me any insight? (BTW, the term has no meaning in America.)
posted by benito.strauss at 9:56 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

If it's from the '50s it probably refers to the National Loaf.
posted by subbes at 10:03 AM on June 7, 2011

If you want to try another no-knead recipe, Stagger Lee, try this one from America's Test Kitchen. I've made it, and it's really good.

However, notice that in that recipe the flour is all combined at once (in the beginning). The recipe for "old style" bread linked in the opening post adds flower in two steps. (I don't know how much of a difference this would make to the final loaf.)
posted by oddman at 10:07 AM on June 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

subbes, did/do people call it a "small brown loaf"? It was as if saying those three words instantly labeled someone as genuinely British.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:12 AM on June 7, 2011

the term ["small brown loaf"] has no meaning in America.

Disagree. Just try using it and see how many laughs you get.
posted by DU at 10:16 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not to nit pick, but I believe 1961 was 50 years ago.
posted by cmdnc0 at 10:25 AM on June 7, 2011

I remember seeing wonderbread used as one thing in a list of items produced by powder metallurgy. We all hope they meant the bag. Occasionally we'll recall it, and hope would spring anew, because the idea was too magnificently, fascinatingly, horrifyingly interesting.

The kind of thing you come back to, but still find your mind deflecting from.
posted by LD Feral at 10:45 AM on June 7, 2011

Looking at these recipes it reminds me of something that I can finally admit to after all these years. For the longest time growing up in weedy pastures and farm fields when I'd read a story that talked about people eating (and enjoying!) things containing "treacle" I thought that Brits must either be the strangest people on earth or that their food must be so terrible that they'd consider it a pleasure to eat that crap for desert!

Who knew I was right on both accounts!?!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:47 AM on June 7, 2011

Ok. I’ll confess.

I eat Wonder Bread sometimes. In fact, I went to the store to buy some after seeing this thread. As a bread, it provides nothing but structural support for your sandwich, no taste, no real mouth feel, no hearty crust to tear the roof of your mouth, it is simply there to hold the contents of your sandwich, like a hot-dog bun . I made a couple Ham,Turkey and Provolone sandwiches, one with my usual Guldens mustard and one with Inglehoffer Honey Mustard for a change of pace and I think wonder bread was a perfect choice.

Don’t get me wrong, I like a hearty artisanal bread as much as the next person, but there is something to be said for a sandwich where the bread takes a back seat and lets the contents of the sandwich take center stage.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:48 AM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Is "is (Chorleywood bread) a design classic or a crime against bread?" just another pointless question or a genuine crime against journalism?

But seriously, the Rocket Bread referenced by Stagger Lee above looks like delicious German buns and the inside looks like what we've been trained to eat during communism in Central Europe.

The best bread that ever touched my cups though was the Icelandic black hverabrauð with molasses, baked over 24 hours in the ground (geothermal heat and all) in the Myvatn lake area.
posted by Laotic at 10:50 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Since we're sharing bread recipes, here's my favorite. The book it came from, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day it great too.

As for slicing, I found nothing works better than an electric knife, the kind you'd carve a turkey with. Here's what I use.
posted by slogger at 11:11 AM on June 7, 2011

Artisan bread is tiny percentage of the UK market. Feature on the artisan bread market in the UK (by me, but in a business magazine, so a self-link of sorts).
posted by rhymer at 11:14 AM on June 7, 2011

This post is missing the firstworldproblems tag.
posted by rocket88 at 11:37 AM on June 7, 2011

As bad as British supermarket bread is, US supermarket bread is worse. At least the British stuff has some texture to it, and it doesn't have all the added sugar. While in the UK I developed a taste for Marmite, and I've discovered that Marmite and US bread repel one another. Actually, I congratulate the Brits for perfecting bread for toasting purposes. The US has no equal. I wonder if the Chorleywood process was created specifically with toast in mind.
posted by amusebuche at 11:44 AM on June 7, 2011

When I was a kid we used Wonder Bread to make little balls for fishing with a drop line. Little fish would go crazy over them and you could catch (and release) a whole bunch of them with one slice. It's pretty much all it's good for, in my opinion.
posted by tommasz at 11:52 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

White bread in the US means something entirely different from what it does in the UK. "White bread" is now slang for white, middle class suburban America, i.e. "bland and without flavor."

And I think that may explain much of this generation's foodie inclinations. Even Safeway and Albertson's advertise French loaves fresh-baked in the store.

And yet there's sentimentality for the white bread of our youth. In fact, when we ordered Dreamland for a party last year (and had it shipped from Tuscaloosa to Seattle), it came with loaves of Sunbeam -- each in its own form-fitting box.

But British bread is very different from American bread. It is more cake-like (owing to soft flour), and the American whole wheat loaf doesn't really have an analogue in the UK, given that UK whole wheats are almost like brown bread (which you don't find much of here).
posted by dw at 12:12 PM on June 7, 2011

Even Safeway and Albertson's advertise French loaves fresh-baked in the store.

You can get fresh-baked bread in almost every supermarket here. The dough is probably frozen, but it is baked in store. Sliced bread is more popular, mind.

I hear that Banette stores in France produce their own version of the industrial baguette.

As for 'small brown loaf' - it may have been common in the 1950s but not in my lifetime. The phrase probably died out alongside the National Loaf.

This post is missing the firstworldproblems tag.

As is 90% of AskMe. Your point?
posted by mippy at 1:29 PM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

That white, spongey stuff is an abomination. A loaf of Real Bread should be heavy enough to do serious damage if you knock someone on the head with it, and should fight back and make lots of crunchy noises when you chew it.

My new dream vacation: travel the world, eating the best bread in each country.
posted by Corvid at 2:30 PM on June 7, 2011

This post is missing the firstworldproblems tag.

Food quality and nutrition are problems everywhere. Also, consider production/shipping costs, world hunger, and the amount of low grade, high calory bread that's thrown away. And if it's socio-economic context that you want, it's almost never the wealthy that are stuck eating wonderbread.

If you want to politicize eating habits, go nuts, but don't be an asshole about it.
posted by Stagger Lee at 3:14 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

But what freaks me out most in the bread aisle is the stuff that promises to stay fresh for seven days.

Evstar beat me to it, but with sourdoughs, other enriched doughs, rye breads, and the gloriously complicated Detmolder method, you can indeed make bread that will keep for a couple of weeks, if not more. Jeffrey Hamelman, in his glorious book Bread, talks about mailing himself Detmolder rye breads as he walked the Appalachian Trail, and how the breads kept for up to five weeks with no refrigeration. Awesome.

Personally speaking, I've had loaves with a high sourdough starter component keep in edible-if-not-fresh condition for ten days or more.

I love bread so much. I cook a lot, but there is something magical and atavistic in the act of combining four simple things: flour, water, salt and yeast to produce a staple that has fed humanity for millennium.

Everything time I knead a loaf, I feel like I am re-enacting a simple yet satisfying ritual; hands tracing the movements of other hands across the world for thousands of years, engaging every sense, touch and feel, sight, smell and finally taste with the complex, sour, caramelised crust and crumb that ends in my mouth. It feels right to me, and serves to remind me how simple and satisfying life can be, and how much noise and flotsam can serve to make us forget that.
posted by smoke at 5:08 PM on June 7, 2011 [7 favorites]

I hear that Banette stores in France produce their own version of the industrial baguette.

Something like 40% of the baguettes in France is Banette. It's not bad as industrial products go, but it's not real bread either. They suffer from the same problem as any industrial white bread: lack of developed flavour and too uniform a texture. Eating it fresh helps a lot and the Banette baguette is pretty satisfying, but it's not good. In Paris I learned to shop at places that did not have the Banette advertising sign, and also to ask for the "baguette a l'ancienne" or similar named loaf that was €0.15 more expensive and 300% more delicious.
posted by Nelson at 7:41 PM on June 7, 2011

Clear Flour Bread in Brookline, MA now has its "Ancienne French" available every day (wait until after 1:00). I'm assuming it's the same thing as "baguette a l'ancienne".

I can never go back to regular french bread.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:51 PM on June 7, 2011

Two months ago, I spontaneously started making my own bread. I use whole wheat, oat bran, ground pumpkin seeds, yeast, salt, raw sugar, olive oil and soy milk, with a kick of cardamom. I must be evil to concoct something so complex, but I think of it as vegan meat, and it does last a week, if I refrigerate it. Otherwise, the wild things delight in this bread, and it dies an ignoble death on the counter. I do use a sponge, and still it is bread within 3-4 hours start to finish. Maybe I don't let it rise enough, but it is a great eating bread. I use little olive oil, because the pumpkin seeds exude their oil in the baking. I find it satisfying to knead the bread, it isn't really a laborious process. I really like baking it in ceramic dishes, the loves are wonderfully shaped, either tall and thundercloudy, or long ovals.
posted by Oyéah at 8:45 PM on June 7, 2011

In fact, when we ordered Dreamland for a party last year (and had it shipped from Tuscaloosa to Seattle), it came with loaves of Sunbeam -- each in its own form-fitting box.

Sunbeam style bread does seem to be mandatory with any BBQ place I've been to in the South. Does a great job of soaking up the gravy.

Speaking of sandwiches though, this has made me dream of my Dad's egg/bacon/mushroom sandwiches on good chunky brown bread.
posted by arcticseal at 9:00 PM on June 7, 2011

Oyeah, that loaf you described sounds magnificent. "Vegan meat" made me grin. Tall and thundercloudy! Is there any chance you'd be willing to supply step-by-step moron's instructions?

(I'm not a recipe cook generally and understand how quantities and times are subjective, but I hardly ever bake so I'd need a little more guidance when it comes to flour and yeast.)
posted by tangerine at 10:18 PM on June 7, 2011

We've been baking our own bread lately for the past few months, and eschewing store bought bread as far as possible. Here's a trick for dealing with the freshness issue: once the bread is sufficiently cool after baking, slice it up and immediately freeze it. It will keep for weeks in the freezer, and when you need a slice just pop it into the toaster. It'll taste almost as freshly-baked as on the day you made it.

I also wonder how Asian-style (more specifically Hong Kong-style I guess) breads compare to what's being discussed here; they use a lot more yeast, and incorporate sugar and fat to get a very soft and light bread.
posted by destrius at 11:19 PM on June 7, 2011

There's a French patissierie near where I live, in North London, which sells loaves of bread (from wholegrain loaves to olive and walnut loaves) made in France. I presume that the dough is mixed and shaped there and the final baking process takes place in London.

If that's not mind-boggling enough, there are also the La Brea Bakery loaves one can buy in Sainsbury's/Tesco, which start their journey in California.
posted by acb at 3:37 AM on June 8, 2011

this has made me dream of my Dad's egg/bacon/mushroom sandwiches on good chunky brown bread.

The force is strong in this thread! I get home tonight and what is waiting for me for dinner but my Dad's egg and bacon sandwich (they're visiting from the UK).

Did pb do an upgrade?
posted by arcticseal at 4:15 AM on June 8, 2011

If that's not mind-boggling enough, there are also the La Brea Bakery loaves one can buy in Sainsbury's/Tesco, which start their journey in California.

For a while you could get bread from Paris here in Seattle. It would be bought in the morning, thrown on an AirFrance flight to SEA, and sold the next day.

I never understood the appeal of day-old Parisian bread, especially given that Seattle isn't exactly a wasteland of artisan baking.
posted by dw at 10:04 AM on June 8, 2011

For a while you could get bread from Paris here in Seattle. It would be bought in the morning, thrown on an AirFrance flight to SEA, and sold the next day.

Did they bake it in Paris as well, or did they do the last step in Seattle?
posted by acb at 5:37 PM on June 8, 2011

Baked in Paris, flown to Seattle, sold day-old. Yep.
posted by dw at 10:01 PM on June 8, 2011

I think this got lost in the large number of links in this post, but if you are in the UK, there's a Real Bread Finder.
Our local bakery - Hobbs House - appears on the list. They make bread with only three ingredients: Local Ground Flour, Salt and Water.
posted by vacapinta at 5:35 AM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

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