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“Real bread” and the rise of Sourdough

Interview with SideStory Insider and food writer, Naomi Knill

Ten years ago, if someone had told you that a TV show where members of the public bake things in a tent would be amongst the most highly anticipated, viewed and talked about programs in the UK, you would be entirely forgiven for thinking it was some kind of joke. There’s no doubt though that The Great British Bake Off has been instrumental in the resurgence of the art of baking and who better to chat to about this than Naomi Knill, food writer at the Ginger Gourmand, co-founder of the South East London baking club Band of Bakers and our newest Food & Drink Insider?

  Naomi Knill Bakery Experience

There can’t be any doubt that we’re in a baking boom – why do you think that is?

We have always been a nation that bakes. There are recipes which form part of our heritage and our identity: things that we would have baked with our mothers and which they would have baked with theirs. That said, I do think the Great British Bake Off goes a pretty long way to explaining why there’s been such a recent surge in popularity: the amount of home baking – and the increase in the sales of home baking equipment – have gone through the roof.

Bread that has been baked without any artificial additives or processing aids is something that’s really taking off. 

I’ve seen quite a rise in the number of people baking real bread – both commercially and at home. Of course, bread is available everywhere, but bread that has been baked without any artificial additives or processing aids – so just flour, water, yeast and salt, as opposed to mass-produced, supermarket loaves – is something that’s really taking off.

Bakery Experience Sourdough

Why is that, do you think?

In the past communities would have had their own bakeries, but we moved away from that with the development of the Chorleywood process, which came about in the early 1960s.

What’s that, exactly?

It is method of bread making (using lower protein wheat, a range of additives and high-speed mixing) which was developed to speed up the process: to make bread more quickly, to get it out onto the shelves faster and to last longer. The upshot has been that since then we have, as a nation, been consuming these bread products which are heavily laden with additives. The current trend for more ‘authentic’ loaves is, I think, a reaction to that: a desire to get back to basics and bake real bread.

There has been a notable rise in the number of micro bakeries and bigger sourdough bakeries across the country. We’ve got a great sourdough bakery down the road from me in South East London, Brick House Bakery, which started out on a little industrial estate and has grown into a well-regarded bakery set in a large warehouse space, where they now have a café and offer bread making courses. It seems to me that there is both the demand for the product and also for the skill in making bread.

People are increasingly concerned about what they put in their bodies, and proper sourdough is the most natural and unprocessed bread you can get.

Baking Sourdough

What is the trend in the bread world – are we still in throes of sourdough?

Yes, most definitely. People are increasingly concerned about what they put in their bodies, and proper sourdough is the most natural and unprocessed bread you can get. Getting started can be a little daunting though..Certainly I always baked bread at home, but I had never baked sourdough until I went on a sourdough course at Brick House last year. I now bake 2 or 3  loaves each week to keep us in bread at home. Doing a course really demystified the process for me – sometimes all you really need is someone to help you take those initial steps.

You’ve said that you’re more of a savory baker, but have you delved into the world of enriched breads?

That’s an interesting question. People often associate the word ‘baking’ with cakes, buns and patisserie, and I have certainly seen a lot more baking of sweet, enriched breads like babka and brioche, at Band of Bakers [the bake club Naomi co-runs in South East London]. I think things like Bake Off have increased people’s vocabulary when it comes to bread making – I imagine fewer people would have known about, or even baked, babka prior to the show. But in reality, enriched breads form part of our baking heritage – hot cross buns and lardy cake for example.

Dessert Experience Baking

I think we’re going to see a lot more about vegetarian, vegan and flexitarian cooking and diets this year.

What else do you think we’re going to be seeing more of this year?

I think we’re going to see a lot more about vegetarian, vegan and flexitarian cooking and diets this year: people who for health, economic or moral reasons – are looking to cut back on meat and dairy, but not in the excessive way that we’ve seen recently with the craze for clean eating.

For me one of the most empowering things about baking is that if you’re baking your own cakes and bread, you have absolute control over the ingredients you use both in terms of quality and quantity, so if you’re concerned about what you’re putting into your body, making it yourself is a way to know exactly what you’re getting.

Naomi is our Food & Drink Insider and leads our Vegetarian Exploration and Baking Renaissance Experiences at Sidestory. You can find out more about her here.