Award-winning baker and bread judge Alex Gooch explains how real bread needs time, passion and intuition and introduces his sourdough starter, Daphne.
"Bakers are passionate about sourdough. They get quite attached to their starter - the mix of flour and water which develops into a wild yeast culture that can be used to bake bread.
My starter is called Daphne. I named her after my mentor, chef and nutritionist Daphne Lambert who triggered my infatuation with bread when I worked for her at Penrhos Court Hotel in Herefordshire.
Daphne is 17 years old now, a youngster compared to a few of the older bakeries where their wild yeast starters can date back over a century.
Over the years, my bakery has developed and evolved from a '1 man band' to a family-run, wholesale business with cafes and shops employing about 50 staff. We bake and deliver bread and pastries to our own sites as well as to Waitrose stores, delis, cafes and restaurants across England and Wales.
My Dad, following early retirement put a huge amount of effort into the bakery. His support, advice and encouragement is what enabled the bakery to progress.
I believe it's important to constantly challenge the accepted norms and innovate whilst preserving history and heritage at the same time.
For me, real bread doesn't have to be a sourdough but it should be made with time, passion and intuition.
When bread is made slowly, whether or not you use leaven or bakers' yeast, time allows for a natural fermentation of the grains. This pre-digests the grains allowing more nutrients to be available and also adds flavour and enhances the keeping qualities of the bread.
All too often I see bread on the shelves that has been rushed and consequently has been loaded with artificial flavours and preservatives. It's always worth checking the ingredients list on any loaf you buy. For me, real bread should contain flour, water and salt...nothing else.
When you are baking bread, you are effectively dealing with a living organism that is constantly changing and responding to it's environment. Changes in temperature, hydration and flour all contribute to the loaf and have to be managed carefully and intuitively, so you don't mess it up! It's a real labour of love.
Baking is an old-fashioned, honest profession which involves a lot of hard graft and our bakers are some of the hardest working people around.
We are currently opening a number of bakery/coffee shops and look forward to bringing real bread and our plant-based ethos to as many people as possible."
As well as baking, Alex has judged at a number of national bread awards, taught courses and done demonstrations at a number of schools and events across UK.