Just what we knead

Traditional flour mills are being dusted down as a fresh batch of bakers attempt to make the perfect loaf. Susan Low meets the rising stars of the bread world and discovers the joys of the daily grind

The combination of soft, Melbourne accent and evangelical fervour are an odd but beguiling combination. Get Dan Lepard started on his pet topic - bread and all things related - and he is unstoppable. Words flow in a mellifluous flood as he waxes lyrical about the loaf, its texture and flavour, its crust and crumb. Lepard, who has worked with several leading restaurateurs, including Alastair Little, Giorgio Locatelli, Peter Gor-
don and Fergus Henderson, has arguably done more to raise the profile of bread in Britain than any baker in the past decade.

His quest for the perfect loaf has led him to experiment with brewers' yeasts and bread "starters" from around the world. Lately, he has been turning his attention to the basic ingredients of bread, namely wheat and flour. Although nearly 90 per cent of flour in the UK is milled by big, faceless businesses, it's not all doom and gloom. A resurgence of interest in "real" bread is bringing many wind- or water-powered mills to life, to provide the stone-ground flours artisanal bakers use.

One such is Cann Mills in Shaftesbury, Dorset, run by Michael Stoate, a second-
generation miller. He greets us with an outstretched hand finely dusted with flour, accompanied by the sound of the millstones grinding in the old Heath Robinson-esque mill. Cann Mills, which his father bought in 1947, is partly powered by water. There's a millpond with ducks, a weeping willow and a couple of sheep to complete the idyllic scene. Three millstones stand against the side of the barn. Although stone-grinding flour is not as efficient as the roller method employed by the bigger mills, there are advantages. "It allows us to retain the wheatgerm," Stoate explains. "In the steel-roller process, they take it out because of its high oil content."

One of the main wheat varieties used at Cann Mills is Maris Widgeon, an ancient variety that was grown as much for its thatch as its wheat. Stoate describes it as a low-yielding, labour-intensive variety; it's not easy to cultivate, but it has that rare thing - character.

Another fan of Maris Widgeon is John Lister, founder of Shipton Mill in Tetbury, Gloucestershire, which is so ancient it was mentioned in the Domesday Book. Lister has restored it to working order and now it supplies speciality flour, including a single-variety flour made from Maris Widgeon, to a network of small bakers around the country.

Other mills which have been grinding back into action are the Sarre Windmill in Kent which was bought and restored by local Malcolm Hobbs in 1985; Letheringsett Watermill in Norfolk, which relies entirely on power from the River Glaven to grind 100 per cent English wheat into flour; and the Redbournbury Watermill in Lincolnshire.

Typical of the new breed of quality bakers using this flour is Emmanuel Hadjiandreou, the young baker at Daylesford Organic Farmshop. Hadjiandreou trained in Cape Town before working with Gordon Ramsay and in the Savoy with Anton Edelmann.

"With all the recent food scares, people want to be able to trace where their food is coming from," he says. "When people ask where the flour comes from I can say 'over there'," he says, pointing into the green distance. Daylesford's wheat is milled at Shipton Mill and the bread, including five kinds of sourdough, is baked daily on the premises. Hadjiandreou shows me the rye starter, a brown, sticky mass, and holds it out for me to sniff. It's pungent and slightly sour, and shares the same nutty tang that the finished bread has. "When you're making proper bread, there's no need to add things to it," he says.

Someone who shares this philosophy is Aidan Chapman, head baker at Leaker's Bakery in Bridport, Dorset. Chapman uses flour from both Cann and Shipton Mills. Behind the tiny shop-front is an old bakery dominated by a massive cast-iron oven. The place hums with activity amid smells of yeast, vanilla and spice. At 34, Chapman is one of the last of a generation who learnt to bake in an apprenticeship. He also worked at a big commercial bakery (which he describes as "a real eye-opener") before becoming head baker at the Celtic Bakery in London.

At Leaker's he bakes as many as 100 types of bread, depending on the season. "Some bakers say, I can only make what my customers will buy. That's rubbish. Good bread sells itself." It's not an easy job, but it's not one he would ever think of giving up. "Baking is not just a job," he says, "it's a way of life".

When I ask what's at the heart of this new "movement", Lepard replies, "Incredible arrogance. We believe we can take good ingredients, the practices of our grandparents - rather than our parents - and make it better. It's extreme arrogance - and it's working." *

Sarre Windmill, tel: 01843 847 573; Cann Mills, tel: 01747 852 475; Shipton Mill, tel: 01666 505 050; Leaker's, tel: 01308 423 296; Daylesford Organic Farmshop, tel: 01608 731 700; or visit www.danlepard.com

Dan Lepard's
walnut bread

Makes 1 loaf

For the dough
100g/3oz walnut paste
(see below)
275g/9fl oz water
1 teaspoon of fresh yeast
350g/111/2oz white flour
100g/31/2oz wholemeal flour
50g/2oz rye flour
2 teaspoons of salt
50g/2oz honey
100g/31/2oz halved walnut oil
for kneading

For the walnut paste

40g/11/2oz walnuts
20g/3/4oz melted butter
40g/11/2fl oz water
A pinch of salt

For the walnut paste, place the walnuts, water, salt and butter in
a grinder and mix until you have a soft smooth paste. Remove and leave to one side.

Whisk together water and yeast. Leave to one side. Combine the flours and salt in a large bowl. Next, whisk the honey in with the yeasted water; add walnut paste and stir into the dry ingredients.

When combined into a soft sticky dough, add walnuts and squidge together. Pat a tablespoon of olive oil over the top and sides of the dough. Cover the bowl and leave for 10 minutes.

Tip the dough on to an oiled, floured work surface and lightly knead about 10 times. Round the dough into a ball, and return to the bowl. Cover and leave in a warm place for 15 minutes. Knead once more and return the dough to the bowl for a further 30 minutes.

Line a deep bowl with a clean tea-towel dusted with flour and place the dough in, seam-side up. Cover with the cloth, and leave to rise in a warm place for 60 to 90 minutes, until almost doubled in height.

Preheat the oven to 210C/410F/
Gas 6. Turn the dough out on
to a floured baking sheet; cut a checkerboard pattern into the top of the loaf. Bake in the centre of the oven for about an hour or until the loaf is rich brown and, when tapped, sounds hollow. Cool on a wire rack.

English muffins

Makes 12 muffins

300g/10oz strong white flour
1 tablespoon wheatgerm
200g/7oz raisins
350ml/12fl oz warm water
2 teaspoons dried yeast
200g/7oz wholemeal flour
3 tablespoons golden syrup
3 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
Corn or sunflower oil for kneading the dough

For the dough, pour the water
into a bowl. Add the raisins, wheatgerm and yeast and stir
with a fork. Next add the white flour and mix well. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave in a warm place for 30 minutes.

Add the wholemeal flour, cider vinegar, syrup and salt. Stir together with a fork, then work
the mixture into a dough ball
with your hands. Rub a teaspoon of oil over it. Place in a bowl and cover with a clean cloth and leave in a warm place for 10 minutes.

Place dough on a work surface. Lightly knead for 30 seconds, or until it begins to stick to the surface. When this happens, scrape the dough back into the bowl, rub more oil on the surface, cover
and leave for 10 minutes.

Once again, tip the dough out on
to the work surface. Knead for a minute or so, until the dough feels very soft and moist. Return the dough to the bowl, cover and leave for 15 minutes. By this time the dough should have risen by half.

Generously dust a tea tray with flour. Tip the dough out on to a work surface and dust the dough lightly with flour. Roll the dough into a rectangle measuring 30cm by 25cm (12in by 10in) and just under 1.25cm (1/2in) thick. Cut the dough into rounds roughly 9cm (31/3in) across.

Transfer the cut pieces on to the tray, cover and leave to prove in a warm place for 30 to 45 minutes.

Preheat a frying pan over a low flame. Dust three pieces of dough with flour and place in the pan and cover. After five minutes gently
flip the half-cooked muffins over. Replace the lid and cook for a further five minutes. Transfer to
a cooling rack and cook the rest.

Cool before slicing. Toast and serve with butter.

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