In recent years, there has been a trend to cut down on the amount of carbs that we eat. In fact, it has been estimated that as many as one in ten people in the UK try to avoid gluten in their diet.
And yet, despite the rise of the gluten-free wrap, the innovation of the ‘high protein sandwich’ and the decline of the sliced white loaf, bread has never really gone away. In fact, you could argue that the comfort of a typical English loaf is hard-wired into our national psyche.
Names like Warburtons and Hovis continue to dominate the lists of most popular English brands and bread remains a national obsession, from those persistent debates on the correct names for a bread roll (is it bap, barm cake or oven-bottom?) to the correct way to serve, and indeed, to eat, a bacond sandwich, the English have a deep and abiding affection for bread, healthy or not.
That relationship with bread is underlined by the extent to which bread is at the heart of many of our most popular meals and treats, from the breakfast toast thick with salted butter to that perennial favourite, bread and butter pudding. We love bread so much that we’ve even found a place for the blandest form of bread, the white processed loaf, as the ideal basis of a bacon sandwich.
Back in 2019, the British Sandwich Association found that we eat an impressive 11.5 billion sandwiches every year. The selling of pre-packaged sandwiches is worth an astonishing £8 billion every year and they continue to be popular almost regardless of the quality. Everyone in England it seems has a strong opinion on how to make the best sandwich.
At the upmarket end of the scale, bread coinossieurs may opt for a bacon butty at a top quality restaurant or fine sausage sandwiches employing the best of English sausages and artisanal breads. There has even been a trend for high end restaurants to serve their homebread bread along with cultured butter as a complete meal course in itself.
This love affair with bread has not always led to the best quality. Our affection for the fluffy white and brown stuff sometimes doesn’t translate into a push for better bread products. The ubiquitous processed white loaf, while in decline, is still a staple of supermarket shelves. There has been a rise in the range of ‘artisanal’ breads offered by supermarkets, but many of these are but pale imitations of the real thing, which should be made using simply flour, salt, water and traditional yeasts.
The good news is that in recent years, there has been a growth of such bakeries all over England. From the likes of Pollen, Trove and Lovingly Artisan in the Manchester region to the wide range of bakeries in London, bread lovers are able to enjoy a fascinating variety of products. So to help promote and further the cause of truly great artisanal breads, here is our guide to some of the best artisanal bakers around at the moment:
Run by Aidan Monks, this Kendal-based bakery, which has an outlet at Altrincham market, was the winner of several deserved awards during 2019 and is a real star among the current crop of artisanal English bakeries. Their signature loaves are made from heritage grains that employ a double fermentation process and a distinctive sourdough starter that Monks himself created. The range of breads on offer from Lovingly Artisan includes a five-grain rye and a sourdough loaf that is made using einkorn, one of the oldest grains available. They are also well known for their mature cheddar and chilli loaf, which won a Gold Medal at the World Bread Awards 2016.
While most artisan bakeries will be happy to tell you about the specialist flours that they use, there aren’t many around that can say they actually produce their own flour, but that’s not the case at Talgarth Mill, where every loaf is made using wholemeal flour derived from their community-run, water-powered flour mill. The flour itself has won numerous Great Taste Awards and is used in a bewildering variety of loaves, which range from spelt and sourdough to malted granary and sesame rye, and their Bara brith bread is not to be missed.
Even if you’ve never had the chance to visit Paul Rhodes bakery in Greenwich, there’s a good chance you will have tried his bread. Rhodes produces a vast range of artisan loaves serving hundreds of cafes, Michelin-starred restaurants, delis and hotel groups thoughout the capital. The bakery uses local ingredients and excels across the board, with its crusty baguettes and pain de campagne loaves particularly memorable, along with the famous fig, apricot and rosemary sourdough.
Based in Stratford, London, traditional rye breads from the Baltics and Russia are the main focus at Karaway. The bakery is a multiple winner at the Great Taste Awards and one of the great features of their products is that each of their rye loaves has its own unique starter. Some are matured for as long as 48 hours while others are made with a pre-fermentation technique called scalding, which results in a moister, slightly sweeter bread. There are so many great loaves to choose from with this bakery, but look out for the Lithuanian scalded rye, which won three stars at the Great Taste Awards 2017.
The Dusty Knuckle Bakery
Another London-based bakery, this time in Dalston, the Dusty Knuckle started life in a shipping container in a car park. Now based in a much bigger premises, although still on the same car park, the bakery turns out handcrafted sourdough loaves with thick dark crusts, such as the wonderful soft potato sourdough, ogether with tasty cakes and pastries. Even more impressive is its social employment programme, which gives training to young people who struggled to find employment.
Based in Hoxton in London, this fashionable Swedish bakery now has a number of locations around the capital, but first opened for business in a railway arch in Hoxton in 2012. The original location is still where most of the baking takes place and this remains the best place to go for cinnamon buns and fresh Scandinavian loaves. True to its Nordic origins, the focus here is on dark rye breads, but there are also some pectacular sourdoughs and traditional tin loaves such as the delightful ‘Mr Toast’. Look out for the spectacular rye and cranberry loaf.
This part of Bristol is always full of the scent of freshly baked bread produced by Hart’s Bakery. Instead of baking only one batch early in the morning, the bakers at Hart’s work throughout the day, which means warm loaves are sold straight from the oven. And those loaves are pretty spectacular. Hart’s range features a malted wheat and sunflower, along with a weekly changing baker’s special that is available each Friday. Of the many superb loaves on offer, the 100% rye sourdough tin loaf, with its thick crust and dense dough is one of the best.
Based in Liverpool, the Baltic Bakehouse keeps things simple. Their focus is on producing everyday loaves, which are made by hand with the best ingredients. Their humble philosophy doesn’t mean that the bread making process is simple, however. Their bread undergoes a a 10-hour fermentation and features a mix of flours to give the signature Baltic Wild sourdough loaf the perfect tangy flavour and chewy texture. The Baltic Best, which features a crisp golden crust, is also worth a look and represents the perfect base for a BLT or cheese toastie.
This famous modern English bakery started out in a railway arch underneath Manchester Piccadilly station in 2017, but has since moved to a new cafe space in New Islington Marina in 2018 in order to cope with the growing demand for their bread. All of Pollen’s sourdough loaves feature naturally occurring yeasts and are slow fermented durin a 28 hours period, permitting flavour and nutrients to develop. One of their most popular loaves is the oat porridge loaf which involves the addition of porridge oats to the dough to create a creamy texture and flavour.