Buying lousy bread... (a rant)

nina

It's impossible to buy good bread in my local area and it's very frustrating. A few days ago I went to Køge, which is larger city (by Danish standards) so I figured it should be possible to buy a decent loaf of bread there.
So... we find this small bakery, the display in the windows looks ok, but sadly none of the interesting looking loaves are being sold inside the shop, they are just display.
As I don't see any loaves looking particularly interesting I ask the young girl if they have any loaves that are slow-risen. Sure, she says, all their loaves are. Wow, I think, that's a good sign! (I almost feel guilty for having negative expectations.)I go for the ciabatta, she tells me it has risen for 48 hours. It's a medium sized loaf and it costs me 30 kroner, which is expensive - but ok if the bread is worth it.

As we get home and I unwrap the loaf I can tell something is completely wrong... the crust looks nothing like ciabatta, all shiny, thin and sort of flaky... Then I cut into it. Argh! It's just a regular bakery white loaf, which means it has a texture like cotton wool, fluffy, light and no strenght or elasticity. If you press the crumb it just remains flat. It's impossible to put butter on it - the crumb kinda vanishes with the pressure of the knife.
Now if I hadn't paid 30 kroner or been told that it had risen for 48 hours I probably wouldn't be as upset, because 90% of all bakery loaves are similar to that one. But it was sold as a ciabatta! I was so infuriated!

And what did I do about it? Nothing. Well I ranted and raved for hours to my husband - who took pleasyre in imagining the fate of this baker had he sold his so-called ciabatta in Italy - but that was it. We ate some of the bread and threw out the rest. I guess I should have taken the bread back and complained, but I'm too civilized. And since most bakeries sell that type of bread, it does seem kind of pointless.
It's all very frustrating. I'm about to give up on buying bread at bakeries, because even supermarked bread is better. I guess for most of us this is one of the reasons we bake at home, but I really wish I could get some competition!

Do you have any decent (or even good!) bakeries in your local area? What do you do if you're sold utterly crappy bread in a bakery?

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Replies

coelecanth 2007 July 12

My sympathies Nina. I had a similar experience with our local "bakery" which was what prompted me to start baking.

Shortly after our son was born, my wife sent me out to buy bread as she had a craving for something other than the tasteless, soft supermarket bread we had been eating. So I went to the local "bakery" and I bought what was sold as French Country Bread- but was just the same white supermarket bread in a different shape. This led to a search for bread and baking books and eventually to Dan Lepard's "The Handmade Loaf". (So I suppose in a way I should thank them). Later when I was looking for fresh yeast I went back to the same bakery to ask for yeast only to be told, quite unashamedly, that they did not bake bread on the premises (this despite calling themselves a "bakery"), they had it all delivered from somewhere else. I suspect all their breads are from the same dough, with different toppings/ shapes. Ughh. I also was too meek to question this, I just never went back there again.

It is really sad that bread is becoming more and more homogenous- all the different flavours are being lost.

Best wishes finding good bread,

Andrew

Danubian's picture
Danubian 2007 July 16

[quote="coelecanth"].................. I just never went back there again.

It is really sad that bread is becoming more and more homogenous- all the different flavours are being lost.
[/quote]

G'day Andrew,

While I understand your frustration and sympathise with your yearn for good honest bread, I think you may have missed that bread today isn't [b]"becoming more and more homogenous"[/b] it's becoming more and more diverse. A case in point to illustrate this is this website and others like it. I've been in the baking industry for nearly 27 years and at no time have I ever seen the move to the type of bread that we here call artisan ever being so dramatic as currently. Oh sure, its a gradual process of change but there's no doubting the changes afoot. I'm not sure where you live, but in Australia more and more bakeries are either embracing artisan principles or have a sample of artisan bread in their repertoire.

Industrial food will probably continue for some time to come - until peak oil really bites the food supply chain - but history may prove to be more fickle than we expect, and the indication about future difficulties in energy, finance, and the real economy, may drive the future of food production to a more local organic economic paradigm. I use the word "may" because although I believe the choice is a given, humanity may not choose that road but a more sinister alternative.

At any rate, you're another testament to what's happening in food conscious circles.

Good luck with your baking.

Skua's picture
Skua 2007 July 17

Dear Nina,

You are not alone with your disappointing experience. Living in the neighbourhood I think I know what you mean. In our country we had a secret development. It was not recognized at all for a long time. We always had a baker’s store only a few steps away in our cities and villages. So we thought. And we always had supermarkets. Most people bought bread in the baker’s shop, not the cheap one with the 100 ingredients declared in the supermarket.

The “baker” is allowed to sell without declaration. People have a quite emotional relationship to their daily bread that is given, not only in Germany. In our country it seems to have more the connotation of health and nutrition rather than beauty and taste. And when we try to safe money it is not with bread we safe money. With other food we are less careful (when I try to compare it with our neighbours in the south). But this special buying behaviour saved us not from tasteless bread…

What we didn’t recognize was the vanishing of small bakeries over the years. One baker, one shop, this was in the seventies. The baker in the former decades could offer only one sort of buns, one black loaf, one grey and one in white… But every baker had his or her very own bread. Now, when we go to the baker we can choose between 20 sorts of rolls and 40 sorts of bread. And you can have a cup of coffee, and even slice of pizza, and perhaps you see the ovens with the hot warm bread outcome every hour…What has happened?

The small baker stores are only branches of factory-like bakeries outside the city. The early morning scent of bread has vanished. Only a few people recognized this, they only have the uncertain feeling of missing something. Perhaps taste, but they are not sure. If you are a home baker you learn something of the pro business step by step. One thing I’ve learned is that they use quite a lot of additives and mixtures. If you ask you get the answer that it is all natural and no poison… maybe. They use nearly always straight dough. And they use nearly always ready mixtures (with sourdough as a perfume in it too of course) and it is the same mixture in Berlin, in Munich and in Hintertupfingen. And they developed techniques to offer “warm bread” in the store. Perhaps the hottest thing today is the “double baking” method (or “interrupted baking”* method) . That means. Give the loaf a 1/2 bake in the factory and a last kick in the store in the show room.
Another new trick to pretend handicraft: the use of one way paper tins, with a thin layer of silicon inside. The form of the loaf seams to be more hand crafted than if it was baked in a normal tin.

These changes were developing gradually and imperceptibly. A nice public relation machine of the old “proud guilds” is still working fine. And so in Germany the term “artisan bread” is unknown. Only the “bio”-stores have another kind of bread. They offer bread with good health value: always whole grain and organically grown. But there is poor handicraft understanding and skill in baking a good looking and tasty loaf. Sad! But this is the marked in central Europe today.

Michael

*PR-source with nice pics but no English txt, sorry: : http://www.backmittel.de/BBZ/pdf/Backen-im-Laden.pdf

TeckPoh's picture
TeckPoh 2007 July 18

I can't complain. Our country has been raised on white fluffy bread since forever. Bread with no inherent flavour, only borrowed ones from very creative fillings. Bread with no texture until recently where we have just the extreme, a bread with a never-ending list of so-called healthful ingredients until you read closely and get stuck at some unpronounceable ingredient.

The only good bread which is available commercially through an organic chain is Martin Prior's (active in Dan's forum and registered here). And he had to throw away a lot of bread before he reached an acceptable formula. I don't know if there is hope for a change. Just a few days ago, I saw news of [url=http://kuali.com/news/story.asp?file=/2007/7/13/eatingout/18218883&sec=eatingout]a norwegian chain[/url] about to take our bread scene by storm. Michael and Nina, are they in your country? Do you know if they are the real thing?

As for me, I'm doing my small part in introducing BREAD to my friends. They started saying the bread was 'hard' 3 months back. But, now, they don't. They don't even care what bread I'm offering for the week...they'll just get it from me. And the regulars have doubled. I hardly make any money from selling breads since I'm now not getting flour at wholesale prices, but I'm happy enough to know that I've 'rescued' some people from white bleached additive-filled bread.<---me tongue is in me cheek.

Skua's picture
Skua 2007 July 18

[quote="TeckPoh"]...I saw news of a norwegian chain about to take our bread scene by storm. Michael and Nina, are they in your country? Do you know if they are the real thing?... [/quote]

A new chain, such a beautiful disease…

No I’ve never heard of it here, but I never was in Norway. In the net you can find that it is the only chain in Norway and it looks like a smart connection between industry and trade. They provide small stores and supermarkets as well. “The real thing” is a nice word. But in which sense? Yes of course, I think they will be able to offer modern bread in the same quality as in Norway, and they seem to follow a very smart concept of “event shopping”. There are signs that they want to get a grip in Germany too, but I think the competition there is already well organized by long existing and slowly developing structures.

The real thing in a sense of a traditional craft, with the need of time and human labour, resulting in bread of an outstanding quality…? I doubt it! Perhaps the step to Malaysia is a tiger’s jump for this enterprise and the birth of new trade mark like IKEA or Microsoft. Very cunning, exciting, especially if you hold the share of this company.

As Danubian said, nobody knows the future, and there is good reason to hope the best. If our societies will prosper and develop in a friendly direction, then there will be place for art and culture, not only nutrition. And you can be a professional with passion, TP.

Michael

nina 2007 July 23

[quote="Skua"]Dear Nina,

You are not alone with your disappointing experience. Living in the neighbourhood I think I know what you mean. In our country we had a secret development. [/quote]
I've never thought about it like that, but I think the development you describe has also been taking place in Denmark. It's very hard to find a bakery, that is not a chain bakery these days.
But I also think the post-war years has been very hard on Danish food culture... a lot was destroyed during the 50es, the focus was all on the "wonders" of new technology and how efficient you could make cooking and house keeping. Baking a bread in 1 hour - wow, fantastic! Give me more yeast, please!

I hope you are right about development Boris. There certainly has been a huge development when it comes to beer in Denmark - 5 years ago all you could buy was Carlsberg (and cheap Carlsberg knock-offs) and it was unthinkable to have anything but wine with a fancy dinner. Today there are so many small breweries and great beer from all over the world is imported and sold in every supermarket and most restaurants and pubs. Let's hope the same thing can happen with great bread. I think part of the problem is so many people don't even know what it tastes, feels and smells like!

TP, I don't know that chain. But if Norwegian bread is anything like Danish I wouldn't get my hopes up...
(I'd buy whatever bread you where offering too!)

Croc 2007 November 11

[quote="Danubian"][quote="coelecanth"].................. I just never went back there again.

It is really sad that bread is becoming more and more homogenous- all the different flavours are being lost.
[/quote]

G'day Andrew,

While I understand your frustration and sympathise with your yearn for good honest bread, I think you may have missed that bread today isn't [b]"becoming more and more homogenous"[/b] it's becoming more and more diverse. A case in point to illustrate this is this website and others like it. I've been in the baking industry for nearly 27 years and at no time have I ever seen the move to the type of bread that we here call artisan ever being so dramatic as currently. Oh sure, its a gradual process of change but there's no doubting the changes afoot. I'm not sure where you live, but in Australia more and more bakeries are either embracing artisan principles or have a sample of artisan bread in their repertoire.

Industrial food will probably continue for some time to come - until peak oil really bites the food supply chain - but history may prove to be more fickle than we expect, and the indication about future difficulties in energy, finance, and the real economy, may drive the future of food production to a more local organic economic paradigm. I use the word "may" because although I believe the choice is a given, humanity may not choose that road but a more sinister alternative.

At any rate, you're another testament to what's happening in food conscious circles.

Good luck with your baking.[/quote]

sadly i can't agree, you go to one bakery in australia and you know what bread taste like in other 99% of bakeries.
there is few that really make true old school bread but most just use the current hype and "special" words to present us with what i call a LAIR's breads, sourdough* (*sourdough flavoured), rye* (*99% wheat 1% rye) and so on.
there is very small number of bakeries that really make true bread so i recommend everyone that got one near by to support it so they don't go out of business.

australia isn't the alone with that and from what i hear from my family back in poland bread baking went downhill in poland as well, which is sad because 10 years ago every single bakery around my place had different breads.
one was known for great white rolls, other for great white bread, next one had best wholemeal and rye breads and yet another one behind community gardens at the back of my house had best baguettes that on weekends would see people coming from all over the place to wait for hour or more just to buy couple of those.
i wish someone could show me bakery so good that would have people traveling from other suburbs and then wait for hour or more just to buy bloody baguette or two.....

PaddyL 2008 April 14
There's a patisserie up the street from us that bakes bread on the premises and you can buy poolish baguettes, ficelles, any type of good bread, but you'll pay for it!  I can make the same sort of bread much more cheaply, so I only buy it when I cannot physically make the bread myself.  Broke my shoulder last summer and it was weeks before I could even use the standing mixer.  In a supermarket where we shop, we can buy a good loaf of 100% ww bread, and a double loaf of oatmeal bread and they are cheaper than the patisserie.  But I prefer my own.  I love the making of it, the baking of it, the whole lovely mess of flour, water, yeast, and salt, and any other ingredients I toss in, all of it coming together under my hands; it's almost sacramental.  I think people are just generally ignorant about real bread, or their expectations are extremely low, which is why they put up with the sliced, bagged, kleenex-y stuff.

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