With 11 million loaves of bread being produced every day in Britain by bakeries, why should we bother to bake our own? Although large bakeries still dominate, supplying 80% of our total daily bread, supermarkets’ in-store bakeries are also now producing 17%, and artisan bakers are contributing 3% of the total.

That 3% doesn’t sound much, but it represents some 330,000 crusty sourdough loaves being baked and sold every day – a figure that is indicative of a tremendous rise in craft bread baking. This movement towards artisan baking is a testament to our increasing awareness of the health benefits of real, slow-rising bread. It is also a reflection of our awareness of the shortcomings of mass-produced bread made using the speeded-up method known as the Chorleywood bread process, developed in the 1960s.

The Real Bread Campaign, founded jointly by Andrew Whitley and the charity Sustain in 2008, now has more than 650 Real Bread bakeries listed on its website. These form the top-quality organic-plus-sourdough end of the 2,000 independent bakeries in its directories. The Campaign’s website also provides a useful Real Bread finder that will help you locate the artisan baker closest to your door.

If there isn’t a Real Bread baker near you, then you could, of course, simply buy the artisanal bread to be found in the in-house bakery in your local supermarket. So we’re back to the question, why bother to bake your own bread? There are two very good reasons: control of ingredients, and enjoyment of the process.

In-house supermarket bakeries, even when they are baking on-site rather than finishing off frozen part-baked loaves, are sometimes very far from being the modern-day counterpart of an old-fashioned village bakery. Rather, they have been described by Chris Young of the Real Bread Campaign as “tanning salons” and “fakeries”. They have jumped on the sourdough bandwagon, and though their bread may look and smell very tempting, there is no guarantee that only the basic and most wholesome ingredients have gone into it. This is why the Real Bread Campaign is proposing an Honest Crust Act to ensure that Real Bread contains no unwelcome additives. Anything added to the bread beyond flour, water and salt would have to go on the label, so you’d know if “sourdough flavour” had been added!

The great thing about baking at home is that you are the one who is in control of the ingredients – and you can decide how far to go with sourcing and processing those ingredients, and what additions you make. Even without harvesting your own wheat or grinding it, you can harvest much joy from engaging in the rhythmic process of baking. Like the ebb and flow of a tide, the rising, kneading, folding, proving, baking patterning of our lives as bakers can sink into our souls like a beautiful melody that brings us back to sanity when the going is rough, lifting, containing and nurturing our mood. By making bread we are engaging in an age-old craft that will give us something to sustain ourselves physically and emotionally – and something we can enjoy sharing with others.

Although it’s very easy to make your own leaven from scratch simply by stirring together a little water and rye flour and then adding a little more of both each day until your brew starts to fizz, people often prefer to kickstart their sourdough adventures by getting a few spoonfuls of a reliable ‘house’ leaven from someone who bakes regularly. Dry leavens are also available on some baking websites such as Andrew Whitley’s Bread Matters. Natural yeasts that are present in the flour have contributed to creating the fermenting brew we describe as a leaven (or starter). If you don’t have a leaven and you want to turn your hand to baking straight away, the following recipe also works with yeast. The recipe uses volume cup measures. 1 level cup is equivalent to 250ml UK or 237ml USA.


This delicious fruity loaf is perfect at breakfast or tetime – sliced and buttered.

1 cup refreshed sourdough starter (leaven) – if leaven is not available, you will need ½ cup rye flour, 1 cup warm water and 1½ tsp dried yeast

1 cup of raisins

8 dried apricots, chopped

1 cup of apple juice/warm water

1 cup grated organic carrot

2 tbsp honey or soft brown sugar

3 cups unbleached organic white flour (or 1 cup brown and 2 cups white, if you prefer)

1 rounded tsp sea salt

1 tsp cinnamon or mixed spice

1 tbsp sunflower oil

1. If using leaven, start by refreshing this the evening before you plan to bake your bread. Remove it from the fridge and to approximately ½ cup leaven add 1 cup warm water, ½ cup rye flour and ½ cup white flour. Mix well, cover with a plate and allow to fizz up over night at room temperature. (Later, put surplus leaven back in your fridge until you next bake.)

2. Next day, begin by soaking the raisins and chopped apricots in warm water and/or apple juice for 30 minutes.

3. If you are using yeast as your leavening agent, mix together the rye flour, warm water and dried yeast, leaving it for at least 5 minutes so that the yeast granules dissolve. (The quantities given should make 1 cup by volume when mixed.)

4. In a larger bowl, combine all the ingredients and mix well (including the raisins and their soaking liquid as well as EITHER 1 cup of the refreshed leaven OR the mixed rye flour, water and yeast). You should have a softish dough. Smooth the surface with some water to prevent the dough from drying out and then leave it to rise in a warm sheltered spot for 1–2 hours, until the dough has almost doubled.

5. Knead the well-risen dough for just a few minutes. If you are making the leaven version of the loaf, leave it to rise for a further hour and then knead it briefly again.

6. To shape the loaf, fold the dough in on itself, joining the edges together at the top. Rock the dough in a pool of flour to smooth the bottom and then either put it, with the joins facing down, into a large, oiled, flour-dusted 1kg bread tin, or transfer it, with the joins facing up, to a floured banaton or a bowl lined with a clean, floured tea towel. Splash the dough with a little water and lightly cover it with a tea towel to keep out draughts. Leave it to prove in a warm spot until it has almost doubled in size – 2–3 hours for the yeasted bread and 4–6 hours for the leaven bread, depending on the weather!

7. Preheat your oven to 180 °C. Up-turn the round loaves onto a parchment-lined or flour-dusted baking sheet and slash the tops with a sharp knife. Transfer the loaves to the oven and bake them for approximately 45 minutes. They are ready when the base sounds hollow and drum-like when knocked, and the sides feel quite secure when squeezed. Leave the loaves to cool on an airing rack for at least 15 minutes before slicing and enjoying with a good dab of fresh farmhouse butter!

There are many helpful books on the market that will guide you through the process of craft bread baking, and many workshops you can join to help gain confidence in this art. Last year Andrew Whitley produced a simple pocket-sized guide, Do Sourdough: Slow Bread for Busy Lives, which quickly dispels any concerns that leaven bread simply can’t fit in with your lifestyle. Quite the contrary: the very slowness of sourdough bread makes it a very forgiving substance to work with – you can leave it rising for hours while you go shopping, or even slow it down further by popping it in the fridge overnight!

The Real Bread Campaign is co-organising a conference in London on 12 September 2015 called Real Bread: The Uprising. www.realbreadcampaign.org

Julia Ponsonby is Head of Food at Schumacher College, and is the author of Gaia’s Kitchen, Gaia’s Feasts and The Art of Mindful Baking.