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Last week Cookery Editor Sue McMahon had the honour of being invited to judge at the first World Bread Awards, sponsored by Tiptree, which took place at Bakers Hall in the city of London.

Artisan bread baking is becoming very popular – you only have to look at the wide variety of flours available in the shops which is being supplied to meet the demand for home baking products. This first World Bread Awards was mainly for professional bakers, but there were also categories for the home bakers and youngsters to enter.  The competition took place at Bakers Hall, which is the home of master bakers in the UK. On arriving I was surprised how new the building is, as most of the old guild buildings that I’ve visited have been historic buildings, but we were told that this is in fact the third home of bakers, as their first building burnt down in the Great Fire of London, and then their next hall burnt down too!

royal iced cake at bakers hall

Royal Iced Cake

The first thing that caught my eye as I entered the building was the most amazing royal iced cake which was made to celebrate an anniversary of the guild, and must have taken hours to decorate. It had the most exquisite painting on one side, and then there were piped run-outs on the other sides of crests of the organisation.

World Bread Awards

World Bread Awards

The breads were all laid out in the main hall, and as the doors were opened there was an amazing waft of freshly baked bread that came out – and made me hungry!  I hadn’t had breakfast before going as I wanted to be able to appreciate the bread.

First of all we were given a talk about how to cut and taste bread. That may seem very obvious, but in fact, there is an art to it!  We were given a selection of bloomer loaves, and first we had to give the loaf marks for how it looked. We were told to look for a good even colour, and a loaf that looked well risen and that held it’s shape, and hadn’t sunk, and without any creases in the dough.

Next came the cutting. The loaves had slashed tops, and we were told to cut in the opposite direction to those slashes to give the biggest surface area to look at.

Then we were to judge the loaves on their aroma.  This wasn’t just sniffing the loaves – we were told to hold the loaves up to our noses and squeeze the loaves several times, as this forces air through the bread and intensifies the aroma and we were told if we put the tip of our  tongues on the cut surface while squeezing the bread we’d get the full flavour of it.

It was only after that that we actually tasted the bread (making sure we didn’t eat bread that someone else had licked with their tongues!!!!).  Apparently as the taste receptors at the front of the tongue expert tasters can judge a loaf just by the aroma and using their tongues, so they then don’t have to eat lots of bread, but not being trained or practiced in this (and being hungry), I enjoyed trying a little piece of each too.

With bread, most of the flavour comes from the crust, so it’s important to try some of the crust along with the inner part to get the true flavour.  I was judging alongside James Freeman, owner of Victoria Bakery in Barnet, North London, who as a 5th generation master baker, certainly knew about breads and was able to give me lots of tips on what to look for, and types of flour.  The overall winner of our category was a sour dough loaf, and sour dough loaves seemed to be very popular, and the runner up was an unusual ring loaf which was flavoured with fennel seed, and which was absolutely delicious.

If you’ve been inspired to have a go at making bread, you could start practicing now to enter next year! Why not get started with one of these Woman’s Weekly recipes?

pesto and onion foccacia

Pesto and Onion Foccacia

This Pesto and Onion Focaccia is delicious served straight from the oven.  It can be served as an accompaniment or makes a light lunch served with some ham or cooked chicken..

gluten-free olive bread

Gluten-free olive bread

And if you have to avoid gluten, then it doesn’t mean you have to go out with bread, as our recipe for an Olive Gluten Free bread proves.

Whichever you try, make sure you eat it on the day it’s made to try it at it’s best. If you need to keep any overnight then wrap it in a clean linen tea-towel rather than in plastic and it will keep better.