A STAPLE in many diets, bread can be baked in a variety of ways and used in many dishes as SOPHIE BROWNSON discovers.

ONE OF the world’s oldest foods, bread is a staple food for many people across the world.

With many varieties the three crucial ingredients flour, water, and yeast, it is popular around the world for being able to be either sweet or savoury.

Bread is well known for being a versatile food with infinite combinations of different flours, and ingredients, resulting in the wide variety of types, shapes, sizes, and textures available.

A wide variety of additives may be used, from fruits and nuts to various fats, to chemical additives designed to improve flavour, texture, colour, and shelf life.

A basic food worldwide; bread has come to take on significance beyond nutrition, evolving into a fixture in religious rituals, secular cultural life, and language.

The trade of the baker is one of the oldest crafts in the world.

Dating back to Stone Age, people made solid cakes from stone-crushed barley and wheat, while during ancient Egyptian period loaves and rolls have been found in tombs.

Bruno Pinho, director of Caerleon Bakery, is one such baker who uses a variety of techniques to create different types of bread.

Mr Pinho, originally of Portugal, favours healthy breads such as multi-seed at his family bakery.

“I do the baking myself, along with my baker, my wife and two staff," he said.

“When I first came here I worked for a salad company and then I started the bakery work as I always came from a bakery background- working at a bakery on Portugal, so when I had the opportunity I started work here.

“It is a family business and I do everything from scratch.

“A lot of the products used in other manufacturers use products such as CCP’S keep improve the shelf life of the bread by keeping the mould away, but bread is a daily product and should be used in on the day.

“Yeast, flour and water, are the staple ingredients, but you can add different things depending on the type of bread.

“The process if making the bread through letting the dough rise, called proofing, takes between two and two and a half hours.

“Here we make Portuguese bead, which takes longer because it is a special process.

“We let it react until a certain point then the dough will go down and then we repeat the process again.”

Mr Pinho said that the healthy breads at the bakery include ‘best selling’ low GI multi-seed bread which he said is a ‘best seller,’ as it uses less yeast and improves blood sugar control to prevent or manage cardiovascular disease.

Gluten free bread is also a big deal in the bread business, with Mr Pinho looking into different gluten-free recipes to target a different market.

“We are going to find out what types of bread people want in the area," he added.

“I have a few customers who suffer from different problems- one is a little girl who can have gluten at all.

“So I want to make bread and cakes that are gluten free.

“So far I have done two weeks of making gluten-free bread to see how it goes, but I am going to do more.

“I will make a big sign on the bakery door to say that I will continue to make products for order.”

Other varieties of bread Mr Pinho favours include walnut, onion, and tomato loaf, which are all different depending on the flavour.

“I know a lot of bakeries believe in pre-mixers where they only have to add water, but we make all our bread from scratch," Mr Pinho said.

“There is a lot of competition in the area.

“But in Caerleon people don’t care about the cost as long as they have a good product.”

Alongside his latest bread ventures, Mr Pinho is also branching out into schools where he is working alongside the food co-op, to make bread for schools in the area including Maesglas Primary School and Malpas Court Primary School in Newport, and the Coleg Gwent Pontypool campus.

Former cookery teacher at St Albans School, Pontypool, Nicola Davies is also a fan of multi-seed varieties and uses bread in a variety of ways in her cooking.

“I always buy the multi seed bread because I like a lot of nutty bits in mine, and I also like wholemeal bread, but I do buy white bread and make it in to bread crumbs,” she said.

“If I am doing a cheese dish, I use the bread crumbs to absorb the fat and make the dish crispy.

“I also use them for stuffing and when I make my favourite cheese pudding I make bread sauce to go with it.

“When I made bread in school we always used to use fresh yeast and half a vitamin C tablet crushed, to speed up the rising process.”

Mrs Davies said that in school the one rise method was used for the best results.

“I always used to tell the kids to pretend that they are punching someone that they really dislike when they were making the dough and that it had to be as smooth as a baby’s bottom," she said.

Mrs Davies added that the slower you let the bread rise, the stronger the gluten in the bread and that strong flour and good tins are essential to the process.

“Another good bread variety is soda bread, “ she added.

“It is delicious.

“You can’t eat that much of it ,as it is very filling, but it is lovely with lashings of butter on it.

“Pizza bases are also good to make as you don’t have to let it rise too much.”

Expert tips for baking your own bread include:

* Knead your dough for ten minutes as this distributes the yeast and allows the gluten (the protein in bread flour) to develop and stretch.

* Once kneaded, leave the bread dough to rise in a refrigerator overnight; as this slow, cool rise produces a well shaped loaf.

* Always pre-heat the oven to just below the baking temperature, then once the bread is in the oven turn it up to the correct temperature. This will give the dough an added lift.

* When cooked, turn it out of the tin onto a tea towel in your hand and knock gently on the base with your knuckles.

* If it sounds hollow it is cooked but if it sounds dull, return the bread to the oven for a little longer, placing it on a baking tray rather than in the tin.

Expert baker Paul Hollywood has made bread baking sexy with his books and TV series. If you want to see a step-by-step guide from him on how to make a simple, white loaf, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9DP53VdVoM

Useful bread-making lingo:

Chaffing - mixing dough to incorporate the air without overworking the gluten in the flour.

Knocking back - knocking the air out of dough to give the yeast time to work.

Kneading - working the dough to stretch the gluten and activate the yeast.

Proving - leaving the dough in a warm place to give the yeast time to work.