Friday, 2 October 2015

Sandwiches and staleness

What's in an egg sandwich?

Yesterday, I treated myself to that staple of British fast food, an egg and mayo sandwich from the supermarket.

As I casually munched my way through the rather soggy bread, I wondered what exactly had gone into it. If I'd made it at home, I would have put a small amount of love and a handful of ingredients into it. Something along these lines -

  • flour
  • water
  • yeast
  • salt

  • hard boiled egg

  • raw egg
  • oil

  • butter

I could hardly have been further from the rather worrying truth. The contents of my sandwich were as follows -

  • multiseed bread mix
    • fortified wheat flour
      • wheat flour
      • calcium carbonate
      • iron
      • thiamin
      • niacin
    • sunflower seeds
    • linseeds
    • oats
    • pumpkin seeds
    • rye flour
    • wheat gluten
    • sugar
    • wheat bran
    • burnt sugar
    • salt
    • emulsifiers - E472e
    • soya lecithin - E322
    • wheat flour malted (sic)
    • acid - E300
    • anti-caking agent - E552
    • enzymes
    • lactic acid bacteria
  • water
  • wheat flour
  • wholemeal wheat flour (sic)
  • yeast
  • stabiliser - E415
  • egg mayonnaise filling
    • free range eggs
    • mayonnaise
      • vegetable oil
      • spirit vinegar
      • sugar
      • mustard flour
      • salt
    • salt
    • white pepper
  • vegetable fat spread
    • sunflower oil
    • rapeseed oil
    • partly hydrogenated palm oil
    • water
    • whey powder
    • salt
    • emulsifier - E471
    • acidity regulator - E330
    • preservative - E202
    • flavouring
    • colour - E160a
    • vitamin A
    • vitamin D3

I don't know why they were so worried about the possibility of a bit of eggshell having made its way through to the finished product - there is practically everything else in there except the kitchen sink.

Suffice it to say that I was not impressed - neither by the sandwich nor the list of contents. Why do we need all this rubbish in a simple product like this? Of course, we don't. But while mugs like me keep buying it, the supermarkets will feel they are just giving the customers what they want. Well it isn't what I want, even when it's been reduced to half price to ensure a quick sale!

What constitutes stale bread?

One of our bakers at Bread of Heron, the Heron Corn Mill's community bread group, says that her bread does not keep fresh beyond a couple of days. I'm puzzled by this, because on the rare occasions when my bread lasts that long, it seems well short of stale to me for anything up to a week. As we've been making bread with the same flour, in the same oven, using the same recipe, it can't be that one baker's bread is actually staler than the other's.

It either has to be how the bread is being stored, or just a difference in our taste buds. But what exactly is staleness? The wonderful OED gives a variety of meanings, some of which are quite surprising.

The oldest examples suggest that staleness in drinks used to be a good thing meaning roughly "well aged" -
"Of malt liquor, mead, wine: That has stood long enough to clear; freed from dregs or lees; hence, old and strong."
Chaucer suggests adding nutmeg whatever state the beer happens to be in -

"Notemuge to putte in ale, Whether it be moyste or stale."

So new ale is "musty" or "moist", and more mature ale is "stale". Another example warns that -

"Good ale‥must be‥made of good corne, well sodden, stale and well purged."

The mind begins to boggle. But what is staleness in bread? 

We think of stale bread as being dry and hard. But I think Andrew Whitely says somewhere that staling is more about the bread firming up over time. When a loaf comes out of the oven the inside is generally very soft, and it firms up rapidly as it cools. Maybe the staling process is just the bread continuing to firm up over several days.

Anyway, there are lots of things you can do with stale bread - ask any Italian!