Calling All Bakers…

(9th May 2016)

…small or big, amateur or professional, micro- or community…If you have a loaf that you think’s a winner, now’s your chance.

The first ever Scottish Bread Championships will take place at this year’s Royal Highland Show (June 22-25, 2016). Entries are invited from bakers everywhere, just as long as their loaf conforms to the Real Bread Campaign’s definition, i.e bread made without the use of processing aids or any other artificial additives. There are seven classes and you can enter as many loaves in as many classes as you like.

Scotland The Bread co-created the Scottish Bread Championships with Wendy Barrie and the Scottish Food Guide. Here is some more information on each of the classes, designed to inspire you to enter.

The classes are:
1. Sourdough bread
2. Bread from Scottish-grown flour
3. A traditional or ancient Scottish recipe
4. A bread excelling in nutritional quality
5. A Scottish ‘plain loaf’
6. A gluten-free bread
7. Certified organic bread


What is it?
Sourdough is a culture of yeasts and beneficial bacteria that occur naturally in bread flour and dough. The yeasts are more varied and less concentrated than baker’s yeast, so they raise the dough more slowly. The lactic acid bacteria also require many hours of fermentation to work their wonders. Which is why real sourdough bread mustn’t have any added baker’s yeast in it: speeding up the fermentation may suit the baker but it doesn’t allow the natural yeasts and bacteria to do their wonderful work – producing great flavour and texture, making bread more digestible and the good things in the dough (minerals like iron, zinc and magnesium) more accessible, lowering glycemic index, and so on. There’s more info here. In a word, sourdough bread is the best.

Why are we bothered?
Sourdough bread is all the rage – but there is a problem: some big baking interests have jumped on the bandwagon and are selling so-called sourdough loaves which are made with all their usual synthetic additives plus yeast but without the one thing that is essential in real sourdough, i.e. long fermentation. So we invite you to stand up for sourdough by celebrating the real thing. For more on this issue, see here.

What will the judges be looking for?
They will be asking ‘is it good to eat?’ – in every sense – with attention to how it looks, because of course real bread is beautiful and looking at it should make us want to eat it. Flavour is important, especially the tell-tale sourdough tang (acidity) that will reflect the type of flour used (rye will be stronger) and the length of fermentation. Texture is important, too: chewy, open, porous are words rightly associated with sourdough bread. But the judges won’t be impressed by supersized holes: they often indicate the use of highly-refined flour which can detract from both flavour and nourishment. A great crust often sets sourdough breads apart. However, because most loaves will have to be baked the day before judging to enable bakers from all parts of the country to enter, the judges will use their experience and will take into account the natural change of a crust in the hours and days after baking.

Anything else?
To make a loaf for this class, you can use your own sourdough starter, or someone else’s, or a proprietary culture that you have bought. The important thing is that there should be no skimping on fermentation time and no added bought-in yeast. For inspiration, have a look at the recipe for Fermented Bran Sourdough Wholemeal.

Bread made from Scottish-grown flour

What is it?
The RHS showcases the best of Scottish agriculture and the new Scottish Bread Championships aim to follow suit. So this class is for a loaf made from flour that has been both grown and milled in Scotland.

Why are we bothered?
Of the million tonnes or so of wheat grown in Scotland, very little is used directly for bread. This is something that Championship co-conveners Scotland The Bread want to change. If bakers start asking for genuine Scottish wheat flour, we can expect farmers to respond. That will be good for farmers, local economies, bakers and all of us. The short-term pay-off is the terrific flavour of freshly-milled local flour.

What will the judges be looking for?
They will want to be sure that the wheat (or rye, barley or oats) is genuinely Scottish-grown. Using the wheat variety name (e.g. Paragon, Mulika etc) can be one way of confirming that your loaf is an authentic ‘pure breed’. The judges understand that Scotland’s climate usually produces wheats with a soft gluten and they will appreciate loaf ideas that have successfully worked around this. Without being too po-faced, they will also be looking for a bit of the ‘terroir’ coming through in the bread’s flavour.

Anything else?
Genuine Scottish-grown breadmaking flour isn’t that easy to find. Mungoswells, Blair Atholl Watermill and Golspie mills should be able to guarantee the source (and name) of the Scottish wheat they are turning into flour [2019 edit: as, of course, can we!].

A traditional or ancient Scottish recipe

What is it?
A loaf with a name, recipe or ingredients that were sufficiently well known at some point to have gone into the (culinary) history books.

Why are we bothered?
Scotland once fed itself well from its own grains and it had a long tradition of skilled bakers. Nowadays, when you talk about Scottish baking, scones and shortbread come to mind. But there must be bakers out there who are rediscovering a local bread baking tradition. This class is for them and their time teams.

What will the judges be looking for?
All the usual attributes of a good loaf – plus authenticity. Sometimes, an old idea doesn’t really work with modern ingredients and methods, so the judges are likely to appreciate those who have tried to get everything right.

Anything else?
Unless your recipe is a household name (e.g. Scottish plain bread, which is the subject of a class of its own – see below), it would be helpful to supply a very brief back story: when was it popular, who ate it, why was it loved etc.

A bread excelling in nutritional quality

What is it?
Real Bread made simply from flour, water, yeast and salt can be pretty nutritious if the ingredients and fermentation method are right. So this class doesn’t require all kinds of weird and wonderful ‘superfoods’ to be chucked into the mix. It’s really aimed at bakers who are trying to go the extra mile to make their bread really nourishing, either by thoughtful attention to the baking process itself, or by using nutritionally relevant additions, without adversely affecting flavour or texture.

Why are we bothered?
Everyone knows that the typical Scottish diet is not good enough. Lots of things are needed to make it better and to begin to reduce the cost of diet-related ill health. Making a staple like bread more nutritious and digestible seems like a good place to start because often the only options available to people are themselves part of the problem. So the bakers that can come up with genuinely better bread may win a prize, not just for themselves but for the whole population.

What will the judges be looking for?
Ours is still a culture where if a food is presented as being ‘good for you’ it may actually turn some people off. So the judges will be looking to see how everything in this nutritious loaf works together to enhance flavour, texture and the whole eating experience (including the expectation of being well nourished). One of the judges is a nutritional expert from the Rowett Institute in Aberdeen. She will assess the breads in this class for their potential contribution to good health, not forgetting two factors: first, there is no place for ‘nutraceutical’ supplements or such like in real bread; and second, nutritional excellence must always go hand in hand with value for money, or it will go nowhere.

A Scottish ‘plain loaf’

What is it?
This is the name for the kind of loaf that fed industrial Scotland for many years. It was baked in the classic brick-built, coke-fired ‘Scotch’ oven that could be found in every community. The dough was nothing special, but it was baked in an unusual way: pieces of half-risen dough were placed close to each other on the brick floor of the oven. When they began to expand with the heat, they could only rise upwards because there was no room sideways. The oven was chock full of dough and it took longer to bake than if it had been in tins. The result was tall thin loaves, well-fired on top and bottom, but with no crusts down the side. Something for every member of the family, in other words.

Why are we bothered?
It’s not often realised, but the plain loaf was extremely ‘energy efficient’ (no tins or trays to be heated up and always full occupancy of the oven), though in the days of plentiful coke and little concern for climate change this was not exactly a selling point. Perhaps this simple loaf is due for a come-back, especially if its lower carbon footprint could be combined with a rather more nutritious flour than was usually available to bakers in times past.

What will the judges be looking for?
Older people who remember plain bread from their childhoods sometimes refer to its distinctive, fairly dense texture, which is often contrasted with the ‘fluffiness’ of some modern industrial loaves. This, and the flavour that came from long fermentation (using the age-old ‘sponge-and-dough’ overnight method) plus, of course, the dark crusts, will be the kind of thing the judges are assessing.

Anything else?
Not everyone has a brick oven so other technologies will be fine in this class. However, bread dough burns much more quickly in contact with steel than with brick. So it may be best not to follow the old method exactly. One way of getting a reasonable result in a conventional oven is to fashion a wooden frame, at least 15 cm (6”) tall and wide enough to accommodate three reasonable sized loaves. Beech wood was traditionally used as a ‘divider’ in Scotch ovens as it can stand the heat of baking without burning. The frame can be placed on a baking tray lined with a double thickness of baking parchment. It is best to line the sides of the frame too. Place the dough pieces only about 2.5 cm (1”) apart and at a similar distance from the sides of the frame. They will prove upwards because they have nowhere else to go. One little tip: roll each dough piece in flour before placing it in the frame. This will create a bit of ‘seam’ where the loaves touch or ‘batch’ together, and they will pull apart a bit more easily after baking.

A gluten-free loaf

What is it?
Wheat, rye, barley (and in some cases oats) cannot be tolerated by people with coeliac disease or a severe gluten intolerance. This class is for bread made without those ingredients. Fermentation is still important to quality, so chemical raising agents like bicarbonate of soda or baking powder are not allowed.

Why are we bothered?
Because the quality of commercial gluten-free bread is a bit patchy and there is a danger that those who avoid wheat bread may find the alternatives less nutritious and more expensive. There is also an opportunity to improve on the texture of gluten-free bread, which is one of the things most criticised in commercial offerings.

What will the judges be looking for?
Bread made without wheat cannot be expected to turn out exactly the same as ordinary bread – at least not without a host of dubious additives. So the judges will be looking for a flavour and texture that is pleasing and a good enough alternative to wheat bread, without being unrealistic about what is achievable with natural ingredients. Given the concern that people on gluten-free diets often miss out on important nutrients, the judges will also be looking for signs that some thought has gone into the choice of ingredients from a nutritional perspective.

Anything else?
For the purposes of the Scottish Bread Championships, ‘bread’ can be interpreted more widely than simple ‘loaf baked in a tin’ or indeed ‘loaf proved in a basket’. Gluten-free ingredients sometimes lend themselves to flatter formats – but the key thing that keeps them real is, of course, fermentation.

Certified organic bread

What is it?
To sell a loaf of bread as ‘organic’, or to make statements about using ‘organic’ ingredients, the maker must be certified by an approved body such as Organic Farmers & Growers or the Soil Association. This is the law, and it is worth remembering that it was brought in in 1992 in order to protect the public from unscrupulous food manufacturers and traders who were dishonestly cashing in by making fraudulent claims about the nature and origin of their products or ingredients. So this class is for breads that abide by the spirit and the letter of the law in this respect.

Why are we bothered?
There’s a massive issue of trust (i.e. the lack of it) in the conventional food system. So it’s important to support those who grow and use wheat and flour that is verifiably the product of organic farming, a system that tries to work in harmony with nature. A baker or bakery that has taken the trouble and paid the cost of certification (about the cost of a cup of coffee a day) deserves our trust and encouragement. This class will appeal to such bakers.

What will the judges be looking for?
The judges will, of course, want evidence that the bread does indeed meet organic standards and is properly certified. Beyond that, they will be viewing the breads in this class ‘in the round’, balancing flavour, texture and appearance with an assessment of how well these loaves meet their creators’ stated intentions. Since organic food is concerned with the health of people and the biosphere, the judges will also take account of how well the bread expresses such values.

Anything else?
Organic standards evolve over time. For up-to-date information on food processing standards, see here.


Application forms (listing your entries) to the Scottish Bread Championships must be submitted to the Royal Highland Show by 12th May (for paper entries) or 19th May (online). Entry costs £4 per item for RHASS members; and £5 per item for non-members. Your bread will need to be at the show ground at Ingliston, Edinburgh, by 12 noon on Tuesday 20 May. The judging takes place that afternoon.

Those who cannot deliver their loaves in person can send them to:

℅ Scottish Food Guide
Eider Cottage
Hawkcraig Point


℅ Scotland The Bread
Macbiehill Farmhouse
West Linton
EH46 7AZ

to arrive no later than 8 pm on Monday June 19th.

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