Emma Crowhurst: The perfect marriage of flavours

Walnut and cheese bread, made from Marriage's flour

Walnut and cheese bread, made from Marriage's flour - Credit: Archant

Emma Crowhurst, chef, writer, cookery teacher

At W & H Marriage & Sons, they have been milling flour in Essex since 1824.

Today, the company is still owned and run by the fifth and sixth generations of the Marriage family.

Their company founders William and Henry Marriage came from a family who had farmed and milled in Essex since the mid seventeenth century. The twin brothers were aged only 17 when they established the company.

In their day, wheat was ground on stones powered by wind or water, so milling depended on favourable weather. The brothers were forward looking and in 1836 introduced a steam engine at Moulsham Mill to ensure flour could be reliably produced whatever the conditions.

In 1891 their sons installed a modern mechanized roller milling plant at Moulsham Mill. The new roller milling method was so successful that the family decided to build a new flour mill, Chelmer Mills, better suited for this new technology.

In 1899, Chelmer Mills was built next to the railway line in Chelmsford and this is where Marriage’s is still based today. The mill had its own railway siding so that coal to power the mill and grain could be easily delivered in rail waggons, and the flour could be sent by train to London and then distributed by horse and van.

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Until the 1950s, the Marriage family would visit Chelmsford Corn Exchange every week to buy wheat from local farmers and merchants. Today, Marriage’s still sources wheat from Essex farmers, many of whom have been farming families for generations.

Family members Simon and Richard Marriage are local farmers, supplying Chelmer Mills with wheat grown only a few miles away.They have produced organic certified flour varieties since 1986. Sampson David Marriage, the father of current director George Marriage, took an active interest in organic wheat and flour production before it became high profile. George Marriage helped establish the Organic Food Federation and was its chairman for several years.

For my walnut bread I am using their strong white, malted and stoneground flours - this combination give a good open texture and a delicious flavour.

At Marriage’s, they still make some flours in the old-fashioned way, grinding the whole grain between horizontal French Burr stones.

Their Victorian millstones are made from French Burr, quarried from the Marne Valley in Northern France. The stones are 4’ 6” in diameter and are made of quartz sections which are cemented together with plaster.

When stonegrinding flour, the cleaned wheat passes into the middle of a set of millstones; the top one, or runner, rotates whilst the bottom one, the bed, stays still. As the wheat goes into the middle of the stone, it spreads and is cut and ground by the grooves on the stones. A chute takes grain into the stones and is shaken by a shaft called the damsel. When the hopper of wheat runs low, a little bell still rings to warn the miller.

Marriage’s onsite baker tests the flours by baking up to 150 loaves per week to ensure each variety offers consistent performance.

Marriage’s flour is available nationwide in independent farm shops, delis and health food shops and in their online shop. Visit http://flour.co.uk/stockists to find your local stockist.

METHOD

1. Sift the flours and salt together in a large bowl.

If using fresh yeast, cream the yeast with a little of the milk and pour in to the flours.

For easy blend yeast just add it to the flours.Add the remaining milk and the oil.

Mix the dough first with a knife, then with your hand for a soft dough.

2. Place the dough on to a work surface and knead for at least 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic.

Pop it in to a large greased bag or bowl covered with cling film and leave to rise (Warm room temperature is best until it has doubled in bulk.

3. When the dough has doubled in size, turn it out on to the work surface and begin to knead the walnuts and cheese in to the dough. This can be hard work and a bit messy but do your best to incorporate the bits into the dough.

Divide the dough and shape into two ovals or if you want more shape use loaf tins. Place the shaped dough on to a greased baking sheet. Cover with greased cling film and leave to rise until one and a half times their size. This will depend on the room temperature and could be longer, when the dough has reached about one and a half times its size carefully glaze with the beaten egg and honey, try not to drip down the sides!

4, Bake at 200C/gas mark 6/400F for about 35-40 minutes or until the loaves feel hollow when tapped on the bottom, are a good deep brown colour and have no soft spots .Allow to cool on a wire rack.

The bread will freeze beautifully.

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