Making bread used to be a fairly straightforward procedure in my household, back in the days when Doris Grant's wholesome, wholewheat, mix-rise-bake, no-nonsense, that's-what-your-teeth-are-for loaf of great sturdiness was what we liked. But today I fancied something whiter, fancier, flavoursome in a more interesting and possibly sweeter way, so I dragged down all my baking books and started to search. The lovely fresh yeast waiting in the fridge began to twitch in anticipation.
I browsed the experts, and my enthusiasm started to wilt. What an opinionated bunch today's artisan bakers are! So much high-flown text - miles of it, so many injunctions, so much to terrify or at least turn off the butterfly-minded who only wanted to knock something up today, not in four days or even months after leaving tubs of something mysterious to grow in the fridge - I have lots of those already, thank you, though they might not be best suited to breadmaking (or human health). I didn't want a treatise on the alchemy of natural leavens and sourdough starters. I resented being told that my kneading technique was all wrong, and that only the French knew how to do it properly. Silly me, I thought that was kissing....The only thing that appealed was a story of Russia's equivalent of Mrs Beeton, writing in the mid-19th Century, who described proving the dough in a bucket of water: when it floated to the surface, it could be put in the oven. I might try that one some time, just for the hell of it.
Eventually, thoroughly put off by the preciousness and superiority that oozed from their pages, I packed up the great and the good, suppressing feelings of both irritation and unworthiness, and made a choice between an old faithful and a plain and simple guide. The old faithful, my ancient, stained and much-loved 1970 copy of the Tassajara Bread Book has always been an absorbing read, but today it wouldn't do. It is filled with joyous text, sweet little sketches, and sometimes delightfully relaxed recipes, for example those several calling for 2-8 eggs (you choose), but I didn't want to have to think much today. I wanted to be told, straightforwardly, to Do...melt...add...mix...wait (and have a cup of tea and maybe do some gardening) and then come back and Do some more; no theory, no science, no elaborate explaining why only This Way is the Right Way or scorn for anyone who ever bought a loaf from a supermarket.
So the plain and simple, Rachel Allen's cardamom bread, not even made with bread flour, won in the end over the delightfully greedy Tassajara monks, and is sitting in the boiler cupboard, swelling in the most modest and self-effacing way, as I write. The kitchen smells of freshly-ground cardamom seeds, obediently removed from 28 pods (see, today I did prefer to be told just what to do), and now I only need to go and do that bit of gardening while whatever it is that happens to flour and yeast and water (no, don't tell me, I don't care!) takes its course.
If it turns out well, I might take a picture. If it doesn't, I'll eat it anyway, sharing it with Roger, who brought me the yeast and is thus Chief Taster. As the Tassajara book says, "Bake the bread, and the yeast dies. Slice it, butter it, eat it. Be thankful." And so we shall.