Sunday 21 June 2009

Ooh, they don't half go on!

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.


BumbleVee said...

I was the same for years... afraid to even try a bread.

Then, last year I stumbled upon a guy's blog and was hooked....I figured if an amateur and a guy no less..(no offense to most famous chefs)... but, you know... Joe Average gives it a go and I will too. I did.. with the help of the recipe that came with my KA mixer... it turned out perfect... or perfectly... anyway... since then I have been doing some little things and then Susan showed the way to a no knead Tuscan very toothsome.... great crust....I posted the pics on my Tea and Scones blog awhile back..

The bread snobs don't scare me anymore... I skim half the uppity "stuff" and figure ..what the hey, I'm half French ...I can do this too! I just found the perfect Kaiser roll recipe on the net too.... easy peasy... and the best buns for burgers ever!

rogern said...

I am very pleased with my new role as chief taster, and the effort expended getting the yeast in the first place seems amply (if not excessively) rewarded by the sumptuous deliciousness of the results of another's labours.

The cardamon bread was an absolute delight ("was" being the operative word as it was wolfed down with coffee after an afternoon of energetic weeding) and is one of my absolute flavours. How serendipitous!

Gretel said...

So many bread making books turn it into a dark art which only the dedicated can master, you wouldn't believe it's the staple diet of humanity and has been for thousands of years, ordinaary people just quietly knocking up a bit of yeast and flour with no palava whatsoever...but then if they didn't make it sound so daunting, the specialist bread makers and delis couldn't charge an arm and a leg for what is, at the end of the day, a bit of puffed up dough. No matter what fancy title you give it. Nor could the authors charge horrendous amounts of money for private classes. (Dan Lepard springs to mind)
Although his book is pretty darned good...

rachel said...

Yes, Dan Lepard, Richard Bertinet, Andrew Whitley, all wonderful bakers, I know, but back in the cupboard they went.

BTW, the cardamom bread, which felt like brioche and tasted like croissants with an added delicate fragrance (how luxurious is that for breakfast!), kept well overnight. Another point in its favour.

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