Wednesday, 21 March 2018

In Praise of Bread (Part One)

Baking your own bread: what could be better?  Well, lots of things.  "Better" isn't the right word.  Nicer?  Bread is nice, but that word won't do either.  I want something that captures the uniquely appealing idea of baking your own bread.  Nothing's coming to mind, so I'll just carry on typing about bread.

One of my earliest memories of school seems to be learning about ancient farmers grinding wheat into flour to bake bread.  I remember black and white drawings in text books with faded, once glossier pages, of peasants and their agricultural skills.  It feels like the sort of thing a child should learn on their very first day at school, how to make bread.  Or at least, how our ancestors made it.  I don't remember getting my hands sticky kneading any dough myself, and I feel like I probably would have remembered that.

So we probably didn't make any bread to take home, which I'm sure would have been a delight.  My mum baked cakes - pretty good ones, now I think about it: sponge cakes with strawberry jam, coffee cakes (my favourite), chocolate cake with chocolate icing and buttercream - but I don't remember her baking bread.  This is normal.  Who bakes their own bread in the 1980s?  It came pre-sliced in supermarkets, even then.  When sliced bread first came out, it was advertised as "the best thing since bread".  True story.

The thought of baking bread forms an immediate connection to the past - my own, and to one more ancient; farmers centuries, millennia ago.  Maybe genetic memory is real.  Baking bread is a very appealing thought on many levels.  All this context, it should be easy.  As...pie.

Apparently not.  This is my fourth loaf of bread and as you can see you could probably kill a man with it.  Bread is a food, not a weapon, and therefore I consider this loaf to be a failure.  My third loaf was actually better than this one, considerably less crusty, and soft and tasty beneath the surface, but it was still very stodgy and not much thicker than number four.  Edible, but unsatisfactory, and unworthy of my peasant ancestors.  For reasons still unknown, I can't get the bloody thing to rise.

Never mind.  One way to approach life is by turning your failures into successes.  Perhaps that doesn't work when it comes to major, catastrophic failures, but as for a minor kitchen mishap; well, let's look at the evidence.

This is a "bread stew".  Bread stew?  Yes.  I made it in my slow cooker, having recently taken some inspiration from the Cooking on a Bootstrap blog, which published a recipe for bread, bean and fennel stew that only costs 17p to make.  I did a little googling and found that bread stew is actually quite a standard frugal recipe - here's an enticing Italian version - a tasty way of using up stale bread and bulking up otherwise more meagre meals.  So I thought, with a bowl full of failed bread getting stale, and using only ingredients I had to hand, I'd make one of my own.  I used chick peas (which I boiled for about ten minutes first, as they can be a bugger to get soft) potatoes, broccoli, lentils, salt and pepper and plenty of rosemary and sage.  Then I broke up the failed bread into chunks and chucked them in.  After six hours in the slow cooker, I had what you can see above, and which when served out into a bowl, looks something like this:

Alright, so it wasn't the most delicious meal I've ever eaten, but it certainly wasn't the most disgusting either.  To be honest, making a meal based on stale bread was satisfying enough in itself, and would have been even if it tasted of nothing at all.

Still, the original question remains: how do you bake your own bread?  To answer this, I would require some outside help.

Update: Part Two is here.

Related posts

Slow Cooker Simple Vegan Chilli
Celebrating Roast Potatoes
Experimental High Protein Vegan Breakfast Bars
Bread and Jam and Circuses


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