30 Before 30 #23 – Bake bread

We all know that I have a tendency to “read” cookbooks the way other people read novels. We all know that I talk about food – a lot. And it’s no secret that when it comes to the kitchen, I fancy myself as a bit of an expert. And considering the work out my guns got during my year cooking with Jamie and making several batches of pasta and gnocchi, it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that I would have whipped up plenty of loaves of bread in my time. *insert game show failure sound here* Not so. Apart from a lifelong breakfast love affair, bread and I have never been intimate.

Hence the inclusion on “the list”, as I now refer to my 30B430 challenge. And seeing as last weekend was shaping up to a pretty foodie weekend – visits to Eveleigh Markets, cooking Ultimate Australian Dishes (more on that later…) – I decided it was time to get kneady. Ha! I’m so sorry, but I had to throw that in there! Hilarious! Anyway, yes, on the weekend I completed number 23 – “Bake bread”

Keeping up traditions, I did quite a lot of reading before I chose my recipe and though Bill Granger had a recipe promising “no-knead bread”, which is apparently for those cooks who don’t want to give their guns a workout in the kitchen (for the record, I am talking about biceps not AK-47’s…), I wasn’t keen to forgo this kitchen PE class. I checked out Margaret Fulton’s cookbook and was a little disappointed she had nothing to offer on the bread front – she’s the Aussie Queen of cooking and even though she is teeny tiny and may have trouble getting a good purchase at the bench top for kneading, I thought she would certainly have a staple like bread in her collection. In the end, it came down to the good old Commonsense Cookery Book recipe for ‘white bread’ or food legend Elizabeth David’s ‘basic loaf’. I’ve never cooked an Elizabeth David recipe before (and became quite obsessed with the latest collection of her recipes, At Elizabeth David’s Table, a certainty for this year’s birthday wish list…), so I decided to go with her ‘basic loaf’.

And basic is exactly the right way to describe it. A combination of plain flour, bran (this was optional), salt, yeast and water, it’s no wonder that bread has been a staple during all the good times and the bad over hundreds of centuries. Apart from being slightly time consuming, not in the level of work involved, but in the time needed to let the dough rise, it actually couldn’t be easier to make.

I used dried yeast, so had to mix it with a little tepid water and allow it to sit for 10 minutes while it returned to ‘active life’. It sounds a little sci-fi, but is actually quite amazing, the way it becomes kind of warm and squiggly. Then I mixed the creamed yeast in with the flour, bran and salt (that I had warmed slightly in the oven) and then some water (at ‘blood temperature’… Gruesome.), working it into an elastic dough ball, which I then sat in the centre of a bowl, covered with glad wrap and left to rise and hopefully double in size.

After an hour and a half, with a slightly disappointing looking ball of dough – it had certainly risen and grown, but it wasn’t double it’s original size – I had to knock it back and give the dough a good punch. Harsh but fair. The air needs to be knocked out of it, so it can rise again later. Then I gathered it up and slapped it down hard a few times, just to really show it who’s boss… Then I got my guns on and kneaded that bad boy for a good few minutes, pushing it out and folding it back over and over til it was ready for the tin.

Left to sit and rise again in the greased loaf tin for another 45 minutes, I was beginning to realise why bakers have to get up so early in the morning. Perhaps setting out to bake bread at 8.30pm on a Friday night wasn’t such a great idea… Oh well. Eventually it was ready for the oven and at 220°C, it’s a hot oven. I baked it for 10 minutes, then dropped the temperature by 20 degrees for another 10 minutes, shook the loaf from the tin and popped it back on a tray for another 10 minutes at yet another 20 degrees cooler. The recipe says to tap the bottom and the sides of the loaf and listen for an echo to know for sure that it’s ready to come out of the oven.

It also says it’s best eaten the day after baking…

Ha ha ha ha ha ha!

Not a chance. There was no way I was giving up this opportunity for freshly baked bread, butter smeared on and melting immediately.

It wasn’t as light and fluffy as I’d hoped and it was saltier than I was expecting, but overall it wasn’t bad.

I served up the rest of the loaf with some wasabi oil and a glass of vino, pre-Sunday lunch and the general reaction was pretty positive.

I’m certainly not going to go into business and try and give Baker’s Delight a run for their money, but I will definitely be attempting to bake bread again. If for no other reason than the language of bread baking – active life, blood temperature, knock-it-back/slap-it-down, tap for echo – makes me feel like I’m some kind of Will-Smith-Men-in-Black-alien-slayer.

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About Tablecloths & Talking

Food. Friends. Fun. Preferably together. I love to eat, drink & be merry. I love to write. Tablecloths & Talking is me writing about doing the things I love.
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