Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A good way to spend three hours

I loved making bread-hedgehogs when I was little. Breadgehogs. My mum would mix and knead the dough and cut off bits for each of us to shape. In between shaping bread rolls into pigs or tortoises or the aforementioned prickly ones, I would sneak bits of bread dough into my mouth, ignoring warnings that it would make my tummy hurt, enjoying the squishy yeastiness. And then we got to eat our little creatures, with their sometimes burnt spikes and snouts and tails.

I got back into breadmaking in my teens, experimenting with recipes out of Laurel’s Kitchen and Stan and Floss Dworkin’s Bread Book. This time the kneading was my own and the results all the more exciting for it. I still vividly remember a rich wholemeal loaf with eggs and oil and sugar in that tasted like heaven and had me crowing with pride to the rest of the family, who were not quite as impressed as I.

In Haringay House Two I got into a habit of baking enough for one loaf and several rolls to freeze, which saw me through the week. I don’t seem to get the time to do that now. You need three full hours from start to finish.

The whole process is so full of satisfaction though. Mixing the dough, rolling up your sleeves and using all your body weight to push and pull and twist and pummel. Slamming it down on the side, working out daily rages as you work the dough. Feeling it change in your hands, become more pliant and welcoming. Seeing it risen and full of life, punching it down. Smelling that belly-warming smile-inducing fresh bread smell, seeing the steam rise from the first slice that you always chop straight out of the oven, even though you think you should wait a bit. Butter melting on soft crumbs, the crunch and chew of a good crust. And that perfectly sated fullness that shop-bought bread just can’t supply.

My favourite faithful stand-by bread recipe is one for French bread from Laurel’s Kitchen. Laurel uses half wholemeal and half white flour, but I prefer just wholemeal. I measure in cups, and I’ve used many different ones; I don’t own a measuring cup. A smallish mug or tumbler should do, or if you buy an individual small pot of yoghurt, that works well too.

Laurel’s French Bread

1 cup natural yoghurt
1 and a half cups warm water
6 cups flour, plus some for dusting board and hands
1 sachet (grams?) dried fast-action yeast
Any additions you want – my favourite is walnut

Mix the yoghurt with the water – it wants to be about the temperature of your hand. Too cold and the yeast will take too long to wake up and rising will take much longer, too hot and you’ll just kill them off.

Pour the yeast in and mix around a bit.

Add three cups of flour and mix in with a spoon.

Add the final three cups of flour and get your hands dirty – use your fingers to mix it into a dough.

Turn the whole lot out on to a floured surface, rub dough off your fingers, and flour them well.

Knead for about 15 minutes, until the dough is feeling nice and pliant and is smooth with tiny satiny wrinkles in it.

Put in a big oiled bowl and cover with a damp tea towel. Leave to rise for about one hour or until it is twice the original size. Test for readiness by gently pushing a finger in. if the dough bounces back it can rise some more. If the dent stays, it’s ready.

Punch down the dough – literally punch it in the middle to knock all the air out. Then give a second knead, just for a couple of minutes this time. Add any additions at this stage.

Shape it – I flatten it into an oblong, fold the two outside quarters (lengthwise) into the centre line, and then fold in half. Then pinch the edges together to get a short fat baguette shape. This means you don’t need a loaf tin.

Put on a greased baking tray, or loaf tin if you prefer, and again leave to rise until twice its size. Put straight in to a preheated oven, about gas 6, for 40 minutes or until brown on top and hollow sounding when knocked on the bottom with a knuckle.


1 comment:

Marie said...

Mmmmm freshly baked bread. I remember making it when little too, but I don't think my shapes were as good as your's, I was never quite as creative :)