"'A loaf of bread,' the Walrus said, ‘is what we chiefly need…'"; and I think Odobenus rosmarus had it right. I love bread. I am never so happy as when there is good bread at hand, whether to enjoy with some mature cheese or to wipe up the last traces of a beautiful sauce; to break into my soup or even to toss in a salad.
When I first came to New Zealand, you would walk to the local dairy and buy a still-warm barracouta wrapped in a piece of newsprint. I always tried to be the one to collect our bread, getting the delicious end crust for my trouble but I’m afraid I can’t work up any enthusiasm over much of the bread offered these days. The flabby, pappy, increasingly expensive sliced loaves with all their preservatives, extenders, improvers, conditioners and emulsifiers sold in plastic bags and branded Farmer’s Crust or some other meaningless tag, leave me cold, as do many of the quasi-European-style wannabes which they sell loose in supermarkets, “bread-type products” as one French baker calls them. True, there are many good artisanal bakers about and their breads are mostly excellent but always a little pricey for every day. So the only answer seems to be home baking.
The first time I ever made bread was a disaster. The loaf was like a brick and why, or more to the point how, people ate it is still a mystery to me. It put me off baking for quite a while until one of the chefs I was working with gave me the recipe below. It was easy and it worked! That was it, with my new-found confidence I tried other recipes, some worked and some didn’t but now, once a fortnight, I bake all the bread we need; some we use right away and the rest we freeze.
Often the reason for not baking is that bread takes so much time. Yes and no; true the dough has to have time to prove but that’s passive cooking time, time when you walk away and do other things. The expense is another thing that’s brought up; the basic recipe is just flour, yeast, water and salt and even if you want to try different flours or herbs or fresh yeast or eggs, it still remains cheap. And never mind if you don’t have a bread maker, the best bread is made without them. So give baking a go, I think you’ll be pleased you did.
2 kg plain flour (I add 2 tsp gluten flour to this)
5 tsp dried yeast
1.5 litres warm water (blood temperature)
1.5 tbsp salt
Fresh rosemary leaves
In a large basin mix 200g of the flour, the yeast and the water. Whisk then leave until yeast bubbles.
Add the remaining flour and the salt and knead lightly for about 5 minutes. (You made need to add water or flour to get a smooth soft texture) Turn into oiled bowl and leave, covered, in warm place until doubled in size.
Pre-heat the oven to 220 -240˚C.
Roll into shape on oiled baking tray(s). (I usually push this amount into two Swiss roll tins). Leave for half an hour then brush the top with olive oil and scatter with rosemary leaves. Using fingertips, push into the dough to give it its characteristic “dimples”. Sprinkle with rock salt.
Place in middle of oven and bake for about 20 -25 minutes until both top and bottom are golden.
This makes one very large loaf or two more manageable ones. Make smaller amounts in proportion. This keeps very well, can be frozen and makes wonderful toast when sliced or brush it with olive oil, grill it on the barbecue then rub with garlic…heaven!
If you are a seasoned baker or just want to try something more advanced, have a go at making the sourdough recipe from my cookbook of the week and try it with their Bacon, Egg and Bean Salad and it’s ‘offaly’ good toasted, under devilled kidneys.
Beyond Nose to Tail by Fergus Henderson and Justin Piers Gellatly
Published by Bloomsbury RRP $54.99