Tuesday, March 8, 2011

All Rise

Bread: it gets a bad rap. Like - everyone loves it. But it's the very first thing you'll be told to cut out  if you want to skinny up. Lets not even get started on that Dr Atkins and his hideous diet. And yeast is a bit of dirty word in the world of flat stomachs. Plus, it's hard not to load it up with lumps of butter and sweet, sugary jam. So, on a scale of Nigella Lawson to Gillian McKeith, it's not exactly mung bean soup. There was no white bread in my house when I was growing up, our parents would only buy brown, so I was extremely envious of all the kids with their white bread sandwiches, it always looked so springy and pillowy soft. Then I went to boarding school, and bread was one of the few edible offerings on the menu there. When I was in college I don't remember it being a prominent part of my diet to any great extent, maybe because it was just around when wraps were becoming popular. I do, however, remember a particular phase of not eating a whole lot at all and being dangerously obsessed with getting by on as little as possible. Thankfully I somehow eased out of that behaviour, and really and truly fell in love with food. Bread was never high up on my agenda until recently, when I got really stuck into exercise and my body started craving sugar more than it had before. I had to get out of my bold biccie-eating behaviour and plugged the gap with carbs instead. No better time to get making my own bread. And where was my first port of call for a recipe? Why the lady I love to rant about right before I use a load of recipes of course, Sophie Dahl!

STEP1: ignore all the pretentious muck about her 'beloved' and his 'musician's breakfast' and just get stuck in. Honestly, when you realise how easy peasy it is to make bread you'll be chowing down on a thick slice of hot buttery wholemeal before you can say "didn't that Dr Atkins die of a heart attack brought on by his horrendous diet?"

450g wholemeal flour, 100g oats, a tablespoon of quick yeast and a teaspoon of salt.

This quick yeast business is very very handy - no mixing up with warm water and waiting around for a foamy Guinness-style head that never actually happens.

Wet ingredients: 600ml warm water, one tablespoon runny honey and one tablespoon sunflower oil.

Then when I was mixing it I hit on the bright idea of shaking in some seeds for added texture and all the virtuous oily goodness that they bring, in defiance of the bread-hating brigade.

When all of those ingredients have bonded and made love to each other and all the rest, it needs to sit in a bowl, covered, in a warm place of 20 minutes.

Then it gets a good whacking with the wooden spoon to knock the air out of it (it will have risen) and it sit in a lined loaf tin for another twenty minutes, while the oven heats up at 190 degrees.

And, after an hour in the oven, even though I had been responsible for its creation, I blinked in wonderment when this beauty came out of the oven. I had managed to make this delicious bread that gives me such joy. And I managed to not make a mess of it!

I went to town on it immediately, and have continued to do so ever since. Sundried tomato pesto...


...peppadews and wholegrain mustard...

...Ballymaloe jalapeno pepper relish and parmesan...

...and good old strawberry jang.

Never one to quit while the going is good, I got well and truly enthused by my carby endeavours. On a Monday morning after swim training, I have enough time to go and get a nice breakfast before heading to work. The brekkie in Cornucopia is very tasty and generous, and includes a slice of toast. Their granary bread is just a little delicious, so I found it in the cookbook. I note that they theorise that its popularity may be due in part to the fact that it is a little like white bread, but has the all-important brownyness for health. This bread contains regular yeast, the kind you have to mix up with some warm water and hang around for it to get frothy on top. I have something of a soft spot for the MacDougalls dried yeast packaging, as I have distinct memories of seeing it hang around the baking press in our house when we were kids. Anyhow - one and a half teaspoons of that need to go in 280ml warm water for 15 minutes, until it achieves that all-important froth-on-top status.

While the yeast is busy being a high maintenance ingredient in another corner of the kitchen, you need to assemble a crack team of dry ingredients: 250g malthouse flour, 250g white flour, 55g seeds, 55g oats and one teaspoon of salt.

Then it needs 70ml sunflower oil...

...and, when that frothy head graces you with its presence, the yeasty water.

After a good mix-uppage, it's time to roll up those sleeves and tackle the task of kneading with relish. Ten whole minutes of kneading are required, so it's good to be in the mood for this one. Frankly, I rather enjoy flexing my muscles with a lil brown bread, pulling it this way and that and marveling at how it becomes more light and bouncy and stretchy, simply because of my own two hands.

After all of that work it'll be a fine, fit, springy thing, as though it spends hours daily at the bread-gym.

You wouldn't want to be itching for a sambo though - this needs to spend one and a half hours in the chamber o love, ie in a covered bowl in a warm place, to let it rise. 

The build-up to this bread, frankly, is more dramatic and drawn out than any cheesecake I've ever made. It needs a bit of a punching to knock the newly-found air out of it, and then it rests on the oiled baking tray, nicely shaped with three slashes on top, for half an hour while the oven heats to 180 degrees.

My patience and appetite and muscles and everything were well rewarded when this beauty came out of the oven. To say I almost burst with pride! It's like one of the perfectly-formed superstars that pose in the bread section beside the coffee bit in Fallon and Byrne. I felt as though I'd given birth to a future nobel laureate when I saw this. And, in spite of the kneading and beating and foaming and frothing and stretching and waiting and not eating for hours while it gets itself risen, I've made it again and again. 

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