Ah, bread. Sourdough. Bloomers. Multiseed. Soda bread. It seems the whole country has gone a bit bread crazy, what with Paul Hollywood’s book racing up the charts and his TV show getting umpteen million viewers every week. It seems we want to know how to get back to basics, how to make focaccia, knead our own dough and fill the air with the wonderful smell of fresh homemade bread baking in the oven.
Not me. Oh, no. I have never been into bread. Sure, I remember making it as a child once or twice, but as a grown-up (sorry, habit) adult, while I have embraced making many different things – cakes of all shapes and sizes, homemade pasta, casseroles, curries, quiches; you name it – bread has never been my thing. Until now.
I received an email a couple of weeks ago from the lovely folks at Mermaid bakeware asking me if I’d like to try their anodized aluminium bakeware in honour of National Bread Week which runs from 16-22 April. I paused, I deliberated … perhaps my reluctance to bake was because I didn’t have a tin? Perhaps with a 2lb loaf tin in my hands I would be inspired? This was my chance! The 2lb/900g loaf tin duly arrived. It is quite a beast. Solid. So solid, it feels as though nothing could ever dent it or scratch it. I liked it from the minute I saw it. A trustworthy tin.
And so, I thought I’d better seek out a recipe. I turned to Jo Wheatley’s trusty cookbook, A Passion for Baking, and in it found a recipe for a Basic White Loaf. Well, you can’t go wrong with a basic white loaf as a starting point, I thought. Miraculously, I even had some Dove’s strong white flour in the cupboard. Perhaps it was meant to be. I should point out that we were going to the in-laws for a long weekend, so I took my loaf tin, my cookbook and my bag of flour with me. My mother-in-law has an Aga – the perfect environment for bread-making – a lovely warm place to let the dough rise and prove. Plus she’s got a Kenwood mixer. She was slightly non-plussed when, on arrival, I announced, ‘I need to make bread’, but she’s coped with a lot more weird stuff over the years, let me tell you.
So, I set to work. I followed Jo’s recipe to a tee (page 163 of her book, if you’re interested), using dried yeast and the Kenwood dough hook to do the 7 minutes’ kneading required (one-handed I hasten to add). An Aga really is an asset when making bread, I have to say. The dough rose beautifully in the bowl, and I was able to leave the tin to warm up before popping in the dough in and, after proving, into the roasting oven (top right). It only took 20 mins to bake, and it was beautiful.
I was so proud of myself. I’d made a loaf of bread! And I’d really enjoyed it! I don’t know what I had feared all those years. The loaf itself looked nice – Jo suggests brushing the loaf with beaten egg yolk before baking, which gives it a nice sheen. I do think it could rise a bit more, and will experiment next time. But in terms of flavour – wow! I actually wasn’t expecting much, but it tasted really good. As my father-in-law observed, ‘It’s got a proper flavour. It tastes like bread used to taste,’ plus both children really liked it, just plain with a bit of butter. Clearly I’d risen to the occasion (sorry – couldn’t resist a pun). It really did taste great, I have to say. Plus, I knew what was in it. No E numbers, no weird preservatives, no crap. Yes, it takes time to make, but once I know what I’m doing, I reckon I’ll be able to fit bread-making in at the weekend around other activities – and it’s actually relaxing and enjoyable.
Bread-making is clearly addictive, as no sooner had I mastered the Basic White Loaf than I was flicking through Aga cookbooks looking for more recipes. Stay tuned to hear about my Six Seed Granary Loaf, made the very next day. I only wish I could have brought the Aga back to London!
If you’re interested in making the switch to eating real bread check out the Campaign for Real Bread website here.