Is there any more fundamental foodstuff than bread? If there is I cannot think of it. It seems to me bizzare, then, that it has taken me this long to start making it. Ought not one learn to do this whilst learning to read, to ride a bike?
Still, that’s by-the-by. I have taken steps to rectify this skill blind spot. Last year, my ladyfriend gifted me the rather wonderful River Cottage Veg Everyday cookbook, in a not-so-subtle but ever-so-generous attempt to increase the number of green things in my diet. Whilst it has begun to have the desired effect, the point of interest here is Hugh’s “Magic Bread Dough”, or what I call his every-dough. It can be used as the basis of pizzas, pittas, flatbreads, breadsticks or rolls, hence the magical-moniker. It uses equal parts plain and strong flour, and a tablespoon of oil, and forms quite a sticky dough.
In retrospect, it was not the wisest dough with which to start my bread-baking, but on I marched, heedless of the mess I was making and reassured by the recipe that it was only right and good that I couldn’t separate my fingers from this glutinous mess I had created. I forget which of the multitude of uses I made first, but I have successfully used it to make pizzas, flatbreads, and eventually, with a left-over half batch, a small loaf.
I was thrilled. It came out remarkable well considering I was blindly blundering through my first attempt at any leavened bread. It was upon slicing into this, my first loaf, that I became hooked.
My enthusiasm was such that I decided that, instead of buying a crusty loaf to accompany a batch of home-made soup, I would bake a loaf of my own! Flicking through the available cook-books, I settled on Nigel Slater’s recipe for a simple white loaf (from Appetite). I naively assumed that I would produce a flawless loaf with one hand-tied behind my back. This wasn’t my first time. My parents would be wowed, and my perfect run of bakes would continue unabated, reaching the heady total of two. So into the bowl went almost a whole bag of strong white, two packets of easy-blend yeast and more salt that I would have thought necessary. What could go wrong?
Due to a cack-handed attempt at kneading, and a somewhat passive-aggressive approach to proving, a few hours later I had a lump of doughy, heavy “bread”, protected by a half-inch thick coat of crusty armour, which I could barely slice and which my parents refused to eat for fear of hammering the final nail into the coffin of their teeth.
Amazingly, however, I was not put off, and had another, more successful, crack not long afterwards. But that, children, is a tale for another day.
What about your first attempts and baking disasters? Post a comment and I’ll celebrate/commiserate with you.