I say ‘proper’ as I’ve been using a bread maker for some time now. But that’s somehow cheating and I have this romantic vision of kneading dough, feeling calmed by the experience, and taking on some kind of meditative state. Well maybe?
I must admit I’m not a huge fan of Paul on ‘Bake off’. When faced with a rather pathetic offering to be judged he can leave the contestant needing a good therapy session to get back their confidence for the following week. He seems to play bad cop to Mary’s good as she always manages to put a friendly spin on what is clearly inedible: ‘good flavours; shame it’s not cooked.’
Anyway I read carefully the introductory chapters telling you what equipment you need, what the history of all the techniques is and how to carry them out. Okay, I exaggerate when I say ‘history’ but this is because I would normally completely skip any pre-amble and dive right in. I brook no delay, as The Grey has been known to say.
The first recipe is for a bloomer which is a traditional loaf using yeast. This means, as far as I can tell, that you need to get up early one morning (about 5am) to start baking if it is to be ready for supper that evening. Paul recommends you start your bread-making career with this recipe but I was one step ahead of him and had looked at soda bread which, might be much further on in the book but is described as the quickest and easiest type of loaf as there is. This is because there is no kneading or proofing or waiting around for Godot. This was my kind of bread! He even has the audacity to say that this is the best type of bread to start with as it’s the easiest, after foisting the bloomer on you at the beginning. Well, blooming heck to the bloomer is what I say.
Rather than going for the bog standard soda bread I decided to try ‘stout bread’ which is very similar but has stout in it (which I thought would go down well with The Grey).
I started at around 11am on Sunday morning and followed the recipe to the letter. The first thing that struck me was that my mixing bowl was far too small. Imagine 750g of flour, 300ml of stout and 220ml of buttermilk (and a few other ingredients) in a bowl barely big enough to take this volume of stuff. At this stage, I have to point out, that VERY large mixing bowl is not included in the list of equipment at the beginning of the book. Just saying.
So it’s all crammed in and very sticky and stirring with a wooden spoon is a bit like trying to stir hot tar with a cotton bud. So, I get my hands in. To begin with it’s hard work but eventually I end up with a squidgy lump of dough.
I’m never quite sure what: “roll and fold the mixture gently” means. Being gentle with a squidgy lump seems rather futile but still I persisted. I followed his baking times to the letter and after the allocated time it certainly looked the business so out of the oven it came.
Luncheon was prepared with lovely cheeses, chutney and some salad and out came the centre piece, the bread. As you can see from the photo it doesn’t look bad. (Yes, it is the bread I baked and not the picture from the book. You can tell because my fridge wire is in the background. That would never do in Paul’s perfect tome.)
So, there we were, The Grey and I, eagerly anticipating the bread. He cut into it with vigour – the crust was pretty hard – and sliced off a chunk. Ah! Now I can see it’s not cooked in the middle! Oh dear.
Hunger got the better of us and we decided to eat round the middle bit. It actually tasted okay. It was certainly very filling. Looking at the photo now I can see it looks quite formidable.
The Grey ploughed on regardless making diplomatic comments. After a while we started laughing about how heavy it was and The Grey talked about crumbing the rest of the loaf and putting it out for the birds. The problem would be after they’d eaten some; they might have trouble taking off again. The Grey did an impression of a bird flapping its wings but to no avail, stuck on the ground, weighed down by the crumb in its stomach.