It was a wet Sunday morning and I had an essay to write and I was tired. But it was Sunday and I am baking a loaf today. Increasingly, I am finding that I want to spend less time doing things, going places, and instead just be. This sounds terribly middle-aged. Coincidently there is an article in The Observer newspaper on David Bainbridge's new book Middle Age: A Natural History. Along side it are some "funny" observations about the tell-tale signs that you are middle-aged. The following raised a smile -
- You think it's about time you bought a nasal hair trimmer.
- You can't sit down or stand up without making an "effort" noise.
- You listen to Radio 1 and don't understand any of it.
- You worry about your knees.
- You know you haven't got a novel in you.
- The first thing you read in the obituaries column is age of death.
But in among them there's this -
- You start each day thinking you should live it like your last. But you don't.
Boom! I'd like to believe that whoever compiled the list slipped this in under the radar because it is of a different order than jokes about nasal hair clippers. You start each day thinking you should live it like your last. But you don't.
Baking a loaf of bread wouldn't be the worse thing I could picture on my last day, especially as today's is probably the best loaf I have ever baked (there's the joy of being a beginner!) I was inspired by a recipe in Emmanuel Hadjiandreou's beautiful book How to bake bread. I would love to do one of his four day bread courses - possibly next year if I save my pennies. I used his ingredients list for spiced cheese and herb sourdough
Strong white bread flour
grated mature cheddar cheese
white sourdough starter
Hadjiandreou teaches a no-knead method with plenty of folds. But I chose to stick with the method I have been using for my everyday loaves. Having taken my starter and fed it a couple of times I created a sponge on Saturday night using half the flour, all the water and all the starter. I mixed it well in a bowl and put a plastic shower cap over it. I know I'll have to take more notice of things like ambient temperatures but for now, I left it in a cold kitchen overnight.
By 7 a.m. it was bubbling merrily so I added the remaining ingredients. I think I may have put more coriander in than the recipe. Felt like two handfuls chopped up. I'll weigh it next time. I brought the mixture together and left it 15 minutes. I then kneaded it for a short period, 15 seconds or so and then left it for 10 to 15 minutes and repeated this four or five times. I may have kneaded it a little more because I can't help myself. The sticky dough became smoother and stretchier.
I shaped it into a ball and placed it into a round cane proving basket well dusted with rye flour. The instructions said leave for 3-6 hours until doubled in size. Doubled in size - what does that actually mean? Well Joanna@Zeb Bakes pointed me to this article at The Weekend Bakery which echoed some of my own suspicions but happily offers some great tips on proving.
3- 6 hours sounded a long time to me. I usually bake after 2 hours. I know you should err on the side of under proving yet I was wondering whether I have been giving my dough long enough.
So hear it is when place in the basket, and two and half hours it has risen to this -
Okay, I know the different camera perspectives distort it a little but it seemed risen enough. The oven was on high. I'm using a heavy baking tray at present so I took that out, floured it then placed the risen dough on it carefully. it felt pillowy to me. I slashed with a razor blade and placed it in the oven. A few sprays of water and a cup of boiling water in a tray at the bottom of the oven and then the door is shut and the timer set for 10 mins. At that point I check the loaf and there has been some oven spring. I take out the water tray and turn the oven down to 200 C. I give it 35 more minutes. Its done. I place it on the wire rack. I get a real buzz from this minor alchemy. The loaf looks beautiful.
Sue and I share nearly half of it for tea with a green salad, coleslaw and a few pieces of grilled halloumi. Nice. The bread is crusty and the crumb is soft and moist. the chilli is evident though not over-powering. This is the second time I have made this bread and it is a winner. Now having this basic formula I am free to experiment for myself. I'd love to try some fresh green chilli and play around with the herbs. Can you use curry leaves in bread? Some cumin? How about wild garlic? We shall see!