Thursday, March 19, 2020

Bread - Daniel Stevens

Bread baking is the perfect occupation for people spending more time at home. It doesn’t demand any sustained effort from the baker but it will punctuate a good few hours of your day, and it’s a particularly satisfying thing to make.

There are no shortage of books* on the subject, but this River Cottage Handbook by Daniel Stevens is my personal favourite. It’s not the first bread book I had - that was a Ballymaloe one, but I never really clicked with it beyond making soda bread. I also have an Elizabeth David book on English Bread and Yeast cookery, but it’s out of reach on the top shelf in the kitchen and I don’t think I’ve ever properly read it (the spine certainly looks un cracked  or creased from my position some feet below it).

When I bought this book back in 2009 finally learning how to bake a decent loaf was a mission, and it absolutely got me doing that. The instructions are clear, the science is explained, and there’s a great range of recipes to get started on. These include some nice things to do with left overs (bread and butter pudding is surely the food of the Gods) as well as oatcakes, scones, shortbread and similar. It’s everything the beginner needs.

It’s been a long time since I made much bread, back in November when I finished work it was something I really looked forward to doing again, and then found I’d lost the knack of. At the risk of sounding overdramatic I felt like I’d lost something really important. A couple of loaves later I had the touch back - and that in turn is deeply satisfying.

I have always loved the rhythm of bread making - a few minutes of activity followed by longish waits as it proves. Knocking back the dough during the proving process takes about as long as it does to make a tea or coffee. I really love the way the dough is so clearly a living thing and the way you quickly learn how to feel when it’s right. The scent of it is pretty good too.

I might even get another sourdough starter underway - although sourdough isn’t perfect for a household of one. It’s amazing if you can reliably get through a loaf every day or two though, and is a delightful thing to make. For near instant results soda bread is perfect, and then there’s a whole world of muffins, crumpets, buns and other treats to be explored.

It’s also worth considering that whilst industrially produced bread might not particularly agree with you, home made bread might. That’s certainly been my experience. The extra time that hand made bread gets is one part of why, as is the lack of chemical additives designed to prolong shelf life. And again, I find the process of making bread good for my state of mind as well as being good to eat.

*A lot of general baking books will also cover bread, as will a good few general cookbooks, there is also the Internet. I’ve not bought any more specialist bread books, tempting as they are, because this one more than covers all my bread making needs.