Politicians whitter on and on about what we should or should not learn about in schools as children. We should learn to do maths this way, write in that way, must learn how to program, how religion works, how... oh, I don't know. Are we missing something?
Years ago I taught a group of 10-year-olds how to make pizza. They, their teachers and their parents were looking around desperately to see where I had hidden manufactured pizza bases, or slices of bread, when in I walked with a sack of good flour, a big packet of fresh yeast and some big bowls. Since it was primary education, I got to run roughshod over the timetable (their normal teacher was totally complicit since she was my girlfriend at the time) and by lunchtime, 20 kids were covered in flour, the classroom was white with dust and on the table in the middle were loaves, pizzas, buns, plaits - the kids had gone nutty and made everything they could think of.
Then I baked it all in the school kitchens after lunch and the staff nearly went on strike. The smell of fresh bread wafted along the corridors of the school, into every office and every classroom and there were kids and adults drooling all over the place.
However much fun, this was also a serious life lesson. In the UK, we have become slaves to crappy bread. Very few people make it at home and they live off pappy rubbish from the supermarkets. it is almost symbolic of much of our lives. These kids learned something important that day. They learned that life is not just about maths and academia, but that it is also about sharing experiences and doing fun things that bring people together. The good thing that came out of it was that some of the kids went home and did it all over again and their houses were filled with home made bread, with varying success. The sadness was that some kids went home and were told by their parents they could not do make their own and if they wanted bread, go and buy some nice sliced stuff. Quite honestly, I wanted to thump those ignorant fools for taking something so important from their children.
This loaf is very simple and straightforward. I have added a few nice bits to give it a little extra edge. Into a big bowl I added:
- 450 grams strong white flour
- 50 grams rye flour
- fist full of bran
- palm full of mixed seeds (sunflower and so on)
- big fist full of oats
- 1 tsp salt
I then mixed up 2 tsp dried active yeast into 350 mil of warm water and 50 mil of milk
Once that had been left standing for a while and had a good froth on it, I poured it into the middle of my flour and added two tablespoons of good extra virgin olive oil. Now, to be honest, I have a big Kenwood mixer and often cheat by running the mix in there with the dough hook for about 7 minutes. But working by hand is fine too.
Keeping it in the bowl to start with, mix it well with your hands till all the yeasted water and oil is mixed in evenly. Depending on how absorbent your flour is, you might need to add a little more flour or water if it is too wet or dry.
Now, dust your table with flour, turn it out and start kneading. (Plenty of videos demonstrating this on YouTube). Good bread is about a bit of hard work and you should knead the dough for at least ten or more minutes till it is smooth and elastic. Actually, it will become like that quite early on, but keep going. Really stretch it out, almost tearing it and fold it back. You want to work it as much as possible.
Once done, cover and leave it to rise till it has doubled in size. That could be anything between 1 hour in a warm room to two or three hours in a cold one. You could even leave it all night in the fridge!
Once risen, knock back gently on a counter that has been very lightly oiled and put in a baking tin. Again let it double in size, but definitely no further!
Bake it in a pre-heated oven at 200 Celsius for about 30 minutes and then tip it out onto a rack to cool.
Nail shut the door of the kitchen so you still have bread waiting when you come back! (And not a smug looking girlfriend with suspiciously chubby cheeks)
What does it taste like?
Well, what do you think? This will go with anything and it the sort of fabulous bread that you would find in my Fantasy Dirt (Available free!) So, go on. Make some mess and have some fun with your kids, or your lover, your neighbours; whoever you want to get all floury with!