“Bread – whether an elaborate celebration loaf or a humble flatbread – has a function and beauty that goes beyond simply feeding us.” Jane Mason (Baker)
Yesterday, we joined Graeme Taute of the Wild Bread Co to learn how to make bread by hand. The venue was the kitchen at La Petite France, makers of fabulous Camembert, which we enjoyed with freshly baked bread at lunchtime. “Bread knows exactly what it is doing. Just give it the conditions it needs – water, food, warmth and it will almost make itself” Graeme told the surprised gathering who were expecting an energetic day of kneading and stretching and generally bashing away at dough. The process was astonishingly gentle.
After learning the “Baker’s Formula” – the ratio of flour to the other ingredients – the first step was adding the yeast and water to the salt and flour and admiring the bubbles which indicated things were starting to happen. We were fascinated to learn that more water means bigger holes in the finished loaf, which in turn means more flavour. The sugars in the flour caramelise on the edges of the holes and this is what gives the distinctive flavour. Next step was gentle spreading of the dough on the worktop and folding a few times. Then a long wait until this process could be repeated again and again. Our farmhouse loaf was starting to take shape. While it rested and rose, we began work on Ciabatta. Essentially, very similar, except the final rising took place on a large piece of hemp fabric known as a “couche”, whereas our farmhouse loaves rose splendidly in little wicker baskets.
Between rising and folding, we chatted about flours. Of course, we used stoneground flour for our breads. Graeme explained how commercial flour passed through 16 rollers and was overheated, destroying most of the nutrients and then sometimes bleached to make it whiter! In South Africa, Eureka Mills and Harvest Mills both produce whole stoneground flour and if you are lucky, you can find rye, wheat and maize flour at the Reichenau Mission near Underberg.
While our loaves backed, we tucked into soup and foccacia on the verandah. Then it was time to test, by knocking on the base, the readiness of our loaves. They were all perfect. Proudly we wrapped them in colourful cloths and headed home to a new life of handmade bread for Sunday lunch (and probably lots of weekdays too). Contact Graeme at firstname.lastname@example.org and learn to make your own.