Saturday, 12 January 2008

You Need Hands

When Mrs Blunt scarpered with the fishmonger, she little realised what a favour she was doing me. Accustomed, over many years, to having the odd loaf of bread baked in a bread machine, I was quite bereft when she waltzed off with it as part of the carefully-worded divorce settlement prepared by her solicitors. There’s nothing quite like waking up to the smell of freshly-baked bread, and I must confess I was more than a bit miffed to lose the facility.

My circumstances did not immediately permit me to buy a replacement (bread maker, that is – not wife) but, after an evening of head-scratching, it came to me that I didn’t actually need one to meet my desire for the aroma of cooked dough. Everything I needed was right there in my hands – quite literally, in fact.

If she did but know it, the late Mrs B did me a great service. A consultation with my sister-in-law )not on Mrs B’s side, I hasten to add) was all I needed. She pointed me in the direction of Andrew (God Bless Him) Whitley’s seminal work Bread Matters. It’s not often that Bill Blunt endorses a product, but when he does, his readers can be assured that they should rush out and buy it.

Mr Whitley has produced the definitive reference book about bread. In 370 closly-printed pages, he expounds all there really is to know about bread, and how to make it. Forget your chemicals, your additives and your preservatives. A loaf of bread is flour, water, yeast and salt. That’s all. Since ASDA will furnish you with free yeast (just ask at the bakery), and since Dove Farm produce a very acceptable organic wholemeal flour for just 60p per 1.5kg, in no time you can be producing your own, healthy bread for less than 40p a pop (that’s 80c to our transatlantic cousins).

The only fly in the ointment is friends and acquaintances. For some reason, they seem to think that people who make their own bread use the process to ‘take out their frustrations’. They have this vision of me battering the hell out of the dough. This couldn’t be further from the truth. A good loaf is made with love, time and attention – just like a good relationship. You can’t force these things by shoving them in machines or by pummelling them to death. Bread is the staff of life. Make it with care and devotion, give the yeast plenty of time to do its stuff, and the taste will repay you in dividends.

While I was rustling up a couple of loafs and a cob last night, I got to thinking why, the world over, the classic figure of the baker always seems to be male? Whether it’s the little French boulanger or the dusty-aproned fellow who crops up in nursery rhymes now and again, there’s no doubt that, in our mind’s eye, we visualise a man.

Well, times have moved on. Thanks to campaigners like Emily Pankhurst, women, too, can get their knuckles well and truly dusted with flour. So, take a tip. This weekend, get that oven fired up and feel the thrill of the dough coming together in your hands. You’ll thank me for it.


nursemyra said...

I made a pesto and pumpkin lasagne for dinner tonight. it's not bread but it's still got plenty of crabs :-)

Crofty said...

I have that book too and am now delighted that I have someone else with whom I can share conversations about the wrongs of the Chorleywood Baking Process (or CBP) and the rights of the sponge method - and it does make a difference!

I asked the man in Tesco whether they use the CBP and I think he wanted to tell me to F*** Off except their customer service policy stopped him!