Monday, 26 January 2009

A Crust of Bread

“If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.” Robert Browning (1812-1889)
Baking bread is the most satisfying and the most time consuming of all my kitchen chores. I have a love/hate relationship with it. Love the results, the creative slashing and shaping, the smell of it baking, playing with the living dough, hate and resent the time involved, sometimes spanning weeks, as in liquid levains or nights as in pâte fermentée or a biga. The trouble stems from liking our bread cultivated by naturally occurring yeasts and bacteria or at the very least over-night matured commercial yeasts. In other words we like Old World Breads with rustic and artisan charm. The housewife of medieval England brewed her beer and her made bread together most days and then worked in the fields, washed linen against stones, wove on the loom, and died an early death fulfilling the many other chores, so why can’t I find time to make bread? Well, this week I have, but I know it will be a two or three-week phase and then it will be back to the supermarket. Part of this is the downright mess, after a while I’m finding flour in the most remote areas of the kitchen. And then there are the cultures, each needing nurturing each day, Little Shop of Horrors style “Feed me, Fay, feed me” and of course, there’s the organisation, requiring knowing your plans days in advance, i.e. if you fancy a German farmhouse rye on Saturday you better start making the rye sourdough culture the preceding Sunday! Patience and organisation are not two of my virtues. But no bread ever tastes as good, smells as good, or keeps as well as your own, so you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. Above is Italian Filone, a herb bread made with rosemary and winter savory from the garden, homemade rosemary and savory salt made last summer and herb infused olive oil, a wheat levain and a pâte fermentée. (see photo) This could just be the best bread known to humanity. Below are some Alsace sticks with spelt, after cooking you soak the spelt berries in Alsace wine overnight which can’t help making this loaf another all time winner.


Jo said...

Great photos Fay & the Alsace spelt sticks sound so delicious.
I think you may have mentioned this previously (but I've forgotten), do you use Maldons salt when you make your seasoned salts?
Love from Jo xx

Woodland Fay said...

Yes Joe, you're right, I use these salts regularly. I do use Maldon's salt, a british company worth supporting. However, I also bring salt back from Guérande called Sel Gris 'Grey Salt' which has marine minerals and nutrients from seaweed. I also love salt from Noirmoutier-en-l'Île, fleur de sel and buy salt when visiting all those promontories on the westerly french coastline. I come back with ideas for all sorts of herb salt too, fennel, lovage, celery seed, of course. Anyway, you see it is dangerous to get me started on salt! In fact here's another quote for you "Of all smells, bread; of all tastes, salt."
George Herbert, English poet (1593-1633)
Regards Fay

Woodland Fay said...

Blimey Joe rattled on so long forgot to ask you if Maldons is near you?

Philip Bewley said...

Hi fay,
Your posts are so beautifully written, I am transported in each one. I have to admit my mouth is watering thinking of the bread you describe "the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time" as the quote goes. I am facinated by your savory salt...Made last summer...Please describe!
The Italian Filone sounds just perfect, and spelt berries soaked in Alcace wine for another bread sounds, well, heavenly!
You have inspired me. i have made pizza dough, very thin the Italian way, lightly topped like a pizza bianca or margherita, but never have i made bread. if we try this weekend i will let you know our results.

Woodland Fay said...

Philip, again thank you for your generous remarks.
Each summer I have to loop huge amounts from my rosemary and savory bushes, some of the woody stuff gets thrown onto barbeque just before the lamb (must post about the 'Bride's Thigh' an Italian way of cooking a whole leg of lamb, which includes marinating in fennel, garlic, chilli and wine for three days and a wood fire, summer maybe) but, as I'm a frugal type of gal, the rest, new growth, is turned to herb salt. You make it with the help of a coffee type grinder, mine on my Kenwood, with equal amounts (cups) of herb and salt. Then dry the whole naturally, spread thinly on a tray, trying not to let to many of those essential oils drift away and evaporate.
Hope you'll let me know how goes the pizza. Try put the thinnest layer of basil pesto on the unbaked bread with a gentle spatula half an hour before the rest of the topping ingredients, the herb soaked oil just adds so much flavour to the finished base. Sante!

Emily Hunter said...

These pics are lovely! I have a recipe for a homemade sourdough starter from Peter Berley's ultra-fussy, but beautiful book "The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen", but can't bring myself to the 15+ day process of actually making it. I really should try though, since I live in San Francisco, and SF apparently creates the best yeast for that sort of thing. Instead, purchased my first sourdough starter from an internet supplier (who knows if it's poisonous or not-- I'll take my chances though), and we'll see how far I can go with that.

Loving your stories from "across the pond"!

Woodland Fay said...

Emily, I have read that one can take one's 'levain' traveling and in doing so it picks up good localised natural occuring yeasts 'en voyage'. Now, I knew I had to wear flowers in my hair to visit SF but also bring my starter? Brilliant comment, thanks Fay