Jay and I baked bread this week. French baguettes. It was an easy recipe (see below). Kind of a throw it all together and hope for the best, which turned out surprisingly good.
I am no expert at bread making, I understand nothing of the technical side or science behind it, but I have made quite a lot of loaves at home in the past. Often in my bread maker, but sometimes by hand too. There is something about the act of baking bread which is very human, earthy and real. Bread, according to Jane Mason in her book All you knead is bread is: “a symbol for everything that is basic and necessary” and I agree.
I’m not sure why I have this… attachment… even reverence, for the gentle art of bread making. It certainly hasn’t come from memories of baking in childhood, as I don’t remember anyone ever baking bread at home or anywhere else. Surely it is not by chance of a name (my surname is Baker).
People have made variations of bread for thousands of years throughout the world – it is common ground – it connects us each to one another. It is a food which requires you to press and pull and shape it into being. Patience is required for the rising. Then there is the fragrance of a freshly baked loaf and the act of sharing with family or friends. It is no wonder that the sacred and ritual partaking of bread is part of many religious and spiritual traditions.
Bread making is a kind of metaphor for living even… as mere dough is transformed into the humble, yet beautiful and useful loaf, we ourselves are ‘kneaded’ and ‘baked’ by our various trials and challenges. It takes time and patience to grow and eventually be useful in some way. The process must be respected… however humble it may be.
I buy supermarket packaged bread with all its added ingredients, preservatives and fillers, every week. Like most people I don’t have the time or inclination to make all of the bread this family eats. But it’s worth it to take the time every now and then to experience this soul-nourishing practice. And mass-produced baked loaves just don’t come near the taste of homemade. Here are a couple of websites with some useful information, recipes, courses and ideas promoting the making of ‘real bread’ in the UK.
Mary Fisher puts it very well…
“one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with one of the world’s sweetest smells… there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of meditation in a music-throbbing chapel. That will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread.”
Simple French Baguette Recipe
(Adapted from this recipe)
- 250g Strong White Bread Flour (+ extra for rolling etc.)
- 1 tsp of Salt
- 1 sachet of Dried Yeast
- 3 Tbsp Olive Oil
- 180 ml lukewarm water
- Weigh salt and flour into a bowl, make a small pocket and add yeast. Add oil and enough water to create a kneadable dough.
- Turn onto floured surface and knead vigorously for five to ten minutes.
- Place into a clean oiled bowl, cover and leave in a warm place to rise for two or three hours.
- Turn back onto floured surface, knead briefly and shape into two baguette shapes before placing onto your baking tray.
- Cover with a cloth and leave to prove for an hour or so until doubled in size.
- Preheat oven to 200C. Slash the top of your loaves with a knife and place a tin with an inch or two of water into the bottom of your oven (the steam will crisp up your crust).
- Bake your loaves for 20 to 25 mins until golden brown (time depends on your oven – I’d keep a close eye on them).
- Slice, butter and enjoy!
“All sorrows are less with bread”
~ Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra