I am a perfectionist, and don’t often like to start new things if I know there’s a good chance of failure. That is especially true when it comes to cooking & baking; I’m pretty sure my sense of self is tied up in a messy way with my ability to shine in the kitchen, so I tend to stick to easier dishes and bakes to minimise against disasters (and tantrums). That’s not to say I’m immune to kitchen fails – we won’t mention the grey salted caramel cheesecake… – but I’ve often not attempted something with a perceived level of difficulty. That’s all to change this year; as I mentioned on Monday I am attempting to hone my skills and try new things – often finding that they weren’t as difficult as I once thought. Case in point: bread.
Freshly baked bread is truly a thing of beauty – far from the insipid, uninspiring packet loaves that we’re used to. I have turned my hand to bread baking a couple of times in the past, but with little success. This is most definitely a science – there’s no just leaving it to chance with bread. However, I want to master bread baking (as much as you can master such a thing) this year, so I armed myself with Brilliant Bread by James Morton (recommended to me by Rachel) and actually read the introduction and instructions properly. As with all things, a bit of patience and attention to detail make a big difference – and I’ve successfully baked half a dozen white loaves. Paul has become a bit addicted, devouring almost the entire thing each time – which is probably for the best since the bread is nowhere near as good the next day, suitable only for toasting, and totally rubbish by day two. Such is the curse of fresh bread; the pleasure is great but only fleeting.
I can highly recommend this book to other novice bread bakers – it’s so easy to follow and understand the process, which has helped me enormously. Although each loaf is quite a big undertaking – 3 and a half hours from start to finish – you only spend about 15 minutes of that actually in the kitchen, so you can get on with other bits & pieces in the meantime. I’ve been standing my dough on a chair next to the radiator to help it rise, and it really is a wonder to behold. You look away for half an hour and it doubles in size, seemingly by magic. Unlike cakes, dough feels like (and sort of is) a living, breathing thing. Although the recipe I’ve been using doesn’t call for much kneading, I can’t help myself. The elasticky dough is so satisfying to throw around. In fact, my niece and I spent quite a long time prodding, poking, pulling and kneading a ball of bread between us – she was absolutely fascinated by the way that it worked, in the wonderful way that kids are, and I wasn’t far behind!
My next task is bread rolls; my first batch were not a roaring success; although they were edible the sizes were mis-matched and the crust was a little too dark. I also don’t think they had enough chance to rise. It’s safe to say I’m totally addicted to bread-making – and totally over my fear of bread failure!