2012, for reasons regular readers will know and which I don’t want to belabour any further, was the year I pretty much gave up on the kitchen. Partly because much of what I do there was beyond me, and partly because – well, I don’t really know.
Why, for example, did I completely abandon vegetarian food? I’m not a veggie, haven’t been since about 2001 (ish – it fizzled slowly rather than stopped dead), but I do like vegetarian food occasionally (I’ve just had a bottom-of-the-fridge** veggie soup, and very good it was too, and a lentil stew is coming up either today or tomorrow – probably the latter). I also stopped making bread, and I have absolutely no idea why.
B-o-t-f soup is exactly what it says – soup made with vegetables and whatever else is getting close to being tossed out, lurking at the bottom of the fridge and which, in less frugal times, might well have been binned – as someone said in the comments, “bendy-vegetable soup”.
When making bread I use a stand mixer for the grunt work (mixing and kneading), so pretty much all I have to do is prove the dough, which needs no input from me beyond checking its progress, shape it, prove it again, and bake it. Hardly arduous, yet I’ve been living on supermarket bread rolls with the texture of cotton wool for far too long.
I think it’s all too easy to get into a rut, by avoiding as much as possible things that you know are going to result in pain or exhaustion – or both. It’s a natural response, but it doesn’t help.
So, today, I’m making bread again. The flour kept in the kitchen (not a lot, most lives in the bedroom freezer), will need to be tossed as it’s long past its BBE date (and please don’t tell me about BBE date fascism – for some products, it actually does matter, and flour is one of them; wholemeal goes rancid and white just gets musty), and replaced from my main stock, and hopefully, if I have any rye flour left, I’ll make a 50% wholemeal rye loaf.
If I have no rye it’ll be my standard loaf 50% organic, strong white flour, and 50% organic, stoneground, wholemeal. And so, for now, I’ll leave this and go and get on with it before writing about it eats into the time I should be using for baking!
Right, checked my stock, and it turns out I’ve had 2 deliveries of flour over the past 18 months, neither of which made it into the freezer, one of which is well past its BBE, and one just on it, which can be frozen now and will be OK for a while. The rest, sadly, goes in the bin.
I have no rye, though, just white and wholemeal – ah well, I can order more, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with my standard loaf – it is, in fact, excellent bread, which is why it’s my standard loaf.
As for the lentil stew (which will happen tomorrow, Monday, all being well), my lentils, like much of my flour, are elderly, but they, at least, are in an airtight container, so should be fine. They’ll be flavoured with dried vegetables. The soup I made earlier this week was the first time I’d used the dried veg as an ingredient to be eaten, rather than just for flavouring the stock for a slow-cooked joint of meat, and very good they were, too, and it’ll all be perked up with some Hungarian sweet paprika, which will infuse the stew with just a touch of heat. Just enough to add a little interest, not to make it into a chilli.
The problem I have cooking lentils is that they cook so fast that any veggies cooked with them take a lot longer, with the risk that the lentils, cooked to a purée, might stick and burn if not frequently stirred, but the dried veg will get round that, as they cook very quickly, too. I also have some frozen carrot and swede mash (Aunt Bessie’s), and some of that will be good too, as it’s already cooked.
A tablespoon or two dried tomatoes, will add a little sweetness to the earthiness of the lentils (a little sharpness, too), and complement the paprika nicely, and towards the end a couple of Kallo organic vegetable stock cubes will go in (near the end because anything salty put in at the beginning will impair the cooking of the lentils, as it does with any pulses).
I like Kallo cubes as they’re quite subtle. Some brands make the finished dish scream “stock cubes!” but Kallo veg cubes enhance rather than dominate, and here they’ll be used on their own. I use them as a base for many soups and stocks, along with other stock cubes – the trick with stock made from cubes is to use a mix, say, for beef, use Oxo, Kallo veg, and Knorr Touch of Taste Beef, which gives a more rounded stock than just using Oxo or Knorr. There’s a lot of snobbishness about stock cubes, but as long as they’re used well I don’t have a problem.
And now I really am going to make that bread – but I’ll be back…
Back sooner than I thought, having cleared a space on the worktop and given it a good scrub, it’s time for a rest. I’ve also washed the mixer bowl as it’s not been used for a long time.
Anyway, the bread will be 275g each of white and wholemeal flours, and I’ll make a starter from a tablespoon of the white, a little malt extract and the yeast, mixed with some of the water. It’s not absolutely essential, but I feel it gives a better result than just tossing everything into the bowl and mixing it, and it goes in once it has a head that would put Guinness to shame.
Malt extract needs to be used with care – too much and it makes the dough so soft it’s almost impossible to handle – too little and you might as well have not bothered – about ¾ of a 5ml teaspoon is enough for a loaf this size (I use an egg spoon, which is about right).
And now, having rummaged in my flour stocks, and cleaned the worktop and mixer bowl, I feel like shit. Quite possibly, come to think about it, why I stopped making bread in the first place.
Oh well, might as well press on…
And so I did, flour’s weighed out, and the starter has been – erm – started, sea-salt added to the flour and olive oil and cider vinegar measured (as in, yeah, that looks about right!).
The cider vinegar is a preservative and, no, you can’t taste it in the finished bread. Adding oil – or any fat – to bread simply gives a better result. Some would disagree, but they’d be wrong. You can easily test this for yourself by making 2 loaves identical apart from the oil – the crumb of the loaf without oil will be much firmer and chewier. If that’s what you want, omit the oil.
Some also protest that adding oil adds “empty” calories. As the same people are likely to slather their bread with grease in some other form they can safely be ignored. As for those who claim you shouldn’t put salt in bread – which improves the taste as well as modulating the action of the yeast – ignore them too. Some people simply don’t enjoy food and would like everyone else to be as dismal as they are. I put 2 scant teaspoons (measuring spoons), to 550g of flour – if you really want nightmares about salt, take a look at some old recipes! A tablespoon isn’t at all unusual.
When making bread, I weigh** out the water and use the whole thing as the starter – the small amount of water doesn’t lend itself to being split, it’ll go cold. In fact, the kitchen is colder than I thought, and the starter is now sitting on the radiator as it’s gone stone cold already. It just needs warming gently.
**By weighing both dry ingredients and liquid – one gram = 1ml** –it ensures that any error in the scales or measuring jug is cancelled out. I have two measuring jugs, both give different results and both are wrong! By weighing I get accuracy (hopefully, considering what I paid for the scales!), but if not then at least I get consistency.
**Milk, oil and water vary, but the variation is so tiny that, for culinary purposes, it can be ignored.
At the moment, the dough is coming to the end of its first proving. I’m off back to the kitchen to knock it back, knead it briefly, shape it and let it prove one more time…
And it’s done. The loaf is now in its tin, the top spritzed with olive oil so it doesn’t dry out and impede the expansion of the dough, covered with clingfilm and a thick but light tea-towel, it can be left to its own devices for as long as it takes – bread is at its best when it’s not hurried – and I can have another rest. Being a spoonie is hard work!
OK then – loaf’s in the oven.
For a change I just put the flour and salt in the bowl, poured the yeasty water. and the oil and vinegar, on top of it and started the mixer. What you should do is add the liquids with the mixer running, but this time, as has happened before, doing it this way gave a much firmer, better-behaved, dough and a far better loaf.
No idea why that should be, but I think it needs to be my default method from now on.
And on that note I’ll go and get the loaf out of the oven, and take a photo.
I can’t honestly remember when I last made bread but, hopefully, this will mark a return to normality – or an approximation thereof…