Saturday, June 9, 2012

Impulse baking

You've heard of impulse shopping? Sure you have, you've probably been a victim of it numerous times. It's a modern affliction that probably keeps the retail part of our economy rolling along, the truth be told. Well, there's a little-known sub-category of impulse shopping called 'impulse baking', and that's what I'm doing this lovely, sunny afternoon. 

You see, I've been meaning to bake some bread for some time now. And then this morning in the supermarket, I found myself in the aisle where all the flours are sold. I spotted this packet containing a Soy and Linseed bread-making kit ("everything you need, including the yeast") and so impulse baking claimed another victim.

Now, first things first, for successful impulse baking you need to be
• Poorly prepared
• Ill equipped
• Enthusiastic and optimistic.

Check, check, check and check, let's go.

These aren't bread tins, but they're the closest I have. The
bread-making kit is from my local Woolies supermarket.

Inside the kit I found four 600g bags of flour mix
plus one sachet of yeast. The flour mix has the seeds,
salt and other goodies already added.
You add two teaspoons of the dried yeast to the
flour in the bowl, mix to combine.
Then add 390ml of lukewarm water to
the bowl, mix well. This forms a sticky, 

gloopy mass like you wouldn't believe! Help!
(what have I got myself into?)
After successfully extracting the gloop from the bowl 
came the hard part: kneading the mass by hand for a full
10 minutes on a lightly floured board. This isn't
the 'fun' bit but it's essential. However, as someone
who happily uses a mortar and pestle to make spice
mixes, kneading bread is the kind of peasant
village stuff that comes naturally to me.

Put the dough in a bowl, cover with a clean tea towel,
put in a warm spot and and leave the dough to rise for
40-50 minutes. This is the boring bit, so it's time for
an intermission, folks. What did I do in that 50 minutes
while I waited for the yeast to do its thing? I read a book.

This book, given to me by Pam as a present a few years
ago. It's called 'Plates and Dishes', and while it does
have words in it, it's the photos which captivate. 
There's spread after spread with the meals the author ate
an each roadside diner on the left, and on the right
page a portrait of the waitress who served him.
The food isn't great but the people photography is.
As I haven't obtained persmission to show you the book,
the least I can do is provide a linky to its listing on
Amazon, if you're interested.
And so while we wait for the bread to rise, here's a few
lovely American Diner Gals and the food they serve.

What a great book, how time flies with a lovely book...
Oh, goody, the 50 minutes' waiting is over and the bread has doubled in size. 

It's time to 'punch down' the dough to remove the build-up
of gas caused by the yeast, and to gently knead it for
a bit more (not the 10 minutes like the first time).
The next step is to put the dough into a lightly oiled
bread baking tin, cover it with the tea towel again,
then wait another 40-50 minutes until it doubles in
size again (while it's sitting in a warm spot).

After another 50-minute wait it has grown in size a 
fair bit (not sure if it has doubled in size, but it is a 
lot bigger), so into the preheated 220°C (fan-forced 
200°C) oven it goes, for 25-30 minutes. 

After 30 minutes it looked like this, which is good 
enough for me. Lovely! While it baked the smell was
so good that I immediately thought I should put up
a 'For Sale' sign on the house and sell it that
afternoon, at an inflated price (well, you know that
old real estate agents' saying that the smell of
baking bread helps sell houses) but then again it
did occur to me that Pammy might not feel quite
the same olfactory impulse, so I parked that idea.

All the books say if you tap the underside of the loaf 
and it sounds 'hollow', it's done. Tap tap – mine sounded
hollow enough. Then you have to let it cool down 
completely on a wire rack before slicing it.

Traaa daaa! Not too bad. Tasted nice. Not exactly
light and fluffy in texture, but for a beginner's first 
attempt I'm giving myself 5 out of 10 – a pass mark 
with plenty of room for improvement!

Now I've finally dived into bread baking and have come up with a reasonable result, I'm going to keep at it. There are three more 600g packs of soy and linseed flour in that packet for starters, so hopefully the next time I'll get up to a score of 6 out of 10. Tomorrow morning I plan to cut four slices from this loaf, toast them, then top them with poached eggs for Pammy and me.

The world is my bakery after that. Baguettes, olive bread, herb bread, bruschetta on ciabatta... oh let's not get too carried away now!

But it is an inspiring thing to do, making one of the staples of life which humankind has been baking for thousands of years. I think I could easily do a bit more bread-baking from now on. Smells nice, tastes nice too.