I used to bake a lot of bread. Back during the pandemic lockdowns, during those long sunny days of furlough, I was one of those people who took to bread-making. Among other baking pursuits. Never made sour dough, though.
We have a bread-making machine, but I’ve never much liked using it for loaves. Dough, for pizzas or for bread rolls, sure. But not for loaves. It’s the big hole in the bottom from the mixing paddle I don’t like. And the loaves tend to be a bit big and soft in the middle for neat, clean cutting. It always ends up squished.
But then Real Life returned and rather got in the way of bread-making. That and we moved and the bread-maker was put away and I forgot we still had it. And winter happened. I can never get dough to prove properly during winter: my house doesn’t seem to have a sufficiently warm spot for it.
I have, though, discovered that the French doors at the back act a bit like a greenhouse. Just perfect for proving dough. And now that Tiny can supervise from the high-chair, I’ve gone back to baking bread. Baking in general, if I’m honest. We’ve made fairy cakes and brownies, so far, as well as the bread.
My standard bread recipe is a very straight-forward white bread. Nothing fancy, just follow the instructions on the back of the flour. Usually with the easy fast yeast, but I have been known to use fresh yeast. Sometimes I get the bread-mixes, if I want a fancier loaf: a seeded one or a sun-dried tomato one.
Then I found a recipe for a slow-cooker herby soda bread, in the Tesco magazine. I didn’t, in the end, use the slow-cooker, but it still turned out very delicious. And inspired me to add chopped herbs to the standard white loaf. Especially since we have a parsley plant growing on the window-sill.
One reason for the return to bread-baking, and baking in general, is the return of sunshine. Another is the smell, and taste, of fresh bread. I’m not sure if even fresh-cut grass can beat the smell of fresh bread. As Everyday Joys go, does anything beat fresh bread? And as for a slice of still-warm bread with melting butter – well!
A good bread can hide a boring butter, just as an excellent butter can elevate boring bread. I once found the tastiest butter in Asda, of all places: we went through a block of butter and a loaf of bread within about a day, it was that delicious. And I haven’t seen it since, which greatly saddens me. It really was the best butter. A Cornish dairy, if I remember correctly, in a green wrapping.
But the taste and smell of fresh bread aren’t the only good things about making bread. There’s also the therapeutic side: kneading. An excellent way to work through at least the minor frustrations of the day. The kitchen is often a good place for therapy. And then you get to eat whatever you make.