Friday, 20 March 2015

Bread of Heron Spelt challenge

Greetings from the Bread of Heron community bread group at the Heron Corn Mill! Today was special for three reasons: -

There was a total eclipse of the sun
It was the centenary of the birth of Sviatoslav Richter
The second batch of Bread of Heron bread was baked.

I leave it to you to decide which is the most significant of these events.

Like last week, when the first group of intrepid bread makers baked in the sparkling new shepherd's hut at the Heron Corn Mill, spelt was on the menu today for the second group. Along with Heron Corn Mill wholemeal spelt, there was white spelt from Dove's. We all followed the same recipe, but varied the flour, some choosing wholemeal, some white and some mixing the two in various proportions.

The oven in the shepherd's hut is fan assisted, and seems to me to be working very efficiently. Mind you, I'm comparing it to a quite elderly gas oven at home, which seems better at heating the kitchen than baking bread. It's certainly cosy in the shepherd's hut, but the oven's first priority is definitely cooking our bread.

It's really surprising how differently two bowls of flour can behave when it comes to soaking up water.

We all had 1 lb of spelt flour, and we all started out with 12 fl oz of water. Admittedly the flour ranged from 100% wholemeal to 100% white, but it was all spelt. Yet the consistency of everyone's dough was markedly different.

Last week I used all my 12 fl oz of water with my wholemeal flour, and was very happy with a soft, workable dough. Today's wholemeal bakers found much the same. This week I was using half and half white and wholemeal spelt, so I started out with about 10-11 fl oz of water, to see how I got on. I was really surprised to find that my dough was impossibly sloppy, even though I'd used significantly less water than last week. It's very unusual for me to decide I've got too much water, but I certainly felt that today, and I twice went back for more wholemeal flour before I got anywhere near an acceptable consistency, and a workable dough.  And that last bit of water never got used up.

Usually all the bits of dough eventually detach themselves as I knead, and I finish up with nice clean hands. Not today though: my hands were still distinctly claggy when the dough was thoroughly kneaded.

I found this very surprising, and I will be having a go with white spelt again soon, to see if I can get the measure of it. Dove's white spelt is perfectly good flour, and I am intrigued that it seems to have behaved so very differently on this occasion from the Heron's own wholemeal spelt. Is there a knack I need to acquire?

Once you've kneaded your dough, there is nothing to do but sit down and have a chat over a nice cup o' tea.

Today the talk was all about food, much of it related to pigs. Pigs' trotters and cabbage for breakfast; making black pudding; keeping a pig (not just for Christmas); letting pigs free range to produce muscle; muscle producing flavoursome meat.

Hmm. I think I put a bit too much water in this dough.

All this reminded me of Lambert the pig slaughterer - a character in the second part of Samuel Beckett's Trilogy.

Samuel Beckett

"Big Lambert had not a tooth in his head and smoked his cigarettes in a cigarette-holder, while regretting his pipe. He was highly thought of as a bleeder and disjointer of pigs and greatly sought after, I exaggerate, in that capacity. For his fee was lower than the butcher's, and he had even been known to demand no more, in return for his services, than a lump of gammon or a pig's cheek. How plausible all that is. He often spoke of his father with respect and tenderness. His like will not be seen again, he used to say, once I am gone...

And to return to our pigs, Lambert continued to expatiate, to his near and dear ones, of an evening, while the lamp burned low, on the specimen he had just slaughtered, until the day he was summoned to slaughter another. Then all his conversation was of this new pig, so unlike the other in every respect, so quite unlike, and yet at bottom the same. For all pigs are alike, when you get to know their little ways, struggle, squeal, bleed, squeal, struggle, bleed, squeal and faint away, in more or less the same way exactly, a way that is all their own and could never be imitated by a lamb, for example, or a kid."

And to return to our bread... each new loaf so unlike the other in every respect, so quite unlike, and yet at bottom the same.

I learned a couple of good tips today, which is another good reason for coming to the bread group. How can you tell when your dough is sufficiently developed, and you can decently stop slogging away at the kneading? If you stretch your dough between the finger and thumb of each hand, and keep stretching, it will eventually tear, but well kneaded dough, with its stretchy gluten, will stretch amazingly thin, a bit like bubble gum, and you should be able to see the light through the dough.

A very good party trick, though with my troublesome dough today I thought I'd keep that one to try out at home!

When you have got your dough in the tin (or basket) and you want to let it rise again, it's a good idea to put it in a plastic bag to create a cosy micro climate for it, like a poly-tunnel for bread. But how can you stop it touching the bag when it rises? Blow into the bag please sir. Remember goldfish at the fair? They always used to half fill the bag with water and then blow it up with air. There's no way the dough will touch the top of a fully inflated bag. Just don't try it with a bag with holes in or you'll be there all day.

When the bread came out of the oven, there was the usual ceremony of tapping the bottoms to see if it sounded hollow.

I am coming to the conclusion that "sounding hollow" is very much a matter of interpretation. "Quot homines, tot sententiae" as my Latin teacher used to say. Maybe it's just me, but I always seem to want to give mine a bit longer in the oven, and I want my hollow sound to be like tapping on a wooden box, not tapping on a cardboard box.

Whatever the rights and wrongs, if any, everybody's bread looked fine when cut, and all our loaves had good texture, more or less open as you would expect when comparing wholemeal to lighter flours.

And tasting was a complete delight again this week. I think if any of us had bought any of these loaves in a bread shop, we would have been more than happy with the flavour, and that for me is what it is all about.

I personally think that the Heron wholemeal spelt is a winner, producing a very satisfying loaf, with a really delicious nutty flavour. A nice thing about spelt generally is that you can be really clumsy when shaping the loaves - I certainly am - and because the dough settles and spreads as well as rising, even the roughest loaf will morph into a beautiful smooth beast by the time it is ready to go in the oven. Mine today looked like a croissant when I had shaped it, but it was perfectly "normal" when it went in the oven, and looked like this when I got it home -

This shows that you don't have to mess the dough around too much in the hope of making it look right at shaping time - just give it a gentle stretch and fold and put it in the tin. Less is more.

My loaf has a nice open texture, but for me it's lacking a bit of body compared to the wholemeal last week. Maybe when it's had a day or so to firm up it'll develop that lovely sponginess that I really like.

Last week I promised an answer to this question out of Ulysses -

"Tell me where is fancy bread? At Rourke's the baker's it is said."

If you start by saying this is a crossword clue, then "it is said" means the clue contains something that can be spelled two way, each meaning something different. Then if you change the spelling of "bread" to "bred", you get the song from the casket scene (Act 3 Scene 2) in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice -

Here Musicke. A Song the whilst Bassanio comments on the Caskets to himselfe.

Tell me where is fancie bred,
Or in the heart, or in the head:
How begot, how nourished.
    Replie, replie.

It is engendred in the eyes,
With gazing fed, and Fancie dies,
In the cradle where it lies:
Let vs all ring Fancies knell.
Ile begin it. Ding, dong, bell

    Ding, dong, bell

All that glisters is not gold, perhaps, but our wholemeal, mixed and white spelt loaves were all worthy of a medal today.

Happy baking y'all.