Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Bread of Heron

Spring is sprung at Heron Corn Mill's shepherd's hut

At last it is starting to feel like the year is moving on. The snowdrops have been and gone, the daffs are out, and Bread of Heron, the Heron Corn Mill's community bread group, is open for business. You can tell we mean business, because there is a row of Bread of Heron pinnies on the hooks behind the door in the shepherd's hut.

Friday 6th March was the official first meeting of the group. The whole group got together at the barn over a cuppa, to catch up on how everyone was and on developments  at the mill.

Nell had set up a surprisingly challenging quiz, where we tried (often in vain) to put the right name labels next to various flour samples.

Fortunately the Heron Corn Mill sample was very easy to spot, because of the gorgeous rustic bran speckles running through the flour. While all wholemeal flour has plenty of bran, stone ground flour tends to have the bran pieces less bashed about than industrially milled flour. This, I think, is really important for a hearty loaf: it's part of what makes stone ground flour "the real thing".

Among the other samples, polenta was fairly easy to spot because its yellow colour shows it is made from maize. I confidently identified it as "semolina" which was a bit of a stumper, as semolina is made from wheat! I was rather amazed (no pun intended) to find that I have been using the terms polenta and semolina interchangeably for years, because I use them both to stop my bread sticking to the peel on the way into the oven. Incidentally they can both be used to make a thick porridge which is delicious when allowed to cool, sliced into fingers and fried in olive oil until golden brown.

Samples like "coconut flour" had us all stumped. Stuart the miller tried smelling it, but then everything smelled of coconut, so that didn't work. And "buckwheat flour" was a surprise: I occasionally add boiled whole buckwheat to my bread, but according to Stuart farmers get very unhappy if there is any buckwheat in among their wheat. Can't see what all the fuss is about myself!

The other part of the quiz was to match up the names and pictures of 6 types of grain. That is a lot trickier than it sounds. See how you get on with these three grains -

(Left to right - barley, wheat and oats.)

During the morning, people dropped in to have a look round the shepherd's hut, where my bread and Nell's Chelsea buns were being cooked, so it was nice and cosy in there. Yours truly in the shepherd's hut with a controversial white loaf -

Why controversial? I had decided to beef up my sourdough with some yeast. Is this sacrilege, or just pain de campagne? You decide - could make for an interesting discussion at the Bread of Heron!

Everybody who came to look seemed to be really impressed with the shepherd's hut. More than one person said they could quite fancy being a shepherd, if this was the kind of accommodation that went with the job. It really is a nice place to make bread in, that's for sure. Starting next week, the bread group will be baking together in there, so it will be buzzing.

As it was the first Friday of the month, Stuart did a milling demonstration at 11:30 complete with smog mask and hi-tech flour bucket -

with help from regular volunteers Karen and Iain, who like me has a built-in smog mask -

The bread we had for lunch was all started the night before, 25% of the flour being mixed with half the water, no salt and either yeast or sough dough culture.

Heron wheat
Dove's spelt
Allinson's white sourdough

Next morning, I added plenty of extras for interest, and to improve the texture - cracked grain, flakes, wheat germ, linseeds. Each of these bowls contain all the additions mixed up for one batch of dough -

It's a surprising amount of stuff to add to a couple of loaves worth of dough, but the bread can take it.

After kneading, the dough was left to rise while I snatched some tea and crumpets -

After breakfast, everything was piled in the back of the car and taken to Heron Corn Mill.

At the mill, the dough was given a bit more time in the mixing bowls to get over the trauma of the drive, and to finish rising in peace.

Once it was fully risen, I shaped the loaves in my usual rough and ready way, and transferred them to the Bread of Heron bannetons - really nice cane proving baskets. I also started off a couple of extra loaves from scratch, and left them to rise in some ice cream boxes - just in case we had any really hungry people for lunch. 

When the bread came out of the oven, I was really glad I'd decided to use different slashes for each kind of bread, and to draw a picture of what I'd done! These two are the extras. You'd never know they were raised in ice cream boxes!

Referring to my slashing diagram, and going from left to right, I can confidently say that these three are white sourdough, spelt and spelt respectively -

On the day, some of the crusts were found to be a bit on the crunchy side for some tastes, but that's the price you pay for serving up warm bread, I suppose. Molly Bloom in Ulysses for one preferred yesterday's bread, as her husband recalled when he nipped out to the butcher's before breakfast - 

"Boland's breadvan delivering with trays our daily but she prefers yesterday's loaves turnovers crisp crowns hot. Makes you feel young."

I couldn't agree more with that last bit. Here's hoping Bread of Heron will keep us all feeling young for a long time to come!