Saturday, 14 March 2015

How are you spelting that?

Today's Bread of Heron baking was all about spelt. What better way to start the Heron Corn Mill's community bread group off than by baking with this increasingly popular grain?

There were seven of us in the hut today, Friday March 13th 2015.

We baked with our boots on, and we baked with spelt. But we left the horses outside.

With seven pairs of hands... is probably no surprise that we got a wide variety of results. After all, each of us was encountering at least something new - the hut, the oven, the flour, the company even! Nice then to find that we all managed to produce very satisfying and good looking results. The bread's not bad either!

Nell had arranged for several different types of spelt flour to be available, and some of us baked with wholemeal spelt, some with white and some with a mixture. Other than that, we were basically following the same recipe, with the same quantities.

Mind you, we Brits are free spirits. Rules are made in Bananistan, and are only there to be bent.

We all started out with a measured 12 fl oz of water and 500 g of flour, an uneasy combination of Imperial and European.

One member of the old school (you know who you are!) went imperial, turning 500 g into 454 g - sorry, 1 lb. And in the spirit of seeing how it went, several water jugs were only partially emptied into mixing bowls.

The conversation got round to recipes and cooks. Delia may be reliable, but safe is so yesterday. Jamie also has peaked, apparently. Paul "Bollywood" was on the steel worktop in the hut, but should he be on the coffee table? Elizabeth David was a trusted name for some - but were we following any of these people? No - we were working with the booklet from the Traditional Corn Millers Guild and to be honest we weren't following it so very slavishly at that.

It was actually very interesting to see how much the consistency of our doughs varied, although we started with much the same ingredients - flour, salt, fresh yeast bubbling away in a little of our water.

I agree with Andrew Whitley's maxim that "wetter is better".

It may sound like Mrs Thatcher's motto when choosing a cabinet, but it works with bread too. That is after all Kenneth Baker standing behind Maggie, and Nigella's dad sitting on her left, so hers was a bit of a kitchen cabinet.

I don't think there can be any doubt that a softer dough takes less work to develop, but maybe a firmer dough is just better suited to a more physical kneading method. Some people soften their dough up Enery Cooper style...

... a couple of left dough hooks, a straight right in the punch bowl and a good splash of Brut 33 to finish. Others ask "how would Jeeves go about it?".

Gentle reasoning with your dough, turning it over, coming at it from a different angle, maybe discussing Spinoza with it over a glass of port in the pantry. Dough needs to feel stretched, after all.

As always, there is no right and there is no wrong way. Bread seems to be unique in forgiving virtually every kind of affront the hapless baker can throw at it. Admittedly we didn't let ourselves go to the extent that this Spanish community bread group ("Pan de la Garza") did when they made pizzas recently -

But within the limits imposed by British etiquette -

we must between us have tried most things on our bread today - bashing, slapping, squeezing, squelching, throwing water at it, throwing flour at it. And it all came out looking absolutely fine in the end. Let's face it - making bread is a piece of cake.

The white spelt loaves came out surprisingly yellow, and noticeably sweet. The wholemeal was nice and brown without being heavy at all. The mixed white and wholemeal was predictably paler than the straight wholemeal, but no less flavoursome. They all stood up to being cut open while still warm - a sacrificial offering to the massed ranks of 7 bakers. And they all ate well, with no butter or with a week's butter ration on a slice.

It was great to find that several people were actively trying out using less salt than the recipe suggested. This has to be a healthy development!

No bread blog is complete without a shot of the bread in question. So I thought I'd do a still life, with some kitchen essentials hovering in the background -

I was quite pleased with that - look at that open texture, and that all-over sunburnt crust! But my dear wife felt there were too many product placements in this. I think it was really the Marmite that upset her. She suggested a more austere approach -

This is too political for me! Eventually she softened a little, and allowed the controversial sour dough from last week to creep into the background -

Whichever way you like your spelt, this is a flour that will repay a bit of love and attention.

You probably realise by now that I am a fan of  James Joyce -

Someone asked him what he was thinking when this picture was taken, and he said

"I wonder if I could touch the photographer for ten bob?".

Here's a bread related puzzle for you, from chapter 16 of Ulysses-

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

Answer next time.