Monday, 12 October 2015

The case of the disappearing mother in law

This week at Bread of Heron, the Heron Corn Mill's community bread group, we had a bit of a party. The occasion was my relaunch as a senior citizen - the beginning of my seventh decade in fact. Thanks to everyone who came along to the barn to help me celebrate, and made it rather a special day for me.

Guinness world record attempt

We possibly set a new record for the amount of cassoulet eaten in a single sitting. There were approximately 1.75 kg of dry beans in this little lot, and only a breakfast bowlful left at the end of the day.

Bend and stretch

After a big lunch I like to run through the Jane Fonda workout routine outside my front door. It inspires the neighbours so. The cat from across the road likes to join in and copy all my movements -

Wet wet wet

We did a variety of bakes bakes this week. The main choices were both very sticky, so there was not a great deal of proper kneading going on.

First up was a focaccia, which requires two risings. We got this under way as soon as possible, so we could get on with the second bake - a wholemeal loaf with caraway seeds, affectionately known as the mother in law loaf.

The caraway loaf is almost impossibly wet - over 80% hydration - so all you can really do is beat it with your fingers, making your hand into a sort of claw shape. The good thing is that it is so wet that it will naturally settle down in the tin, and sort itself into a nice tidy loaf shape.

It's definitely worth lining the Heron tins as this mixture would be bound to stick.

It was sticky whatever you mixed it in.

One baker kindly donated a ciabatta to the lunch time fare. Unluckily he opened the wrong mix, and finished up making both ciabatta and rolls in addition to the caraway bread, so there was more pressure on than expected, to make sure everything was ready to go in the oven when needed. 

It all came right in the end, thank goodness.

The brown bread called for an awful lot of yeast, and some of us took the recipe at face value, on the grounds that the recipe was potentially compensating for the heaviness of the dough. Others reduced the yeast, so we had bread that rose at different rates for different people. I'm not quite sure why some of the loaves cracked. Maybe this was to do with the amount of kneading / mixing the dough got, or maybe it was because we had quite a full oven, and possibly didn't get ideal circulation of hot air this time. We need to experiment with shelf placement a little, I think, to make sure we aren't too near the top of the oven when using 3 shelves.

The loaf on the left looks like one of the ones which used maximum yeast: it was starting to flow over the side of the tin.

While the brown bread was cooking, we flattened and stretched our focaccia onto baking trays. It's very springy dough and tends to shrink back when stretched, so getting a tidy rectangle is not as easy as it sounds.

We had looked at various recipes and decided that we should be aimimg at a nice thin and crispy focaccia. But unfortunately I had not thought to scale down the quantities in the chosen recipe, with the result that we each had enough dough to make 2 trays of thin focaccia - or 1 tray of Jamie Oliver style rather fat focaccia. Doh! Still, it tasted good. And this time we made sure we didn't take it out of the oven too soon, which was my mistake last time.

One baker opted for a wholemeal focaccia with sun dried tomatoes - it's at the top of the picture above. As I am now officially an old fogey, I freely expressed my outrage at this dangerously original idea. "Bah humbug" I puffed. "What would my Italian friends make of it?"

However, events dear boy have a habit of proving me wrong, and yet again I have to eat humble pie - or focaccia as the case may be. And I eat it happily on this occasion. The tomato focaccia was no less delicious for being wholemeal! 

Drizzling is one area where I do encourage boldness. There's nothing nicer than a generous slab of fresh, oily focaccia still warm from the oven. I have to admit the oil can seem a bit excessive if there is any left the next day. Still, tomorrow can take care of itself: focaccia is a bread best eaten in the moment, while the smell of rosemary is still in the air. 

The Shining

One baker, embracing our reputation as experimentalists ('mentalists for short), left off the rosemary, but kept the salt - and then applied a sugar and ginger wash on top. Shall we say there were raised eyebrows? Yes, we shall! But the doubting Thomases and Thomasinas (myself included) were proved wrong, and the sweet and salty ginger focaccia was the star of the show. Amazing but true.

Fresh from the garden

With all the bread done and dusted (and sugared and gingered) our attention turned to lunch in the barn, and this baker pulled out the most beautiful garden salad from under her pinny, and dressed it for the table. As well as a surprise vegetable, there were mixed leaves and nasturtiums which really made for a great presentation.

There was also a grain-based salad, which complemented the bean based main course very well but unfortunately escaped the camera. You can just see it on the plates here -

After what seemed like a league and a half of beans, miraculously we all found room for pudd. There was a choice of cheesecakes, and a very striking pistachio cake, which was really delicious. The prep sounded pretty complicated though, so this was definitely a cake for a special occasion.

More use than a chocolate teapot

I got some nice things for my birthday, including very nice damson gin and jelly, and this chocolate dinosaur -

How have I managed without one all these years?

Trim your hips and flatten your tummy

The theme of largeness and fatness was continued by my family who gave me cards depicting a seal and a pig -

Is someone trying to tell me something?

So what's this about disappearing mothers in law?

We were a little unsure about the wholemeal flour we were using this week. It was certainly Heron Corn Mill flour, but it wasn't clear from the flour box whether it was wheat or spelt. I certainly didn't dare rely on my taste buds in a blind taste test. The bread behaved well, and the loaves we tasted at the mill had the characteristic caraway tang.

But when I took my brown loaf home, it got a definite thumbs down from her indoors. "Are you sure you brought the right loaf home? There are no caraway seeds, and the flour is not the same as in the original" (i.e. it was not wheat). I quietly noted the point about the flour: I wasn't going to argue about that. But the caraway seeds issue was a real surprise. I had a slice to check. Hmm. Definitely no caraway seeds. Quite possibly spelt flour. Undeniably not a mother in law loaf.

Oh well, I'll just have to start all over again.