NATIONAL Bread Week is upon us and this gives me another opportunity to extol the importance of good bread and the magic of bread making.
You all know my opinion of the squishy sliced pan and how desperate I am to remind anyone who will listen that YOU (YES YOU) can make a grand little loaf in the couple of minutes it takes to mix a few ingredients and pour them into a tin. Pop it into a preheated oven and hey presto you’ll have an irresistible loaf in a little over half an hour — you wouldn’t be back from the shops in the time it takes to make and bake a wholesome nourishing loaf that will delight your family, fill your kitchen with the warm aromas of baking plus give yourself a mighty feeling of satisfaction.
I’ve been baking since I was a child and yet every time I also love the look of satisfaction on a student’s face when they bake their first loaf of bread and suddenly realise they CAN do it.
In fact if I could only teach one thing for the rest of my life, I would choose bread and I would never run out of options. Think of the numerous types made all over the world. In the most primitive conditions without ovens, they cook simply on a griddle over the open fire or even in the embers as we saw in India. The dough was wrapped in the leaves of the Flame of the Forest tree and gently cooked in the embers of a dried cowpat fire. The leaves were peeled off and the bread was drizzled with ghee and believe me it was delicious. If that sounds a tat out there, let’s get back to the kitchen where we have all the mod cons, calibrated ovens and no excuse not to whip up a loaf.
Soda breads are the breads of our country, made in minutes daily in virtually every kitchen since bread soda (bicarbonate of soda) was introduced in the 1840s. It’s an alkali which reacts with the acid in the buttermilk or naturally soured milk if you have your own dairy herd.
Cultured buttermilk is available in virtually every shop but it’s now totally low fat so if you want a beautiful loaf, add a couple of tablespoons of cream or rub in an ounce of butter into flour before you add the liquid.
Increasingly, I seek out organic flour and flour made from heirloom varieties. It’s still a bit difficult to source but several Irish millers are trialling old varieties of wheat and Shipton Mill, Doves and Marriages in the UK offer a wide variety of ancient grain flours — einkorn , emmer, khorason, spelt, rye… On a recent trip to Denmark, I met Fintan Keenan, an Irish man working with Danish farmers Per and Gitte Grupe on Mordrupegard who are growing 120 types of heirloom grains on their farm. He is trialling 16 old Irish grains collected from seed banks in Ireland and abroad. The Nordic region has a particularly
rich tradition and there is a growing interest in these older varieties. Here in the Bread Shed at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, we also make a totally natural sourdough which is fermented for at least 48 hours and even longer at the weekend. It’s amazing how many people who cannot digest ‘ordinary’ bread can eat and enjoy these loaves.
A very limited number of loaves are available from the Farm Shop at the Ballymaloe Cookery School and we can do bespoke sourdough bread making courses for small groups on request.
Also check out Real Bread Ireland: realbreadireland.org
This is a more modern version of soda bread, couldn’t be simpler, just mix and pour into a well-greased tin. This bread keeps very well for several days and is also great toasted.
Makes 1 loaf or 3 small loaves
Put all the dry ingredients including the sieved bread soda into a large bowl, mix well.
Whisk the egg, add the oil and honey and buttermilk.
Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in all the liquid, mix well and add more buttermilk if necessary.
The mixture should be soft and slightly sloppy, pour into an oiled tin or tins.
Sprinkle some sunflower or sesame seeds on the top.
Bake for 60 minutes approximately (45-50 minutes for small loaf tins), or until the bread is nice and crusty and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.
Add 1 tablespoon of sunflower seeds, 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds, 1 tablespoon of pumpkin seeds, 1 tablespoon of kibbled wheat to the dry ingredients. Keep a mixture to scatter over the top.
The quantity of buttermilk can vary depending on thickness. Add 1-2 tablespoons of cream to low-fat buttermilk (optional).
Yufka — Turkish Flatbread
Bread is a staple in Turkey as in so many cultures. According to the Quran, bread was sent to Earth by God’s command, hence it is revered and not a crumb should be wasted. There are many delicious ways to use up stale bread but I rarely have any left over to experiment with.
Mix all the flours and the salt together in a bowl, add the warm water, mix to a dough and knead well for just a few minutes. Shape into a roll, divide in 8 pieces, cover and leave to rest for at least 30 minutes – 45 would be better (however I sometimes cook it straight away).
Roll each piece of dough into a thin round, no more than 8mm (1/3 inch) in thickness.
Heat a griddle or large iron or non-stick frying pan. Cook the yufka quickly on both sides until just spotted. Eat immediately or alternatively the yufka can be stacked for several days, even weeks, in a dry place.
Before eating, sprinkle a yufka with warm water, fold it in half, wrap it in a cloth and allow to soften for about 30 minutes. Eat with cheese or butter and honey or fill with a chosen filling of roasted vegetables, cured meat, and salads. They are then called durum meaning ‘roll’.
Makes about 15
Put the flour in a bowl. Slowly add the water, gathering the flour together as you do so, to form a soft dough. Knead the dough for 6-8 minutes or until it is smooth. Put the dough in a bowl. Cover with a damp cloth and leave for half an hour.
Set an Indian tava or any other cast iron frying pan to heat over a medium-low flame for 10 minutes. When it is very hot, turn the heat to low.
Knead the dough again and divide it, roughly, into 15 parts. It will be fairly sticky, so rub your hands with a little flour when handling it.
Take one part of the dough and form a ball. Flour your work surface generously and roll the ball in it. Press down on the ball to make a patty. Now roll this patty out, dusting it very frequently with flour, until it is about 5in (14cm) in diameter. Pick up this chapati and pat it between your hands to shake off extra flour and then slap it on to the hot tava or frying pan. Let it cook on low heat for about a minute. Its underside should develop white spots. Turn the chapati over (I use my hands to do this but you could use a pair of tongs) and cook for about half a minute on the second side. Take the pan off the stove and put the chapati directly on top of the low flame. It should puff up in seconds.
Turn the chapati over and let the second side sit on the flame for a few seconds. Put the chapati in a deep plate lined with a large napkin. Fold the napkin over the chapati. Make all chapatis this way.
Ideally, chapatis should be eaten as soon as they are made. But if you wish to eat them later, wrap the whole stack in aluminium foil and either refrigerate for a day or freeze. The chapatis may be reheated, still wrapped in foil, in a gas mark 7, 220C/425F oven for 15-20 minutes.
From Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cookery
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