Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Do try this at home: the Norwich loaf

All you need to make a great tasting loaf is flour, water, a pinch of salt - and a little bit of magic. I spent the day yesterday with Charlotte and Mark, showing them how to transform these simple ingredients into something scrumptious.

Making bread is such an easy thing to do, once you know how. You don’t need flour improvers, bleach (yes!), enzymes sourced from pigs’ pancreas and all those other horrible things lurking in supermarket bread; you don’t need bread machines or food mixers. You don’t even have to have yeast, because you can make your own sourdough starter with just flour and water.

I arrived at Reydon with my secret ingredient, a portion of sourdough leaven that started life in Russia (acquired on my breadmaking course last November).

After a brief tour of the garden, full of rare and exciting plants such as tiny yellow Mexican marigolds and huge floppy umbrellas of banana leaves, Mark showed me the string of oil tankers just a few miles out at sea. “They are full of oil, waiting for oil prices to rise,” he explained.

We turned our backs on that ominous scene and got down to the business of baking. Mark wanted to make the Norwich loaf, which uses nothing but local ingredients – wheat flour from Wakelyns just down the road, instead of the imported Canadian grain that’s used for most bread in Britain, and Maldon salt from Essex. It’s a sticky process kneading sourdough, as Mark discovered; the secret is to use your fingertips, not the palms of your hands. Next we made quick-rising rolls with spelt flour from another local grower, Maple Farm; these are easier to handle and the perfect recipe for beginners. And last, we made gluten-free bread. I’ve never done this before. Because there is no gluten there’s no kneading; you simply mix together a mix of flours such as potato and chestnut, water, yeast and sea salt, then pour the resulting squishy mix into a loaf tin and leave it to rise very slowly.

Time for lunch: Charlotte’s take on a Moroccan classic, Seven Vegetables with Couscous – must get that recipe, because it transformed the contents of their veggie box into something spicy and warming. Back to our baking, when it was time to take the sourdough out of Charlotte’s ancient bread pancheon. Mark stretched the dough and folded it a few times before popping it into a tin to rise for several hours. Then we all pitched in to shape the rolls into little buns and left them to prove for half an hour or so while the oven heated up. Into the oven! Very exciting… and the smell from the kitchen was divine.

… then time for tea. Mark wanted to eat the rolls immediately, but it’s worth waiting just a few minutes for them to cool down before spreading with butter and home made jam. We used white spelt flour, which turns pale brown when cooked, very nutty and sweet. Delicious.

By this time it was dark outside – a clear moonlit sky with a fantastic view of Jupiter, like something out of a child’s storybook. There’s no light pollution here, no street lights, no urban glow. Time to go home! Mustn’t forget to take off my Mexican pinnie, kindly loaned by Charlotte.


Alchemy - Mark and Charlotte kneading the sticky sourdough

Teatime tasting - Charlotte and Mark scoffing spelt rolls

Those Mexican pinnies!

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