It's Sunday evening here in the UK. I am tired. My son is sound asleep in bed. It's dark outside. A few fireworks rumble in the distance—the traditional 5th of November celebration of the thwarting of revolutionary spirit. I listen as they fizzle, punctuating my peace with spurious sparks and splutters.
I take a sip of my homemade rhubarb gin and ginger ale. No ice. It warms me, and with my lazy, dozy dog next to me, I silently reflect on the day and write this down to share with you.
On my kitchen island, next to the table where I write, sits a metal mixing bowl covered with an old plate. Inside rests a scrappy-looking dough. Three and a half cups of plain/all-purpose flour, half a teaspoon of dried yeast, and one and a half teaspoons of salt, roughly brought together with a cup and a half of lukewarm water.
It's a mixing bowl of not a lot, really, but it stirs connections with the essence of today. The bonfires of the Gunpowder Plot, I recollect from my primary school teachings, started on the 5th of November in a Bakery on Pudding Lane in London.
From there, I meander and think about the connections bread has to other revolutions, and this infamous quote springs to mind.
"Qu'ils mangent de la brioche."
Translation - "Let them eat cake"
Attributed to Marie Antoinette during the 1789 French Revolution when there was a shortage of bread but originally coined by Jean-Jacques Rousseau's in their book "Confessions" in 1765.
From here, my mind jumps forward and travels to my own history to some time I spent in The Czech Republic and a modern myth I heard about bread that amused, endeared, and now in the perpetuity of this day, surfaces again. As their nation moved from a communist culture, the Golden Arches of the first McDonalds opened in Prague, and with it, the need for a new type of bread. I can attest that the people of The Czech Republic make beautiful bread. I can well believe the story of how disbelieving they were when McDonalds insisted the manufacturers provide them with an inferior product to what they were more than capable of providing.
I look at my simple, dishevelled dough, skulking in its bowl and wonder why humanity is so particular about food and why we don't always choose the best quality. Is it a rebellion? Or just a preference?
I think about the packed lunch I am about to prepare for my son for school tomorrow and smile. He will not want the bread I am making for his sandwiches. As delicious as it is, he would certainly protest if I gave it to him. He finds it "too flavourful." Yep, those are his words. He has opted for a milk roll, a traditional loaf made using milk and baked in a cylindrical tin. He likes the softness and the circular shape of the slices. It is bland but fun, I guess, when you are eight.
Musing on this, I smile and think about the seemingly infinite range of bread available to us today. There will be no uprising for lack of choice! (Pun intended) Having just thought about milk roll I think about how the range of bread far outstrips that of milk, and yet, the choice of milk in recent years has been deemed comical by some. Derided, even. "I think we have enough milk now." Said a well-known British comedian, Jack Whitehall, as a punch line to a recent comedy sketch after listing all the new types of milk on a coffee shop menu. (I will share a link at the end... it is funny.) I wonder as I reflect on it, if the same has ever been said about bread. I doubt anybody would know. The range of bread in the world surely dates back to tribal times, and don't we only tend to mock that which is new? Little explosions of rebellion in the form of laughter. It helps us adjust. I think.
Anyway, it's late, and this stream of consciousness is far more spurious than I had imagined it would be. The rain has returned, the bonfires will all be out, and all is respectfully quiet here now in my little village high up on the moors. I need to go to bed. I have a dog to walk and a child to get to school early in the morning. I hope there are no further fireworks, literal or metaphorical.
Tomorrow, when I get home, I shall heat my oven, scoop the rested and frothy dough into a hot, heavy cast-iron pot handed down to me from my Grandma, and I will enjoy the homely smell of it as it bakes, filling my house with a nostalgic aroma that has percolated through households since humans lived in caves. I look forward to the simple act of slicing it and biting into its comfortable pseudo-sourdough nuttiness, served warm with butter.
Then, I shall probably read this and think that maybe that gin was stronger than I thought!
After, I shall write some more, but my focus will be on my work-in-progress novel and not simply the scatterings of my late-night brain.
Although, this has been fun.
Here are some pictures if you would like to make this simple, deceptively humble, bread.
First of all, combine all the ingredients as described above. Dry first, then add the water. No need to knead at all. Yes, it looks terrible, but trust the process; it will blossom into a thing of aromatic beauty.
(I am not sure why it has come out as the biggest picture here - ah, well - you have to take these things as you find them!)
Below is how it looks when it emerges. You have to bake it covered with a heavy lid inside a pre-heated heavy pot (mine is a solid cast iron one). When you put the oven on (temp 450), put the empty pot in to heat through. Scrunch up some parchment/baking paper and line the pot before you heat it, don't worry if the paper hangs out of the side, there is no precision to any of this. Plop the 12 hour (or more - no rush) rested dough into the pot and return to the oven for 30mins. Remove the lid and return uncovered for another 10-15 until golden and crusted. Carefully lift out once cool enough to touch.
Note - the bread takes the shape of your pot. My pot is oval and about 25cm long and 20cm wide. A larger pot will produce a broader and flatter loaf.
This is how it looks sliced...
Looking forward to this tomorrow... simple, but I can't wait to be honest!
And... just because... a picture of my homemade Rhubarb Gin. Don't worry, I have only had one glass. I know my ramblings may seem like I had more!
With Love, CJ xx
There are lots of no-knead bread recipes online. I think my version originated from A Pinch of Nom. Please click here to link to it. I call it My Pseudo-Sourdough because it is, in my opinion, reminiscent of the texture and flavour of a light sourdough - it just has none of the complexity!
I hope all this makes sense.
If not, it will give me something to laugh at tomorrow, I guess!
For now, if you haven't seen it, you may like a chuckle at this. Be warned - it's a little rude (Yes... I recognise I am in mum mode with that warning!)
Anyway - it really is bedtime for me now. Night!
Quick Edit Day After Update - because I cannot leave something when there is more to be done! (Yes, it can be a curse).
The rain has been unrelentingly torrential today and the dog has had a serious case of the zoomies all morning despite a good few mile walk! Still, I got my bread done and thought I would share a picture...
I have scoffed a good couple of slices already. Hot, slavvered in butter and topped with some homemade Damson jam made from some fruit out of my parent's garden. I grant it looks a bit brown (authentic though - no filters), but you can't buy anything like how it tastes. It's richly flavourful, earthily sweet. Certainly not up my son's street, but absolutely up mine!
It can rain all it wants today after this!
About the Creator
Warm-blooded vertebrate, domesticated with a preference for the wild. Howls at the moon and forages on the dark side of it. Laughs like a hyena. Fuelled by good times and fairy dust. Writes obsessively with no holes barred.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!