We're having a funny old time in our neck of the woods. It's a good job I don't have any pressing deadlines or that I'm in the middle of making things because on Thursday morning we had a power cut that lasted until Friday afternoon. Then on Saturday night my mouse decided not to work so I was computer-less until this morning when it has decided to let me blog but is jumping all over the place.
I was very envious when I heard some of you over the water might be without power and I must have wished it on myself too cos lo and behold the whole village went off after a howling gale on Wednesday night. When you have an Aga and a woodburning stove you don't have much to complain about so we cooked supper and ate it by candle light and then all decamped to the sitting room and sat around the woodburner. It was lovely. These things really bring you all together don't they and I love looking out of the window and imagining that the village would have looked like this in the olden days....just dimly lit windows in the distance.
I'm still hibernating and I'm loving just sitting by the fire of an evening and reading. I've finished 'Colour' now and I'm just reaching the end of this:
I've had it on the shelf for years and always meant to read it. I'm not an avid bread maker but I do make one or two loaves a week and the book has really helped me to understand my raw materials and the basic process that the bread goes through from start to finish. I've learnt that using less yeast and giving the dough more risings (is that a word) is much better for flavour and texture for one thing. The other thing that has captured my imagination is the way that bread was baked in brick bread ovens from medieval times until well into the nineteenth century. These ovens were set into the kitchen wall and had a domed/arched top made of bricks and a stone or brick base. They were heated by one or two faggots which were bundles of furze, gorse or blackthorn for about two hours. Then the ashes were brushed out and the floor wiped with a damp rag. The oven would now be hot all over and the loaves would be pushed in. The door was often a peice of wood jammed in place. After the bread was baked the cook would put in her pastry, cakes, apples etc. In this way all the weekly baking was done in one day.
Now the reason I'm so interested in these ovens is because when we were excavating our kitchen fireplace we found a small bread oven in the wall. Sadly, the builder just bricked it up and now it's gone. I can't even remember exactly where it was or you can bet I would have got poor old Tom to start removing tons of lime plaster and rubble to open it up. Neighbours up the lane have one which is there as a decorative feature now but theirs is away from the cooker and ours was/is above the Aga so that even if we found it I'd have to be climbing on the Aga to use it. Still I would have loved to try it out and to imagine I was carrying on a long tradition of baking in our house. I wonder how many women used it and what quantites they baked. Anyway, I'm in dreamland now.
Still inspired by the book I baked my bread yesterday in an upturned bowl as per Elizabeth David's instructions. According to her "the quality of the crust is much improved, and the crumb moist and evenly baked". I tried a mixture of half and half wholemeal and strong white and some oatmeal. Did the first proving in the mixing bowl and the second under the upturned bowl. Then I put the whole (heavy) lot in the oven and she was right - the bread rose upwards and the crust was soft and all over.
I made some celebratory lemon curd to go with it. What a combination! I think I'll bake my bread like this again but I need a proper and larger bowl - mine was just a glass pyrex one. Tom found one on Amazon.com called a Sassafras cloche or something but they won't ship it outside of the US. I think I might go and buy a big terracotta plant pot, season it and try that. By the way I thought you might like the recipe for the Lemon Curd - here it is ala Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall.
- 100g of unsalted butter
- 175g of caster sugar
- 3 lemons
- 2 eggs + 1 egg yolk
Place a bowl over a pan of boiling water. Put in the diced butter and sugar. Grate the zest of the lemons and squeeze out the juice. Add these to the bowl with the eggs and extra yolk. Stir with a wire whisk until all is melted and keep stirring until it thickens. Mine took about 10 - 15 minutes. Pour into a steralised jar. I made one jarful and small bowlful that we ate with the fresh bread last night. Be warned - it's very lemony and very moreish.
I forgot to say that the point of the upturned bowl is to create steam. "Under the dome, the crust forms gradually, allowing the crumb to grow to it's full extent before the yeast cells are killed, and this eliminates the fault which spoils so many home-made crusty loaves - a crust that has formed so rapidly that it has become overcooked and hard long before the crumb has had a chance to expand, the resulting loaf being poorly formed and small with a rock like crust and heavy crumb". That's telling you!