For me, there’s something so soothing about baking bread. I love getting out a big bag of flour, some yeast and some good salt and knowing you can turn it into something delicious. Those ingredients, by themselves, could never be a meal (unlike quite a lot of things we cook with) but together, in some almost alchemical way, become something nearly essential to our day to day life. We talk of “breaking bread together” to refer to eating together. Bread in the Bible is called “The Staff of Life” and means it is a staple, or a necessary food. We talk of “Our daily bread” both in prayer and conversation. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t religious in any way, it’s just the Bible tends to be the oldest, most widely accessible book in the world and phrases and proverbs from there crop up in our everyday language without the majority of us even noticing, or realising where they come from.
The fact that these terms have entered our language and are used daily point to the importance of bread for the majority of people. “Bread” and “dough” are even used as slang terms for money.
Anyway, I love the action of making bread. I love the smell of it baking and I especially love cutting into a still warm loaf. I think I could get away with murder in our house as long as the Bear can have his fresh loaf. His favourite is the No-Knead Bread but sometimes I make soft white bread because, really, there’s nothing like it for a fried egg sandwich which is one of our favourite weekend breakfasts.
This wasn’t planned as a breakfast , however. I wanted to make us something nice for lunch. Something light and tasty but also something that would brighten what was a rather vile day. There were thick clouds everywhere and violent rain storms. The Met Office were issuing storm and flood warnings. A typical British Summer, eh?
I had a fancy for a sandwich but a kind of baked and stuffed sandwich. Sort of like a calzone pizza but with lovely white bread. I wanted a light and fresh toasted sandwich – certainly not a heavy meaty one…and it had to be suitable for Meatfree Monday.
But first of all I had to make the bread.
That’s as easy as anything, really.
250g of strong white bread flour with a teaspoon each of dried yeast and salt are stirred together so you have all the dry ingredients evenly dispersed
50g of butter can then be rubbed through, rubbing the butter lumps with your fingers so they make a fine, almost granular in appearance, mix. (Yes, the Bear took that photograph as my hands were messy)
5 fluid ounces of warm water need to be poured in and mixed through. The warm water helps the yeast become active, so don’t have it too hot as this will kill the yeast and too cold means it won’t start to work its yeasty magic and make the bread rise.
The dough will come together quickly and then you need to knead it. Either do it by hand (and it’s not a tough job as this is only a small quantity of dough, just enough for two people) or if you have a mixing machine with a dough hook, stick it in there for 5 minutes. If you are doing it by hand, take ten minutes and think of it as a meditative exercise… I stretch the dough away from me and pull it back again and again. The texture of the dough changes from an uneven, lumpy mass into a smooth and almost silky ball of dough that bounces back when you poke it. It’s a marvellous way of calming down or settling your mind.
Once the dough looks right – and you will be able to tell the difference from when you started out – make it into the shape you want and leave it to rest, lying in either a greased loaf tin, covered with a damp tea towel to stop it drying out or, as I have done, lying on some lightly oiled cling film and loosely wrapped. I wanted a baguette shape so I rolled it between my hands for a free form shape.
That needed to rise quietly by itself until it had doubled in size, which, in normal temperatures, takes about an hour or maybe an hour and a half. In the depths of winter it can take longer and you might have to find a warm place so the dough can rise.
Once it had grown into the size it should be – i.e. a baguette big enough for two – I pulled it apart and started putting the filling in.
Sun dried tomatoes went first.
Slices of lovely, tangy Tallegio cheese on top of that. I chose Tallegio because it melts well and tastes divine. You choose whatever you think is the nicest.
And remember those roasted red peppers I made? I thought they would add an extra layer of flavour, so the last of them were laid on top.
Then it was simply a matter of making sure the oven was heated to 230 degrees C/45o degrees F and the edges of the dough pinched back together
A few slashes across the top to let it expand and then it went iinto the oven for half an hour or so.
You’ll be able to smell it when it’s ready – that gorgeous baking bread smell fills the apartment and the Bear starts to look around, sniffing, realising his lunch is nearly ready.
The bread has risen nicely and browned gently… some of the cheese has started to ooze out….
And cut into? It’s not doughy at all but a lovely, well risen soft white baguette with a hot and savoury tomatoey, cheesey and smokey peppered middle!
A success, if I say so myself.
The Bear thought so too and, really, that’s what counts for me.
Try it… put whatever filling you like in – the heat of the oven will heat the filling as it bakes the bread. It really is worth it… delicious baguette stuffed with your favourite things. Just what you need to brighten a wet and windy August day!