This month our South African skills exchange member continues her cultural journey in Ireland with an essay on the importance of bread
Bread. A universally assumed, basic edible.
Make it through one day without consuming some form of this wheaten bake? Is anything more completely requiting than devouring a crunchy bread roll? A good Sandwich is produce of the skirts of heaven; what can bestow more pleasure on a native of planet earth – the anticipation, watching it arriving on the plate, picking it up, opening the mouth, the first bite in, munch, munch, the spreading sensation of masticating and tasting intoxicating? Ah then, Pizza, the melted cheese, epiphany, sure, but, without the base, this god food is nothing! Perhaps heroin is easier to come off of than wheat. Total addiction. Gluten allergics who have gotten through the impossibility of systematic diet change and the withdrawals and then triumph to sustain the total exclusion of this powdery substance from their lives might well be those who have beaten the most heinous craving. They could be deemed the lucky ones, if they no longer quiver in relish at the idea of a scone, a biscuit, a bun, a crumpet, a pita, a sub, a baguette, a donner, a muffin, a cookie, a pastry, a slice of toast – how do you have egg without it for salivations’ sake, a piece of carrot cake . . .
STEP ONE: Mixing and kneading
The stove just on low warm. A BIG bowl.
Insert 1400mls flour.
Into an additional 100mls flour in the measuring jug, with a fork, thoroughly stir a good dash of sea salt and a splash of sugar.
Add this dry mix to the flour in the bowl and stir it all really well. Prematurely heat 2 cups of non-tap water to LUKE WARM only – switch off the kettle BEFORE it begins to make a noise.
Make a well in the flour in the bowl till you see the bottom, pour in the 2 cups of warmed water.
Open 2 x7gm sachets of yeast and whisk the contents into the water with the fork. This should froth just a little.
Stir 1 cup of room temperature milk into the liquid (another cup of non-tap water will do if there isn’t any milk).
Mix into the liquid 1 modest cup of oil.
Now, circling the bowl with the fork, begin to bring the flour into the liquid well, until all the ingredients are combined into a lump of dough which should be reasonably soft, floppy and sticky.
Add about 1 cup (250mls) of flour into the bowl, make sure clean hands are floured and begin the kneading: mixing the additional flour into the sticky dough, rendering it firmer.
(The yeast is, er, ‘eating’ the additional flour to begin growing.) Breathe, close the eyes, use the arms from the shoulders down to push and turn and squeeze and roll the dough with the hands and fingers, repetitively, until a uniform blob is in the middle of the bowl, not sticking to the bottom or sides.
Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and leave it ON the warmed stove – anywhere from 10 – 30 minutes – the dough should double in size.
She was a naive, little colonial girl. Not her fault really. Her elders had found it convenient to retain brains that were dormantly deferent to the deliberate disinformation of the policies that were serviced by such scam. So, dumbly assuming bread just simply, always, on every table as a matter of course, as if loaves grew on bountiful trees with plentiful labourers picking at ease, it was sequitur for her to presume bread as common staple for the poor, unseen masses. Then, one day, her incredulity at Marie Antoinette’s infamous line about the peasants, 1789, France, “give them cake if they don’t have bread”, was suddenly reddening the other side of her own cheek when she realised she had been equally guilty of just such a disthink.
It was in 1983. She’d left a sprawling, divided, megalopolis city and gone to live on the ‘platteland’ –rural, flat, coastal plains that lay beneath the towering peaks of African escarpment on the way to the Indian Ocean. There she encountered ‘Ookeena’. She never deciphered how to spell the name of this woman who travelled to and fro four hours a day to come and do domestic work in her home. But, she did find out, with humbling, reverberating, shock and horror, that a loaf of bread and a brick of margarine were sheer treat and luxury aspiration hardly ever seen by all the millions of folk like Ookeena. After that revelation, in addition to supplying Ookeena with bread and tea at tea time, she would regularly send her home with a whole loaf and a whole brick.
This gesture never elicited a discernible sign of appreciation in Ookeena. There was just a perceivable measure of extra resilience in her hardened, life-worn demeanour, as, with a parting smile and quizzical laugh, she walked off with her carrier bag on the first steps of long, dusty paths towards a hut home in the far reaches of nowhere. But the stupefied, naive girl had begun her journey into finding out how the larger larder really lay for others. She would come to relate to the sensation of elation masquerading as resignation, when bread in the hand signalled the relief of a meagre feast. So, facts slowly came to occur, that where there was any daily food for the many who had no certainty in this regard, it was not bread that was the hoped for staple, but ‘mielie meal’. A porridge, made from corn, more nutritional than wheat, supposedly, tasty, of granular texture and cheap, really cheap, as a pot of its gruel-like constituent is much more stretchable around the floor of an extended family circle than a slice of bread.
Years later, she joined those orbiting in ‘the breadline’ ellipses, grateful for the white powder that would shower out of the 2.5KG paper packet into the waiting pot of bubbling, salted water; stir, stir, the stiffening mass, the aroma of cooking corn distracting the digestive gnawing and calming her worry over the children’s increasingly empty bellies.
STEP TWO: Kneading
Return the bowl to the mixing place, remove the cloth, enjoy the visual surprise, sprinkle about 1 cup of flour onto the dough, flour the hands, then thwap a fist into the middle of the dough. Repeat the kneading process.
So, it turned out, that her journey gleaned the insight that the convenience of unconsciously picking up a standard, sliced, enplasticked loaf on the way to the checkout is, statistically, a global minority right. For the in few. For those of automatically, well endowed hue. But some of those entitled to this premium lifestyle discover increasing, overwhelming bloating associated with eating any of this mass supplied bread manufactured in its many variations in the industrial sector. One has to question, what’s actually in those loaves? The 18 x 14 x 38 packets are at least useful for super efficient management of domestic waste – rubbish being a matter related in the all connectedness of everything, but entirely a tangent for another dissertation. Except that, in regard to waste and bread, in one city in the southern reaches of Africa, it can be noted, in driving by with recoiling nostril severity, that “Sam’s Bread”, which is touted in advertorial demonstrativeness to be the saviour of every citizen, is baked in a building that shares adjacent industrial space with “The Pooh Factory” – (yeh, the sewerage recycling plant for the entire region). Both Sam and Pooh have, as neighbour, a production plant that manufactures . . . batteries.
Well, why should one wonder then, at an imploring email that went out, raising calls for alarm and sounding warnings, that Sam’s slices should not be consumed under any circumstances. This bread being fed to an entire generation of not so completely unfortunate younger children, is, rather than nourishing them, actually denuding their growing bodies of minerals essential to vital development in the formative years, with girls, apparently, particularly vulnerable.
STEP THREE: Formatting the dough for baking
Prepare the dough in pans of choice, e.g. press out really thin on baking trays (3 or 4 breads, 35×25), sprinkle with rock salt / grated cheese / pizza ingredients.
Separate into 16 equal balls and form into rolls placed on a tray.
Press into WELL GREASED & FLOURED loaf tins (2 tins -10x20x6), ensuring that the dough is forced right into all the bottom edges and corners. Put these back on the stove top to rise again, 10 – 30 minutes. Increase oven heat to desired baking temperature.
Alas, it does appear to be firmly established that eating breaded foods is not necessarily a digestive system treasure. Rather, it seems to have become more like a pastime, a kind of reward, a cosseting pleasure. Without the grace to become a breatharian or, at least, a committed gluten allergic, where there’s bondage to bread (generic), it’s probably going to become increasingly pertinent for some to reach the point of serious reconsideration as to how to continue getting the daily fix. Self baking becomes less and less an option, but more like an exponentially necessary endeavour. Ingredients, sigh, turn into yet another intrepid exploration, given that, as no-name, nasty plain flour is cheap, it could all be utterly, genetically modified wheat by now, coming from Ohio, Argentina, wherever, who knows?
Some local flours remain, brands that claim old fashioned, healthy, organic fame, not debauched by bleaching or dehusking or additives, for which, the price goes up, naturally, but where the wheat is grown, who can say? And then, good wellness practitioners, bent on non-negotiably equating sound nutrition with optimum health stipulate that, the only form of really nourishing flour is that which is to be purchased through extremely exorbitant €’s at health shops, but this foodstuff is so alive that it requires refrigeration storage (yet another tangent dissertation) to prevent imminent demise.
Yeast, is very expensive. Much more so than baking powder. One box of yeast with 8 x 7gm sachets @ €2.79 lasts 5 days – 4 double batches of bread for a family of four. Whereas, a 113gm tin of baking powder @ €1.30 might not be on the shopping list more than once every good few weeks. Of course baking soda is the cheapest raising agent. One 500gm packet @ 75c seems to supply one indefinitely through a year. It’s a base ingredient, in its original form, without additives and there are many valuable uses for it in the home besides its contribution to edible product. Though there are times, when Soda is simply not available on the shelves and one does not know why. But, somehow, Soda Bread doesn’t do the definitive trick. It can burn the tongue. A few teaspoons of honey used in conjunction with sour milk or buttermilk can offset this in the mix somewhat, but the texture of soda bread always tends to be heavy, a stodge, unless a little baking powder is also added to give the dough that extra nudge to rise up more uniformly so that the bite encounters something a little more airy in the slice.
It’s hard to surpass yeast in a bread and, in a way, it can be the more economical route to baking, since a yeast risen dough cooks quicker, using less gas than a solid mix that draws a lot of power for the first onslaught of heat to get the air to begin to move through it for its expansion and growth and then there’s the wait for soda dough to cook through properly if the oven isn’t functioning hundreds, number 1.
‘They’ say, on the yeast box, that it is not necessary to go through the outmoded procedure of repeated kneading and waiting for the dough to rise once or twice. Just testing the quick route they advocate, “mix up and straight into the pan”, and it is clear that the directions on the packaging are simply fallacious. If one is looking for a quick fix rise, rather spend less on soda. For true, satisfying rising, yes, yeast, the longer way round, is best.
Time, is an issue, but this is something one can have dominion over – getting a routine and pattern up and running, till it’s off pat in the diurnal format and the regularity of one’s own activity is the unconscious convenience that is relied upon to supply one’s daily bread.
STEP FOUR: Baking
Ovens are so individual, one has to play with the firing. Depending on the format of the bread,
Thin: 8-9 gas mark (450-475F°) 10-12 mins.
Small shapes: 6-7 gas mark (400-425F°) 15-20 mins.
Loaf: 4-6 gas mark (350-400F°) for 15-25 mins.
Generally start high, then reduce heat after 5-10 mins.
The partner of the well journeyed colonial girl loves to knead bread. That might suggest that there are bread makers in his lineage. But not so. His forebears dealt in high quality textiles and high brow garments, leather making, vegetable growing and music education. He loves to knead bread. The thwap of one’s floury fist into the growing, living concoction that has crept upwards in the bowl, with the energy thrust coming down from the shoulders, along the arms, into the wrists, hand and fingers, the repetition, the back and forth, pushing and rolling and turning and prodding, the emanating ale-like whiff, the hearthy glow from the oven that is waiting warmed to receive and nurture the dough into being comforting food for the family.
Bread. A universally assumed, basic edible? Ye olde Gates’ thesaurus suggests only otherwise: ‘Cash, currency, dosh, brass, lolly’. This type of bread, in itself, is quite useless for any purpose, edible or otherwise; construed through long, age old patriarchracy into enforced consumable that became substitute representation for the gathering of all round, basic, staple needs, the imposition of it as a system, has reconfigured every planetary citizen into the collusion of a linguistic confusion: you need bread and you have to have it to knead bread to eat bread.
Is that how the word for the lump of pliable, sticky, uncooked food in the making came to be uttered as colloquial reference to money: “Got any dough for me honey?” It’s all very well to have a recipe for kneading bread. But, of the recipe for needing bread, what can be said? For the artist, the creator, the giver, the intellectual sensitive, the intuitive, the earthworker, the devoted parent, the musician who is aligned with tuning into the kneading of dough and its living, rising into a practical work of culinary art, wherefore art thou, ye tactics for needing dough? More like, pummel and thump the elasticity out of the thing and the breath out of oneself until there’s no more air to rise up in being.
He hates to need bread. He hates to not know what it is or how it is to know how to need bread so that the bread he needs can be kneaded in peace. He loves to knead bread.
It’s all in the practice of daily getting into a habit forming pattern of taking the first step in kneading before the stomach begins to mumble need for bread. So where there’s dough to buy ingredients for dough and there’s bread to pay for gas to fire the bread, and if one isn’t consuming all one’s time trying to find dough and bread, then kneading bread becomes practical, synergistic serendipity, as this kindly supply of a satisfyingly thwapped, well tried and tested recipe, from his and her life-kitchen will show.
STEP FIVE: Cool, Slice, Spread and Eat
Notes: ensure that the flour is ‘plain’ – that it does not contain pre-added rising agents. Nasty, no-name, white stuff will do, but adding a sparing, substitute proportion of more wholesome flour, eg stone ground whole-wheat, should improve the nutrition of the bake.
The Enchanted Broccoli Forest by Mollie Katzen gives grand contribution to the art of bread kneading
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