Slow food, quick loaf
Difficult choices about buying food – I think we all have them these days. I would like to buy local – but I live in a desert. Nearer doesn’t always mean best. Take lovely fresh bunches of local herbs; they disappeared from our shelves temporarily a few months ago due to toxic levels of chemical being detected. It makes you wonder what’s not detected. On the plus side, there is a small farmer’s market once a week during the cooler months of the year but the range is naturally limited.
Eggs are a quandary. Local means battery farmed from ominous looking sheds that line the back roads of the Emirates. Organic, free-range means air-freighting, food miles, a compromise on freshness, not to mention the price. Even home-grown herbs and tomatoes, which I plant every year, use imported potting soil and desalinated irrigation. Don’t get me wrong. As an expat I know I am supremely lucky here in Dubai to be able to buy almost any ingredient that I want, but in an ideal world I’d swap for less choice but fresher, locally sourced products grown or made with care.
This preamble is because Helen from Fuss Free Flavours asked us to bake with locally milled flour by a named producer this month for the Fresh From the Oven challenge in support of the Slow Food movement. I chose Dove’s Farm organic ethical flour (affordable from Organic Foods & Cafe, but not when air-freighted by Choitrams). Locally milled flour from local flour mills is available, but I didn’t think these rather anonymous suppliers fitted with the spirit of Helen’s challenge:
My challenge is to bake something yeasted, using flour where you know either where it was grown or where it was milled.
Lets celebrate specific named farmers, farms and millers this month!
If I had a magic wand, I would bring the flour ground at Cothele Mill in Cornwall. This is one of my favourite National Trust properties and they have restored the mill (operated by a water wheel) to produce flour.
Instant mashed potato granules must be the antithesis of slow food, but when it was launched to the British public in the 1970s the words ‘modern’ and ‘labour-saving’ were very attractive to my parents’ generation; the space programme was in full swing. We had three television channels to choose from and only one was commercial so as children we grew up singing the ad tunes. The Cadbury’s Smash ad (see below) was one of our favourites and still makes me chuckle.
However, you can’t get much slower than sour dough and I’ve embarked on the leaven-making process from Dan Lepard‘s The Handmade Loaf. In the meantime we needed bread in less than a few days so I decided to become a Domestic Goddess if only in my imagination and used a Nigella recipe from her eponymous book. It was a very easy, satisfying loaf to make with a lovely texture.
Confession time – I used a couple of tablespoons of Cadbury’s Smash (as La Lawson also suggested) . Click here if you are wondering why I have instant mashed potato flour in my cupboard (that Nigella is a bad influence).
The essential white loaf – adapted from a recipe by Nigella Lawson in How to be a domestic goddess
500g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting the work surface
7g easy-blend or fast-action yeast or 15 g fresh yeast
1 tablespoon sea salt
about 300ml of warm water, potato-cooking water (or add 2 level tablespoons of instant mashed potato granules to the water)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
If using easy blend or fresh yeast, dissolve it in 200ml of the water. Put the flour and salt (and easy-blend yeast if using) in a large bowl, make a well in the middle and pour in the water. Mix by hand or with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together in a loose mass (Nigella describes as shaggy) – add more water if you need to. Mix in the butter and turn out the dough and knead on a floured surface (or use a machine with a dough hook). Knead for about 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Lightly oil the inside of a large bowl, form the dough into a ball and place inside, turning the dough once. Cover with clingfilm and leave to prove in a warm place for about an hour (although it might take 2). The dough should double in size. You can also leave to prove overnight in the fridge.
Switch on the oven. Knock back the dough, shape into a round and put on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment (or into a loaf tin), cover loosely with oiled cling film or a tea towel and leave for about 30 minutes until nearly doubled in size again. Slash the top with a blade or extremely sharp knife (if you like) and put in an oven preheated to 220 C. For a good crust, give a few squirts of water from a squeezy bottle into the hot oven.
Bake for 35 minutes or until the loaf sounds hollow when you knock with your fist on its base. Leave to cool on a wire rack.
And eat with…..unsalted butter or fresh tomatoes or home-made jam or sliced thinly and filled with cucumber or cold roast chicken, rocket and lemon mayonnaise or….well what would you eat with freshly made bread?