And another piece of writing has been published in the Food& Home Entertaining magazine: this time about my memories of bread baking days in my maternal grandparents’ kitchen: here it is.
The oven door on my new stove opens and shuts the way an expensive German car’s door does: quietly, solidly, slowing down a little just before it settles, almost imperceptibly, into the frame. I knew I had to bake bread in this oven.
I am not a baker, unlike my mother’s mother, who turned out date loaves and oblong pound cakes at what seemed like the drop of a hat. They lined her Formica table on some Saturday mornings, ready for the Church bazaar in the afternoon. I used to wake up to the hot smell of an oven, and that dense sweet smell dates give off, when my sister and I slept over on the occasional weekend: we lived in a neighbouring town.
There is where I learnt about baking: in the modest kitchen of my gran’s. I remember the just baked, heavy white loaves turned out onto cooling racks, their dark brown tops shiny with a sugar syrup glaze scantily brushed on, 5 minutes before the loaves were taken out. I used to dibs the crust, as soon as I saw my gran start assembling the ingredients: flour from a red and white striped tin in her larder, sugar from a wide ridged glass jar, and a chunk of seemingly chewy beige yeast, unwrapped from its dark blue foil. I gagged when I first smelled it, but came to love that faintly sour, fermented fragrance which hung heavily in that kitchen on a bread-baking day.
My grandfather was the prime bread dough kneader. He towered over the table, stooping into the ball of dough formed by his fists on the floured surface. Soon, the sticky chunk of dough turned shiny and taut, but still my grandfather would rhythmically pull and pound at it, until he was satisfied with the texture. The ball of dough was left in a wide, cream coloured enamelled bowl with a pale, green rim. My gran smeared the dough with melted butter and covered it with bleached flour bags she kept for exactly this purpose. In her kitchen, warm from an always-on coal stove, it doubled quickly, and my grandmother would do the second round of kneading herself. I loved the way the dough collapsed again, with an audible whoosh as she punched it down until it was very elastic and smooth. Only then did it go into the lined up loaf tins. I remember greasing the pans with her hand churned butter, using the wax paper it was wrapped in.
It took an hour for the bread to rise, and another hour to bake the loaves in the oven of the coal stove. The whole house was soon redolent with that incredibly evocative smell of yeast and flour being transformed as if by magic: an ancient alchemy repeated timelessly all over the world since the first yeasted bread was ever baked.
I don’t have that recipe, but I’m sure that hers was no different to any I can Google these days. But being slightly more health conscious, I prefer a nutty, fibre filled slice of bread. In my quest to find a good recipe I remembered a recipe from one of my mother’s cookbooks. It does not require any kneading, just mixing with a sturdy wooden spoon after the yeast mixture is added to the dry ingredients. Yesterday I found it, at the back of the cookbook now on my kitchen bookshelf. And two and a half hours later I had two wonderfully dense seeded loaves cooling on my kitchen counter, my house smelling a little like my gran’s, and that first buttery bite into the crust, exactly as satisfying as I remember it from long ago.
Here is the recipe, with some modifications:
20ml brown sugar(4tsp)
1l warm water(4 cups)
10ml active dried yeast(2 tsp)
1,75l Nutty Wheat flour (7cups)
20ml salt(4 tsp)
190ml sunflower seeds(3/4 cup) *
Dissolve the sugar in the warm water. Sprinkle the yeast on top of one cup of this mixture, and leave in a warm place to start bubbling. Then mix all the ingredients together with a wooden spoon, the texture needs to be that of a sticky, stiff dough.
Spoon into 2 small, or one large greased bread pan, cover with a clean cloth, and let rise for an hour in a warm place, until almost doubled in size. Bake in preheated oven at 200degC for 45-60 minutes.
* I replace this with Nature Choice Miracle seed mix or similar, and add a big handful of pumpkin seeds, and I sprinkle sesame seeds on top of the dough before baking.
This bread does not rise very much during baking: it remains dense and deliciously nutty, and needs to be had in a day, else the crust turns quite hard.