Wednesday, 25 March 2009

The Breaking of Bread...

Scandinavians famously love good bread. I mean LOVE good bread. We're rather guilty of extolling the superiority of our wonderful bread culture whilst sneering at the stuff which passes for bread over here. Or at least I am, but then I'm also very particular and nothing quite puts me in as bad a mood as chewing fruitlessly on Anglo-Saxon bread that has hardly any flavour, let alone texture.
Thankfully Britain is replete with real bread - you just have to know where to find it. I was in Bristol last week and had some of the tastiest wood-fired sourdough bread I'd ever eaten at the wonderful Lido restaurant. A really great example of chewy, flavoursome bread with an irresistible moistness on the inside and lovely thick, almost charred, crust on the outside. Perfect dipped in olive oil and nothing else.

Meanwhile back in London, La Fromagerie's a great haunt for bread-lovers, and I was reminded of how magnificent their bread-selection (not to mention their cheese, produce, and condiments!) is when I went to a springtime Scandinavian dinner they co-hosted with Trina Hahnemann, author of 'The Scandinavian Cookbook.' Fromagerie do a great job promoting bread made without preservatives, enzymes or any weird chemicals. All you need is some unrefined flour - preferably wholemeal, a generous splash of water, yeast, salt and maybe a pinch of honey or sugar. And some crunchy seeds! Easy as pie, or bread if you will. 

So in the spirit of real bread I slow-fermented a spelt dough in my fridge and left it for 18 hours before baking it today. This recipe's adapted from one I found in Xanthe Clay's food column in the Daily Telegraph, and I've cited the link above. 

Known as "3-minute spelt bread"  the recipe couldn't be easier - no kneading, no fussy shaping of the bread into an elaborate wreath or baton. Just mix the ingredients, stick in the fridge overnight and bake the next day. 

When you've baked it, just eat a slice on its own, or with a sliver of good butter. That cult-condiment Marmite always goes well with wholemeal bread I find, as does cheese, jam, gravadlax, mackerel in tomatoes, sweet and salty anchovies and soft-boiled eggs....OK, am getting carried away - the Scandi nostalgia's really kicking in!

Seriously though, nothing beats good bread.

  • 500g spelt flour
  • 480ml cold water
  • 2 sachets fast-acting bread yeast
  • 1 tbsp olive oil (not a pungent, extra virgin one though)
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp salt
  • an assortment of seeds such as sesame, pumpkin, linseed and sunflower for sprinkling on top

All you do is combine the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl, then add the water, stir using a large spoon for a minute or two to form an even dough, then cover with clingfilm and refrigerate until you're ready to bake the bread.

When you're ready to bake, remove the dough from the fridge, and re-shape into a loaf tin. Cover again and place in a warm spot for 30 minutes so it springs back to life. Preheat the oven to 220C and place the loaf in the upper-middle shelf of the oven, and after ten minutes turn the heat down to 200C (the extra heat adds a bit of lift to the dough), if you want to get a really great bread crust you can throw a few tablespoons of water on the bottom of your oven before shutting the oven door. It's a nifty trick, I forgot to do it. I also forgot to add any seeds to the top, but that's not the end of the world.

Bake for 45-50 minutes, checking the bread is ready by tapping it underneath - it should sound hollow. Take the bread out of the tin and place back in the oven for a further 5-10 minutes, this gets the whole bread nice and crisp. 

Eat whilst warm, sharing with friends and loved ones. After all, what is the breaking of bread if not the pinnacle of commensality?

p.s. there's a great new bakery called Peter's Yard. They're a Swedish bakery based in Edinburgh but you can find their most excellent crispbread at specialist delis, and of course at La Fromagerie. Look out for them, they're definitely one to watch as Scandinavian food conquers the world ;-)


verity said...

This looks really good - I had a go at spelt bread once before but the recipe was a lot more complicated than this and I didn't think it was worth the effort, although spelt is meant to be v easy to digest. So as I've still got a bag of spelt flour left I'll have to give it a go.

Signe said...

excellent Verity! Hope you give this recipe a go, it really is so simple...and spelt is reputed to be a healthier grain. I just go by flavour :-)

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

Great to see the 'get the nation to eat spelt' movement gaining momentum... ;) Hopefully, this straightforward recipe will encourage more people to try.