The best thing since sliced bread

…. is your own home-baked, fresh out of the oven, served with melted butter, warm bread.

“If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens”.

Robert Browning

Well, the dust has well and truly settled on our local country show. Truth be told, there was more mud this year than dust. It rained. The whole day.

Despite the weather though, fun was had.

I entered my crochet blanket, which didn’t get a prize. No surprises there. The CWA (Country Women’s Association) judges are known for their strictness and there are so many guidelines and regulations that I know I contravened. The 2 blankets that won 1st and 2nd were technically superior to mine, no doubt, but I was still happy to take home my colourful number at the end of the show.

The Kid’s lego display didn’t get an award (quite a come-down from a 1st last year). My persimmon jam jar sat amongst many hopefuls that hadn’t impressed the judges and my chillies, well, they just weren’t good enough.

But in better news, The Kid got a 2nd Prize for his limes, and my rosemary, consistent performer that she is, got another 1st. Blue ribbon n’ all!

Bec C’s chocolate mud cake got a 1st (another beautiful glossy ribbon and an ear-to-ear smile on Bec’s face) and her eldest son received an Encouragement Award for his Lego display. Bec C also entered a few of her father-in-law’s dahlias, planted in her garden by her father-in-law and only ever tended, by her father-in-law. They won BEST IN SHOW! What a thrill! Said father-in-law was stoked when he found out.

Another girlfriend Tanya, was awarded 2nd for her fruit cake and another girlfriend, Susan, picked up a 1st and 2nd for her photography. Basically we were all pretty chuffed.

I had also entered bread, for the first time. I made 2 loaves, one for Section 3 Cooking, category 29: Homemade White Loaf and another for category 31: Specialty Loaf (my specialty being olive and rosemary). Some said it was a brave move, entering bread.

Lizzy, who lives nearby is a superb bread maker. She sells bread at our local Farmers’ Market and she always sells out ahead of any other stall. Her bread is delicious. Lizzy had an entry in every bread category. As I was handing over my loaves, I eyed off hers and nearly ran out the back door, with mine under arm. But it was too late. The lady had taken them from me and was jotting down my details. Needless to say, my little loaves did not impress enough to get a prize.

At the end of the day, collecting all our entries from The Hall, one of the stewards, Clare, said to me “Ah, the judge left a comment in the notes about your bread.”

“She did?” I leaned in, hopeful, as Clare flicked through the entry forms. Anticipation swelled in my chest. A note of encouragement perhaps? Some positive feedback? Words flitted through my mind: ‘excellent sample.. came close to winning.. beautiful crust..’

“Ah, yes, here it is”, Clare ran her finger down the list on the page stopping at my details, moved her finger along  the line, hesitated, “Mmm, ‘too dense’ it says”.

My face and smile and shoulders dropped.

“Excellent, yes, well thank you, better luck next time hey?” I half laughed and quickly scooped up my loaves and moved on.

Later, while helping dismantle the photographic displays, Lizzy the Bread Lady (who’d cleaned up in the bread section) came out through the foyer and stopped to chat. I braced myself. Would she be condescending? Could I handle the criticism? But she was delightful, and so encouraging. Words of advice for which I was very grateful. I’ll share some of her tips shortly. She said she looks forward to the day when the bread display cabinet is choker-block full of loaves from other people and her reassuring words lifted my spirits.

Just to be clear, I was perfectly fine and not in the least bit offended. But also, to be clear, I have baked that bread at home, many times now and served it up to many friends, and not one of them has ever said that it’s ‘too dense’. Too dense? Ha. But, as I was saying I am not offended, OK? No, definitely not.

Ahem.

Anyway, I’ve been asked many times for this bread recipe, and promised a few friends that I’d blog about it and share the details. So here goes.

This no-knead recipe comes from good friends of ours here, Paul and Chantal who cook THE BEST food. Dinner at their place is always a treat. When we first met them, I couldn’t believe they made their own bread regularly and that it was SO yummy.

Paul insisted I try baking it myself. I insisted I couldn’t possibly. For ages.

Then Paul gave me a cook pot and the recipe. I finally attempted a loaf one night when I was hosting Book Club, and let’s just say I haven’t look back.

Enjoy! (Seriously, if I can do it, you can do it).

NO-KNEAD BREAD RECIPE

Ingredients
41/2 cups bread flour
1.5 tsp granulated yeast
2 tsp salt
2 1/4 cups warm water

Method

  1. Combine flour, yeast and salt in a mixing bowl with a fork
  2. Add water warm water slowly, mixing ingredients together with fork. Work into a loaf-like shape, but do it quickly. This is meant to be easy.
  3. Cover with cling wrap and leave in a warm place to prove (a few hours or overnight)
  4. Punch your fist into the dough (very therapeutic) and with your hands roughly form another loaf
  5. Smear a second mixing bowl with olive oil, transfer dough to new bowl, cover with same piece of cling wrap and leave to prove again for a couple of hours
  6. Preheat oven to 200C
  7. Preheat a cook pot
  8. Remove the cook pot from oven, sprinkle plain flour in base of pot (to stop bread sticking) and transfer the dough into the cook pot
  9. Bake for 30 minutes with the lid on
  10. Bake for a further 15 minutes with the lid off
  11. Tip out the bread, place it on a wooden board, cut it up in to thick slices and serve warm with butter and/or your favourite cheese
  12. No need for dinner.

A few tips (from me, Paul and Lizzy the Bread Lady)

  • You can use plain flour, bread flour, mix it up with wholemeal and white, substitute some for polenta, cous cous, semolina – the thing is to experiment, once you’ve got the basic bread down-pat.
  • I often halve the ingredients if we’re having a small gathering. Use the same cooking times.
  • I always use Celtic Sea Salt
  • After punching the dough, at this point you can add any extras like roasted garlic pieces, sliced olives, chopped up rosemary, etc. Go to town!
  • In winter, I leave the bread to prove by the fire, in summer on a kitchen bench which gets direct sun. If it’s by the fire, I cover it with a damp tea-towel, not cling wrap.
  • You don’t HAVE to do the second prove but I think this helps increase the fluffy texture of the bread (my mistake for The Show – Because I made it early in the morning before taking it to the hall, I didn’t have time to let it prove for long).
  • My cook pot is like the Le Creuset casserole pot with lid, only it’s from Aldi
  • If you’re not going to eat it straight away, then let the bread cool down before you cut it (says Lizzy the Bread Lady). There’s nothing like piping hot fresh bread though!
  • Even though it’s technically a no-knead recipe and it does work without kneading it, you can improve the texture of the bread but giving it a quick knead before the second prove (says Lizzy the Bread Lady)

Now that I know I can bake bread, anything is possible. I even made Hot Cross Buns at Easter. Who would have thought? Not me, that’s for sure.

Hot Cross Buns

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6 thoughts on “The best thing since sliced bread

  1. Those hot cross buns look a real winner! (No need to tell the story of my first batch, let’s say, they didn’t taste bad but I baked them at 2 am and they were still under proof.) I like your crocheted blanket–so there! madam judge! They won’t let me near the handicraft.
    Thanks for the kind words about my bread making and bread advice. I just can’t seem to stop trying to comment on bread and how to make it better. The fun really begins when you trust your own instincts and don’t follow recipes religiously.

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