Slightly sourdough loaf.

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Oh dear. It’s been a while since we’ve posted. Although we’ve been baking away, other engagements (and if we’re honest, a little laziness) have prevented us from writing about it. But that’s about to change now we’re firmly back in the blogging saddle.

We have been experimenting with our standard loaf and how to make it healthier without alienating the other rather pernickity members of the clan. While we like a bit of sourdough, the rest of the family is not that keen, and it doesn’t always make kid-friendly sandwiches. And while our great white never fails to delight, it’s not the healthiest everyday-kind-of-bread. We decided we needed something less yeasty and more wholesome with a robust flavour, but without the tangy sourness and jaw-aching crustiness of a true sourdough. So Ruby and I reached a compromise, we’ll attempt a slightly sourdough bread with the best of all worlds – springy yeastiness with a doughy depth of flavour and some husky wholemeal.

It took a little experimenting to get our quantities right, but that’s half the fun, and we think we’re pretty close to a perfect all-rounder. As our sourdough starter is the star of the show, this takes a little longer to prove than a normal pan. But not much, and it’s worth the wait!

Slightly sourdough.

410g white bread flour
150g wholemeal flour
10g salt
3g dried yeast
60g sourdough starter
20g olive oil or butter
330g tepid water (you may need to adjust this if your flour is thirsty)

Mix the white and wholemeal flour in a bowl. Add the salt on one side and the sourdough starter on the other. Dribble in the oil. Dissolve the dried yeast in the tepid water and pour in. Mix to a wettish paste and knead thoroughly for about 15-20 mins. Put the dough back into an oiled bowl, cover with a showercap, and leave to prove in a warm place for 1.5 to 2 hours, or until doubled in size (this may take longer, don’t worry if it does). Punch down, flop out onto a barely floured surface, fold and shape into a well floured 1kg loaf tin. Cover again with a showercap and leave to rise for a further 1-2 hours or until the dough reaches just below the lip of the tin. Pre-heat the oven to 240ºc. Flick over some flour and slash with abandon. Throw a cup of water into the bottom of the oven if you feel inclined. Bake for 10 mins then turn down to 210ºc for a further 20-25mins. Check the loaf is done by rapping on its bottom. It should sound hollow. It should not say ow.

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This makes a lovely springy soft loaf with enough fortitude to hold the soggiest sandwich filling. And with so little yeast, it’s easy on the digestion too.

ruby says “Yum-yum that was delicious probably one of the best slices of bread ever! A bit of white bread, a bit of brown and a touch of sourdough! M-m!”

 

Bacheldre Water Mill.

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We spent a week in England visiting family and friends this month, and on the way back to the ferry we took a detour to visit the beautiful old watermill at Bacheldre, a traditional stone-ground mill in Powys, Wales. There has been a mill on the site since 1575 but the current mill dates to the 18th century, still using water from the mill race to power the water wheel and turn the stones, though this is now supplemented by a motor to allow the wheel to turn when the water flow is low.

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When Matt and Anne Scott bought the mill back in 2002 it was primarily for the attached campsite. The mill at that time was a working museum, still grinding flour, but in small batches for display purposes. With no previous experience in the milling field they threw themselves into restoring the watermill and creating a viable business, but using the traditional methods of stone-ground flour production. They now produce award-winning flour, in a variety of styles and flavours, and supply large retailers such as Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and John Lewis as well as a myriad of smaller artisan stockists. Amazon even deliver their full range, including 25kg sacks. Many of their flours use locally grown Welsh wheat, just like the old days…

We had intended to buy a 25kg bag of white bread flour to bring home with us on the ferry, but in typical Jack and Ruby fashion happened to turn up just after the owners had left for a holiday, the two mill workers had a day off, and there were no ready-filled large sacks of flour in the shop. In fact, the mill was pretty much closed that day. But the caretakers were very friendly so we had a quick look around and bought a small bag of bread flour and a bag of Oak Smoked malted flour to try out.

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It was such a treat to see an old mill so lovingly restored, eager to welcome visitors and tourists who take up time and only buy a small bag of flour, happy to share the traditions and methods of an age-old profession – and yet still be relevant and vibrant in the modern fast-paced flour-producing industry that has tended to remove itself from its customers – us, the bread-makers and bread-eaters. On returning home, to our surprise we found out that Bacheldre Mill is up for sale. We hope its future custodians treat it with the love and respect that the Scotts did.

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Photo from Shropshire Star.

ruby says “it was very pretty, i liked having my picture taken beside bacheldre mill stone.”

 

 

Our journey in sourdough: scalds, sweat and tears.

Sourdough, we have learnt, is a whole different animal to anything we’ve attempted before. One that cannot be rustled up on a whim, or is always compliant with our plans and wishes. We’ve made a number of sourdough loaves so far, none of which could be described as a truly successful attempt, and some of which could barely be described as sourdough (or even a loaf). Still, we remind ourselves it’s the journey, not the destination, that counts.

Sourdough loaf No. 1.

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After lovingly nurturing our starter, Gordon, we were brimming with excitement to make our first sourdough loaf. We carefully selected the recipe, readied our equipment, weighed and measured the ingredients, didn’t baulk when the dough flowed stickily across the table, pushed, stretched, pummelled, scraped, coralled, rested and finally nestled our first loaf in its new flour-filled banneton for the night. Springing out of bed in the morning, we rushed downstairs to find…..a slightly deflated balloon.

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Unperturbed (well a little perturbed) we heated the oven, attempted the Herculean task of moving the flaccid dough from the banneton to a hot baking stone without deflating the loaf (more) or losing precious heat from the oven, forgot to slash, and splashed boiling water all over the oven and kitchen floor.  A modicum of shouting and scalding ensued,  culminating in our very depressed dough sitting awkwardly on, and overflowing slightly, our old pizza stone. The result was not something you’d find in any bakery we’ve ever been.

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Sourdough loaf No.2.

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Our second attempt was a little more successful. This time we proved overnight in the fridge, left to warm up and remembered to slash, but while transferring the dough to the stone we pulled the tray out too far and the loaf slid off onto the oven door. We managed to manhandle it back on, but the shock was too much for it.

Sourdough loaf No.3.

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Realising that our long banneton was actually too long for our stone, we admitted defeat and bought a round banneton instead. Our third sourdough went a lot more smoothly. After our overnight fridge prove, this time we heated the oven, took the stone OUT, gently tipped our round loaf onto it, then panic-slashed and shoved it into the oven. Result? A round, slightly spread sourdough with the faintest of slash marks on the top. And a nose, strangely.

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Sourdough loaf No. 4.

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Our confidence was starting to grow by loaf no, 4. No longer scared of the stone/oven-heat dilemma, we slashed with abandon, threw and sprayed water, and watched with awe the blooming of a vaguely recognisable sourdough bread.

Sourdough loaf No. 5.

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This is our most successful so far. The dough was exceptionally wet, and on removal from the fridge in the morning, it was more brick-like than bread-like. We left it to warm to room temperature, and it rose slightly. Not expecting much, we placed it in the oven and watched with mounting surprise as the oven-spring kicked in and it grew rapidly before our eyes, opening out along our frenzied slashes.

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None of our loaves is exactly of a professional standard, but one thing is noticeable – the flavour of the sourdough has sweetened and deepened with each loaf, which must mean Gordon is maturing into a fine young starter. Now, onto loaf no. 6…..

ruby says ” they were nice! but the inside was too soft and the outside was too hard. it was also fun making them but boring waiting. they took so long!” 😉

The Great May White.

May great white

I know we’re well into June but we seem to be slipping behind in all sorts of things lately. Still, we managed our weekly Great White all through May, with it’s usual highs and lows. What did we do differently this month? We tried a new slashing technique (top two) – yeah, that didn’t go so well. We also tried an overnight white loaf (bottom right) – that didn’t go so well either. But number three! Well, that’s as near to the perfect loaf we’ve come so far…….

So what have we learnt? Not a lot. Except to persevere……and stick with our old slashes.

ruby says “I couldn’t lift the last one it was so heavy.”

Our very own sourdough starter.

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Sourdough bread has always been a magical kind of loaf for us. It seems almost alchemical, harnessing the natural yeasts from the air to turn grain and water into a fragrant wholesome bubbled bread. We decided it had to be a ritual of some baker’s secret society only open to the righteous, with each sourdough starter recipe jealously guarded behind mystery and reverence. Many of the great artisan bakers have had the same starter in the family for hundreds of years, fed lovingly and religiously every day, like an immortal pet or a small flatulent god. We believed their knowledge and starter-offspring were only passed on to the worthy to carry on the ancient tradition. We thought the process of making and maintaining a starter was the realm of a master-baker or maslin-magician, no place for the inexperienced or faint of heart.

This, we discovered, could not be further from the truth. Most bakers are more than happy to share their starters and sourdough tips with the uninitiated, as both an incentive for the new baker and as insurance for the old – should a great disaster befall the original parent it can be easily cloned from its children. And there are no closely guarded recipes. Flour and water it seems is all you need. And a bit of fruit or yoghurt if you’re so inclined, or not, if you’re not. And patience. And a little commitment (but not too much).

Originally, we had a lofty ambition to try our hand at sourdough by the end of this year, not being confident that we could ever truly master the process. But many of the other participants in the 52 loaves project were plunging into sourdough with abandon, and surprisingly good results. Some had acquired starters from other bakers, some had started their own. Spurred on by their successes, we stepped off the baking cliff with a resolution to begin our own family tradition of sourdough. So in April 2014 we made our own starter. It’s still alive and we’d like to think it’ll still be here in 200 years time.

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There are hundreds of recipes and methods of how to make a sourdough starter on the net and in baking books. We followed Justin Piers Gellatly’s method, mainly as it’s pretty straightfoward, and also because he makes damned good bread. It’s working for us so far. It will take a week before the starter will be ready to use.

50g organic strong white flour
50g organic rye flour
100g tepid water
30g rhubarb (we used apple, no rhubarb in fridge)
clean bowl or clean jar

Day 1.

We mixed the flour, water and fruit in a large kilner jar until it became a thick gooey paste. We covered it and left it somewhere warmish (warm kitchen worktop) for 24 hours.

Day 2.

At roughly the same time of day we mixed 50g water, 25g strong white and 25g rye into the paste. Covered and left until the next day.

Day 3.

Same as Day 2.

Day 4.

Same as Day 3. There should be a bit of bubbling and thinning of the paste at this stage.

Day 5.

Our starter was now tangy with lots of little bubbles. We mixed it all up and discarded all but 30g. You need to get rid of the leftover starter as this will only feed off the new flour and ferment too quickly. Alternatively, you can give it to someone else to start their own sourdough mix or use it to flavour pancakes or other bready goods.There were still some pieces of fruit remaining which we threw away. We added 30g rye, 30g strong wholemeal and 80g strong white four with 125g water, whisked it all up and left it.

Day 6.

Same as Day 5.

Day 7.

We made our first sourdough loaf! It’s a learning curve…

Keeping it alive.

Once we made our first loaf, we replenished our starter with the same quantity of flour and water that we removed for the recipe (half flour/half water). If you intend to make a lot of sourdough bread, you’ll need to feed the starter every 1 or two days. If not, feed it after making a loaf then place it in the fridge for a week, taking it out 24 hours before you need to use it. Tom Herbert recommends weighing your container before you start so that you always know what quantity of starter is in the jar, and always leave about a quarter of the original in there to keep its depth of flavour and vitality.

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We keep ours in the fridge. We feed it half the replenishing amount before we put it in, then the other half when we take it out after it has come back to room temperature. This way, it’s bubbling nicely by the time we start to bake. Ruby treats it like a pet. She hasn’t got bored of it yet. It’s called Gordon, by the way.

ruby says “the starter i love. it is probably my favourite pet so far because it doesn’t annoy me.”

The Great April White.

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Our quest for the perfect loaf continues. Along with our variety of the good, the bad and the ugly loaves, we’ve also been baking a basic white once a week. It is our intention that by the end of the year we will be able to create a perfect loaf, with lofty aspirations of something akin to the overnight Sherston Loaf from Hobbs House bakery. In addition, we’ve been tasting and rating other white and sourdough breads from various bakeries across Dublin to find the ultimate loaf, and compare our more humble offerings – more of that to come in the next few months. Here are four of April’s offerings….

We can see that we have issues with uneven rising, erratic oven spring, length of bake…. the list is pretty endless, and the loaves seem to be getting worse instead of better! But at least we can eat our mistakes.

ruby says “I don’t really mind what they look like as long as I can put jam on it.”

13/52: Wheaten loaf.

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A little red piece of plastic has revolutionized our lives. It’s a scraper, cutter, dough handler, crumb chaser, residue remover. It’s the bike tool of baking. In fact you could probably mend a puncture with it. It is now our most treasured possession, made all the more iconic in our house because the baking legend Tom Herbert presented it personally.

red scraper800Before our scraper, we were scared of our dough, as it crankily stuck to the table and demanded more flour before it would play with us. The result was always an uptight sulky loaf and two disappointed bakers. And a kitchen table with concrete adhesions that even wire wool couldn’t shift. Anything requiring a soft wet dough was way beyond our courage and capabilities. Now, thanks to our flexible red wrangler, we can herd any gooey mixture from table to tin without a floury fence. 

Emboldened by our newly acquired training, our recent (relative) successes, and armed with our little red weapon, we leapt into making a soggy-doughed brown soda bread. Many of these are often coarse worthy affairs, good for the gut but dull on the tongue. Yet there are some that are sweet and fragrant and soft and tangy, with a certain depth of flavour that can only be achieved with the secrets of a master baker. And one of these secrets happens to be…..sticky black treacle.

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Wheaten Bread (from The Fabulous Baker Brothers Recipe)

450g strong wholemeal flour
50g oats
20g butter
100ml black treacle
1tsp sea salt
2tsp caster sugar
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
200ml milk
200ml buttermilk

Heat the oven to 170ºc/Gas 3. This is a no-knead dough, so it’s going in pretty rapidly. Mix the flour, oats, salt, sugar and bicarbonate of soda in a bowl. In a pan on the hob, gently melt the butter and treacle together. Pour into the dry ingredients and add the milk and buttermilk. Stir up the sludgy mixture until it’s all well combined. It will be rather wet at this point. Grease a 1kg (2lb) loaf tin with plenty of butter and scatter some oats around the bottom and sides. Slop the dough into the tin and scrape all residue from the bowl with your trusty scraper. Smooth the top, sprinkling more oats as you go. Cover it with foil and bake in the oven for 35 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes or so, until the top is a dark brown and the kitchen smells deep, sweet and oaty. Remove to a cooling rack. Slather with butter and eat warm, or leave to cool completely and top with a deliciousness of your choice.

This loaf is now officially the best wheaten loaf we have ever tasted, made all the sweeter because we managed it ourselves. It will feature heavily in our future lives. And the smell in the kitchen as it bakes….

Oh yes, we got so cocky half way through that we made our own butter too…

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ruby says “scrumbly delishious, but it was a bit heavy for me to eat every day, i think we did a good job though! it was fun whisking the butter!”

12/52: Ciabatta mark 2.

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After our last attempt at Ciabatta we decided that next time we would be prepared. And the result was much better – tastier, chewier, shaplier. This time, we teamed it with steak and mushrooms and all the lovely juices they produce. Nothing else needed but a little rocket and drizzle of dressing. Oh and a bread-maker to beat up the insolent dough…..it was only after I almost destroyed our food processor that I realised we had a tailor-made solution.

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ruby ciabatta

Ciabatta (following the recipe from Paul Hollywood’s Bread)

400g strong white flour
7g quick yeast
300ml water
30ml olive oil
7g salt
Semolina for dusting and rustic effect

Start the day before, or at least 6 hours before normal. Place half the flour and half the yeast in a bowl and pour in half the water. Stir and beat until you have a thick batter. Cover with cling film and leave to develop overnight, or for at least six hours to improve the flavour.

Slop the thick batter into a food mixer with a dough hook, or like us, into a bread-maker. Add the remaining ingredients and leave the mixer to do its work for at least 15 minutes, or until the dough is good and stretchy. We put ours on the ‘pizza dough’ setting. When kneaded thoroughly tip into a well-oiled rectangular container, approximately 3 litres in volume (or 20cm square and 12cm deep) and cover with the oiled lid. Leave to rise to the top of the container, roughly 2 hours.

When risen, gently tip out onto a surface dusted liberally with a mixture of semolina and flour, keeping as much air in the dough as possible. Delicately slice the dough into two equal lengths, gently stretch into a ciabatta shape and lift onto a dusted non-stick baking tray. Sprinkle semolina/flour over the tops. Place the tray in a roomy plastic bag and leave to rest for 15 minutes while the oven heats to 220ºc. Bake for 30 minutes until golden in colour. Cool on a wire rack before devouring.

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ruby says  “my new scrumbdidleyombshes, favourite food!”

 

 

 

The Hobbs House Baking Experience with #52loavesproject

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Ruby and I were incredibly lucky to join other #52loavesproject participants at a masterclass in bread baking with the legendary Tom Herbert at Hobbs House Bakery, near Bristol. It seemed a little crazy to fly from Dublin and back in the one day, but it was an invitation we just couldn’t turn down. So we packed our baking bear, set our alarm for 4am, and off we went.

Tom Herbert

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school

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The bakery is situated on the mainstreet of Chipping Sodbury, a lovely little town in the heart of the Cotswolds. It’s a family business in every sense of the word, run by the Herberts who have been baking in the area for 5 generations, and the baking school is housed in the rooms above the bakery where the family grew up. Tom Herbert, of The Fabulous Baker Brothers fame, had generously given his time that Monday morning to help us make better bread. Half blinded by the cameras of the baking paparazzi, he patiently explained and demonstrated the art of proper bread-making, and was exceedingly diplomatic about our specimen loaves! Ruby and I learnt that we over-prove, our oven is not hot enough and our tin is too large. Learning about bread in such a beautiful environment, with a skilled and entertaining teacher, a roaring log fire and other equally exuberant 52 loafers was about the best way to spend a March Monday that we can think of. And they gave us lunch.

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spelt loaves

glorious british grub

Throughout the day we were visited by Tom’s father, uncle, brothers and their wives who were so kind and friendly, and could not have made us any more welcome. Bread-making passion and enthusiasm virtually drips off the walls at Hobbs House, and it’s highly infectious! We left laden with Hobbs House dough scrapers, the new signed Glorious British Grub cookbook (our new favourite!), a new birchwood banneton and a loaf of the best bread we’ve ever tasted – the famous Sherston Loaf. We were going to pass it off as our own when we got home, but realised we’d never get away with it….

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A selection of 52 Loafers: Carolyn, Ruby, Jack, Lou, Dan, Tom, Laura, Emma, Natalie, Emma.

Tom runs bread-making and other courses from the school throughout the year, if we get the chance we’ll definitely be back, even if it’s just for another Sherston loaf.

ruby says “the funnest place this year i’ve ever been, discovered i LOVE kneading.!! 🙂 🙂 ”

A massive thank-you to Lou and Dan of Littlegreenshed for setting us on this adventure, Emma of Bradshaw & Sons for sorting it all out, and to Tom Herbert and all at Hobbs House Bakery for a fabulous experience.

 

8-9/52: St. Patrick’s Day Bread.

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Looking at other people’s bread creations for St. Patrick’s day produced an abundance of green tinged loaves and rolls, some of which looked tasty (pistachio bread definitely) and some simply barmy. We were trying to get inspiration for a St. Patrick’s weekend bake, when Ruby asked the question “what bread would St. Patrick have eaten on St. Patrick’s day?” Good question Ruby. Ignoring the fact that there was no St. Patrick’s day when the man himself was around, we decided to bake an authentic loaf from the time of the early monks. But there was a distinct lack of early Irish bread recipes in cyberspace….did they even eat bread, or just bowls of watery gruel? So while researching another job, I diverted a little time to more scholarly articles on early breads. Turns out bread was definitely on the monks menu, but it seems that baking, like everything in Ireland, was fraught with politics and social jostling that dictated what kind of bread you made and ate. There were flatbreads and leavened breads, barley breads, oat breads, rye breads, wheat breads, maslin (mixed grain) breads, women’s bread and men’s bread, festival breads and penitent breads.

Now strictly speaking, it being the middle of Lent, St. Patrick would have eaten a penitent loaf. But from what we could glean, these were heavy, grey flatbread loaves made from barley, oats and water, meant to sustain rather than excite the palate. So we thought we’d make two different loaves – St. Patrick’s Penitent Loaf, and a secular Bairgen Banfuine, or woman’s bread, a maslin leavened loaf that included wheat (so much more palatable). And we decided to indulge in a little experimental archaeology too, and prepare and bake them in true early medieval style. Flatbreads were cooked on a griddle on the open fire, and although there were no built-up ovens in that time, raised loaves could be cooked on a griddle covered by an upturned pot, or in the equivalent of a modern Dutch Oven – a clay pot with a close-fitting lid, surrounded by embers from the open fire.

There’s a distinct lack of information on the exact ingredients in early medieval bread, let alone the quantities and ratios, so our recipes and methods were cobbled together from an article written by the Irish culinary historian, food writer and broadcaster Regina Sexton. Barley flour seemed to be the staple ingredient in a lot of breads, but Ruby and I could not get a bag of it in Dublin for love nor money. So in keeping with our authenticity, we ground our own! Just enough for our two loaves. We’re on a promise from the Dublin Co-op that they’ll source some for us next time (thanks Amy!).

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St. Patrick’s Penitent Loaf.

200g barley flour
200g oat flour
250g water

Combine the barley and oat flour in a bowl. Add the water and mix to a pasty dough. Turn out onto a floured surface and shape into a circular flat loaf or four smaller loaves. Sprinkle with oat or barley flour. Heat an oiled flat griddle pan over an open flame (or an electric ring, your choice). Cook on a high heat until the outside is browned. Leave to cool and for the interior to cook.

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Bairgen Banfuine (Women’s maslin bread)

100g barley flour
100g oat flour
100g rye flour
100g wholewheat flour
10g yeast (or barm yeast if you can get it)
150ml buttermilk
100ml water

Combine all the flours in a bowl. Add the yeast, buttermilk and water and combine to create a claggy dough. Tip out onto a floured surface and knead vigorously for 5-6 minutes. Return to the clean, oiled bowl and leave to prove for about 2 hours (or longer if it’s struggling). Tip out and form a round domed loaf on a flat griddle pan covered by an inverted ceramic pot, or in a dutch oven. Place in the centre of the fire, and heap the hot embers around the pot. This is where any baking advice from us ends…….

burnt bread

Obviously we had no control over the temperature of the fire, and subsequently, our makeshift oven, so our timing for the maslin bread was completely made up. We left ours for 30 minutes. When I tried to take it out, the griddle pan was a fiery orange colour, and my oven gloves were melting! Needless to say, this did not bode well for the loaf. In hindsight, we should have left the griddle and pot on the fire for about 10 minutes, then taken it off and let it cook under its own heat. That said, once we chipped off the outer charcoal shell, there was some decent tasting (if a little smoky) bread in the middle. The flatbreads were more successful from a baking point of view, though they were largely lacking in any kind of flavour and were distinctly gritty.

burnt bread interior

platter

Final impressions? Both breads were definitely edible, and while we wouldn’t want to eat them every day (for every meal), they were certainly palatable enough when piled high with our authentic(ish) early christian condiments (one historical source recounts that St. Colman buttered his Lenten loaf on both sides. I don’t blame him). On the whole the process was hilarious, if a little tedious in sections (hand-grinding barley grain until someone more quick-witted pointed out the spice-mill), and the results were….hmm, interesting. Still, we’ll definitely give this one another go.

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ruby says  “nice, but let’s not burn it next time!”