The travelling bread oven loves to demonstrate the sense of wonder, enchantment and achievement that comes with baking bread. Very little is more satisfying than teaching this to kids and teens. There is a natural sense of achievement in seeing your dough double in size in the bowl and there is a huge sense of accomplishment when the bread comes out of the oven and everyone, but everyone around you genuinely praises it. The proof of the pudding is always, however, in the eating, and in the case of this bread – there was not a crumb left!
Virtuous Bread had a small role in beginning and ending the MLOVE 2011 ConFestival. Starting with the opening address about bread as a catalyst for social change and a metephor for human relationships and ending with 4 types of bread prepared and served by the teens at the closing banquet, it was a blast from beginning to end.
The teens (10 in all) gathered in the gallery outside the main ballroom at the castle at a long table. Faced with a kilo of flour each, they mixed and kneaded, shaped and baked their way through focaccia, breadsticks, whole meal bread with grated carrots and seeds, olive bread and basil bread. It was all totally amazing and I wish we had taken pictures. Some of it ended up on the floor (and then back in the bowl) much of it ended up in hair and on hands, wrists and arms! Everything is sterilised at 200 degrees though, right? So we were not too fussed and, to my knowledge, we did not kill anyone!
We all followed the same basic recipe, and then improvised from there, coming up with great bread that people enjoyed sharing and scoffing.
Our basic bread recipe:
1 kg of flour (some were white and some were whole wheat)
20 g fresh yeast
20 g salt
600 g water
1. Pour the flour into a big bowl and then make a well. Crumble the yeast into the well and pour on 200 g of the water. Wait for 10 minutes to dissolve the yeast and begin the proofing process.
2. Add the rest of the water and the salt. Add any additional ingredients (olives, basil, grated carrot, seeds) and knead by hand, stretching the dough vigerously for 10-15 minutes. The dough should be elasticy and pillowy, and you should be able to stretch it so that you can see light through it without it breaking.
3. Pop the dough back in the bowl and let it double in size. This takes between 1-2 hours depending on how warm the kitchen it. The warmer it is the faster it will rise. Don’t warm the room (or the bowl) artificially! Just let it take it’s time.
4. Scrape the dough out of the bowl and shape it:
1. for simple loaves (ours had either basil or olives in them) form the dough into a tight ball by rolling it into a sausage, tucking the ends under and then drawing the dough down around itself from top to bottom, like a net. It should feel as solid as a footstool! Let rest for 45 mintues before baking at 200 degrees C for 45 minutes. Cool completely before eating.
2. for the focaccia, stretch the dough into a rectangle about 1 cm thick. let it rest for another 30 minutes and then poke the dough with your fingers to make a lot of indentations in it. Generously (GENEROUSLY) spread olive oil all over the top and then sprinkle fresh herbs (rosemary, sage) and thinly sliced raw onion on top. Cover and let rise for 1 hour. bake at 220 degress for 20-25 minutes. Put on a cooling rack immediately so the bottom does not get soggy.
3. for the breadsticks, stetch the dough into a rectangle about 1 cm thick, 15 cm wide and as long as it has to be depending on the amount of dough you have. Brush the top with olive oil. Let rise for 1 hour. Dust the tops with polenta or sesame seeds, or tapenade or whatever you like and cut the dough into strips about 1 cm wide. Twist them (or double twist them) and lay them on a baking tray. Bake at 220 degrees c for 10-15 minutes. Breadsticks will “bake” a little browner if you put sugar, honey, or bread syrup into the dough before you knead it. A tablespoons should do!