Returning from our forraging adventure with bags full of wild plums, Fergus and I set about baking the loaves that we had prepared earlier. In at 200 degrees C for 40 minutes, the oven started to give forth that amazing aroma of baking bread and although bread is better for having cooled down a bit, we could hardly wait before we lined our loaves up, cut slices and began!
We made our initial judgements by just looking at the loaves. Six of the seven looked just like a loaf you would buy at the bakers – golden brown, smooth domed top, shiny sides. Fergus was as proud as a new father! The seventh loaf looked absolutely home made. It was not a surprise that this one was from the watermill at Little Salkeld beause this had been our “most unique” flour all along. The loaf was paler, a little lumpy and rough on the top and smaller that then others. Fergus put this down to his inexpert shaping techniques, but his other loaves looked pretty professional so it could not have been that. If you were going to eat just with your eyes, you would not choose this one. However, patience, gentle reader! Although eyes are important, ultimately we are interested in flavour and function (that is to say – nutritional value).
So we started the eating by tucking into slices of plain bread.
No butter, nothing. The range of flavours and textures was amazing as was the transformation of flavour between dough and baking. The most surprising change was in the flour from the Watermill at Little Salkeld. To be brutally honest, the dough was an intersting texture, but nothing extraordinary as regards flavour. Baked, however, it had a lightness of crumb (that is the inside of the bread) and a complexity of flavour that was as delightful as it was surprising. All of the other loaves were delicious and they did not have the shift in flavour from dough to bread that the Little Salkeld loaf had. The bread from the Wicken Windmill was very interesting – a little bitter in flavour – which is a good thing in my view as the bread stood up to and complimented flavours when it was covered with savouries like strong cheese, salami, or pickle (we did that bit later, with a glass of robust red). The loves from Redbornbury, Foster’s and Stoate’s had wonderful textures, rich flavours and great crusts, good with either sweet (jam/honey) or savoury – very versatile. The loaf from the Mt Pleasant windmill retained its nutty, malty flavour that we liked so much in its dough. The only disappointment was the supermarket flour as the loaf it turned out was bland. There was very little flavour to it. As a simple carrier for toppings it was fine, but it did not “make itself tasted” and, as a simple piece of bread was just a bit dull. It did not invite a second bite when compared to the other loaves which were just so interesting and tasty.
Our key learnings of the day included:
1. Flour is amazingly different and the bread it bakes can compliment certain foods and not others, just like wine. There may be an idea here for a really upmarket afternoon tea in which each sandwich is served on bread made with different and named flour that prepares perfectly complimentary bread. If you want to do this, here would be my list:
Wicken for smoked salmon
Little Salkeld for bread and butter
Foster’s for ham
Stoate’s for egg and cress
Mt Pleasant for roast beef and horseradish sauce
Redbournbury for prawn and mayonnaise
2. Industrially milled flour is a carrier for a sandwich and imparts no flavour to the piece.
3. Variety is the spice of life and the home baker (buying in small quantities) would certainly have fun experimenting with lots of different flours to add variety not only to the taste and texture of the end product but also to the whole baking experience.
My thanks as ever to the providers of the flour, the yeast and the salt:
To Fergus Collins, the editor at BBC Countryfile magazine