Friday, November 18, 2011

Baking Bread

Anyone not like homemade bread? No? I didn't think so. It’s a byword for serious cookery, often delicious and the smell alone is reckoned to turn a shoddy house into a saleable property. It also seems to be the piety of the week for those of an environmental turn of mind. Not just regular bread either. To be truly committed to the earth these days sourdough is de rigeur. Just like our ancestors used to make in the days before we were corrupted by modern luxuries like coal-fired power stations, global trade and er... yeast. I can’t help but wonder though: what’s so sustainable about making your own bread?

Undeniably, home baking appeals to those with a  self-sufficient streak, though most of us don’t grow our own grains and mill them. Even so, with a bag of flour from Tesco you have a fighting chance of attaining the glow of self-righteousness  that radiated from Tom and Barbara in The Good Life. Rather inconveniently for the emissions-conscious though, baking a loaf in a domestic oven uses many times the amount of energy of commercial oven. You can get around that one fairly neatly using one of those very clever bread machines which not only consume less lecky but also do some of the work.

It’s the hassle factor that seems to be the main sticking point.  If you’ve ever tried bread-making you will have noticed that it requires a certain commitment. Even if someone has a bread machine how likely are they to use it regularly? Some of us might be good for a few loaves or maybe a month or two of obsession, but who is going to live off home made bread unless they have to? Then there is the problem of who is going to eat a diet of our hearty loaves (not my kids anyway). It’s no wonder that one of the earliest specialist trades in human society was that of a baker. A professional who could make economies of scale, a range of products and leave the rest of us free to get on with other stuff. Without bakers, it’s difficult to see how we would ever have got out of the stone age.

“Hello axe-maker. I’d like to upgrade my old flint hatchet to one of those new bronze ones.”
“Sorry guv I don’t have time for this bronze-smithing lark. I’m too busy punching down my dough.”

One might reasonably assume that we wouldn’t have science, medicine, art and technology (including bread machines) if people had been piddling around all day with their sourdough starters.

Even if oil runs out and we’re left in a Mad Max-like future, spending our Lewes Pounds on home grown vegetables, it’s hard to see bread-making catching on en masse. Still, though it may not last more than a few minutes as the latest eco trend, it is good to see someone blowing the trumpet for a homemade loaf. In that spirit then let me finish with a recipe.

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