I LIVE exactly halfway between not one, nor two but three good local, independent artisan bakeries so why do I shuffle downstairs at 7am most Mondays to bake my own? Because despite the wide range of loaves they can’t give me what I want. And because of my teeth.
Sorry but I am not too enamoured with sourdough. That may come but not yet. Nor do I want Fancy Dan varieties with offbeat flavours. I’d like a nice tin loaf, please, for sandwiches or a good old British bloomer. And do you have any rolls? I don’t mean breadcakes.
And then there’s the crust. Do you have any soft loaves? You see, this all started before all I got for Christmas were two expensive front teeth implants and the ones I had got were dangerously loose. I wasn’t going to risk them on a hard crust. I asked for a sandwich loaf in one place, got a funny look and was offered a ciabatta. I didn’t want slices with holes in.
I got seriously cheesed off with one bakery which at first didn’t open until lunchtime on Saturdays “because we like a lie in, too.” Seriously, I thought they were in the wrong job. And they only baked rolls at weekends. Things are better now but for me the damage was done.
Now I could have gone to a supermarket or a chain bakery but we all know that most of what they sell is pap. The only alternative was to bake my own. If I produced pap, it would be my own pap.
I had form. I had tried baking before, mostly self-taught from books although I did go on a short half day course in return for a write-up in a magazine. I wasn’t great. My wife was supportive but I knew deep down I didn’t cut the mustard in the bread department. I also tried a breadmaker but this is the Chorleywood of home baking. So I gave up.
Then when my front teeth started rattling in my mouth – the worst moment was when one flew out across the room while running a seminar for journalism students – I went back to baking. Somehow, this time it all started to come together.
It wasn’t just white loaves. I experimented with Portuguese-type bread, mixing white and cornmeal. Then I discovered the joys of malted flour. There was white seeded bread and currently it is wholemeal, half and half with strong white, to up my fibre intake. I want to live a long and active baking life.
I tried fresh yeasts and dried yeasts until an artisan baker told me he couldn’t honestly tell the difference so now stick to dried.
Seduced by the lines and whorls of artisan loaves I bought my own Banneton baskets until I realised that slices from the middle of big, round kilogram loaves didn’t go in the toaster (the long ones do). So it’s back to tins: vintage, high-sided two and one pound tins, Hovis tins and non-stick kilo tins with their sleeker, lower lines. The baskets are for high days and holidays.
I have still a lot to learn and a lot to bake. Fougasse will be next. I use olive oil and sometimes lard, ignore the instructions to add sugar on the flour packet recipes, use milk or whey instead of just water, add beer. From a few basic ingredients I can spin a baker’s dozen of loaves and more.
I now have two, sturdy front teeth and no longer go in peril of a crusty loaf. But it’s too late, I am smitten by dough. And I’ve discovered there are others like me.
It’s not that I have completely shunned local bakeries. My two loaves a week (one goes in the freezer) are supplemented by a local bakery’s seeded cornbread which we hanker for. Although I am going to try and copy that.
But my old dodgy teeth and artisanal snootiness over split tins and bloomers have opened up a wonderful new world.