I have been baking bread, have even become a little fanatical dare I say. Bread making is, I suspect, like that a little bit. The internet has a treasure trove of breadmaking sites, redolent with advice, mouth-watering photos and fascinating possibilities.
Bread-making is both surprisingly scientific, and deeply intuitive. The science equips you with a knowledge of what the changes in the dough mean, but only your hands, plumping, twisting, knocking back and dusting, futiley shaping batards, boules and syphilitic bagguettes; knobbly and uneven, can tell what the bread is. The nature of the bread, as it were.
I have started my own sourdough - caught and tamed the wild yeast quietly grazing on the dry flour, prodding and agitating it until I have a toro; an aggressive, agitated beast apt to leap on the smallest feeding of flour and water and punch it full of bubbles, sour it with its constant companion and friend, the lactobacillus.
I have made sourdoughs and ciabattas, pain au provence and ryes. Wholemeals, linseed loaves with a crunch like crackling, and brioche. Some have been excellent, some a bit so-so, but not outright failures; bread is tricky to get right, but harder to get wrong.
That doesn't mean you can make some old favourites, however...
The only thing you really need for successful bread - beyond that holy quartet of flour, yeast, salt and water - is time.
Bread would test a menhir's patience. Sure, you can make it quickly with vast quantities of instant yeast, or even faster with baking powder. But that is an unsubtle, boorish bread; barging about in your mouth like a gatecrasher, and leaving nothing but a vague, gummy taste.
No, for a good loaf, you will have to wait. It's not a lot of work, but you will need to forget it; plant the seed and wait patiently for the harvest. As the yeast goes about its work, the carbohydrates get broken down into different things, and something magical happens.
Something nutty. Malty. Complicated. Something subtle, and perhaps smoky; a deep taste that - if chewed in the right spirit - can transport you to the German hearth from whence it originated. The tall, brick oven in a French backyard, the hurly-burly of a San Francisco minefield.
In short, something delicious. Expect more posts to follow; bread is surely all about the bacteria, because I have definitely been infected with something!