Simple Giving

New French bread recipe

One mix, three rises, short bake

First batch given to neighbor–Bob

Second batch given to a woman out for a walk

I’ve been trying a new bread recipe this week. Fiddling with a mix of flour, water, salt, and yeast that is famous in Provence, France. Once I understand the method a bit better–I’ll share the recipe with you here.

One of the many things I love about baking is the simplicity of the ingredients. As I move from the cupboard to the bowl and back again, measuring and sifting and sprinkling in the salt, I always recite those four ingredients in my head. Flour, water, salt, yeast.–so few ingredients, yet each one so essential to the final loaf.

I’ve been blogging less, now that it’s Lent, but baking just as much. And my adventures in giving have continued. On Tuesday I had an extra French boule, and set out to give it to a neighbor, who lives in a charming little house on the corner, but whom we see only now and again. I don’t even know her name.

But she wasn’t home.

Just down the street, only a block away, three little munchkins, all five years old–triplets–were running and shouting and cavorting in the street. It was easy to walk their way, toward their laughter. Two neighbors were talking. Two men I’ve never met. How can we have lived here in this neighborhood for ten years and still know so few?! It shames me.

I approached the grownups and introduced myself. “Who wants a warm loaf of bread?” I asked, smiling. The loaf was small, so I handed it to the single man who lives in the house with all the beautiful succulents that we admire. He introduced himself as Bob. I then met Mark, the father of the triplets; they live across from Bob and have the sweetest little home that has a forty foot palm tree hovering over it, and ranunculas that come up each spring. I promised them a bigger loaf in a few days. It was about time I had made a move toward neighborliness…

On Friday, another loaf of warm French bread in hand, (but still too small a loaf for the triplet family) I picked up my two big kids and some of their friends from school. We looked for someone on the street to give it to and eventually found a mom sitting by a stroller, looking tired, looking strained. The newborn was sleeping. I approached her; she was holding a cell phone, but not talking. “I baked an extra loaf of bread today and would like for you to have it. I know what it’s like when you have a newborn in the house.”

She laughed, and took it with a thanks, and the kids and I continued our after-school journey home.

It takes such basic ingredients to bake one loaf of bread. Wheat flour, a foodstuff known to man for thousands of years. Salt, a mineral used in every culture, in every land. Yeast, found in the very air around us. And water.

And giving is just as simple. A walk down the street. A knock on the door, or a wave of the hand. A word or two, and a smile. A quick exchange–the bread passing from my hand to another’s.

I find this time of giving, during Lent, when we seek to strip ourselves of all the extras, as especially poignant. Flour, water, salt, yeast.

Walk. Greet. Smile. Give. It makes me want to sing that old shaker tune…

Hum with me:

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,

‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,

To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning we come round right.

Fifth Century Baking–Experimenting with Barley and Brewer’s Yeast

French Jaco made with brewer’s yeast–No-knead made with spent barley and brewer’s yeast…

Mixed, molded, baking like crazy. And as an aside, we’ve got mushrooms growing all over our yard, the roses are blooming for the last time before they get pruned, and epiphany and the blessing of the waters was awesome!

According to my research, a typical meal in an Anglo-Saxon household consisted of a pot of soup or stew and a loaf of bread. The breads ranged from brown and basic, to sweetened and full of surprises. And if it was a day for feasting, then the breads became more exotic, maybe even were served twice–one loaf with the first course (or sending): bread, soft cheese and stewed meat, and then again at the end (after the fish and veggie course), as a sweetened bread, paired with baked fruits. If they were REALLY having a party, then they would get out their roasting sticks, and serve their food on “trenchers,” large slices of coarse, stale bread used as plates. I’m still trying to imagine how that’s done.

With all the fresh foods available to us these days, we don’t need to rely so heavily on bread and grain for our diet, but it’s fun to see what food and life was like more than 1,500 years ago.  When it comes to bread baking, and the basic methods and ingredients, not a whole lot has changed.

Baking with Brewer’s Yeast

My first two experiments have proved interesting. I read somewhere on the web that brewer’s yeast wouldn’t rise a loaf of bread–but that’s just not true. Brian, at Telegraph Brewery, explained that at the brewery they are using the same strain of yeast that is found in bread baking–just that it has been honed a different way to encourage and enhance different flavors for their various batches of beer. Since I love making a very basic loaf of bread–the jaco that I mention from time to time–(the basic recipe is in the comments section of my Burning Down the House post, and also on my recipe page under French Bread) I thought I would try my basic batch simply using the yeast trub as a leavening agent, since there’s nothing fancy at all in that mix of bread and it would easily show the results of any changes. Here are my notes:

Jaco and Boule with Brewer’s Yeast

3 cups of unbleached white flour

3/4 cups of whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons salt

14 ounces water

2 tablespoons yeast trub (sucked off of Telegraph’s Robust Ale tank) instead of the typical 2 teaspoons of instant, dried yeast

Mixed: 2:35 pm–very soft and silky feeling. Finally doubled at 9:45 pm after having to proof in the oven for a bit at 100 degrees to get it moving. Molded at 9:45 pm–felt kind of floppy while molding. Retarded in fridge all night. Took out at 7:30 am–again, looked floppy, lacking structure. Heated oven, baked at 8:20 am–when I scored it, the dough was not floppy, but very dense and I realized that it should have risen on the counter for another couple of hours. Oh well. Here are the jaco and boule right before heading into the oven…

The bread structure, after its bake, was more open than I thought it would be, but it was still quite dense. The flavor was yummy–there was no trace of a beer taste. It was not overly yeasty. The brewer’s yeast responded like a sourdough might, taking its time to work through the dough. Next time I just need to be more patient. Here are the two loaves, baked… Not fabulous, but not horrid, either.

Mix Number Two–using the no-knead method

2 cups unbleached white

3/4 cups whole wheat

Heaping 1/2 cup spent barley from Telegraph

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

2/3 cup buttermilk

Rest of the liquid–used cool water–totaling 1 5/8 cup of liquid)

1 tablespoon yeast trub from the Robust Ale tank, instead of typical 1/4 teaspoon dried instant yeast

Mixed: 2:15 pm–the dough was a bit too wet, I think. Should have used only 1 1/2 cups of liquid or even less because of the moisture content already in the barley. Here, you can see the spent barley mixed in…

Molded 7:30 am the next day–it shaped just fine. Baked 8:50 am. Ate–that night. The crumb was a little too wet, but the spent barley added nice flavor and everyone gobbled it up with the meal. Thumbs up all around. The yeast didn’t work any differently than if I had added the typical 1/4 teaspoon of dried. Great outcome.

So, I think that the brewer and the baker must have been friends in ancient days. I’ll give you loaves of my bread for your table, if you give me some of your barm for my bread. Let’s be friends. Saint Brigid –at Kildare–created a thriving community of monastics (she was Abbess over both men and women) and of lay people, who engaged in all sorts of typical trades, plus there were artists galore who lived and thrived there… I think the bakers and brewers were good buds, maybe even with their workshops side by side–on the foody side of town.

Do you have friends that you trade with? Sharing our resources creates opportunities to share of ourselves–to help each other, and to minimize on that all–too-often act of opening our wallet. I swap babysitting, and carpool, but that’s about the extent of my world of trade. I’d like to expand on that idea. Tell me your stories of the Baker and the Brewer in your corner of the world…