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The glory and the breadcrumbs

I can make bread! Who said I couldn’t?

Tortillas? Pita pockets? No sweat.

Pick a peck of pita pockets

Pick a peck of perfect pockets

Soft and fluffy herb and cheese bread? You got it. Hot cross buns? No problemo.

One-a-penny, two-a-penny, yawn...

One-a-penny, two-a-penny, yawn.

Scrolls stuffed with spicy pear and ginger?

A delicious pushover

A delicious pushover

Roast capsicum and feta pull-apart? You got it.

Impressive, yet simple

Slow-rise crusty bread, oh-so-perfect for dipping in fresh olive oil from the press at the farmer’s market? Baby, I wrote the book.

Mouth-wateringly easy

But there is a holy grail in homemade bread. The simple and sturdy sandwich bread. The kind of bread you can slap around the outside of a pile of pickles and cheese and tomatoes and turn what would otherwise be a messy and anti-social, palm-squelching affair into the culmination of Western culture, the sandwich. But it’s not easy: commercial bakeries have all sorts of tricks up their sleeves to make a bread with a fine crumb, consistent strenght and a firm-but-not-crunchy crust — tricks like lecithin and added gluten and newt eyeballs. And, let’s face it, you can buy sandwich bread anywhere. You can get it at petrol stations. So the standard is set pretty high: not only does your homemade stuff have to match theirs, with all their Evil Big Bakery Wizardry, but it has to also be simple enough to offset any potential “but you can buy bread!” comments. As with home-made clothes, there’s an established bar to cross before people stop staring at your weirdly high-waisted jeans, sniggering cruelly and grinding your efforts into the dust. (I’ve been hanging out with a rough crowd.) I think of it as an invisibility standard: when your efforts are indistinguishable from what your average joe expects to be able to buy, you’re on the right path. And then you BLAST ‘EM OUT OF THE WATER WITH YOUR GENIUS!

Where was I? Oh yes, sandwich bread. So, like I illustrated above, I can totally make bread. But making good sandwich bread is a whole new barrel of chipmunks: there are particular requirements placed on it and the fact that you eat it a bajillion times per week means any problems are not ignorable. You’ve got to do it right, or every mouthful of sandwich will be as ashes and dick. M is a pro at it, and so I made him teach me. And lo, the light of the goddess of bread entered me roughly from behind and showed me the path to true bread glory.

I held off blogging about this until I could be sure. I’ve got three loaves under my belt now, each better than the previous, and now I feel like saying it out loud: babies, I can make sandwich bread.

Behold.

This one is half white flour, half wholemeal, but I have had equal success with half white and half rye, so, y’know: am awesome.

It's normal to feel a little jealous.

The key is to have a dough way wetter than you think proper — you should be worrying about it being too wet. It should be so wet that it’s messy to work with (I’m trying to crank up my Google hits here). M pointed out to me that he knew my dough was too dry because I was enjoying kneading it. And kneading: lots of pulling and stretching, less brute force. Folding rather than punching-down. And a little resty-poo for the dough after every handling. I use a little melted butter and plain yoghurt in the dough, too, for flayva — I do admit sometimes I’m a little light-handed with the salt: but you’d be upset if I was too perfect. And then you’d stop reading the blog, and then you’d miss me and have to come crawling back and make a spectacle of yourself and…well, nobody needs that kind of indignity around here.

Yes. A thousand times, yes.

This is my Woodstock.

Note: Oven still dead. This is pure reminiscience.

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