Ode to the loaf
Real bread is one of life's little pleasures
The poor little loaf has been much vilified in recent years.
It has been scorned by dieters and spurned by the supposedly wheat-intolerant crowd. The truth of the matter is that the traditional bread recipe – flour, yeast, water – bears little resemblance to the plastic-wrapped, additive-filled, clinically symmetrical offerings on most supermarket shelves.
Proper bread is good for you. Proper bread is satiating. Proper bread is – above all – very tasty indeed.
This is why I was beyond excited to attend a class on the art of baking. Entitled ‘Introduction to Break Making with a Wholemeal Twist’, it is just one of the courses on offer at Maria Mayerhofer’s friendly school, Bake With Maria.
Maria herself is a walking advert for the benefits of a bit of home baking. This Danish lady glows with health, and her smile is enough to instantly dispel any baking quibbles you might have. Having grown up on proper home-cooked fare, she wanted to share the joys of baking so started conducting classes from her home. Her first customer was a banker who fancied trying his hand at the art of bread-making, and ever since then business has boomed. It wasn’t long before she decided to rent out a space in which to host her courses – and her bright, airy rooftop studio in leafy Hampstead is a lovely place to spend the evening honing your skills.
Greeted with fresh baked rolls and breadsticks, you are immediately put in the baking mood. Although in-demand, Maria keeps her classes small so every participant can receive their due attention. The six of us started out by learning to create the perfect wholemeal loaf. Maria provides you with all equipment (bowls, ovens and a dough spatula which is - frankly - life-changing) and guides you through a simple recipe. What is so effective about her class is that she explains, in easy scientific terms, why each stage is necessary. It’s all very well to know that kneading is needed, but once you understand that it is essential to stretch the proteins in the flour so that it rises… well, it makes you put that little extra oomph in your technique.
A true expert, Maria shares a wealth of insider tips. Did you know that a small amount of old dough, added to your new dough, will enhance your bread’s taste? Also, buttermilk which is slightly past it’s best does wonders for flavour.
The class is niftily designed so that while your first loaf is proving (that’s baking speak for rising at room temperature, just in case you are as clueless as me), you get to work on making no-yeast rye buns. These are wonderfully straightforward. In a testament to how easy it is to fit baking into your everyday life, Maria asks you to bring a tubberware container to take some of the uncooked dough home. It rises in the fridge overnight, and is ready for the oven in the morning. I popped it in while getting ready for work, and hey presto – within 20 minutes I had freshly baked rolls for breakfast.
It is true that a decent loaf doesn’t come into fruition within the blink of an eye, but the misconception is that this means it is a lot of work. It isn’t. Maria’s class makes you realise that the actual hands-on time is minimal – you just need to give your dough a little bit of time (and a teeny bit of love) to let it develop fully. As will the rolls which you prepare at night and bake in the morning, it really is do-able to fit it into a busy life.
Maria confessed that she had not eaten shop-bought bread in years, and she looks marvellous on it.
Wholesome food, better health and the satisfaction of eating a sandwich crafted entirely by your own hand… Perhaps it’s time to bring the proper loaf back into your life.
Maria runs baking courses throughout the year. For more information visit www.bakewithmaria.com
Daily tip from the lady archive
"BE careful with your mouth make-up. By careless work you may obliterate well-cut lines, and you will always achieve a badly groomed look if your lipstick is smudged and badly applied."The Lady, Make-Up for Mouths, 8th January, 1942