Earlier this week I had a fantastic bike ride up from Lewes to Wapsbourne Manor (44km there and back along verdant Sussex country lanes; route here), home of the renowned campsite also known as Wowo. There, I met owner Paul Cragg along with Andy Forbes of the Brockwell Bake, who is working to restore British heritage wheats and has a crop at Wapsbourne.
Our conversations were informative and wide-ranging and I’m still trying to work out how to write a blog about it all. This is partly because the Brockwell Bake is involved in a fascinating range of activities, all interconnected around questions of grain and bread, cultivating and baking, but each with its own detail and complexities. Among the activities are educational projects, encouraging a wider understanding of what goes into bread and how it’s made. And when I say bread, I mean real bread, not that wheat-based garbage wrapped in plastic you find on supermarket shelves.
Real Bread Campaign
In this respect, the Brockwell Bake’s work overlaps with that of the Real Bread Campaign. The campaign is part of the charity Sustain – the alliance for better food and farming. Their primary remit involves education about what constitutes real bread – a healthy item that’s been a part of the human diet for millennia but has been tarnished by the grotesque compromises of the mid-20th century industrialisation of food production. And how you can make it. Or where you can buy it. Or indeed, how you can set up your own business making and selling it. You can find out more about what the campaign here.
Anyway, tomorrow, 10 May, marks the start of the campaign’s Real Bread Maker Week: “The annual celebration of Real Bread and its makers: on your high street, in the back of your kitchen cupboard and at the ends of your sleeves.” Furthermore, according to the site, “The main aim of the week is to encourage people to get baking Real Bread or buying it from local, independent bakeries.” Various events are taking place around the country. Find out more here.
Red casserole bread
In the meantime, here’s the latest real bread I’ve made. I’m really loving using an old red casserole dish I acquired from my mother, who inherited it from her mother. It’s a heavy Danish cast-iron piece of kit that lends itself really well to the technique of pre-heating it as hot as your oven will go, then adding the bread, putting the lid on and baking.
This is sourdough made with the sponge-and-dough technique. This involves making a pre-ferment – the sponge – with some of the flour and the liquid, letting that ferment, then adding the rest of the flour and salt and forming your dough.
100g rye leaven/sourdough starter (at 100% hydration)
320g water (filtered)
270g flour (I used 170g local wholegrain wheat, 100g slightly less local strong white)
1. Whisk together the water and leaven.
2. Add the flour and mix well.
3. Cover with a cloth and leave to ferment for 9-16 hours. Say while you’re at work.
270g flour (again, I used a mixture of wholegrain wheat and strong white).
4. Combine the salt and flour.
5. Add to the sponge and bring together with a spatula or wooden spoon or you can even get your hands in there if you want.
6. Bring to a dough with a quick knead, to make sure everything is well combined.
7. Form a ball and return to the bowl (cleaned and oiled slightly). Cover again and leave for few hours.
8. Take out the ball of dough, stretch it and give it a fold – that is, folding up one then, then the other down to form a kind of enveloped. Return to the bowl, then repeat this process again a few more times every 15 minutes.
9. Cover the bowl with cling film or put it in a plastic bag, then put it in the fridge for about 8-10 hours – I did it overnight.
10. Take out the dough, and allow it to come back to room temperature.
11. Gently form the dough into a ball, then rest it for 15 minutes.
12. Form the ball into a baton – but gently as you don’t want to de-gas it too much. (I really must do a series of photos or some videos of shaping dough.)
13. Give the dough one final prove (or proof) in a basket lined with floured cloth, with the seam of the baton upwards. I did this for about an hour in the airing cupboard, which is 24C.
14. Preheat the oven – I did mine as hot as it’ll get, 250C.
15. Put the casserole in the oven to get to the same temperature – I left mine for 30 minutes.
16. Take the casserole out and quickly and carefully invert the dough into it, so the seam goes to the bottom.
17. Put the lid back on, and bake for 30 minutes.
18. Take the lid off and bake for another 15 minutes, or until the top is nicely coloured – I like nice “high bake”, a dark colour.
19. Take out the loaf and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
Oh, and while you’re baking, what better item to wear than a snazzy Real Bread Campaign apron? You can get a limited edition “I [loaf] Real Bread’ apron from Balcony Shirts here, with £3 from every sale going to the campaign.